Work for me (and I am sure for many) has for many years been so intertwined with how I define myself and who I am that I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity over recent years to be exactly who I want to be.
As I have got older and grown to learn that to be at my best I need to be challenged. To never be told what to do but instead have the freedom to create my own path. To have fun, to laugh and be laughed at in work.
And, most of all, to ensure that imbalances in perceived power and control are addressed, empowering teams and individuals to be their very best and creating a safe space for everyone to be equal.
Yet I realise that this is not only something that was stifled in my early career but also is a privilege not felt by many, so I’ve decided I want to do something about changing this. And joining Sanctus has felt like that calling.
I’ve spent almost 20 years in the insurance industry, working initially for a huge international corporate before jumping ship to join Xbridge and then starting up Simply Business.
The last 15 years, building a wildly successful business and eventually launching it in the US, has been a brilliant journey and all the usual highs and lows of taking a start-up to be the largest insurer of over 700k small business in the UK.
But, upon reflection, the personal journey has also had many highs and lows, and whilst I am incredibly proud of what we all achieved (the change in the industry, the culture we created, the lives we impacted) I am not as pleased with how I showed up at work for many of the years I worked there.
The early years were dictated by an environment that was competitive, aggressive and macho. There was little room for diversity and for me to succeed it felt like a zero sum game where others had to lose.
This was at odds with many of my values but I created a version of myself at work that left my true self at home. I formed some wonderful friendships and even met my wife but this was almost in a sub-culture I tried to create in my own part of Simply Business that ran against what the rest of the business may have been doing.
The toxic environment was positively encouraged at all levels of leadership and created unnecessary tension from the Board room all the way down to the sales floor where you were only as good as the sales you made, not by the conversations you were having.
Old school you might say, but I pandered to and often created this atmosphere as I was too inexperienced to know any different and had no role models to draw on that could inspire me to be different.
Then in 2010 it all changed. My now close friend and business partner, Jason (Stockwood), joined the business and helped many of us open our eyes to how business could be different.
The workplace could be somewhere where you could be vulnerable. Where you could make mistakes without being afraid of ridicule and embarrassment.
And I was given the opportunity to change myself and the world around me.
It didn’t happen overnight, but in time I began to really enjoy work and really be my whole self. I feel incredibly proud of what the business has now become and the incredible impact that everyone connected to Simply Business over the years has had, but I also feel blessed that I was able to change and I was able to ride out of the breakdowns, the fighting, the hurt created by individuals who I realise could not be trusted, and grow to be the person I am today. So what’s next?
Well, I used to talk about “mental health” as something that was connected with the treating of the ill, of the insane or of those friends and family who have suffered from severe depression or anxiety.
But in meeting James and George (co-founders of Sanctus) in March this year I soon realised that this commonly held perception is wildly off-the-mark.
Indeed, as I read my story and think about the trauma of the past I am embarrassed to only now realise that we all have our mental health. And we all need to look after it for even when we think we’re doing well, more often than not, this is just a period when things may be going well and the insecurities we all feel are being pushed to the side and ignored.
Yet they are always there. Am I good enough? Why am I not getting too where I want to get to in life? Shouldn’t’ I be spending more time with my kids? Shouldn’t I be working harder?
The last 5 months have been crazy for all of us. But I have used these 5 months to not only spend more time with my wife and two boys (albeit with some relief when nurseries reopened!) but also start to work with Sanctus in thinking about how they can really scale their impact.
The team has built an amazing business, helping raise the awareness of mental health and through partnerships with organisations as diverse as Red Bull, UDG, Octopus Investments and carwow. They’ve started to show the world that companies that deeply care about the wellbeing and health of their employees are those that are redefining what success means in a post Covid world.
I want to amplify this.
I want to help Sanctus create a movement that forces all employers, all leaders and all employees to realise that leaving the real you at home is never going to make you happy. That having the time at work to truly work on your mental health is the only way of ensuring that you can be the very best friend, partner, daughter or mum and that my story of enlightenment at Simply Business is one that is told across the dinner tables of many more households.
I look forward to continuing to work with the Sanctus team over the coming months and would welcome anyone interested in learning more about the work we do to reach out and say I’m with you. We all have mental health.
And we all need to realise the time is now to start working on it.
You can read more on the investment here.