Life is moving fast right now. We’re slap bang in the middle of a technological revolution – moving faster than even the Industrial Revolution. Games, the news agenda, trends – all can come and go in the space of minutes, let alone days or weeks.
That kind of speed can be frightening and it can make you feel – particularly if you aren’t a “digital native” – that you’ll never catch up, let alone keep up, with all the things that are changing. It’s not just my industry (media) – it’s everywhere you look; retail, banking, medicine, everything is changing. There’s a real sense that if you don’t keep up, you’ll be left behind. That career longevity is no longer about experience, but about adaptability, flexibility and a willingness to learn.
Around five years ago, that sense became so strong for me that I felt I had to do something about it. I’d hit 40 (and the rest), and could feel the ground shifting around me. I’d worked in magazines all my life and it felt like the place I’d made my professional home was in decline – and didn’t know what to do about it. I’d sit in boardrooms with people who weren’t brave enough to face technology head-on. So, in a moment of madness, I decided to go back to basics. I truly believed that women’s media had a place, it just wasn’t where it was right then. I handed in my notice and did an entry-level coding course, with the germ of the idea that became, eventually, The Pool.
I was definitely fearful. Terrified, more like!
I remember being out with my brother one evening when I was on gardening leave, quietly freaking out and wondering what the hell I’d done, and he said – in a typical boy way: “What’s the worst that can happen? It doesn’t work out and you have to go and get another job.”
How annoyingly spot on is that?
In that moment, I realised I was more fearful of what other people would say if I failed than of failure itself
So often, our fear is more about what other people think. You might be paranoid that people are waiting for you to drop the ball, but in reality that’s what kept me going when things were difficult. I thought, “I’m not going to give them that satisfaction.”
In that respect, “being fearless” is a misnomer. It’s about knowing you’re afraid and doing it anyway. The world is made up of two kinds of people – those who are scared and those who are hiding it. (OK, so maybe there’s a third type who truly isn’t scared, but who ARE those people?!)
When I was about 14, I was at a party and must have looked like the uncomfortable teen I was – I’m not great at hiding my emotions. (I’ve got what you might call an expressive face!) A friend of my mum’s made a beeline for me and said, “Lots of people in this room feel like you feel, but they’re pretending they don’t.” That made a real impact on me, I’ve never forgotten it.
Behind almost everyone who looks fearless is someone who’s really frightened but better at hiding it, and being afraid isn’t stopping them.
I’m lucky to have a partner I can share my fears with – my husband, Jon. All the most successful women I know have a really supportive partner – it helps you realise you don’t have to pretend to be “all over it” and part of that is knowing who you can admit you aren’t “all over it” to.
Something that really bothers me is the way women my age are being completely discounted by society. It can be hard to remain confident when you don’t see yourself reflected in media or the public eye. You can’t be what you can’t see. Where are all the women over 40? Where are the women in their fifties? Men get gravitas; women get lost. That’s what it looks like. The system is rigged against us, so it’s understandable that, as we get older, we might find it harder to overcome our fear.
But for every scary new thing, there’s an opportunity to do something differently. Think: “Where’s the opportunity here? How can I turn this into something positive?” Facing that fear head-on might just change the direction of your life.