Going for it image
Feeling free

Going for it

Turning 40 made me, as it does for lots of people, re-evaluate my purpose in work, what was I doing and why? Instead of planning a big celebratory party, I decided to throw it all away: 

  • the steady pay
  • the holidays
  • the pension
  • the drama
  • the stress 
  • the endless meetings and
  • the smelly office (what was that stain?)

But for what? a notion, a niggle, a nag?

Climate change has been a siren call for well over a decade.  As a risk professional paid to look ahead and build frameworks to understand and mitigate risks, it simply made sense to pay attention to this big one. 

Once I understood the magnitude of the economic transition required to a low carbon economy, it seemed pretty obvious that the assumptions we were cheerfully laying plans within, the models and approaches we were using, were potentially wrong (utter bollocks even once you got past 5 years).  Pretty important for banks lending money over much longer time horizons! 

But this wasn’t a story anyone wanted to hear.  Or maybe I wasn’t telling it right.

“Show me the loss data” …“but nothing will change in the next 5 years”.….”that’s all well and good, but we need to deal with X, Y Z

Really?  My diagnosis was a comfortable lack of imagination, an inability to grapple with the big important issue coming while we all ran round the treadmill dealing with the day to day urgent stuff.  Urgent to who?

I’ve thrown it away before.  Back in 2006 I was working as a corporate banker in leveraged finance.  I was pretty rubbish, great at making connections, fantastic with the clients we already had, but not so hot at hitting the actual sales targets. 

I swapped a job that didn’t fit for a Masters in Environmental Economics, funded by an understanding boss who found me a part time role as a credit analyst specialising in the ESG (Environmental, Social and Government) sector.  He still calls me “swampy”. 

Showing person studying, with lots of books.

I loved the course, loved making the connections only hinted at before, loved grappling with the complexity.  But in the end I bottled it.  Stuck at the analysis, played around the edges.  The marriage and 3 kids were a socially acceptable excuse not to follow my instinct to build something more purpose led. 

So why now? 

The heroic answer is that I couldn’t not anymore.  The real one?   A mix of practical (youngest kid at school reduced childcare fees bigger than mortgage), timing and the news.  Mark Carney’s laser-like focus on climate change as one of the biggest risks to financial stability gives you a bit of validation. And we all love validation. 

What is my purpose

Honestly, still not 100% sure, but it’s getting there.  I know I want to do what I do best:

  • understand the bigger picture organisations sit within
  • build frameworks to monitor that picture and how the organisation interacts with it, identify triggers for action
  • make a plan, execute, change, do it all again

I want to know:

  • the regulations and systems we need
  • the likelihood of these dependent on political players
  • I want to help companies imagine a different future and be the first with their shoes on when it emerges. 

I don’t want companies to just look at compliance and loss avoidance. I want to:

  • help them identify opportunities, grasp the moral imperative and undestand their own purpose.   
  • open source our knowledge and learning for smaller business and charities to use for free, funded by the bigger clients paying for more bespoke analysis. 

And then came the dishcloth 

Towels neatly folded (looking ironed) in a laundry cupboard.
Getting a grip

That’s all well and good but how do you actually start an organisation (as opposed to anaysle one)? Drowning in a sea of self-doubt, no real idea where to start, I ricochet back to the old comfort zone.  Housework, kids, family.  I could always lay the blame at their feet.  Classsic procrastination. 

It was when I found myself ironing a dishcloth that I realised I needed a bloody good slap. 

What next?

I started to ask questions, surrounded myself with cheerleaders and made use of the Scottish entrepreuneurial ecosystem. Some of it didn’t fit, not a lot of it is purpose led, but some of it worked for me:

  • signed up to a co-working space to provide routine and some semblance of professionalism in my life. I remain hopeless at a “work life” balance.
  • joined local community groups that were a fit for me – the committee of a local community centre, SCCAN, I became a climate change facilitator. I made new connections with like minded souls and started to ground myself in my own community, something I never had the time or space for before.
  • found likeminded colleagues with complementary skills and a similar sense of purpose
  • networked like a demon, got to know my competitors, potential clients, made friends
  • joined the Circle academy accelerator, wrote a business plan
  • started client work, for free at first as I worked out processes and frameworks

And the moral of this sorry tale? 

Stop distracting yourself.  It’s a form of running away. Sit still, think about what you do and why. Read up on the issues nibbling at your mind, write your thoughts down, but don’t do quite so much needless stuff. Join a movement, a club, create something. Stop ironing.

For more information please contact Jayne Saywell, one of our Business Advisors. Her knowledge, experience and ideas can help your company thrive in a wellbeing economy, and find joy in a sustainable future.

Categories: Blog