| 3 Minute Read |

I want to put this out there for anyone else who might be feeling the same… I haven’t perfected sourdough bread. My banana bread was so dire that even the dog wouldn’t eat it. And I haven’t created a Polynesian-style resort with a swim-up pool in my back garden using only recycled palettes and two black bin bags.

Am I a pandemic failure, when my measure of success is getting a daily shower and reaching the bottom of the laundry basket – am I aiming too low?!

Look… I’ve found a lot of the ideas and projects shared over lockdown very inspiring. I’m often really positively energised to do things when I get ideas from others – it’s why I follow certain people on Instagram and Facebook. Inspiration is good.

But when does inspiration turn into comparison? In my experience, comparison is rarely healthy or helpful!

Let me share a really important lesson–as with all my life-lessons–I learned the hard way. Comparison is the enemy of self-compassion and mental wellbeing. If you are on the road to mental wellbeing, you should consider comparison as a ‘big-ass pothole’. Why would you want to drive through a big ass pothole?

As a teenager, my comparisons were usually linked to the size of my arse or the fashionability of my wardrobe. Into my twenties, it was more about college grades and job opportunities. Then in my thirties, I became a mother. That’s when comparison took a hefty dose of steroids!

I vividly remember feeling the slow cold grip of inadequacy taking hold of me when my daughter was young and starting school. It felt like a victory just to get through the school gates in the morning, both she and I looked like we’d done four rounds with Mike Tyson before breakfast. There would always be a few immaculate children who looked as though they were ready for a school uniform photoshoot… Whereas my wee lassie looked like the ‘end-of-a-rough-day’ model… but I never gave myself a break. Even back then, long before diagnosis, I instinctively knew my darling daughter was neuro-diverse. It’s an entirely different ballgame dressing a child with sensory issues when every clothing label feels like barbed-wire against the skin. I just embraced my sense of inadequacy and hung my dishevelled head in shame.

When you feel inadequacy taking hold of you, here is my tip. Remind yourself that you’re usually only seeing a slice of someone else’s story (#BehindTheHashtag). That’s not to say what you’re seeing isn’t true – but it’s not the whole picture.

If I look back to the unhappiest time in my life, NO ONE would have guessed what was really going on. I don’t recall consciously being deceptive, but by zooming in on the small percentage of good in my life, I think it was a way of numbing myself to how awful things actually were. I would show the world only the parts of my life that I felt in control of or made me feel good about myself.

I have deep compassion for parents today who are currently homeschooling. Although I’m not a drinker, I’m pretty sure I’d have been pouring Bailey’s Irish Cream on my Cornflakes after just one week. As I said, it was hard enough for me just getting a young child out of the door and off to school in the morning!

However, we all have very different needs, when you compare you’re looking outwards when what’s needed is more of a ‘what’s needed here and now for me and those I love?’.

It’s great to get inspiration from others, but when it begins to feel like a standard you’re failing to meet, you might have hit a comparison pothole.

How do you know if you have an unhealthy comparison?

I’ve learned that if you find yourself more focussed on ‘capturing a moment to share’ versus ‘enjoying the moment for itself’, that might be a warning!

What matters most is if you like or love your moment – not what others think. Notice how you feel when you see a memory or a picture – if it brings you joy that’s wonderful, if you recall it being hard work or difficult at the time, maybe that’s a signal. Letting go of comparison and what others may think is incredibly liberating – you’ll potentially win back a lot of time and energy… something we all need more of these days.

So as you reflect, please remember this… ‘comparison is the enemy of self-compassion’. In the same way that ‘perfection is the enemy of good’, and right now, any level of good is quite amazing in my opinion!!!


| 4 Minute Read |

One of my favourite things to do is have a coffee outside first thing in the morning. The Scottish weather has not allowed for that in many weeks, until one recent Saturday morning I was able to do a bit of mindfulness and enjoy a large cup of coffee out in the back garden. As I sat enjoying the peace, I noticed a really rapidly moving fog bank on the hill behind my house. Truthfully it was quite a creepy-ass looking thing – like some kind of smoke beast (any Lost fans?). Then it struck me – that’s what happens to my brain when I’m not taking care of myself. That’s when the fog can start building up.

It got me thinking about how brain fog can have the characteristics of REAL fog.   Think about any time you’ve been caught out in foggy weather, it come sometimes creep up on you gradually.    There have been days when  I’ve been out hill walking and simply haven’t noticed that mist is building up into a fog. The next thing you know, it’s a “pea-souper” with limited visibility.   I once actually had to ask other walkers if I was at the top of the hill yet!   Very disorienting. You can only see what is right in front of you. And you slow right down as you try to navigate that.  Sometimes  fear can make it tempting to stay in place until the fog clears. Waiting until it clears is not always an option – for sure staying out on a hill into darkness isn’t a safe option.

Let’s come off the hill and go back to the brain. As we navigate life in a global pandemic on a day-to-day basis – it’s easy to overlook the ever-thickening “mist” that creeps in with tiredness. I’ve certainly become so used to the new and strange routine that I’m not sure I register it any more. I was aware of my energy levels, which I have been battling for a while now (Keeping Your Batteries Charged). A few weeks back I found myself with just the energy for my workday and cooking dinner, for 5 days straight I was in bed by 7pm!! Even if I had 10 hours of sleep, I still woke up exhausted. There was no chance my weekly workouts were happening and the thought of having to plough through weekend housework made me want to weep.

And yet, I pushed on – desperate for “normal”—big mistake.    The following week I was knocked out with a migraine – a particularly brutal one.  Every time I thought it had cleared a rebound migraine hit me l like a boxer giving another punch when their opponent staggers up from the mat. Eventually I had one reasonable day – rejoiced that it was over –  then BOOM another migraine sucker punch. What the ‘actual hell’ was going on here?

If we go back to the fog (oh how I like to kick the arse out of a metaphor), when the fog is thick enough, you can hardly see your hand in front of your face.  You literally are unable to see what is right in front of you.   So what were the signposts my “fog” had caused me to miss? I decided to turn investigator and take a day off work to focus on what needed to shift (as well as catch up on all the neglected chores at home!).

I’ve been lucky enough over the years to work closely with professionals who really know their stuff when it comes to wellbeing. So, as a start, I went back to the basics I’d been shown over the years.

Increasing water consumption (with a pinch of salt in it) was a simple step one. The pinch of salt is to counterbalance any frequency of loo visits which may follow – TMI for some, though top of mind for others I’m sure! Taking processed food out of my diet and eating WAY more vegetables, fruit and protein. Bye-bye beige food! I even went onto YouTube and taught myself how to recalibrate the CPAP machine I’ve been using every night for 15 years for sleep apnoea (there’s zero chance of a sleep clinic appointment anytime soon).

The good news – it has helped. Significantly. I mean I’m not running any marathons, but getting up in the morning has been easier. I’m staying awake beyond 7pm, and I think I’m slightly more pleasant to be around! And whilst I don’t want to tempt fate… (so let’s whisper it) no migraine for two weeks. ??

That morning, when I was sitting with my coffee watching the creepy-ass fog bank moving away, what I particularly loved was the watery autumn sunshine beginning to appear. I like to think that when brain fog clears what then peaks through like the sunshine are the things we forget are so helpful to us. Healthy eating. A good night’s sleep. Dancing to a great tune in the kitchen. Connecting with friends (yes even virtually that’s so good for you). And having a really, really good laugh.

What are you forgetting to do for yourself? The smallest of changes can help the fog clear and let the sunshine appear.

Rolling the fog away

I don’t normally credit photos, but wanted to put a wee note beside this one.

One of my favourite fog clearing photographs was taken by my very dear late friend Chrissie on one of our many early morning walks in Bushy Park.

We lost Chrissie earlier this year (Loss and Legacy) and I miss her every day. ❤️



| 2 Minute Read |

Wanting to make sure I made the most of my staycation time off work, I went looking for some helpful articles to read. When you’re trying to make an overhaul of your habits, this in itself can feel a lot like another full-time job. So, when this article popped up in my Chopra newsletter (btw they often do free courses in meditation that I would recommend), it felt like an ideal starting point.

At the heart of this article is a focus on energy, which is what jumped out to me, as it’s the one thing I’ve been battling to manage for what seems FOREVER. I definitely do not feel as alone on the energy deficit front these days. If I reflect on the conversations I’ve had with friends and family throughout the pandemic, the subject of energy (or lack of it) comes up every time, and I promise it’s not because I’m bringing it up!

How do we protect our energy then?

It’s never just one thing which brings your energy levels down over time – and that’s when it can get very challenging. Where to start? There have been times in recent years when I’ve been puzzling over what’s exhausting me. My analogy of this is when your phone battery suddenly doesn’t last as long as it typically does, and you subsequently discover you’ve got an app open in the background draining the power. So similarly in real life, it’s finding out which “app” is taking your energy!

What’s particularly helpful with this article is that it breaks down all the potential areas for an energy boost, I’d recommend starting with one and building up over time. Sleep is a great place to start – I don’t know anyone who hasn’t had their sleep patterns disturbed somewhat over recent months. Everything, in my experience, feels a little easier if you’ve had a decent night’s sleep.

Good luck with your jumpstart – and it would be wonderful if you could share what works well for you.

| 4 Minute Read |

We all have times in our lives when we’re much more motivated than others. In recent weeks I’ve spoken to many people who are really struggling with their motivation. I count myself among their numbers.

As I sit down with my orange juice on a Saturday morning to write, my first thought is, “How do I make sure this article isn’t really annoying to read?”. In my hunt for my mojo, particularly over the last couple of weeks, I’ve found many sources of inspiration and motivation VERY irritating.

“Life is like exercise; the harder it is, the stronger you become.”

“A negative mind will not give you a positive life.”

“Do something today that your future self will thank you for.”

Oh, bugger off! I’m pretty sure my future self would bitch-slap me if she could get her hands on me. I just don’t have the energy to do what she needs. There was a time when I would have been hashtagging the hell out of things like this. So where did my mojo go? 

What I think I’m beginning to understand, this week in particular, is that the exhaustion that many of us feel right now is very, very real. Although I’ve been struggling with my mojo for some time now, the months of lockdown have been particularly difficult. What keeps knocking me back over again? There is no doubt the menopause is kicking my arse like an angry army sergeant, and I still have to watch for occasional post-burnout blips. But that can’t be the whole story…

I have “pockets” of motivation, but I’m noticing that although these pockets are great, they are taking much more energy than usual, so there’s very little motivation left over. I’ve been grateful to be doing work I really enjoy, and every week I get to meet new leaders and teams which often gives me an extra shot of motivation. Although it does just feel like a sugar-high and it doesn’t usually last beyond the end of the working day. 

It can feel like the energy is really in and out. You know that feeling when you’ve got a loose cable on a lamp, and when you move the cable to a certain angle you can get full power, but it only takes a slight nudge for it to lose power and the light goes out? That’s what motivation feels like for me right now.  But just like the dodgy cable, where is the disconnect? I’ve not got the answer, but I do have some ideas. 

Three weeks ago, I began a course in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. A long-held wish which I’ve been able to realise thanks to lockdown putting classes online (silver linings). I have never needed to search for the mojo to attend these classes – no matter how tired I’ve felt – and it’s helping me notice so much. No definitive answer, but a lot of clues to follow up. Here’s what I’ve noticed.

I’d stopped listening to music. Not sure when or why. As I restarted, it is definitely rebooting something for me. As I write this, I’m listening to the Hamilton soundtrack, and it’s like someone is injecting me with caffeine.

I keep comparing myself to what I used to be able to do. There was a time where I was a bit of a fitness bad-ass… now it’s rather more ‘saggy-ass’. That comparison is wildly unhelpful. Looking back hasn’t been helpful – instead, I think I need to simply start where I am and begin to move forward. Behave like a beginner just starting out.

Looking outside for motivation can be helpful – I’ll often be inspired by the stories of others, though sometimes it can turn into a stick to beat myself with. I need to find the inspiration in myself – which takes me to my final point. 

If there is no goal, it’s harder to keep going on the low energy days. I’ve just been trying to get through each week and my to-do list. I realised this week I’ve not had a big enough goal pulling me on for quite some time. Could this be a big part of the answer? Is it that simple?

The gym I’m part of has a very strong community focus. Our gym owner and amazing coach Ross (at Caber Fitness) has put us in teams over lockdown and given us challenges each week. There is always a blend of movement, social and lifestyle. Some weeks I’m all over it, the past two weeks I’ve just not been up for it.

This week’s lifestyle challenge has definitely sparked something for me… and may give me one of the ways I can get consistent power to that “lamp” which keeps going on and off.   

“Write down a goal for the next 12 months and how you are going to start working towards it.”  

As much as I want to help the team win the challenge – it’s not really the points being awarded that’s motivating me here, it’s the thought that I might get my mojo back.  

So, let’s see where this takes me… I’m going to put on some great music for my dog walk this morning, be mindful about the movement of the walk and pay attention to how being in nature feels. When I come back, I’ll sit down with a coffee, write out my goal and how I will start working towards it. 

This week I’d love to hear back from you on ideas on how you find your mojo? Is there anything you’ve done which gets you back up again when you feel knocked down? I look forward to hearing from you and sharing our journeys. Maybe we can motivate each other! 

| 4 Minute Read |

Many people believe creating boundaries in life is about saying NO. For the average “people pleaser” like me, that can make my hair stand on end.

Can you set boundaries without feeling like a bitch?So, can you really set boundaries without feeling like a bitch?

When I learned to reframe the idea of boundaries to focus on what I wanted to say YES to, it opened up an entirely new perspective for me. Also, taking a more positive approach to asking for the behaviours I wanted, versus asking for something to stop, makes for more precise and more comfortable conversations. This didn’t happen overnight though, far from it, and it does take some deliberate focus, but the benefits are so worth it.

Let’s start with what you want to say YES to. This takes a bit of thought, especially if you’ve been in the habit of taking care of everyone else’s needs first. When I was in training several years ago for the significant physical challenge of climbing a mountain, it was the first time in years I’d put myself first. I’m not saying there wasn’t some guilt associated with it, but there were also incredible health benefits.

After the mountain climb was complete, I could sense my family hoped that “normal service” would then be resumed, but I now had a taste for focusing on myself, and so I continued carving out things I wanted to say YES to. I began small – going out for a coffee, time alone to read a magazine, getting the house (or even just the bathroom) to myself for a few hours. Over time I built towards a weekend away and eventually a week in the sun with my girlfriends. The overall health benefits were beyond what I could have imagined!

The other aspect of boundaries in relationships is stating them clearly. I found defining my YES a piece of cake compared to having to set boundaries and expectations. Over the years, I had made several “attempts” to express what I needed, and I deliberately use the word “attempt” because, in hindsight, I was very vague. There were also no consequences when my request wasn’t met – I don’t think my silent inner rage is any kind of consequence (unless we count the impact on my own health!).

Creating boundaries in a relationship

The key to creating boundaries in a relationship is the need for minimal explaining or justifying. If what you’re asking for is not clear, reasonable and straightforward – you need to rethink it. If you have to go into a big WHY story, your message will be lost.

I love that our dear Queen Elizabeth II is alleged to live by the ethos “don’t complain, don’t explain”. If it’s good enough for the Queen, it’s good enough for me.

What I have found interesting to reflect on is “Why were my own attempts at this so weak?”, given that anyone who knows me wouldn’t describe me as a shrinking violet. As I was preparing to write this article, I realised that at the heart of asking for what you need is the core belief “you deserve it”. For me it was the inverse “you don’t deserve it”, and that hesitation leaves you wide open to have your boundaries stomped all over.

I wish I could, but I don't want to - Pheobe from Friends

“Boundary breaches”, as I like to think of them, tend to come when the status quo is working well for others, and they don’t want things to change. You have to be prepared to unnervingly hold your ground – every YES you are forced into accepting, means saying NO to something you actually want to do. Believing you deserve what you’re asking for will make you far more convincing! Some inner work might be needed for this to come naturally.

Getting clear on boundaries. Finding your line and holding it. This could be a critical step in prioritising your self-care.

What’s the line you need to hold? What would you like to say YES to more often?  Let me know in the comments below.

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My resistance to the idea of having burnout was, on reflection, mind-boggling stubborn.  The textbook signs were all there, but here’s the thing, the conversation about burnout is all workplace-related and that was simply not my experience.  The workplace for me was a safe haven, my burnout was caused by extreme stress in my personal life.

If you are already running with a regular (unacknowledged) baseline stress level, then a massive life event can be a critical tipping point.  The hardest thing for me was the feeling of having to admit defeat.  Particularly tough at a time when there were so many things that were down to me.

So, what did I learn?

First of all, if you ignore the whispers that your body and mind may be sending you, they will eventually turn into a shout.  I was getting increasingly frequent migraines – days of vomiting and being stuck in a dark room.  Despite the increasing severity, I didn’t visit the doctor—mistake number one.

Second major learning—ask for help. When it became evident that I was going to be left very much on my own to deal with marital separation, a house move and the impact on my daughter, I should have asked for help immediately.  Instead, I honoured my promise to protect my ex-husband’s privacy by not widely sharing the reality of our situation.  Essentially, I cut myself off from getting help in order to help him.  The most extraordinarily stupid, and typical ‘people pleaser’ move of all time.

Third, and most important lesson.

Being clear on what strength and resilience actually means, is vital to your well-being.

It does NOT mean rolling with every punch that’s levelled at you emotionally. It does NOT mean you keep going at all costs.  And it certainly does NOT mean pretending you’re OK when you most definitely are not—game-changing mistake.

Game-changing in a helpful way.  It is often the most challenging learning that’s the most beneficial—annoyingly.  So, when I got honest with myself and others, was when I asked for help.  When I finally went to the doctor (thanks to my best friend Karen and my mother, who staged an intervention on the morning of my 50th Birthday!), the turnaround began.

I hated having to change the story in my mind of being someone strong who coped with everything.  In the early days of my recovery, I felt I’d lost myself.  There was a deep and burning shame that I wasn’t able to keep ploughing on.  I couldn’t stop thinking of others who had so much more to deal with in life and kept going.

Then something magical happened –

I stopped resisting and began to show myself the same compassion I would show others. I accepted the offers of help.

Burnout is a sign that something needs to change

I’ll never forget one particular afternoon as I prepared for my upcoming house move, after 20 years in the same house, I was faced with a garage, stacked from floor-to-ceiling, with the contents from the attic. I’m sure opening the door to that mountain of boxes is what tipped me over the edge of burnout.

When you don’t know where to start, what usually happens is we just don’t start.   So, when my friend Janice rocked-up with moving boxes and a brusque “Let’s get on with this”, it was a moment I’ll never forget. “I’ll make dinner – you pop into the garage and see what you can get done in half-an-hour”.

An hour later, when my daughter and I sat with Janice laughing over dinner, I knew true, deep gratitude. She’d helped me start. We were on our way forward.  Hundreds of moments of help from so many people lay ahead of us.  I got into burnout by going it alone, and I wasn’t going to make the same mistake getting out of it.

Are their whispers you might be ignoring?   Maybe today could be the day you reach out and ask someone for help? 

| 3 Minute Read |

I reckon one of the most vulnerable things you can ever step into is an apology.  A real apology.  To admit that you really got something wrong, that you’ve caused hurt or distress to someone else with your actions.   That’s difficult.  We will naturally become defensive, emotional.  But to say “I’m sorry” properly is so vital to human connection.  Vital to trust.

There is incredible healing power in a REAL apology, one which comes from the heart and is actually about the person who you have hurt NOT about you.

I learned about this in the deepest possible way when I was working with my daughter, helping her navigate through my divorce from her father.

You may have already read my article ‘Would you kiss Mickey Mouse with that mouth?’, where the overwhelming emotion of all that we’d been through got the better of me.  And while I did apologise for that particular outburst, that specific incident was not the main turning point for the relationship – that needed a much bigger apology than that.

ApologiesI once heard an interview with Harriet Lerner PhD talking about the power of apology and one particular comment stuck with me,

“Apologies are very healing, but when apologies are absent, it will compromise a relationship and can lead to the end of a relationship.”

I heard this interview the same week I took part in a session at work about trust.  A question we had to answer was: “When have you forgiven someone after they have broken your trust?”

As I sat reflecting on the question, I realised that the answer for me was never.  That shocked me.  To be clear, at that time, it took a great deal to break my trust – the joy of being a ‘people pleaser’.  However, once broken – my trust had never been regained.

At first, I felt terrible about it – what did it say about me? Am I cold and unforgiving? Then, as I ran through my mind the few times that trust had been broken, I started to see a common theme.  Not once on those occasions had I received a REAL apology.  Not once did the individual take any accountability, but instead gave all the justifying reasons for their behaviour.  It was all about them.

With this in mind, there was no question in my mind that to navigate all the change that divorce would bring for my daughter, it was VITAL there needed to be a foundation of trust.  I couldn’t see any way to ensure that trust than to be entirely and gut-wrenchingly honest with her.  She deserved a bloody good and sincere apology, and the only control I had over that was MY apology.  This was about my relationship with her.

Taking accountability and showing that you’ve really listened and you understand the impact you’ve had on someone else is vital.  Sometimes people lack the ability to take accountability because, in their mind, they hadn’t INTENDED to cause hurt.  Well, intentions are irrelevant.  Hurt can often be caused by doing nothing, by not stepping in and taking action.    So with a lot of tears and many deep breaths, I took ownership for what I HADN’T done.  Taken ownership for what I ignored.

And so, the apology that turned our relationship around also helped create the approach to life we would take in our new home together.   Honesty, humour and love.  We don’t always get it right – but we always make sure apologies are real.

Anyone you might owe an apology to?  You might even strengthen a relationship if you do it well.

| 3 Minute Read |

There was a time when I would have dismissed the power of gratitude with a “Yes, I know how lucky I am”, as I don’t think I had any idea then that gratitude is as much about ‘rewiring your brain’, as it is about ‘warming your heart’.

I started the practice of gratitude as part of a total well-being and fitness overhaul around four years ago. Although my overall health and fitness has undoubtedly had its ebbs and flows over that time, I’ve never gone a single day without gratitude.  What has changed over the years though, is that what started out as something I had to remind myself to do and would often struggle with, is now just like brushing my teeth in the morning and at night – in fact, I very often go through my gratitude at precisely those times.

So, what do you do if you feel like there is nothing to be grateful for?

We can find ourselves in some pretty dark places depending on what’s going on in our lives – health issues, bereavement, life changes – but is it always possible to find a gratitude?  Well, I had a particular morning like that.  Many of my loved ones were all struggling with serious health issues at the time, I probably hadn’t slept properly for weeks, and as I stood brushing my teeth and trying to muster gratitude, I came up with zero.  The concept of gratitude actually pissed me off that morning.

Bella - Jean's Dog

Our dog, Bella

Finishing my coffee that morning and feeling like I had a rucksack full of bricks on my back, I let my dog out into the back garden for her early morning “constitutional”. As I went out to clear up from her last few days in the garden, I felt a bubble of laughter coming up in me.   I’d found my gratitude for that day.   A hard frost and rock-solid dog sh!t from previous days which made clean-up so much easier.  Frozen sh!t had saved the day – and taught me a valuable lesson.  There is ALWAYS something to be grateful for – still having breath in your body, being able to put your feet on the floor in the morning, having people who care about you, a great cup of coffee, the perfect boiled egg… To be honest, my gratitude rarely relates to things that cost money, it’s almost always the simple things.

When times are good – reflecting on your gratitude really feels like the sun on your face, it will add to your happiness.  In bad times – gratitude is like a light at the end of a long dark tunnel, helping you to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

In either circumstance, it can shift your attitude in the most powerful way, even on a frozen dog sh!t kind of day.


Next Steps

If you’re not sure where to start, you’ll find some great tips here:
Please share your gratitudes in the comments below – what’s helping you?
| 6 Minute Read |

This article was my first venture into sharing the story of my well-being journey with others. When I originally wrote this, I was going through what I thought was one of the most significant challenges I’d faced, though interestingly it was only the beginning and so much has happened since then. After the article was first published in February 2017 and shared with my Cisco family worldwide, what I loved the most was the connections it created and how readers shared their own stories with me, these interactions taught me so much. So, if the article resonates with you in any way, I would love to hear from you too – you can use the comments section below or get in touch via my contact page.

People have said that an early morning telephone call with me ‘is a great caffeine-free way to start their day’, due to my generally helpful and optimistic nature.  So when the phone rang one morning and I was asked to be part of a well-being initiative Cisco was introducing – my ‘Mary Poppins persona’ kicked in with an immediate, “Yes!”. Little did I know that this ‘yes’ would be life-changing – for both my family and me – and would test my natural optimism to its very limits.

The initiative being introduced was in collaboration with internationally renowned well-being expert, Jessie Pavelka.  What I had said ‘yes’ to was sharing my experiences as I lived the “Pavelka Way” and – most importantly – completing a significant challenge six months later. That challenge would be to climb the tallest mountain in the United Kingdom,  Ben Nevis, which stands 4,013 feet tall. Eek!

My starting point was that of “struggling to climb a flight of stairs” – what possessed me to sign up to such a massive challenge? Honestly, the fear of how tired and unfit I had become was far greater than the fear of that mountain. Just the month before I started this challenge, my family had been in a car accident – thankfully, no one was injured, but the impact this event had on us was significant. It was suddenly evident how I had become tired, unfit, and lacking in resilience. As energized as I was by my career, I had almost no energy left by the weekend and simply wasn’t able to be as present for my husband and thirteen-year-old daughter as I should have been.

Something needed to change.  The phone call felt like a lifeline.

How do you go from a standing start to the top of a mountain?  One-step and one-day at a time. Using Cisco technology to meet virtually, Jessie spent time getting to know what made me tick, what my schedule looked like, and helped me find the time and space to fit in well-being and movement  – he quickly realized that being outdoors was key for me! And this was my path to my 15,000 daily step target, which became a joy to do!

At the same time, I was putting more colour on my plate, cutting out processed food, and getting more sleep. That’s pretty much what I did for three months as I focused on getting stronger and fitter one step at a time – and the health benefits were almost immediate!

Then came the more challenging part of the process – having built up a level of fitness and making movement a part of every day, it was time to tackle my mind power.  This is where my Mary Poppins persona felt well and truly out of her depth!  My challenge was to complete a high rope obstacle course, and I don’t mind admitting I’ve never known fear like it – ever.

Taking the first step off the platform was the toughest moment, I really thought I wasn’t going to be able to do it! It turns out that my fear of failure was greater, so off I zipped! Throughout the morning I screamed, I cried, I got angry, I fell off obstacles, and somewhere along the process a switch flicked in my head – and I think this is where Wonder Woman made her first brief appearance. I finished the obstacle course. Bruised, tired, and more proud of myself than I’ve ever been.  I could not believe what I had done!

Now it was time to get serious about this mountain climb – for the next three months, I grew my inner Wonder Women gradually day by day. A big part of Wonder Woman’s power, of course, is her attitude and her mind power! That’s the muscle I built up the most when I stopped talking myself out of things.  When you stop second-guessing yourself a whole new world of possibility suddenly opens up.  When it came to the day of the climb, I felt 100% ready.  Nervous, scared and excited, but most certainly ready.

Meditation up the mountainAll of the elements from the Pavelka Way – food, movement, mind power, and family – helped to power me up the mountain! I ate the right fuel to get energy all day. I paced myself and dug deep physically on the tougher parts of the climb. I also stopped to take in the incredible scenery on the way up and even managed a few peaceful moments of reflection. Most importantly, I built an incredible support team around me in the lead up to and during that day. What made the experience even more meaningful was the ability to raise over $3,000 for Scottish Autism, thanks to the generosity of sponsors and our Cisco Matching program.

What I thought would be an ordeal to “get through” turned out to be the greatest adventure of my life. I discovered strength in myself that I did not know existed and realized that what you can achieve becomes so much more significant when you are part of a team all pulling in the same direction.

My career at Cisco is all about creating the best teams and enabling people to truly play to their strengths; every single day, they arrive to get to work. I’ve learned more about the power of teams and how to discover your strengths in my mountain climb than I could ever have imagined, and it’s exciting to now take what I’ve learned back into my work.

This challenge was an incredible opportunity to have, and Cisco even provides the perfect environment to #payitforward as I share my experience and insight with others who maybe want to find a little bit more energy in their days.

My main takeaway from this experience…

What you are truly capable of lies on the other side of fear – we discover strengths we don’t know we have when we push past what we’ve always done. But you don’t have to do it all on day one – start with one step at a time.

It’s also never been clearer to me that humans are not wired to succeed on their own – we just aren’t.  Building a team around you for support is vital for your learning, your success, and it’s just much more fun!

When you think anything is possible – I mean truly believe it – it turns an optimist into an adventurer.

It’s where Mary Poppins becomes Wonder Woman.