Have you ever found yourself ignoring what your body is telling you and, instead, forced yourself to “crack on” with your job? I certainly have – and it made me ill, underweight and miserable.
That’s why I found it thoroughly inspiring to chat to my guest on the latest episode of Wellness Unwrapped. Lucy Barnwell is someone who truly epitomises the concept of “wellness”. And yet, Lucy is no wellness “guru”. In fact, until last year, she dismissed everything to do with wellbeing as “a load of hooey” (if you’re not familiar with the word, it means nonsense!).
Like many high-achieving women (myself included), Lucy had fallen victim to toxic perfectionism. She drove herself beyond her limits and only decided to change course when confronted with a serious illness.
Having previously been driven by career accolades and material goods, Lucy has now opted to live her life to the full by embracing calm, gratitude and presence…and putting her own wellbeing first.
The change to her lifestyle, her values and her entire personality has been remarkable.
I was privileged to witness this transformation first-hand, as Lucy was a participant on my Wellness Unwrapped 6-Week Programme – a catalyst for her adopting self-nurturing habits that have made a huge difference to her quality of life.
Here are three key takeaways from our conversation:
- Don’t wait till you get seriously ill to prioritise your wellbeing. If you don’t put your health first, illness will make you put it first. We need to drop the mask we wear and allow ourselves to recognise that we are struggling with the weight of our responsibilities.
- A few small, easy, daily habits can make a massive difference to our physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. They can literally transform how we view the world and how we view ourselves.
- It’s absolutely not about doing things “perfectly”. It’s crucial to ditch the perfectionism that has so often sabotaged our efforts – and instead be kind to ourselves and celebrate every tiny success.
You can find details of the Wellness Unwrapped 6-Week Programme which Lucy joined here.
Lucy’s career so far has spanned twenty years working in charities, businesses and schools in sales, fundraising and marketing roles – both nationally and internationally. In her spare time, she can be found in the kitchen baking, on the allotment with her vegetables, in her camper van on an adventure or in the outdoors taking in the wonderful world.
You’ll find the full transcript of our conversation below and can listen to our conversation here.
[Please note: this is a computer generated transcription of this conversation]
SG: Hello, hello Lucy . What’s so lovely is I feel like we’ve become friends, although I have never actually met you in person.
LB: It’s amazing, isn’t it? The power of virtual living now.
SG: Yeah, it is. Because I thought today, of course, I’ve met Lucy, but then I thought, no, actually, I haven’t – because all our interactions have been on Zoom.
LB: Yeah, unbelievable, isn’t it? But I just think it’s a new world. It’s a hybrid world we live in that we can match that sort of face to face sort of relationship building with a virtual relationship building. I think it depends on the people, though I think you know, you either are relationship builders and growth mindset people, or this is just not for you.
SG: Yeah, and I think a lot of the fact that I think of you as a friend is because you’ve been so incredibly honest, haven’t you? You’ve really, really shared. And that’s why I think I’ve got to know you quite deeply, quite quickly.
LB: That’s because you came into my life at a very important time, Suzy. So I’m very grateful. And I think that to be very honest, honesty is something that I’ve always tried to have in my life. So yes, so it’s sort of a crossroads with honesty and meeting you.
SG: Oh, wow, that’s really touching actually to hear. And I feel quite honoured, actually. So just to kind of recap, we came into contact because you joined my Wellness Unwrapped six week programme. And I didn’t know you really at that point and what was really amazing was how you threw yourself into that. And it was only subsequently that I found out that you had had a really tough time beforehand, which I didn’t know anything about. So can you kind of talk us through what was going on for you at that stage in your life? Because I think it’s something that a lot of people, both women and men, will be familiar with.
LB: Yeah, it’s really hard sometimes to talk about it, actually. And I say that, I don’t mean to be sort of shallow, I suppose, because there’s so many big things happening in the world today that are just so awful. But I was never really a wellbeing person. I think I’ve spoken to you about this, that I thought it was a whole bunch of hooey, I have to admit, and it was only when I got ill and realised I needed something to help me move out of that sort of obsessive, career-focused, target- driven girl and move to something more sort of calm and be in a place where, how do I explain it, that life wasn’t so fraught? I became sort of more focused on the present and because of the work that I had gone through.
So just in a summary, the situation is I used to work in independent schools. I work in the education sector, and I worked at a school, previously an international school. And I was spending 200 days travelling throughout the year. It seems very glamorous to a lot of people. But when it’s hotels and taxis and airports and ridiculous numbers of time zones and two weeks on the trot, sometimes three weeks, coming back for two weeks, another two weeks out and trying to manage a team of eight and obviously I have a huge work ethic and I like to win, I like to be the best. Something had to give. So by about September 2019, this lifestyle really started to catch up with me. And I was living away from home. It was a boarding school, so I was a weekly border.
So I was away from my husband each week and I started to get his cough and it just wouldn’t go away. This was pre-covid, so it wasn’t that. So I went to the doctor about six months later, I thought I can’t put it off anymore and everyone was telling me you should go to the doctor. Well, they went through lots of tests and they said, we think it’s this gastroenteritis reflux disease and they put me on some pills for that. So I then tried to, I suppose, let people know at my organisation, that I need to calm my working life down a bit. There was no huge sympathy to that and for someone to ask for help and to ask to have a bit of support is a big deal for me because I’m Miss Independent, I am. And so I felt like I was smacked in the face a little bit and I think that the various other things I realised I had to move on and leave a job I loved.
And then I met you and I suppose I hadn’t got real closure from all of what happened. And then I went on your six week programme and along with a few other aides, I can safely say that my wellbeing is really important to me. And I never would have said that three years ago.
SG: And there was a time in your previous job where you’d got a real smack in the face wasn’t there, from a boss who was really quite aggressive?
LB: Yeah, really sort of unsympathetic. And it was just really sort of, you know, it was just unsympathetic and the focus was work, work, work. And that was sort of the culture, you know, with the leadership and that’s great for a lot of people. That’s fine if they want to build their business that way. I don’t have a problem with that. But the thing is, I feel without blowing my own trumpet or anything. I’m a really hard worker. I put 100% into things and I felt like I had been doing that for so long, and the results were coming in. The recruitment was being hit. And it was such a smack in the face to have that unsympathetic person come back to me saying, “Well, actually, no. We’ve got this to do. We got that to do. This has come at the wrong time.” And I just thought, Well, when is there a right time for your health? Aand then luckily, covid hit. That’s an awful thing to say, because I know a lot of people have suffered from covid. I know that for me, it was a bit of a life-line, and I got to be at home for 10 weeks with my husband, and I had a better work life balance, and I got better. So, I went off the pills I was taking for good because a friends who’s a doctor said to me, you do realise that’s stripping your immune system and then I got really worried that I was very low immunity with covid going around, and so therefore, I used a diet to build up my immune system again and get myself off the pills I was taking for this. And yeah, I felt so much better. So when I did go back to work, I realised I needed to reclaim and take control of my life and I need to take control of my working life and that’s where I am today.
SG: So I mean, when you said that about working so hard and giving 100%, I literally felt l that in my solar plexus, because that’s me as well. I was the person who was in the office the earliest – I mean certainly before I had kids – and left the latest and could never do enough. You know, even when I was on holiday, I would be thinking all the time about work and what I could do, and I would never switch off. And it was so all-consuming. And I know so many people that again, very kind of “good girls”, high performers at school, who slipped into the same pattern of overworking, over-identifying with the job. And I got to the same place where I made myself ill as well. And I do think, I mean, it’s difficult to know how much of what you suffered physically was a result of stress. I mean, certainly in my case, it was a very clear relationship between the symptoms I was experiencing and the stress I was under.
And I think there is a real problem in work culture, isn’t it? Because you have all this lip service to wellness and all these companies have got wellness advocates and wellness programmes. But at the end of the day, I think a lot of people experienced exactly what you’ve experienced, which is like, well, we just need to crack on.
LB: That’s it. And I think I’ve talked about this before. There’s this idea of this crack on culture. And I think as a woman, too, I feel I’m going to speak for me now, I feel I have a lot to prove in the workplace because as part of this incredible sisterhood, we’ve been in this workforce probably since the 70s/80s, doing these incredible jobs, and we’ve got so much more to prove, you know, and also there’s so much more emotional intelligence to deal with. So I’ve been labelled bossy before or controlling. Now I hate saying this, but you know, if that were potentially coming from a man, then it wouldn’t be seen that way. So you then you’re not only having to perform, you’re also having to watch your emotions in the way you deliver things as well, and it’s really tough. So, you’re doing this balancing act all the time as well to try and be the best you can be. And it is very, very tough. I went to an all-girls school like you There’s a real perfectionist tendency as well think for some women to drive to be the best, and for me, I don’t have children so my driver is my career, and it has always been that way. I’ve got to succeed because I haven’t had children, which is just ridiculous. I mean, come on, what a stupid thing for me to say.
And I realised all this now in the last year or so, I don’t feel defined by my career anymore. I’m defined more by the things I enjoy outside my career. On my gravestone, it shouldn’t be about: she was this, she recruited this, she did this fundraising. I want it to be: wife and friend and loved her community, etc. That’s the most important thing in my opinion now.
SG: Yeah, it really is. But I coach a lot of women in their thirties/forties/fifties who have got so caught up in the trap that you have just described where they’ve worked their way up. You know, they’ve worked so hard and invested so much and studied so much and got such fantastic results. And there’s so much invested at this point in their reputation, their salary, their standing. You know, often they will be a successful lawyer, but they are literally drowning under the pressure of what they have to face day by day – and not coping. Getting physically very ill, mentally, emotionally, very unwell as well. But yet they’ll say: Look, I’ve gone so far. I went through all of that to get to this place. How could I possibly give it up? And you get to that point where you think, Well, I’m not enjoying this, it’s making me miserable. But yet if I’m not a lawyer, who am I and what do I do in life? And I think it’s very, very difficult. It seems so hugely risky and scary to even contemplate being anything other than what you have worked your way up to to be.
LB: You’re absolutely right. And I think a lot of the issues are that, as I suppose, as women, we feel that this mantle has been put upon us and that women 100 years ago threw themselves under horses so we could do all these incredible things and this weight of duty. There’s a weight of being the best, to making the most of everything. And when you get there, we can’t imagine life just continuing doing something different because we’ve built ourselves up to do this. But it’s only when I got, and that’s the bitterest way to learn this experience. Unfortunately, only when you get ill or something happens, does it allow you to stop. And I wish women would not have to go to that state to realise there is so much more to life. And it’s what I was talking to my mother about yesterday and she was asking about my new job. I said, No, no, I’m not defined by my job anymore. I want to talk about my allotment. I want to talk about cooking. I want to talk about how the weather is gorgeous. The snowdrops are out. I want to talk about the actual things that are, I suppose, a little bit more calming and I think more real in life, you know?
SG: Yeah, it’s so funny that you say that they’re more real because I think most of the time, we don’t even notice them because we’re so fixated on the constructive things that we think we’re judged by, by everyone else. You know: what we achieve. And looking at snow drops is not really achieving anything. So, we just kind of tread over them and don’t stop to look at them because we’re cracking on. We’re cracking on cracking on, cracking on, and that’s our mindset.
LB: That’s how we’ve been taught. We’ve been taught to go out and do things to achieve, to be the best, to have children and have a career and have a beautiful house and have friends and go out to dinner and play hosts. And, you know, look after our houses, our husbands, partners, whoever I mean, how on earth do women do it? I just don’t know. I mean, I look at my friends with children. I just think: How do you do it? I really don’t understand how they do it, you know.
So I think we’ve set ourselves up to fail sometimes, and there are no structures in place properly to support us. And I think we need that as women, our roles in the workplace have grown so quickly that structures haven’t caught up to help us deal with all of those things.
SG: Yeah, I definitely agree that it’s growing very quickly, and what I see all over the place is women who are deeply unhappy but feel that there is no alternative, and they don’t know how to look after themselves. And they certainly don’t have the time or the bandwidth or headspace to even start to look after themselves.
LB: But that’s why you were so brilliant because your course was so brilliant. You see, because again, as women we try and do everything. We try and cram it all in, and I think sometimes we’ve got to take little baby steps. Little ones, like you said in your course. It’s all about, you know, for me one of the things I took away from your course was the sugar element, and I’m a bit of a sugar fiend. So, I thought, I’m going to try and cut out something. So, I cut out squash and juices and your suggestion of having lemon and lime slices in the fridge and pop that in water instead. This has been brilliant. I feel like a little marginal gain. You know, a little bit of wellbeing has been achieved, you know. Rather than think, let’s do it all, I’ve got to go on a course and take everything on board, actually start with the small things and then grow and grow and grow. And so wellbeing can take up to one or two minutes, and then it can grow to 10 minutes, and then it can grow to more and more as much as you need. And that’s what your course really helped me with was to realise it doesn’t have to be 24/7. It’s just those little snippets that you can do because life will always get in the way. None of us are perfect, but it’s the little things we can do to give ourselves a little bit of calm.
SG: That’s it. And I was very conscious when I put the programme together, having suffered from overwhelm myself and having coached so many people, women in particular, who are in that state of overwhelm that for me, the most important driving factor was to make it so easy that nobody could say like, Oh, I failed it. You know, it had to be tiny, tiny things and to cheer everyone at every step because for me, I mean, that’s fantastic to hear that someone has swapped their squash for a slice of lemon in the water. Well, that’s massive. And as you say, it’s these marginal gains where you do one thing you think, Hey, you know, I’ve ditched the squash, I’ve done. my body such a big favour. That’s huge, and I think that gives us confidence then and self-belief to then take on the next tiny thing. And that is the secret is tiny thing after tiny thing. I think sometimes people think: Oh, I have to get healthy. I’m going to go to a spa in Austria and spend my life savings, you know, where you’re given tiny amounts of food and you do hours of exercise.
And, yeah, people may like, lose a lot of weight and feel great about themselves. But then they come back to the reality of their life, and they come back to exactly where they were before they went because nothing has changed and they go straight back to the habits.
LB: Exactly, because it’s got to be a daily habit. It can’t just be: Let’s go to a park. I feel better. I feel calm. I feel relaxed. I can take on the world again because within 24 hours all that goodness has been undone because it’s not a habit. I always know that habits are really hard to make, so I always give myself 21 days and I try something. I make myself do something for 21 days because I know once for 21 days or up, the habit is formed. That’s what they say and it’s a way of me getting over and having that self-control to be able to try things.
And that’s when you know the wellbeing and being more present. I saw this snowdrop in my garden for the first time. I’ve been trying to grow snowdrop for two years and this week, which is just amazing, this thing just popped up without me doing anything, you know. And it was such a little thing and to go out earlier for a walk. I always used to think about think about destination, and now after your course, I think more about the journey so much more now, you know, and being in the present more rather than trying to make lists or think about what I need to do for dinner or whatever, try and keep my mind blank and just enjoy just being in this incredible world that we live in with these beautiful things around us that we forget about sometimes.
SG: And that’s massive, isn’t it? Because we do live in a beautiful world. And yet most of us are so busy and we’re so blinkered marching on to the next thing on our to do list that it takes a real effort to actually pause and appreciate that first snowdrop. So what was it? Because there were so many things we did in the programme? What do you think it was that helped you to stop and appreciate?
LB: Well, I knew I had to. I mean, I heard that GRERD is a sort of a precursor to really quite nasty things. And I knew I had to consider that change quite seriously. And because of what happened in my last role, my entire belief system had crumbled a bit as well. And so I had to build myself up. And a lot of it, I have to say, was listening to your words. You’re very calm. That really helped me. The calmness in your voice, the way you approach things throughout the six weeks. Just listening to all those bits and pieces, your podcasts. And that really helped me. I think it was just listening to someone who I felt had gone through an awful lot and resonated with me. And I felt like I wasn’t alone, because at that point I have some wonderful friends. But I think no one can get into your head. No one can understand. And I felt like when you were speaking about things, it very much resonated with me. It was at the right time. It’s a lot about timing as well, I have to admit.
So it was that and then all the little bits, like the gratitude. I’d been doing a bit of gratitude. I’d invested in the Calm app while I was travelling the year before. And I haven’t been using it as fully as I should have been. I think I mainly used it for the music to help me sleep or to relax, because you can download things I listened to on a plane or something. But I hadn’t been looking at all the other aspects, like the stories. I’m not very much for talking. It sounds like not the case at the moment, but I learn through reading and through pictures. So talking is sometimes very hard for me, but the sleep stories were very relaxing. And they had this gratitude area, which I just loved, which means that I can type in three things that I’m grateful for each day at the end of the day. And then over a period, you can go into your little log and see what you’ve been grateful for. And I sort of stopped doing that. And then when, you know, I came to your programme and you suggested that I thought, you know, Yeah, I’m going to try that and that’s what I do. And every day, like when I discovered the snowdrop outside, or when the sun was stunning on Tuesday morning, I got up for a really early walk. You know, these things, it’s incredible. To anyone listening, I’m not perfect. I’m not Mary Poppins. I’m not like I’m like the person does wellbeing and mindfulness every day. I’m still got so much to learn, but I try and create little moments each day, and at the end of the day, the gratitude moment really does help me to end in a positive mindset, which is really important.
SG: I think it definitely does and I think the other thing it does is train you to focus and spot the positive things, and I think that is hugely important. So a lot of people would have missed the spectacular sun on Tuesday morning. But because you are actively looking at things and that’s what a gratitude practice does, it trains your brain to be alert for these things and to note them, and, you know what you focus on you get more of. And that’s why you saw so many beautiful things, because you were on the lookout for them because you were then going to have to write them down or input there on your app. So it becomes a way of life. It’s like training a muscle. The more you use the muscle, the more grateful you are, the more you have things to be grateful for.
LB: And it’s interesting because I think as humans, we are so drawn to the negative. And I think a lot of us who feel unhappy, maybe look at the news and see that, and you can’t control that. What last year has taught me is that when I was in such a really broken place that actually my soul needed not to focus on the breakage, but to focus on the positives, to build myself back up again and to feel more like me. And the positivity certainly does that.
SG: Did that have any knock on effects at work? This kind of newfound connection with yourself? Were you different at work?
LB: Yes, that’s the thing. And you only do this through learning. So I suppose when I joined my previous role, I was, you know, I was a director. I had a lot to prove. I suppose because of that I’ve never been like one of those girls on The Apprentice that you just think that’s not how you treat people. But I was very sort of red, focused personality. Very, very red, very blue. So red is: we’re going to do this right now. We’re going to do this in a process way, and this is how it’s going to be. And I had such an idea of what I wanted, whereas over the last year there’s a very different me, now a much calmer me, more collaborative. Although I have to make the tough decisions. There’s a much more, sort of I can feel a warmer side of me coming out, a much more collaborative approach, more of a focus on my staff wellbeing than ever before. I can honestly say that. And I think they would say that. For me, their wellbeing will always be my priority, the number one priority. Because I know if they’re happy, then they’ll perform and they’ll love what they do. And that’s only a good thing for any business. So, yeah, I think that’s had a massive impact on my management leadership style for sure.
SG: Well, that’s really powerful, because it’s rippled out from you to affect other people as well. And especially as you said, you were quite cynical. Yeah, initially, because you didn’t grow up, as none of us, did with a kind of wellness mindset of doing meditation or anything like that. So this was kind of new to you.
Bu what I really noticed about you, Lucy, was that you totally embraced it to the point that I feel you’re every bit as passionate about it all as I am.
LB: Yeah. You’ve given this to me. This is the thing, that the way you delivered the course, the calmness that I need. I tend to gravitate towards calm people. I mean, this is why I love being a part of my WI here in the village, my Women’s Institute. The women age range from, let’s say, 35ish all the way through to 80, 85. I tend to gravitate towards those very calm people who, you know, make me feel just comfortable. And whoever I’m dealing with, that’s what I need in my personal life, because I have quite got a lot of energy and I recognise that and I try and channel that in the right way. But I also need to know that I’ve got to manage that energy and be as calm as I possibly can as well. And that’s what I felt from the course – that really helped me to channel my energy better as well.
And I can’t put a pin as to where it was or how it was. I was the course just came at the right time for me, and that’s all I can explain and all I can say is to anyone who listens to this and you feel broken or you feel like you’re disconnected from the world and you just need something to give you that connection, that warmth, that calm, this is the kind of course. The way you delivered all those little aspects. And like a book, I picked out one or two. But that’s really helped me to understand what’s the most important thing for me now.
SG: Well, thank you for that. That’s beautiful to hear. And just what you mentioned there Lucy about the Women’s Institute, which I must say, I’d been totally unfamiliar with. Obviously I knew about it, but I’ve never had any interaction with the Women’s Institute until you invited me to speak to a lovely group of women. This was a few weeks ago.
LB: They loved you.
SG :Well, I really, really enjoyed holding that group, and I want to talk a little bit, too, about this idea of getting people together in a group where they can share, because that was also a part of my programme as the community aspect is something I feel so strongly about because I think the information obviously is important and the way it’s delivered, that’s important. But I think the magic is when you get people together who can be open and honest and who have got the same goal that they all want to get well and you put them together and one starts sharing and then another, and it’s remarkable, isn’t it? And we saw that in that Women’s Institute group, didn’t we? And that within a few minutes there was this…it’s very hard to describe what it was. I’m not sure I could even put a label on what happened.
LB: It was quite phenomenal because I didn’t know what to expect. We have some very stoic women in our village’s Women’s Institute. I live in a village in the middle of nowhere, and I just know that women need this chance to open up and they don’t often get it in a village setting. And it’s that sort of attitude of crack on with your farming or your family or your whatever and so I didn’t know what to expect. But I know one lady was wanting to share. She was going through a very, very tough time. She said she had the first full night’s sleep she’s had in such a long time after that chance to open up and share. And it’s like a closure or, I don’t know, like unburdening, and I think women do that very well. But sometimes they just need a group to just sit and listen to them pour out. And there’s a real difference between men and women sometimes because I like to just talk and talk and talk and talk until it comes out and I’m done. I’m fine. I think men find that very, very hard because they like to solve and do that back forward, back, forward thing. But it just feels like it’s a cathartic release, you know? And I’ve actually been thinking about what we do after that, because it was so good. It was so good. I’ve been thinking: do we call it a “Wine and Whine” going forward?
Well, what do we do to create that? Because I feel there is such a need for it. That evening showed me there was such a need for it. Yeah, we need to do something because we need a chance or a platform to share desperately.
SG: I so agree with that. And it’s the one thing that I would love to see in this country, is healthcare going in the direction of getting groups together. Because it’s so powerful and I say this to anyone who will listen. If I talk to a doctor, I say get groups together, they will get better together, they will get better, because when people, as you say, feel heard and that they can just be honest, take off the mask and say, Do you know what? I’m really struggling. I’m struggling with my kid’s mental health. I’m struggling that my elderly parents who have got Alzheimer’s and I can’t cope and I’m drinking too much or whatever it is. And they can say that without fear, without a shred of fear that anyone will judge them or laugh at them or bitch about them afterwards. But just be understood and listened to with compassion. And there is such power in that. And that’s why I’m so passionate about the community aspect of health.
LB: And you’re so right. I mean, look at those places in London or in inner cities where groups of women get together to look after their neighbourhoods. They get together as a group, as a community and look after each other. They shore up those communities because they want these to be great places for people to be. It’s that same idea, that group mentality of getting together and unburdening as a group. The power in that is just incredible and the power to share and to be concerned for each other and to actively listen. That sort of thing – people don’t often do that. They listen with that intent to respond a lot of the time rather than just listen and then no solving, no nothing. Just listen. That’s it.
SG: It’s powerful when you mentioned that the lady had a good night’s sleep. If I think back to that conversation, I don’t think I offered any solutions whatsoever. I think I just listened. I don’t remember giving any solutions to what she was going through, but I think when someone shares and then it gives permission to other people in the group to share and to let people know that they are struggling, that they’re not okay, it’s huge.
LB: And that’s why she spoke and talked about her anxiety, which I didn’t think would happen because she was with the farming community and they are so stoic. They just get on with it, because just that’s what it has to be.
SG: And I was so surprised to hear that and so grateful to do that.
LB: It was just incredible. So, yeah, it was just such a privilege to be able to hear all that and see all that, you know.
SG: And I think that’s what happens naturally, Lucy, when we are in a group that is safe where we know that it’s safe to speak, you naturally open up and it happens effortlessly without anyone saying to you: “Right. Okay, you’re next. Now, what would you like to share?” You don’t need to bother with any of that. I mean, that would have just killed it. But they just opened up of their own accord because, you know, we all mirror each other, don’t we? And once you got on there and said very openly and honestly what you had gone through, without anyone saying anything, it gave the others permission to drop their mask. And even though I didn’t know them from Adam, they just wanted to unburden themselves. And then it gained its own momentum and without, as I say, anyone actually offering any specific solutions because actually, for a lot of the situations, there wasn’t really a solution. I mean, a lot of people have very difficult family situations where, frankly, it’s not going to resolve itself so easily. But just feeling that you can share that and that somebody listens and goes: “Yeah, I hear you. That’s really tough, and I’m going through something similar.” It’s just hugely reassuring and comforting, and that in itself makes us feel a bit better.
LB: Yeah, I think you’re right, because it is hard sometimes to be honest. But if we can all be a little bit more honest, I think that’s half the battle is the listening and the honesty. Always. If you can do that and you have these places to be able to share. I think there’ll be less mental health issues out there. They’ll be more relaxed, more productive, personally and professionally, the benefits just a huge and I think it needs to be looked at. I think we are now post covid, we are looking at these things and there is a movement towards that. But it’s a shame it’s taken this pandemic for us to even move in that kind of a direction.
SG: Yeah, totally, totally. And the thing about the community is it’s the easiest thing in the world. It’s what I always try to explain to people if I see people who work in healthcare: you know, it’s free and it’s easy to get groups of people together. They don’t have to be similar. They don’t have to live in the same place or be from a similar background. But you put human beings together in a safe place where they are given that licence, to be honest and to drop all the pretence of having got their shit together, because nobody has and magic happens and this is why I’ve literally put community as a core part of the programme that you did. And it will be on my app, the community aspect and the group coaching because I think when I’m sitting in front of a group on Zoom, there’s just as much… I love the 1 to 1 coaching and I will always do that and it has its place and it’s very powerful. But group coaching where you have a group on Zoom, there’s just something remarkable that happens because you get carried along by the momentum, don’t you? Because you learn not just from me. You learn from everyone else in the group.
LB: The thing is, it’s like we are reinventing the wheel, even talking about this because back in the day community was so important. It was the lifeblood. So actually we did have these spaces where we could be safe and talk. And now that the world is more global and we’re separated and then social media doesn’t allow us to talk properly face to face. There’s no real meaning to it. When you tweet this, tweet that or post this or post that, there’s no real meaning. We’ve lost that connection, those proper conversations, the chance to talk like we did back in the day, and actually, we’re just bringing it around to what we always be, these tight-knit communities. And we’re just trying to work that out in a more globalised way now. Hence I think the power of Zoom and that hybrid way of doing things, it is incredible to be able to have that you know. I spoke to my husband’s 97-year-old grandmother Ruth, who is just incredible. She’s on Zoom and when I asked her was covid harder than the war, she said yes, it was harder than the war because we were isolated, whereas in the war we were always together. And I was thinking, Gosh, look what people went through in the war, and actually there was a community spirit then. Covid’s made us realise that people want interactions, proper interactions. It’s just fundamentally hugely important, and we need to keep that going. And we need to follow through with this and for people’s wellbeing.
SG: Totally. Yeah, and I think you’re right when you said earlier that our interactions are so superficial, I think that’s so true. And what always strikes me in a group coaching or a group workshop like we did with the Women’s Institute was how quickly we go deep, even though we’re strangers, is how quickly we can really get to the crux of things, because people just drop all the layers of the pretence and the putting on all the different masks that we put on. And then suddenly that drops and every single time it happens I’m blown away by the honesty and the rawness of what people feel that they can share and how other people react to it. So you literally see people reacting with such empathy and compassion. When one person shares what she’s struggling with. And then that compassion feeds back to that person and everyone kind of rises up together. And you just don’t get that with anything else. You know, that’s why I’m such a fan of group coaching because you get results so much more quickly because of the group momentum.
LB: Yeah, I think it’s a little cheerleader, isn’t it? You know, a little motivator and one on one, I think is great. And I think it has that place for those really difficult, the personal stuff that has happened to people. But I think women are very good at this. We’ve always been very good at this. This is why I think there’s less of us probably in psychiatric wards, generally we’re very good at talking. We’re very good at expressing, you know, and I know there’s always the joke about, you know, women spending hours going to the toilet together and we chat. But I think these little bonding things that we do are crucial for us. But I think because our lives have got so busy, we’ve lost that proper interaction that we had. That’s why I think it’s a bit superficial. We don’t have these proper opportunities and chances because we don’t give ourselves a space to have these conversations with each other that we desperately need.
SG: People might be nervous of how it might land, and what will people think of me? Might they think that I’m weak? Might they think that I’m a failure or that I’m falling apart? So then it’s keep it buttoned down. I think it causes such huge stress to have that enormous gap between how we’re actually feeling and what we’re projecting to other people. And I think that’s where all the stress comes from, isn’t it? It’s the disparity between those two sides, it just takes such effort to pretend, doesn’t it? To put on a smiley, capable face when inside you’re crumbling takes a huge amount of energy.
LB: It does. And that’s the thing. I did that, you know, in some of my previous roles where I’ve done that and I come home, I don’t want to do anything. I don’t want to go to the gym. I don’t want to go out walking. And you’re trying to put on that face every day and then you’re just surviving and then you come home and you flop or you get out a fizzy drink or you get out the alcohol and these things are short-term plasters, you know, and it’s not what you need. And I’m not saying it’s easy, but my feeling over the last year, as I’ve had to take more control of my life and so I won’t take it anymore, I won’t take it in with work, you know, and I’ve had to leave my current role, which was very, very sad for me when I left last week because I thought I could do it. But the commute daily was just not feasible and I thought, No, I have changed my job before to get a better work/life balance, better quality of life and this is not helping me and I am not about to surrender, my health and my wellbeing going forward for that. It’s more important to me to have that peace of mind and that calm than have the uber-cool career or the top title or the look-at-me or the whatever. I was obsessed with material things, you know, three or four years ago, and that’s all changed because that’s not important. These things are not important. You know the freedom. My husband just got a camper van. I would never have even thought about that a year and a half ago, and now we have the freedom just to go off and be in nature. Whenever we want to do that, you know, which is just so exciting. And yeah, that was not me. Three years ago, I was loving Hermes scarves, a totally different person than I am today. You know, now I’m happiest in my allotment, growing my garlic and making sure Ronald, our camper is set ready for our next adventure. So the person I was three years ago, it’s a very, very different change. There’s a very, very different person here, you know. It is monumental, actually. The experience of being ill, realising I can’t continue doing that, realising something’s got to change and realising that there are more important things to life. And once you realise that and you go through the bitterest pill, experience… tat’s the only way you make those changes. Otherwise, what is the point? There’s one life. You have to live it and you have to live it well. And to do that, you have to give yourself the chance to be present and to be calm and to take on board everything around you, because that shores up your soul to do brilliant things. You know?
SG: Wow, I love that: shores up your soul. That’s such a beautiful way of putting it. And I’m just really surprised because I wouldn’t have imagined you as someone that was into designer scarves and clothes because you’re clearly not that person now. That really is a huge transformation, and I think what you said that you realised that your health and wellbeing was the most important thing and more important than your job title and your Linkedin profile and your business card and all the rest of it. And I think that is something that eludes a lot of people is that they only realise that, unfortunately, once they’ve had a stroke or a heart attack or something similarly catastrophic.
LB: I think it’s really sad, isn’t it, that it takes often a total breakdown before we appreciate this gift, this precious, precious gift of our health. In fact, I wish I’d learned earlier. I have a wonderful colleague in my previous role, Lex, who got this early one. She got it and you know, I just wish I’d been that clever. And then, you know, I don’t have any regrets in that sense. You know, obviously, we have a path in life we have to take, and it’s just led me a little bit later to realising what’s important. But at least I’m there now. That’s the important thing. And when I spoke to you and you told me, you know, when I heard about how you came to set up Peppermint Wellness and everything that led you along that way. It’s probably what you’ve gone through that has made you that path. It’s there for a reason that’s important. So it’s good to be able to come out and say that, you know?
SG: Yeah. I mean, I also feel that I wish I had figured this out earlier, but I didn’t. But I am also, as you are, very grateful that I figured it out now.
LB: Yeah, I’m grateful for that, too. And it’s important to be excited by that, to be positive about that, to have that opportunity to be able to change? And that’s a really good thing. Whatever age you are.
SG: That’s it. It’s never, ever too late. And that’s the thing I always tell people. They think maybe, you know, the boat’s passed for them and they might as well just stick to the job. And I’m not suggesting that people should walk away from the job by any means. But they feel like: I’m so far gone. It’s too late for me. I can listen to Lucy talking about her allotment and going out in nature and think, isn’t that amazing for her? But that’s never gonna happen for me.
And I think what you and I would say is that we can change because the nature of human beings is that we can change at any point. And what I’m really passionate about is really conveying to people that it can be the simplest, smallest things that make a huge transformation.
LB: Yeah, I agree. And it’s within all of us to make that change. We just have to take control and do that. And I’m not perfect, you know, I’m still learning, so I may sound like I’m like this new person, but, you know, I’m still learning. I still sometimes work too long hours. Sometimes I still you don’t go for a walk when I should, or I’ll sit in front of the TV and watch too much TV, you know? But then, you know, I also try and make sure that I am doing those gratitude even if it’s for a minute a day. Or go for the walk that I love to do, you know? So it’s just a matter of making that little bit of time. And don’t make yourself unrealistic goals because it’s not going to happen every day and you’ve just got to do what you can manage. So I started wild swimming as a new thing as a little sort of outdoors thing because I can’t run anymore, which was a hard thing last year for me that I couldn’t run because I can’t do high impact sports on my knee anymore. I had to mourn that quite a bit, so I looked at other things to do other ways. I can get out into the fresh air. It’s really cold recently and I know if I get put off wild swimming, if I go in and freeze myself…so I’ve stopped for a bit and I’m going to be going back to it when the weather gets a bit warmer. So my feeling is: don’t set yourself unrealistic goals and make yourselves hate something that you love. You give yourself that chance to do things right according to your, you know, your parameters.
SG: Totally, totally agree. And I think what I always want to impress on people is that I don’t do this perfectly. So why on earth should you? You know, I’m the health coach and I’m not doing this perfectly. And you know, last night I really enjoyed sitting in front of Netflix with a packet of liquorice because I do eat sugar still. I don’t eat it in the quantities that I used to, thank God. But I still eat it, you know, and I still enjoy it. And I just feel so strongly that it’s important to be real. And hopefully, you know, I’m real and I’m the same with the wild swimming. I don’t fancy it at the moment because it’s too cold. And that’s fine because I can go next month. And that’s why one of the main components of my Wellness Unwrapped programme is cultivating self-compassion. Because I think everything has to start with being compassionate with ourselves. Because otherwise, as you say, we set ourselves a goal that’s too big. We can’t do it because we’re human. We mess up and then we’re berating ourselves: Oh, you failed again. You’re so stupid. You’re so crap.
And that’s no way to change. No one thrives on being bashed over the head. And so that’s why really from the get-go of the programme, it was all about: be kind, be compassionate. You’re doing amazing. You don’t need to do it perfectly. And I think this perfectionism is so toxic, especially for us women. So toxic and we really have to just chuck it out the window because it doesn’t help anyone.
LB: And for me, if I finish on one of my favourite quotes is from Nelson Mandela. He always said, “You either win or you learn” and we have got to realise that this is all a learning curve. There’s no failure. Don’t berate ourselves when we do something that’s maybe not quite there. It’s just part of the learning of life, you know? And that’s really important.
SG: Yeah, absolutely. And especially because you used to work in a girl’s school. A lot of schools are now embracing wellness. But the need is huge, isn’t it with girls? You’re closer to the coalface, I guess, than a lot of people. What are girls battling with at the moment?
LB: Oh, it’s perfectionism, you know, social media and the images of what perfection looks like. And then obviously to be the best at this. And it was really when we had a lot of alumni come and help us with career options and a lot of the time they were saying: Don’t just think that this is a straight road to being a doctor or a straight road to being that. Embrace the opportunities that come through life. You know, it’s not about a fixed way of doing things, and it was really good to hear that some people haven’t got the GCSE’s and A levels they wanted. And it was great that actually, they persevered with this, that and the other. And so the idea is that we shouldn’t be berating ourselves.Things happen for a reason, and girls have got to remember that it’s not about being in competition with each other. It’s about you being better yourself and stretching yourself, you know, and I think that’s the most important competition is. Forget everyone else. It’s about you and making and stretching yourself a little bit more in a mindful manner rather than just being uber perfectionist.
SG: And I guess they need emotional resilience for that. That’s one thing that I really bang on about is how do you help people to develop their emotional resilience? And a lot of the tools that I share in the programme are specifically designed to build those reserves of emotional resilience.
LB: You’re right, resilience is hugely key to everything, and that’s a whole other podcast. I think resilience is just key to dealing with things and dealing with things well, actually. And if you can deal with things well, with a growth mindset, a positive spin on things, realising that you have to take some learning outcomes from each thing that happens, that’s all you can do, isn’t it? We’re not perfect, you know. So just be the best you can be, I think that’s all you can ever hope for.
SG: Yeah, and life is unpredictable. So we need to be flexible, don’t we?
LB: Yeah. It’s just as you say, working on your own inner world, isn’t it? And then the outer world will come, I think. Stephen Covey in the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, one of my favourite early self-help books. You know, it’s about you looking at things you can control. Looking at those you know, you can’t change. You have to be the change, you know, and I sort of always firmly believe that you can’t blame everything else around you. You have to make those changes, you know, to make you happy. And then everything works outside of you.
SG: Yeah, I recall reading that book, and one thing he talks about, one of his principles is: sharpen the saw. And you’re the saw, aren’t you? And what that translates into, in actual day to day life, is look after yourself because you’re the saw and you can’t be chopping down trees with a blunt saw because it just takes a lot longer, so sharpening the saw boils down to these daily habits, which I think we come back to which is, you know, eating well, sleeping well, managing your stress, moving, getting in the flow. All of these lifestyle habits make a huge difference to how we feel in ourselves, our relationships, how we perform at work, our happiness, our health, of course. And they’re just fundamental, aren’t they?
LB: Exactly. It’s just looking after those things in little bits just to give you that positivity all the way through. And that’s I think really, really key is just to remember those bits and not forget them because we’re inclined to be thinking about jobs or the list or the shopping list or whatever it is rather than thinking, actually, Do you know what, I need a two or three minutes of me-time or, you know, I’m gonna go sit and listen to that song I want to listen to or, you know, go and drink a cup of tea and look at the world go by rather than think: What am I gonna do next? I am very bad at that. That’s something I am trying to work on.
SG: And me too. And it’s inspiring for me to listen to you because I get as inspired by you, as you do by me, because I see the changes in you. And I really admire that. And it gives me a lot of impetus to keep going. When I see that someone can change their mindset so dramatically and feel different, I kind of think: Wow, you know, from such little things. Because they really weren’t very big. You know, the little things that you did: gratitude journal here, the Calm app. There is nothing, nothing really major. And yet you are so different with it and feel so much more positively about your future.
LB: Very much so. And I can’t really put my finger on it. It’s just I think it was timing Suzy and your calm voice. The way you spoke to me, it resonated with me. And that’s all I can say, you know? And I didn’t want to wallow. I wanted to be the change. I didn’t want to just be broken and unhealed and I didn’t like that me. I know it’s going to take time because a fundamental principle of mine was broken or I believed it was fundamentally broken, and that’s going to take time. But I don’t want to be a person to wallow because that doesn’t affect change. It really doesn’t. And I needed to have those little tools to move on a little bit, and that was important.
SG: I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. It’s having the tools to then be engaged in that lifelong growth because it is a life-long engagement, isn’t it? Well, I mean, I hope it is for all of us. I’m still growing and working on myself, and I really hope to continue that till the last day that I’m on this earth. But it’s when we have the tools to do that. And I think none of us were given the tools at school or at university or wherever. And so I think my mission in life is to give as many people as possible those tools so that they continue to use them and also continue to share them with other people, whoever they interact with, whoever is close to them in their life, whether it’s at work or in their family. And they’re so simple. But once you have them in your toolbox, you’re empowered to make changes and to be your best self, whatever that means to you exactly.
LB: And that’s all we can hope for. You know, we’re not perfect, but I remember when I was at school, people were saying, Try your best. If you can try your best each day with these little things, that’s all you should expect of yourself. Don’t expect to be, you know, Mary Poppins every day. And even she was only practically perfect, you know? So I think it goes back to what we were saying about not being too hard on ourselves and celebrate the little wins.
SG: Absolutely. Yeah, well, I want to celebrate all your wins because it is truly a joy to see how you have changed so many things. And I’m excited to see where you go from here and starting a new job and you now have an allotment and you have a camper van. And I think it’s inspiring for other people, other listeners to hear that. And you’re not 20.
LB: No, I’m 45.
SG: And at that age, you’ve made these sweeping changes yourself because you decided that you were worth it. Your wellness was worth it.
SG: And yeah, I just think it’s beautiful and I’m excited for you because it feels like a whole new era.
LB: It does exactly. I feel that it’s really interesting, you know, to be able to focus. My new role allows me to be remote, so I won’t be commuting every day and to have that ability. And this is what I think that covid has given us some things, you know. It made us realise that work/life balance is important. It’s not just words anymore. It’s got to be reality and I think that we will see some real change going forward and I feel stronger to negotiate what I want. When I go into these things now, I think that year’s experience has made me realise what is important. So, yeah, to be able to feel like I’m going into a role that’s going to be challenging. But I have space now. I have space to be more me. That is the fundamental compromise that’s really, really important to have been able to achieve, you know?
SG: Yeah, because no one can advocate for us. We can’t delegate our health. We can’t delegate our mental health. And I think we have to decide. Yeah, this is what I need to thrive. And, you know, I have to find a way to get it, because otherwise I’m going to be struggling and unhappy.
LB: Exactly. That’s what it’s all about in the end. Isn’t it happiness, you know? And I say we only have one shot at life. So you know, don’t wait till you’re ill. Don’t wait till something happens, you know. Have some form of a paid employment. We have to live as well. But be more compassionate to yourself when you think about all those things.
SG: Well, thank you so much, Lucy, for being such a wonderful… I don’t want to say student, because you weren’t a student, a wonderful participant who came onto the programme with such enthusiasm and such an open mind and such a willingness to embrace and think differently about things. And yes, you were initially very sceptical about all things wellness, but then you were open minded enough to try things, and I think that’s amazing.
LB: Thank you for being amazing and for giving me the opportunities to be able to change. I really appreciate that. Thank you.