.... VERY unwell!
Up until 2016, I defined myself first and foremost by my work. If you met me I'd have told you about my work loooong before I told you about my family, my friends and my interests. I thrived (and still do!) on having too much to do.
I was passionate, I was enthusiastic and I was committed 150%. I was a really great fundraiser; an effective communicator; a supportive and nurturing line manager; an inspiring team leader; and a creative and challenging Senior Manager.
I loved being all of those things
I was proud of being all those things
I wanted more
Then, in June 2016 I found myself at The Christie Hospital in Manchester, receiving diagnosis of and treatment for an aggressive form of breast cancer. And my world changed forever.
I was 41. I was a mum. I was a wife. I was a daughter, a sister, a niece, a friend, a volunteer, and many many other things. And I had been diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening illness.
There ensued the crappest and toughest 12 months of my life. And whilst it was not all plain sailing, my treatment was successful and I currently (touch wood - and it's not often I'm confident enough say this out loud) have no evidence of disease.
my brief, and hopefully one-off, brush with significant illness did change my entire outlook on most things.
Whilst receiving treatment, I questioned whether each of every occasion and milestone I experienced would be the last time I would be around to see that event. I worried about many things, mainly relating to my husband and our girls, and our wider family and friends.
At NO point did I worry about whether I'd get to write another funding proposal, or sign up another new client.
Yet these had been priorities one, two and three prior to my diagnosis. And while I ran back into work, kicking and screaming, determined to prove that the old me was still hiding within the bald, fatter person who emerged from treatment, I had now been given a real kick-in the pants and a very large wake-up call that I had other far more important priorities I needed and wanted to focus my attentions on. And they came way much further up the list than work.
One thing cancer did give me was 8 months at home with my girls - 3 months longer than the cumulative total of maternity leave I took with both of them. I was there when they came home from school and nursery. I was there to help them with homework and to see their shows, concerts and plays; every one of them.
And after the jubilation of returning to work subsided, the realisation hit me - I no longer wanted to put work first.
I didn't want a work/life balance, I wanted a life balance - part of which included work, but not so much a part that it warranted 50/50 billing with the rest of my life.
I also realised that getting over the effects of the treatment was going to take a very long time. And I needed to focus on finding time for self care and for healthy living.
But I'm me. And I'm rubbish at doing nothing. And I missed being part of making a difference, part of working hard, part of pitching in and getting it done. So I needed to find a new way of doing all of these things whilst still allowing myself to be a mum and a wife and healthy and happy and in bed by 9pm every night.
It was in pouring over the reasons why I felt I could not continue in my beloved role with my former clients, and the reasons I had to give notice on my contract, that a new career path started to emerge.
I tested my theories. I consulted with colleagues in similar level roles in similar sized charities, and many of the themes were the same.
And I saw an opportunity to find that satisfaction and to feel that sense of self-worth and of making a difference, by doing so vicariously through the helping of others to achieve those very same goals and aspirations that I'd previously set for myself.
And then my thoughts went a step further: -
It can't be that I'm the first person who has put work before everything else and then come to regret or resent it.
And I won't be the last
Why had I done it, and why do others also feel the need to do it?
I started looking into turnover of charity staff, and into where people tend to stay the longest, and why.
I also started looking into what the common causes of concern and stress were for others across the sector, and what caused real problems for teams as well as individuals
I also started learning about the theory of wellbeing, of motivation, of enabling people to achieve their best, and focusing on their whole lives, not just on their work lives.
And I started looking into organisational culture within charities and the idiosyncrasies of their working practices, and comparing them to those of organisations in the corporate world. And I started collecting examples of best practice and improvement.
And I started to look at who else was focussing on the wellness and wellbeing of charity employees - the incidence of stress, or sick leave, for burn out and of leaving the sector.
And in all of my slightly ad-hoc research, one question sprang to mind....
Is the charity sector as interested in the wellbeing of its staff as it is in the wellbeing of its beneficiaries?
While I found a number of fundraising coaches, trainers, recruiters and consultants, some of whom I have huge respect and admiration for, who offer career development support, I didn't find anyone who appeared to place specific focus on how charities should attract, nurture, develop and retain fundraisers
(I do recognise that many facets cover other charity staff but my primary focus is on fundraisers).
Nor did I find anyone focussing on how to create and sustain the culture and infrastructure you need to have in place in order to enable fundraisers to "do their thing"
And so, in January 2019, I established Charity Well in order to serve this unmet need:
to challenge the way Well is perceived & achieved in the charity sector
Charity Well basically ensures I focus on how fundraisers can learn, implement and achieve well as a result of my work with them. It also provides a vehicle by which I can start identifying and tackling the causes not just the symptoms of stress, burn-out and staff turnover, and challenging some of the 'elephants in the room (sector)'.
I hope that well considered and robust piece of research will form the basis of further challenge, debate and change.
If you would like to take in the wellbeing research, please click here