Lessons learned on a business anniversary

Fear, Authenticity, Self-worth, growth and not giving up

Facebook reminded me this week that 4 years ago today I graduated from my Yoga Teacher training in Byron Bay – I’ve not taught much yoga since but have done so much else and learned so many lessons which I’ve been reflecting on.

I’d quit my corporate career a few months prior and had embarked on a year out to discover my passions and try and find a new career that aligned with my values – and a new life really having just walked away from a seven year relationship too as part of a process that resulted in me come out.

This journey took me to places like Bali, the Kingdom of Bhutan, teaching English to novice monks in Northern Thailand, silent meditation retreats, debuting in public speaking, starting my own business and writing my first book.  A book that was published a year later and contained much more about the inner journey that had unfolded.

4 years on I look back, incidentally on the verge of a holiday back to Byron Bay next month with my wife to be.  I’m now an author of two books with my own business and invited to speak at events and conferences across the world.  I’ve discovered my passions and feel comfortable aligning with my values to be my authentic self – it was a long time coming and hasn’t always been easy but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Here are some lessons I’d like to share with you following that journey:

Just because you’ve never done it doesn’t mean you can’t do it

When I left my job I had no idea what else I could do.  I’d trained all my life for one career which wasn’t fulfilling me.  I didn’t know what else I wanted to do or if I’d be capable of anything else, I certainly wasn’t qualified.

When it came to running my own business I didn’t know where to start.  There’s been a lot of learning over the last few years, trial and error and a lot of failing too!  I’ve learned to do things like accounts, marketing, social media and more that I’d never had to consider in my former career. 

It’s also pushed me out of my comfort zone in other ways – networking, building a reputation and a brand as well as being the face of my business (having been someone who prefers to be in the background!)

I used to think – I’ve never done this before it’s not in my skill–set, I’ve no experience in this but I’ve learned over the years that just because we’ve not done it doesn’t mean we can’t, it’s just something we haven’t learned to do yet.

It’s so important that whatever we’re doing we make sure we always learn new things, push ourselves and take on challenges so that we learn and grow.  It also leads me nicely onto my next lesson

Get out of your comfort zone – don’t play it too safe

I avoided risks because I didn’t want to fail but taking on my own business, re-inventing my career meant I could no longer avoid this.  I had to take risks and I became familiar with failure as I battled through the trial and error of learning so many new things. 

I faced many fears as I embarked on this journey; leaving the certainty of what I knew, a career I trained 15 years for and knew well, a regular pay check and company car, an image people had of me – what would they think now?  What if I failed?  What if I’m making the wrong choice?

I had no choice but to get out of my comfort zone but sometimes it seemed tempting to stay there – better the devil you know!  As I stepped out of my comfort zone I faced the fears, uncertainty and risk and at times I also failed.

I put on events that no-one showed up to.  For the first couple of years I earned no money from my business.  Most of my speaking was for free and my first royalty cheque was worth less than $5.

After each rejection letter from a publisher I could have decided to give up.  In fact there’s been many times business got hard, I was out of my depth, I wasn’t earning money and it felt like I’d failed, reached the end of the line, I was tempted to give it up.

One of the things that always kept me going was asking “What has this taught me and what can I do about it?”  This solutions focused reflection forced me into action, rather than wallowing in the fact it was hard and I’d failed it immediately turned my mind towards – what am I going to do about it and scanning the options I had.

Failure is how we learn and grow and is often how we learn to succeed, it’s also something that’s unavoidable if you push yourself, take risks and face challenges, I now see how it can be a positive.  But we can see failure as a sign of our lack, a mirror of our self-worth and it encourages us to devalue what we’re capable of.

Don’t under estimate yourself – you’ve earned your place

We often doubt our abilities, underestimate ourselves or think that our success must have been down to something other than our ability – luck, a mistake, being liked etc.

Throughout my career I would wave away success and down play my achievements almost embarrassed by praise.  I can’t say I’m there yet but I have since learned to respond to praise and recognition with ‘thank you’ which is a good start!

For many years in my former career I suffered from Imposter Syndrome.  I didn’t get a degree, I left school at 16 and as I progressed into senior roles (where everyone had a degree) I used to feel like I was less intelligent, not as valuable or worthy – despite my performance and achievements.

Other people’s opinions seem to carry more weight than our own and it’s only the feedback I’ve had from others over the years that now allows me to believe I can do this and that people love what I do.

I remember worrying in my first workshop I’d been asked to do for a big business – am I qualified to do this?  Will they enjoy it?  Will it be good enough?  Who am I to be posing as an expert in this field? – all those questions played on my mind despite having written a book on the subject I was speaking about!

Late last year arriving at parliament to do the same workshop I finally felt like I belonged, that I’d earned my place and that I had something important to share that would be of value to those who’d asked me to come.

If you’re getting praise you’ve earned it.  The success you achieve is because you’re capable and have worked for it.  It doesn’t have to be perfect to be success and you also don’t need to have all the answers.

You don’t have to have all the answers

For many years I’d put off leaving the security of my corporate job.  I needed a plan first.  If this wasn’t my career I needed to know what was before I made any changes.  Where I’m at now I could never have foreseen then.  It’s been a result of the journey I’ve taken and the things I’ve learned along the way that have helped informed my next move, developed me and taken me to where I am.

Often we feel we need all the answers, to see the whole stair case before we take the first step and begin.

There was trial and error, trying things to know if that worked or not.  Training to teach yoga to see if this could be the future me or where else that might take me.  Whilst I had a plan, I had no idea where I’d end up and it was only as I made progress the next steps began to emerge.

Sometimes we have to be comfortable with uncertainty because we don’t know what’s next.  We might have a path set out but end up somewhere different, or sometimes we end up in the same place but take a different path or route to the one we planned, either way it works.  I’m of the opinion now that there are no wrong paths and there are lessons learned and experiences gained even from the tough paths I wish I’d not chosen – I wouldn’t go back and change it.

Align with your values – be yourself

For many of my former years I tried to be who I thought I should be, what the world wanted, to fit in.  I denied my sexuality for many years and took the corporate path of success as my own.  It was only when I realised status and salary were not markers of happiness that I began to look for work that aligned to my values – I had to figure out what those were.

As a young leader I felt there was a mould to fit.  I had to be a certain way to pass as a leader and as a result I devalued some of my skills that I didn’t think had a place at work.  I used to leave my ‘Jess’ hat at the door to put my ‘Leader’ hat on.  I now release these are the same hats and things like kindness, compassion and empathy are major leadership strengths rather than character weaknesses – what a relief because we all know pretending to be something we’re not is exhausting!

Being able to show up as my authentic self both in life and in work makes every day so much more rewarding.  It also allows people to trust us when we’re genuine and relate to us if we’ve walked in their shoes.

Choose your people wisely

I’m lucky to have had support around me, cheerleaders, people who believe in me.  Support from my family even though they had no idea what I was doing and feared my exit from a corporate well paid job to clean composting toilets in a yoga ashram may not be a great career move!

It’s taught e the value of those who surround us.  The people I’ve learned from and aspired to be who inspired me to carry on, even when it got hard.  But equally those who’ve challenged me to grow and pushed me.

I used to feel jealous when I looked at those who’d succeeded, like they’d done it right and I was doing it wrong; “why can’t I be on the stage at this event rather than in the audience?”  It made me feel like I wasn’t as capable rather than just on an earlier stage of my journey.  It’s important we respect these people, learn from them but never compare to them or feel their success threatens our own learning.

Find people who support you but challenge you positively to grow, respect them and be inspired by them but don’t compare yourself to them or feel jealous.  Avoid negative people who hold you back – surround yourself with those who’ll nourish you.

It’s also taught me the power of collaboration.  I’ve met so many amazing people doing similar kinds of work and often now when I organize events I’ll use it as a platform for other women to inspire my audience too and invite guest speakers.

I’ve also been fortunate to join business groups and communities full of supportive people willing to share their knowledge and time with me.

Often we’re taught to compete, that our success needs to be at the expense of someone elses.  I’ve learned that we are much stronger together than we are apart.

Find out more about Jess on her website www.jessstuart.co.nz  and visit the blog at www.inspireyourlife.org/blog

Mindfulness for Change

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Recently I attended a Mindfulness retreat, this is not unusual I have been to many but this was different. It was a Hui set up by Mindfulness for Change to bring together those in the Mindfulness community and discuss how we might work together to create change. I was excited but also a little apprehensive and not sure what to expect. Torn between the relaxed anticipation of a retreat and the less relaxed prospect of having to do some work and contribute something intelligent!

We arrived at Riverslea Retreat in Otaki in darkness after the Friday night traffic from Wellington and the end of a long week. Immediately I noticed how many people there were, so many strangers I’d not met yet and the introvert within my groaned. At the same time I was torn between wanting to get to know these like-minded souls, learn from them and connect with them but not overjoyed at the prospect of having to make an effort to interact and socialise with so many strangers. Usually I’m perfectly content to retreat into my shell, meditate in solitude and appreciate the natural environment I found myself in on a rare trip out of the city. In fact it’s one of the things I love about retreats!

The set up was interesting; 40 people crammed together inside as the rain beat down around us, only 2 showers to share and bunk rooms shared with 8 others. I reflected with a new friend that this would usually be the recipe for a social disaster on the scale of the Big Brother house as all human emotions, frustrations and personalities clash with dramatic effect. But not here. Surrounded by so many compassionate, considerate individuals the kindness was evident. People held doors open, smiled, hugged one another on greeting, queued patiently for food and offered up their seats. Trust and respect was evident but we didn’t even know one another. Is this a recipe for how a new society could be born, I thought?

The room seemed full of such happy people who believe there is hope and that people are good and the world can work, despite being acutely aware that it’s currently a bit broken. It’s not that these people had privileged lives or a life without problems. In fact each shared moving stories of their own challenges, grief and difficulties in life. From struggling to belong and fit it, losing loved ones, battles with health and lives turned upside down yet each had emerged with a compassionate heart, a love for human kind and a wish to do good in the world.

What amazed me most was the mix of ages, gender, backgrounds and the impact this had on our collective ideas and conversations. A room where doctors sat alongside yoga teachers, psychologists alongside students. We were all so different yet uniquely the same as well. The combination of youthful hope and excitement with the experience and wisdom of others was inspiring. I was humbled by the gratitude everyone showed for the presence of others and the acknowledgement that everybody present brought something to the table.

I had always put Mindfulness down to changing my life as if it made me a different person. But what I now know is that, the person was there all along and is in all of us. Life was like this all along I’m just seeing through new eyes, like a fog has lifted. I feel aware, awake and alive and incidentally that’s Mindfulness in a nutshell.

It turns out I loved the combination of stimulating discussion with silent reflection time. The ability to connect with others but also to go inwards and connect with ourselves. I learned more about Mindfulness but also about myself. In fact the self-awareness and reflection was just as important as the acquired wisdom from the conversations and experience.

I also learned something new about how we connect with others. By the time the weekend was up I had formed such strong bonds with people I’d barely spoken to. This connection to people was beyond speaking, a deep connection in a short space of time united by common goals and similar values. An environment of trust where some shared things even their friends did not know. It touched my heart to witness such an outpouring of emotion but a groundswell of support made possible by the environment of non-judgement and compassion.

When it was time to leave and many hugs had been exchanged with new special friends and plans for action and future progress were written up on the walls. Back in the outside world I feel oddly calm and centred as if something has shifted. Excited about the future and full of hope that there are good people in the world. As I walked back through the city towards my apartment I saw an argument and a road rage incident and wondered why can’t all people be like this? And then I realise they are. Compassion is within us all it’s just buried a bit deeper in some. Mindfulness is how we set about uncovering that in each other and reconnecting with what matters.

Mindfulness for Change is for people who want to contribute to a mindful, compassionate, flourishing society so that together we can help co-create true social and environmental change.
Interested in getting involved; check out the facebook page

A Rough Guide to a Smooth Life

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As we approach the end of the year the last 12 months I’ve spent trying to get my book published finally pays off and it is now available to buy!

You can click on the link to view the official trailer.  Full details are here; www.inspireyourlife.org/book

A practical self improvement guide on surviving modern life. Rediscover the art of happiness, find meaning and purpose and create a life you love. 

Jess uncovers the key to creating a happier life and leads by example. Her perspective shines a bright light at a much needed time. Let her guide you this book will help.  Shannon Kaiser, Coach & Best Selling Author of Find your Happy & Adventures for your Soul

For those who read the book, please leave a review on amazon and I’d love to hear your thoughts.  You can use the hashtag #RoughGuideSmoothLife when posting about the book.

To see how you can get involved and help support the launch click the link; How you can help or click here to support the launch through thunderclap

Wishing you all a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year.  Don’t forget to check out the new resources section on the website for free stuff I’ve posted for you.

Keep an eye out for events and give aways as I launch the book officially in the New Year.

All the best for 2016

Jess 🙂

What Yoga taught me

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As I have just completed my yoga teacher training, I thought it appropriate to write about how I got here, what yoga has done for me and what’s made me want to share those benefits with others.

I came across yoga after a series of knee injuries put an end to my team sport playing days, I was looking for a form of exercise which would help me unwind and keep me toned and anything to avoid having to join the gym really! I’d heard it could help reduce stress too and I felt like I needed to relax so combining the two things sounded like it may also save me time! I’d seen yoga classes on my travels and a room full of slim toned women who lay down and ‘relax’ a lot seemed liked something I could cope with.

Yoga is for everyone; I’ve been in classes full of men, women, old and young, all different sizes and levels of fitness. It is still seen as a woman’s thing but men are also seeing the benefits, many sporting teams now incorporate a yoga practice as part of their stretch routine to warm up, aid recovery and assist with injury prevention.

Many people join yoga for the physical benefits and I guess if this gets them to the mat it’s a good thing but there’s so much more to it as I discovered. As I progressed the postures began to get easier, I was feeling stronger and was beginning to master my focus and attention in class deepening my practice so it became about the body and mind and the connection with the breath.

However there was still that part of me that so badly wanted to be better, to do a headstand and put my legs behind my head and when I did finally pull of a posture I’d been practising I was desperate for someone to notice and offer some praise, I was still learning how yoga really worked.

A new challenge for me became the discipline to hold back and listen to my body and not to over stretch myself. It’s not about doing all the cool looking poses you see on the magazines or trying to run before you can walk. It’s not about pushing yourself to go further every time or trying to replicate the magazine covers and it’s not about feeling like you’ve failed when you can’t or getting mad that you’re not improving fast enough or as good as the person on the next mat.

It’s about doing what you can, with the body you have at the class you’re in, being grateful for that and enjoying the moment.

The original practice of yoga comes from ancient eastern traditions where it is more a spiritual way of life than a workout. The purpose of the physical asans (postures) was to aid the body when sitting in meditation for prolonged periods and the breath is such an integral part of the practice, if you’re not breathing right, you’re not practising yoga. Of course we’ve put our western twist on it and off the back of this comes gyms offering yoga to pumping music, million dollar fashion ranges and celebrity crazes but we should always remember the true purpose of yoga and respect where it has come from.

The Yoga Sutras explains the philosophy of Ashtanga yoga which includes; compassionate living (for yourself and others), freedom from possessiveness and envy, moderation in all things, generosity, truthfulness, purity of body and mind, motivation, inner contentment, study of the self, breathing, concentration and meditation.

The most beneficial parts of a yoga class can be in the breath, that’s the thing we are often holding whilst we strain to try and get our foot behind our head! Matching the movement to the breath and taking the time to calm ourselves and turn inward is really where yoga comes into its own, yes there are the physical benefits but this is only half the picture. In a world where depression and obesity seem to be the fastest growing epidemics yoga really can do wonders for us when we look at the practice holistically.

I used to find the resting postures an inconvenient interruption to toning my body in the early days, I thought “what possible benefit could there be of lying on the floor and doing nothing, I can do that when I go home to bed”. But as I spent more time in class I began to understand why this is an essential part of the practice and how it taught me to be present in the moment and more aware. Savasana (corpse pose) is one of the most important asana, yet also one of the hardest to achieve, we struggle to allow ourselves to let go and do nothing and relax but it is necessary for the mind and for a holistic practice to get the full benefits from yoga.

So remember next time you’re on the mat what yoga is all about; focusing on your own practice rather than worrying about what others are doing or that the person next to you can get their head to the floor. Not pushing so hard (it’s not a competition), closing your eyes and going inwards to feel the practice, listen to your body and be kind to it. There is also a strong link between physical and emotional in yoga, our strength and our balance when cultivated on the mat also help us become stronger and more balanced in our daily lives as we reap the mental and emotional benefits of our practice.

We should aim to take the practice into our daily lives, yoga does not stop when you leave the mat. Learning to be grateful for what we have rather than always wanting more, living simply, letting go of our attachment to things and ideals and learning to turn inwards to still our busy minds and be at peace.

Yoga is about the body, mind and the breath, taking the time to go within, spending time with yourself, discovering yourself and making peace with what you find.

The more self aware you become, the better your practice will be. I hated missing a class in the early days and would go 100% even if I knew I was injured or sore, these days I’ve learned to back off when necessary and listen to how my body feels and what it needs, although I’m never away from the mat for long. I’ve found yoga can be the antidote to many things.

During the times my life has become crazy and I’ve stopped doing yoga I have also discovered the consequences of not practising, you lose your tone and flexibility but also the mental side, I am restless and more negative in the mind when not practising yoga. The times when you think you’re too busy to do yoga are the times when you need it the most.

I think everyone who knows yoga would agree that it can aid strength, flexibility and balance but if you’d have told me at the start that I’d also become more self aware, confident, focused, calm, happier and more compassionate I would have laughed and then probably run a mile in the opposite direction, at the time I don’t think that’s what I wanted and was happy just to get a bit more toned ready for summer at the beach.

Many people are still uncomfortable with the spiritual side of yoga and some aren’t interested, wanting the physical benefits only but the practice of yoga is all about uniting the body and mind and the balancing of our physical, mental and emotional self.

Physically yoga has taught me how to love my body and this is easy to do when you start to see your wobbly bits toning up! But mentally it brought balance and clarity too. So what started off as a form of exercise I thought might be easier than going to the gym has now become my life. I have swapped my corporate career and suits for one of bare feet and yoga pants in a bid to share these benefits with other people.

People find yoga for different reasons and you’ll get out of it what you put in, it takes time and will happen when you’re ready but even getting the basics from yoga is a step in the right direction and it is capable of helping you achieve amazing things.

Namaste!