I recently received a surprise and much appreciated nomination in the Evening Chronicle's Glass Slipper Awards, which are designed to celebrate the achievements of women. I'm in the Success of the Year category and face some some extremely stiff competition. Whoever wins on 28 February, it will be very well deserved and I'm humbled just to have been considered.
The awards and my involvement started me thinking about how I find being an entrepreneur with a young business and two very young children (now one and two). I often get asked how I manage and the answer is simple - with excellent support and sometimes with gritted teeth. Getting pregnant the month I launched my consultancy was not quite how I'd envisaged things but you treasure your blessings.
I love my kids and waited a long time for them after a number of disappointments. I also love my career, my clients and have a real passion for what I do. Sarah Hall Consulting Limited is, I suppose, another child and all three need constant attention and to be nurtured. The work-life balance is elusive for many and it's no different here - because I work from an office close to home, I sometimes feel like there is no break from either world. If I didn't have close family nearby (especially my Mum) providing unstinting support and a husband who makes the boys his first priority too, I wouldn't be in the situation I find myself in now and would quite possibly have gone mad :)
I suppose there are two things that I have learned in the past few years - two things that have helped me reframe how I look at life and which have helped me surmount the hardest challenges, making me a lot happier (although I have to stop myself and remind myself of these a lot). The first is that you have to set your own success measures. I used to look at other entrepreneurs and want what they had - but did I? Things always look a certain way from the outside but it's never the same behind the scenes. Something usually gives, has given or is about to. Or priorities are different. Which brings me onto my second point. You can't have everything. Life suggests you can but it's a fallacy. I started to ask lots of women how they 'did it'. I tell you what, they don't do it on their own, there are support pillars behind them all, whether you can see them or not. They also all have different things they want to achieve. What 'matters' is not the same for everyone.
So what am I trying to say? I guess it's this: Don't be a sheep like me and get caught early on in the corporate hamster wheel where you kill yourself striving for the next big job, the next big car, the next big salary - well, unless that's what you want. Find what makes you buzz from within and follow that dream instead. Give back, like I give time to the CIPR to help my industry develop. Success will follow. I woke up and realised I needed a change and took a risk by setting up my business at the start of the recession with very few savings. I then got pregnant. And got pregnant again. I may not have had much maternity leave but with hard work, sheer determination, good planning, gin and a whole lot of drive, my babies and business have flourished. I am now also a Fellow of the CIPR. My family and clients have been amazing, sticking with me every bit of the way.
It's tricky. Sometimes I feel a bit lost, tired and emotional. I'm frustrating (and frustrated!) because arrangements at home change a lot. Sometimes I think I should be pushing for world domination and employing fifty staff from a large agency in town. Then I remember that what makes me tick and happy is the fact I achieve what I want to - time with my kids while they are small, paying the bills, excellent client service leading to a 100% retention rate, doing things and doing them well and much more. That's what success is.