When did I first know what I wanted to do?
When I was about 13 years old.
Why has it taken 30 years to start following my dream?
Because other people told me I couldn’t do what I wanted to do.
What has been the effect of this over the last 30 years?
A series of deteriorating mental health difficulties.
Why is now the right time to start following my dream?
Because I have stopped listening to other people and started doing what I want to do.
Don’t worry, there are no more questions! I will now elaborate each answer and share my story of how I came to do what I really want to do.
WHEN I FIRST KNEW WHAT I WANTED TO DO
I started running when I was 11 years old. It was the first thing I was any good at and probably why it was the first thing I remember wanting to do more than anything else.
Apparently when I was a younger child, my grandparents would take me to the local sports centre to play and I spent ‘ages’ watching people run round the track.
That track became my second home until I was 18 years old.
I would decline ‘going out’ after school to go training, and not meet friends at the weekend if I was racing. Most people didn’t get it and some ‘friends’ rolled their eyes whenever I talked about running, but I didn’t care.
To this day it is the one thing that I have kept doing year after year, regardless of how many setbacks and knock backs I had.
I got my first running injury when I was about 13 – at that time it presented as a pain in the back of my foot. Not understanding how sports therapy worked, or even what it was back then, the first port of call was the GP.
After some consultations and an x-ray that didn’t show any abnormalities, someone at the track suggested I have a chat with ‘the guy that did massage’.
He asked me a few questions, asked me to lay down on the ground, loved my leg around a bit, clarified that I’d had a growth spurt recently, and found a spot in my hamstring that was really sore!
He booked me in for a proper session and treated me for a hamstring tear, explaining that it was presenting in my foot through a combination of compensations and tightness elsewhere.
From that moment on I was absolutely fascinated by how the body worked and moved and knew I wanted to ‘do what he did’!
WHY IT HAS TAKEN 30 YEARS TO FOLLOW MY DREAM
At that age I didn’t really know what ‘that’ was or the options available to me but, to me, the next logical step was to study PE GCSE at school.
When it came to choosing my GCSE options at the age of 14, it took me ages choose the core subjects because, apart from French, I didn’t particularly enjoy any of them.
Except, of course, PE! I loved PE, with the exception of hockey – I didn’t like that! PE was my number one subject choice and that was what I wanted to do.
However, when it came to discussing my options with my head of year, who was also my English teacher, she chose an English lesson to have this conversation, and it went something like this:
Her: Why do you want to do PE?
Me: Because I love running and I’m quite fit
Her: *Laughs out loud in front of the class* Quite thin – you’d get lost behind a piece of paper!
Rest of the class: *Joins in with the laughter*
Me: I said fit, not thin
Her: Oh, well you can’t do PE because you’re in the top set, choose a more academic subject
Me: I don’t want to do anything else
I don’t remember the rest of the conversation because I felt utterly humiliated and just wanted to get back to my seat and disappear.
The end result was that I was encouraged to do German instead of PE. I resented every minute I spent in those German classes and out of all my GCSEs, this was my worse grade. Incidentally, I got my highest grade (A) in the aforementioned French subject that I said I enjoyed.
I am convinced that I would have achieved at least an A, if not an A* if I had taken PE.
By the way, this was the same teacher who gave me a video to watch when I asked for some help reading Pride and Prejudice. This is still one of my favourite adaptations, but it didn’t help me recognise the tone of voice or sarcasm in a book.
Still determined to achieve my dream, I looked into Sports Science and PE A-Levels at college. My gut was telling me that I wanted to do Sports Science, but I chose PE because that was what my local college offered. I could have gone elsewhere, but that would have involved at least one bus journey each way, which I don’t think was practical or affordable at the time.
I started my new PE A-Level full of enthusiasm, to quickly realise that everyone else had done at least GCSE PE beforehand and were effectively two years ahead of me in the A&P (anatomy and physiology). I am a quick learner when it comes to practical application, but I do struggle with literature, so to go straight into A-Level textbooks was really hard.
I spoke to one of my A-Level tutors to express my concerns and she dismissed me saying that I would catch up. When I spoke to another of my tutors, who was also my home tutor, he suggested I speak to someone else in the college who assessed me and my concerns. It concluded that I wasn’t dyslexic, but I did have difficulty with reading comprehension.
I have often wondered how different my relationship with books would have been if my school teacher(s) had taken the time to do a similar test.
At the start of the second year of college, we did a mock test to assess our process. I was well below average and was advised by the first tutor I approached, that if I didn’t catch up soon then I would fail the course.
I didn’t know what to do. I dreaded PE lessons, was afraid of failure, but above all, my dream was slipping away from me.
In the end I made the decision to leave college and get a job. I had to obtain ‘permission’ from each subject, which was effectively asking each tutor to sign a release form. When I took this to the ever-so-unhelpful PE tutor, she snatched it from me, signed it and shoved it back in my hand. I could only presume that me leaving would negatively impact her stats because I couldn’t work out what I had done wrong.
Once I had battled through several employment agencies who told me I needed experience to apply for their jobs, one acknowledged that I needed a job to gain experience!
I took a couple of temporary jobs and was then employed after my first ever interview with a proper employer in July 1998.
Over the next eight years, I changed company twice and jobs three times, before I retrained as a Sports Massage Therapist in 2006, qualifying in 2007 – 10 years after I left college.
I joined a local Chiropractic clinic to 1) have access to an existing client base and 2) learn from other practitioners. When I said that my ambition was to work with runners, I was told that was too niche and I should broaden my client base.
So, not knowing any better in this new industry, I did as I was told. I learnt an awful lot there, gained a lot of confidence and thoroughly enjoyed unravelling muscular imbalances and compensations. Although I built up a regular client base, probably 98% of them were not sports people, let alone runners, so I became frustrated and quite frankly bored.
All people’s complaints matter, but I don’t generally want to keep seeing the same people all the time. I like to share my knowledge on how an injury has occurred in the first place, help them fix it, and give them advice on how to prevent it happening again. It doesn’t always work this smoothly, but runners would much rather spend their money on watches and trainers than massage, so they’re eager to learn and help themselves!
In 2009 I retrained as a Personal Trainer, qualifying in 2010 together with a whole host of qualifications in Core Stability, Pilates, Sports Nutrition, Psychology, GP referral, Circuit Training and probably some others. In my mind (possibly more subconsciously), the next best way to get in front of runners was to work in a gym, or whatever my logic was.
However, it didn’t quite work out like that. I had all this new information about how the body moves, which provided me with a fantastic combination of skills to help people, but I really didn’t enjoy being a PT.
For me, it didn’t make sense to ask someone some fairly personal questions about their health and then go straight into telling them what to do one, two or several times a week. I wanted to understand what was stopping them achieving what they wanted to achieve in the first place. Sometimes this was lack of knowledge and understanding and I would happily share what I knew with them, but usually people knew what they needed to do, but they were not doing it for whatever reason.
I further added to my qualifications with suggested ‘niches’, such as pre- and post natal massage and training, but it just didn’t interest me.
I tried changing my approach to coaching rather than training, in that I asked people questions about their life, what they were having difficulty with and what was bothering them the most. We started with the latter where I would break this down by asking more questions and eventually they had given themselves the answer and, most importantly, understood the thought process behind it. They were then able to take this whole process away with them and apply it if they needed to bring themselves back on track, or in other areas of their life.
This sort of helped on some level, but 1) It was really hard to market myself with this approach and 2) I still wasn’t working with runners and was going off on yet another tangent.
THE EFFECTS OF NOT BEING ME
In 2014, I had a year full of difficult lows and incredible highs:
I entered Bournemouth Marathon (I think I was drunk at the time)
I joined my local running club so I could have people to run with
My Grandma had a nasty fall, had a hip operation and was in a critical state for a while
My Dad had a heart attack (it was mild and he was fine, but it was awful at the time)
My marriage ended
I had my first notable mental health breakdown
I moved out of the marital home
I closed my business (I was working from home and didn’t have the capacity to relocate)
My Grandma moved into a nursing home from the bungalow she had lived in for over 70 years
My first niece was born
I started a new job as Office Manager for an accountancy firm
I ran Bournemouth Marathon (still one of THE best days of my life)
I moved into my new home
I stayed being employed with varying degrees of mental health difficulties for the next three to four years until I returned to self employment in 2018. This was, in part, reopening my massage business, although in reality it was building it from scratch because I didn’t have anything left except my massage couch – which is pretty fundamental, but I also needed clients!
I also started working as a Virtual Assistant because someone said I would be good at it and it would utilise the skillset I had from the previous 20 years’ admin/support roles, as well as having run my own business for seven of those years.
So I did both. I really didn’t like being a VA, I battled with it and found myself organically building my sports therapy business through the running club. I was finally working with runners and at the end of 2019 I started developing a programme specifically for runners to help them understand the fundamentals of running before injury forces them to stop.
And then on 4th February 2020, I had my worst mental health breakdown to date.
I went to my GP asking for help because my medication and coping mechanisms were no longer working and I could feel things spiralling out of control. I went in feeling broken and vulnerable, but clear that I wanted a referral to the mental health team to try and understand why my mental health had been getting progressively worse over the last 25 years.
I left feeling destroyed and desperate and in tears after being told I ‘just had depression and that no one else would tell me anything different’ – effectively get on with it. Yup – she let me leave in worse state than I had arrived.
I tried to wait until I got home to completely crumble, and largely I did, but I cried all the way home – thankfully I had walked so didn’t have to drive, but if I had my car I probably would have driven to A&E.
I got home and text my other half asking him to come home because I was in a state. We had been together four and half years at that point and, although he is incredibly supportive, I had never asked him to leave work for me before. He didn’t question me except to check I was safe and let me know he was on his way.
As soon as he got home I crumbled. I didn’t know what to do. I mean, if you’re not well you go to your GP, but if they won’t help you, what happens next?
I cancelled my all my appointments over the next four days and reached out to people who knew my mental health history. Everyone was horrified by how I was treated and encouraged me to try with another GP, but I just couldn’t face being rejected again. I eventually emailed the practice saying I needed to speak to someone about this and outlined my experience.
Over the next month or so, I spoke to a few different doctors who gave me varying doses of different medications until I was starting to feel somewhat human again. The anti-depressant worked very well and quickly, but left my anxiety exposed. At the beginning of March I experienced a pretty scary anxiety attack on the motorway where I ended up abandoning my and getting my other half to pick me up.
It was whilst my next-to-useless GP surgery were scrabbling about trying to decide what medication I should be on that they inadvertently referred me to my local mental health team.
Hoorah! I was finally going to be assessed. I had a consultation at the end of April where I was told I probably needed some more appropriate medication to help with my anxiety, so would remain under their care for about 6 weeks while they got that right. I was so relieved – somebody was going to help me!
So, later that week, when I received a letter from the MH team saying they were prescribing a new medication and discharging me back to my GP, my world fell apart again. I remember reading the letter over and over and over thinking I must have misread it. They couldn’t send me back to the GP, they just couldn’t.
Since my visit to the GP back in February, the country had been put into lockdown and, after the initial panic of losing about 80% of my income because my massage business had to temporarily close, I was finally able to give my body what it needed.
From the beginning of February until the end of April, I got up, dressed and showered if I had to, or if I was having a ‘better’ day, and effectively spent three months sat on the sofa. During this time, my other half, sister and a couple of really good friends were absolutely fundamental in helping and allowing me to do what I needed to do to let my body recover.
Throughout our whole relationship, my other half has always respected me as an individual – as someone who could look after themselves, but would be there if I asked for help. He would never tell me what to do, or take control of something on my behalf.
So, on the day I got the letter from the MH team saying they were discharging me back to my GP, I knew he was really upset and angry when he took it from me and called them to find out why they were doing this. They wouldn’t talk to him or call him back, but I knew then that I had all the support I needed.
With the help of these few people, I weighed up my options. I could either continue battling with an under resourced NHS system where I wasn’t a priority, or I could take control of my recovery with the help of my support network.
I chose the latter.
WHY NOW IS THE RIGHT TIME TO START FOLLOWING MY DREAM
The day I got that letter, I put on a pair of trainers, went outside for the first time in months, and went for a 10 minute walk. At the end of it, I was absolutely exhausted! Bearing in mind I have done several triathlons, half marathons and a marathon, this told me just how unwell I had been.
However, once I had had a little rest and a drink, I felt like I had gained a little bit of extra energy that day. I did the same the next day and gradually by the end of May, I was walking over an hour a day. I was discovering new paths near where I lived and thoroughly enjoying my exercise again.
By June I was starting to think beyond each day and what I wanted to do with my business. Although I was feeling a lot better, I didn’t have the capacity to do what was needed to move my business online, so I looked at employed options. I applied for a few jobs, went for an interview and started a new job as Office Manager in August 2020.
On paper the job was everything I could do, in reality it was more of an executive level role, running the business alongside the MD! This wasn’t what I thought I would be doing, but I took it on board and proved to myself that I was a whole lot more capable than I was giving myself credit for.
Then in January 2021, that came to an abrupt end after a disagreement. This in itself wasn’t a problem, but the behaviour of the company following this was, in my opinion, unacceptable. In my opinion, it was not only morally wrong, it stamped all over my own personal values. So, I made the decision to give my notice and pretty much pick up where I left off in February 2020.
I explored the option of restarting the VA business in some way or other because I was connected with the kind of people where this could probably happen quite quickly. I have a valuable network that I only really realised the true worth of when I needed their advice and support in January.
They helped me talk through my ideas, network at different places and meet a whole bunch of new people. I started planning how I was going to deliver Office Management and Consultancy services as a variation to my VA business from before.
But something just didn’t feel right – I wasn’t as excited as I wanted to be and was really struggling to sort out my packages, what I wanted to offer, and ultimately delayed ‘putting myself out there’.
And then I met someone who changed everything when I signed up to her course called The Power of YOU in Sales.
Before I go on, I want to summarise the last 40 years to give context to the next bit.
I was labelled the naughty child at home and school. I was always being told I couldn’t do what I wanted to do, but rarely being told why, or the answers didn’t make sense/seem valid. I was frustrated by this and went into my teens with ‘an attitude problem’, which I carried through the first part of my career – again being told I couldn’t ‘do… or say… or behave…’, but still with no real answers. I supressed my personality to fit in with society, because that seemed to lead to less conflict.
I first recall my mental health difficulties starting at the age of 14 and I had more days off school in those last two years than I had in the rest of my school years put together (I don’t believe it is a coincidence that this is the same age I experienced that first humiliating knock back). This absence pattern continued into the workplace and I was repeatedly called up for having the worst sickness record in the company/department. I have been put on stronger medication as the years have gone on and stay away from social events and large crowds.
In about 2019, after a couple of random conversations, I researched ADHD and ASD and recognised so many behaviour traits from my childhood and how these then transferred into adulthood – it seemed to fill in the gaps where depression and anxiety didn’t quite seem to make sense, or appeared to be the symptom rather than the cause.
Now, back to the Power of YOU in Sales. The information was provided via Facebook Live every day for half an hour with follow up tasks in a Facebook group. The very first sentence of this course went something like this:
“I have undiagnosed ADHD and ASD and I have been told my whole life that I can’t do x,y or z…”
I looked at the screen in amazement – it was like she was talking directly to me and saying “Emma, this is all about you”!
The session then went on to discuss being yourself in business because, certainly for small businesses/sole traders, it is YOU that you are selling. By the end of the first session, we were looking at different aspects of our life and/or business and asking ourselves how we felt in each area, why we were doing these things, where our beliefs came from, and were we doing the things that we’re passionate about and really want to do.
The task at the end was to do a personal SWOT analysis, but by this time I was in floods of tears at the realisation that is hasn’t been me being rubbish all this time, it’s what others have led/told me to believe about myself.
I asked myself when did I first know what I wanted to do? It was then that I realised it was when I had my first running injury at the age of 12 or 13 years old.
I then asked myself why am I not doing what I wanted to do? It was because I kept being told I couldn’t do it.
Following the realisation that came from the first Power of YOU in Sales session, I allowed my body and mind to process the associated emotions, and really thought about what I really wanted to do.
The answer was work with runners. It always has been.
So, I went back to the programme I had started developing at the end of 2019, and broke it down into elements that could be delivered via online sessions.
In the space of a week I had created an 8-week online Injury Prevention for Runners course called Rundamentals and published the first marketing campaign to my existing client base.
I had been more productive in a week than I’d been in the previous two months, just because I was doing something I loved doing and was passionate about.
This is only the beginning of this chapter in my life and I am beyond excited to see what happens next!
AND THAT’S HOW I CAME TO DO WHAT I REALLY WANT TO DO!
If you would like to find out more about me, what I do, or you would like to share your story with me, I would love to hear from you. Get in touch whichever way works best for you!