In business, it’s a fact that entrepreneurs leverage their assets to increase profits. A lesser-known (or perhaps acknowledged) fact is that many entrepreneurs have an incredible asset that started the entrepreneurial journey in the first place: life experience.
Many of my Mentees and Coaching Clients have worked an 8 – 12 hour (plus) job and felt taken advantage of by their employers. Others have had what I call their “Kali Moments,” where everything in life seems to fall apart. Either way, they no longer want to run the “employed” treadmill anymore. The majority have been through both – and that’s my story.
I’m sharing this with you to hopefully inspire you to move forward from where you are, to where you want to be, pretty much wherever that is! So, here beginneth a quick tour through what got me where I am now – this is Part 1, the early years of my life up to the start of my working life. Part 2 will follow, and who knows how many more there’ll be because I’m thoroughly enjoying the journey, and there are many more stories to create!
I grew up with the most entrepreneurial parents anyone could wish for. Before I was born, my Dad and his friend had bought Craghoppers from two brothers in the Yorkshire Dales who made walking breeches. They developed the idea and the brand, then sold it on, and it is what it is today. Dad had also worked with Sir Chris Bonington and Doug Scott on the weather-wear for their successful 1975 Mount Everest Southwest Face expedition, the first team to do so! We had a large signed and framed photo of Doug Scott up in the hallway, and I always thought it was Dad who stood up there on the summit because they looked identical. And, well, if Dad could get up Everest, climbing the highest mountain in the world was entirely possible!
Even when I realised it wasn’t Dad, it didn’t matter; entrepreneurship was already part of my very being. There were several other businesses as I grew up; one was called “Recycled Land Rovers” and did what it said on the tin. As a toddler, I had a blast playing on the yard and have vivid memories of climbing up a rickety old outside staircase to the “office.” Stuff the Health and Safety Executive would have shut the place down for, but that’s how it was back then.
He and Mum spent some time on the Isle of Skye with wonderful friends of theirs, the Evasons. Mum and Dad set up a static caravan at the end of the Evason’s Croft, and Mum was the salesperson for the fleeces produced there – and that with a growing family. They still had their home in West Yorkshire but would make the 10 hour trip over to Skye every opportunity they could. The Evason’s went on to set up Jenny Ruth Workshops in Ripon. They achieved honours for their fantastic work: “where adults who have learning disabilities gain confidence, independence, work, and life skills.”
Another longer-term venture was Yoredale Weatherwear, based in Batley, West Yorkshire. My parents loved hiking, camping, and pot-holing, and Dad had been part of the Dales Cave Rescue Team at one point. The need for better, hardy weatherwear had led to his former business ventures, and now he wanted to move into it on his terms. For years my childhood after school and during many holidays was spent on the factory floor. Under the tables, to be precise. My sister and I would take our toys and set up dens underneath the checking and packing tables or the pattern cutting table, or we’d play on the empty floors before they too were taken over by the ever-expanding business. I loved listening to the whirr of the sewing machines and overlockers, the rhythm of the Taping Machine, the buzz of the cutting machine, the rrrrrip of the brown tape dispenser.
We visited trade shows, helping to set up and pack down at the end, and in between, we watched Mum sell and negotiate contracts with awe-inspiring confidence. We visited Grasmere Sports in the Lake District annually, selling “seconds” at a discount price and doing a roaring trade because, well, it was the Lakes, and it chucked it down! Sponsoring the 100 meters Trophy was a lovely way to give back to those who worked so hard to be at the top of their game.
The workings of the business fascinated me. From how the coal-fired boiler kept the entire building warm to how each garment was created and became the finished product, then was sent on to its final destination. I learned how to seal seams on the Taping Machine, do the checking and packing, the office admin, and make a cuppa for those who needed it. There were also wonderful days out when we would all model the waterproof clothing, along with employees, friends, and family, for promotional brochures and adverts!
Everyone at the business felt like an extended family. Mum and Dad took their responsibilities as Owners/Employers very seriously – they understood the value of looking after their employees, taking them on day trips or even weekend trips (one to Majorca!), and even helping some to set up their own businesses on the premises. They had a firm but fair approach throughout.
I witnessed Mum and Dad losing their business too. As I was about to go through my GCSE exams, a much bigger company used their power in a way that meant Yoredale had to go into liquidation. Suddenly the future of everyone at the business was thrown into jeopardy. The trauma of watching my parents go through this has remained with me and always will. They tried desperately hard to do the right thing for their employees and their family, even in the utter anguish of watching all they had built come crashing down. Eventually, a buyer was found for the business, and Mum and Dad were made redundant. I recently discovered that the bigger company became “defunct” just a few years later. I didn’t feel vindicated because it meant many more people would have suffered. But despite that, many would have grown as well.
Like Dad, who went back into business, in his shed down the garden, while Mum went back into teaching, it wasn’t at all easy for them, but it was a colossal example of resilience! Growth in the face of difficulty. Their hard work meant I was the first in our family to go to University, with their example to see me through. It set me up for life, but I had my own learning and growth to go through too.
In Part 2, I’ll relate my own working life and some pretty horrendous life experiences that very nearly brought me down. But I’ll also share how I managed to pick myself up again, several times, and keep going. It’s a story of hope and the reason why I “give back” by working with those who wish to grow despite apparent defeat because, even though it doesn’t feel like it, it absolutely can be done.
PS: This is only one part of my story. There are many as there are many parts to your story. I’ll recount the other parts at another time and link to them here because all of us have many stories, some we hold onto and many we forget. My thinking is, if I share my other stories, it will help you consider and identify the stories you may have overlooked in your own life. So you can learn from them to help you grow and create new, courageous and inspiring stories for “Future You” to tell. And all our stories will, inevitably, help others to grow and create their own too.