On Saturday 11th November, I went to Stylist Live for the third year in a row! But this time, I had Katie and Ciara with me – fellow members of the ToGetHer Further Facebook group – and good things are always much better when you get to share them with friends!
The great thing about Stylist Live is that it is essentially the pages of the magazine come to life, so you can pick & choose what resonates with you most – whether it’s an inspirational talk or a manicure, a free blow dry or a gin cocktail, a chance to design your own Stylist magazine cover, or to try loads of lovely samples from pop up shops like Pixi, or Teapigs or Doisy & Dam. There’s genuinely something for everyone.
For me, it is all about the inspirational talks and what was great about this year was that most of them were open to everyone – even if it was ‘full’, you could still hover around the area to hear some amazing women speak, rather than having to queue and still potentially miss out on getting a seat.
The first talk I attended of the day, and my favourite session overall, were readings by Laura Jane Williams, author of Becoming and Ice Cream for Breakfast, Poorna Bell, author of Chase the Rainbow, and Francesca Martinez, author of What the **** is Normal?!, sharing excerpts from the Stylist Book of Life Lessons due to be released in March 2018.
Laura’s reading included advice on the art of loving yourself. She reminded us it is nobody’s job to give us permission – to live our lives, to be happy, to do what we want – that we need to take this permission for ourselves to live our lives fully. She encouraged us to feel afraid and live boldly anyway! And, in order to be loved, she advised us to be loving, and reminded us that this begins with ourselves. Before sharing 5 of her 16 tips from her essay, Laura urged us to embrace self-love – not as a privilege, but as a right.
I’ve done my best to summarise Laura’s 5 tips as follows:
- Self-love is about accepting ourselves – it’s an active practice rather than simply a single step
- Know that you are worthy of your own time and energy
- People love you (and respect you!) when you love yourself
- Boundaries – deciding what works for you and saying it out loud!
- You are the expert on you – don’t let other people define you who you are.
In the Q&A after the readings, Laura spoke about the importance of bravery in honesty – that by being increasingly brave and open in ourselves, we give permission to others to be more honest as well, so it’s not only important, it’s essential for society that we keep taking steps towards sharing our lives more fully and openly!
Poorna Bell shared her beautifully written piece, asking us to consider why it takes the extreme of death for us to truly do what we’ve always wanted? She asked why we live as if it’s the rehearsal when it’s actually the performance?!
Poorna shared 5 questions she asked herself in order to help her live her life more fully:
- What do you want to be remembered for?
- Who are you comparing yourself to?
- Why the f**k are you saying yes to everything?
- Where do you want to be sitting next year?
- What kind of person do you want to be?
Through asking herself these questions, and taking the time to answer them, Poorna had realised the emptiness of social pressures – to buy a house, to get married, to have babies – all put into perspective by the experience of being a young widow. She reminded us it’s so hard to distinguish our personal goals when we’re caught up in an echo chamber, which can so easily happen especially in a young, professional community in London!
Drawing on her own life experiences, Poorna advised us that although trauma forces change upon you, that we can change in the absence of trauma, it’s just that personal transformation doesn’t happen overnight (that’s the stuff of movies!).
When asked about self-love and acceptance, Poorna advised that writing her book, Chase the Rainbow, and sharing so openly about her experiences with her husband Rob’s depression, drug addiction and ultimately his death by suicide, helped her to reconcile and accept what had happened. She said that honesty is crucial for us all, and that hiding things had only made it harder.
Francesca shared her work, a beautiful combination of honest experiences and lighthearted reflections to give a fresh perspective on life. Growing up with cerebral palsy, she spoke of the years she had wasted time and energy in trying to be ‘normal’, but eventually realised she had a choice and didn’t have to see herself by the reductive labels that other people may try to use for her. And also, she had never actually met a ‘normal’ person, so where were they all hiding?! As far as Francesca is concerned, she was no less normal than anyone else, just a little more wobbly!
She finished her reading with the bold invitation for us to embrace self-acceptance for ourselves, advising that it is contradictory to societal pressures that it is almost a form of civil disobedience!
Continuing the discussion on acceptance and self-love in the Q&A, Francesca encouraged us to embrace the idea that changing our perception of ourselves could, as it has in her case, change our lives. She spoke of meeting young people who were unable to say they even liked themselves because of the way society is designed, when they should be enjoying their youth and making the most of their lives. She highlighted the aspirational nature of our culture – always focusing on what we don’t have, instead of being grateful for what we do.
Later in the afternoon, I attended a talk by Debbie Wosskow, co-founder of Allbright, on the value of the Sisterhood as the real secret to success – a topic very close to my heart of course! It was inspiring to hear her story of becoming an entrepreneur, although frustrating to hear about the lack of investment in female founder led businesses!
Debbie encouraged us to embrace her 3 G’s for success – Graft, Grace and Grit! And left us with her top 3 tips to get ahead:
- Become an early bird – she gets up at 5.20am!
- Sweat/exercise every day – she uses boxing as an outlet for emotions!
- Ask for help more – there is support out there if we just ask for it!
Personally, I am not an early bird, but I am totally on board with number 3 – we certainly do need to ask for help more, as there are so many resources out there and people willing to help us, if can be brave enough to ask in the first place!
The next session I attended was with Claire Eastham, on the Power of Vulnerability, and Mental Health in the Workplace – again a topic I am passionate about and increasingly determined to get more involved with in helping women at work. Claire is the author of the bestselling book We’re All Mad Here, which arose out of her blog, documenting her experiences with social anxiety and how it affected her at work.
Claire spoke honestly and openly, bravely sharing her personal experiences and techniques she uses to manage her social anxiety, in the hopes of helping anyone else who could be in the same position. She spoke of the representation of career women in the media as cold, ruthless, cunning individuals – such as Claire Underwood in House of Cards – and this being the message we’re giving to young women who want to be successful at work.
Claire shared her experience of forcing herself to become the overworked alpha, networking ‘like a shark’, constantly smiling, even when in pain, that eventually culminated in her walking out of the office physically overcome by anxiety and afraid for her life!
Forced to be open with her employer about her mental health requirements, Claire advised she now felt as if she had regained control of her life, and shared her tips and techniques for maintaining balance:
- Breathe from your belly!
- Use games or apps to distract you when negative thoughts arise
- Engage in exercise regularly and eat healthily – reduce caffeine in particular if suffering with anxiety
- Embrace the power pose!
- Appreciate the importance of downtime
Claire encouraged us to say ‘No’ more often at work, to ask for help when we need it, and to regularly check in with ourselves to make sure we are taking the best care of ourselves rather than waiting for it to all become too much. She reminded us that we only get one life so we might as well take charge of it!
The last session I attended of the day was with Natalie Campbell, founder of A Very Good Company, Tamara Arbib, founder of Rebel Kitchen, and Susan King, founder of Susan O’Hanlon Greeting Cards. But I have to admit, by the time it got to this session I was fairly tired and didn’t take any notes, so I am hoping my memory is reasonably accurate!
One of the key takeaways I can remember from this session was the emphasis on the amount of work it takes to build a successful business – there is no such thing as an ‘overnight success’! Susan also encouraged us to value ourselves fully as female founders as in order to do good, we must first make money to do so! Natalie encouraged us to be clear in our vision and to choose something we are passionate about in order for us to put the amount of energy required into our ideas to make them work. She spoke of how she enjoys the freedom of being able to choose how she spends her day – from the Badass Women’s Hour podcast to getting to speak at events like Stylist Live. Tamara shared her experience in building Rebel Kitchen, and how she knew how she was going to do it before she even knew what it was – so don’t let anything hold you back, just follow your passion and let it guide you!
There were lots of highlights of the day overall – from seeing Jess Phillips MP and Robert Webb signing copies of their books, Everywoman and How Not To Be A Boy respectively, to talking to the Fawcett Society about the Gender Pay Gap, bumping into fellow NOI lady Adela, founder of Style Lyrical, finally getting to meet the badass Natalie Campbell after being Twitter friends for ages, and generally getting to hang out with Katie and Ciara having fun at all the pop up stands! But for me, the personal highlight was getting to meet Poorna Bell in person after reading Chase the Rainbow and feeling the personal connection with her story.
After a long day, I was pretty exhausted, but so inspired after hearing so many amazing women speak and share their experiences.There were also few threads I noticed that ran through the sessions I had been drawn to – around self-acceptance, self-love, bravery, honesty, vulnerability and generally doing good! There is such power in seeing what other women have achieved in order for us to be motivated ourselves – the whole event has left me feeling not only inspired but very excited about the future!
Siobhan Kangataran is the founder of ToGetHer Further and writer for the ToGetHer Further blog – if you are interested in contributing a guest post or interview for the blog, please get in touch via the Contact page.
**Please note that any of the links to books included above are Amazon affiliate links so I will receive a very small commission if you do decide to purchase a copy – many thanks in advance if you do!**