Now, listen up people cos this one’s a killer. Not literally, I haven’t interviewed a murderer, I was just meaning that my latest interviewee talks about some Really Big Stuff and you don’t want to miss it.
This woman, this ferociously phenomenal woman, is the living embodiment of just how possible it is to turn your life around. While the rest of us moan about how hard life is when we’ve had a crappy day at the office, this woman knows what a hard life really is.
She could have gone under as one of life’s victims but she had the strength of character to turn her situation around and come out fighting.
I am, ever so hugely, in awe of today’s interviewee, so please put your hands together for the Fantabulous Lisa Cherry!
Tell me what you’d like people to know about you: who you are, where you’ve come from, where you’re at now
Who am I? Well, I don’t know really. I think it would be fair, perhaps, to think more about what motivates me. So, I want to make a difference, maybe. I think I’ve eluded death on a number of occasions so feel that there’s clearly a purpose for me being here. I have yet to completely decide what that purpose is, but whatever it is I’d really like to fulfil it! I think it’s to do with motivating people, maybe inspiring people somehow to realise their full potential within themselves and that anybody can achieve what they need to.
Okay, so you’ve talked about wanting to make a difference, about eluding death on a number of occasions and that you feel like you’ve got a purpose and you’d quite like to know what it is…
Well, sometimes, when I try and work with people to motivate them, I try to get them to think about things in a different way but often they say to me, ‘But you’re different, though,’ which I find really sad because we’ve all got that potential, we’ve all got that ability and we’ve all got that strength. The only difference between people is whether or not they’ve faced challenges that mean they need to draw upon it, but it doesn’t mean it’s not there.
When you’ve finally hit your own rock bottom, and you’ve scraped yourself off the floor again, hopefully, that is when you would get onto a path of recovery. When you’ve done that, then you are a different type of person, but it would be nice to think that not everybody would have to go to that level in order to find who they are within themselves and to believe that they have that ability. Does that make sense?
Yes. What I’m wondering is… So, people say to you that you’re different, without necessarily knowing about your ‘rock bottoms’?
So, what is it, do you think, that they see in you that’s different to how they perceive themselves to be?
Well, I think people see a very confident person standing in front of them with a good self esteem, which I am, but that’s not who I am all the time, and it’s not who I’ve been all my life. I find that upsetting sometimes because I think… not upsetting, but until we know any better, we have a tendency to judge our insides by other people’s outsides, because we don’t have access to other people’s insides. So, whether it’s relationships, jobs, career paths, we have a tendency to look at other people and think that we know what we can see. I was thinking a little bit about Helen Mirren, who everyone says is gorgeous, and she is! She is stunning and she is an icon and she is who we would love to be at her age. But, do we see her in the morning? Do we see her in the afternoon? Do we see her when she’s had a shitty day? Do we see her when things have really got her down? No! Because she is afforded that space to present what she wants to, when she wants to, how she wants to. And in a way, we all have that. What I want to do is peel off the layers, really, and say, ‘Look. This is who I am. This is who you are. We’re no different. We can do it.’
Is that your mission, do you think? To help people to peel off their layers?
I don’t know if I’ve ever thought about whether I have a mission. Although since I became self-employed in February, I’ve been very, very aware of what it is I’m trying to do. What am I trying to achieve? Which I’ve never really put into a structure before. I have worked for local authorities for many years with young people, children and families, in schools and Social Services, trying to make a difference, trying to improve the outcomes for those children, so in a sense, that was my mission. That’s what I was paid to do, that’s what I was motivated to do, and, actually, that was what I wanted to do, whereas now, I find myself in the world of business, trying to create something that will make a difference. But, I’m deciding what that is, which is, I guess, what led me into the holistic health route and also into running Networking Women. Networking Women is about trying to make a difference for women going into business and also helping women build their confidence. Obviously, there’s lots of women going to Networking Women who don’t need their confidence building, but there are equally women who say ‘Oh, I don’t like networking, I don’t feel comfortable, I don’t want to stand up’ and this is an opportunity for them to learn how to do that in what I hope has been created as a safe environment.
What led you to choose to do it in that way? Because there are all sorts of ways you could have worked to help women in business to increase their confidence. What was is it that led you to want to set up a networking group?
A cup of coffee. Literally, a chat and a cup of coffee with my now Business Partner, saying ‘I quite fancy doing that’ and me saying ‘Okay, when shall we do it?’ It was literally like that. That’s been fantastic because it’s given me a platform on which to think about other ways that I can be useful. So, looking at providing workshops using women who would usually charge copious amounts of money for their day rate, to come in and make a workshop very affordable to women, and also try to work with coaches who are focusing on working with mum-returners, or focusing on working with women with depression, but trying to do joint pieces of work, using the experience that I’ve got of fifteen to twenty years of working with people in distress, and using the experience that they’ve got, to try and put together some kind of useful package.
That seems to be a key thing for you – it seems to be about healing distress. It’s there with the holistic work, and it’s there with the networking work. I guess that all comes from your past experiences.
Well, certainly my professional experience has always been about healing, although working in social services and education can be incredibly unhealing. But I didn’t really think of an alternative route, and I think I was moved into that route through my own experiences. So, I think there are two things: I love the idea of bringing people together, because my past experiences involve having been in care and having been homeless and having been very alone on the planet. For my support network, I’ve had to create my own family and learned how to make a family out of my friendships and I’ve had to rely heavily on my personality and smile. Ha!. So, that has very much led me to want to create that ability for people to devise their own support networks. For all sorts of reasons, people have very poor support networks. We’re all living in very different communities. There are broken family situations, even if you haven’t had such an extreme situation as mine, you may well have a broken relationship with your parents so that support isn’t there. Once you’ve had your children, you realise how much you need that support. Although, there’s nothing more lonely than living on the eighth floor of a tower block in the middle of Battersea Park Road at the age of nineteen. I think that’s where the desire to bring people together comes from. It’s to bring together support networks for people to draw upon, to gain strength from, to learn from, and that involves ‘giving’ to and learning how to ‘take’ out of.
So, what are you getting from this process? From the work that you’re doing now? What are you drawing from it?
That’s a tricky question. What am I getting from it? Perhaps I’m just very hedonistic, no, not hedonistic, it’s cathartic. I don’t know. I get a lot of pleasure from seeing people come together. It doesn’t really pay the bills, but I know that it will at some point. I have found that I’m not ever going to be motivated by a yacht; it’s just never going to happen. It wouldn’t get me out of bed. Although I wouldn’t turn one down because I would probably enjoy being on one, but if I had to choose about what would get me out of bed, being of use to somebody or having a yacht, its very simple for me. Having a yacht is just never going to get me out of bed, so, I suppose I get a lot out of it in terms of seeing people networking and coming together. Also, I know that every little interaction that you have can lead to something you were never even capable of thinking of and that is very inspiring. I love the fact that I never know where the next communication is going to lead to, where my next friend lies, where the next person who wants to talk to me about what I think and feel which is what you’re doing, which is very humbling. Why anybody would have any interest in listening to what I think and feel, let alone taking the time to write about it. I find that very motivating. I work very hard; actually I don’t work very hard. It’s not hard but it’s important to be around the right people. The universe brings the right people to me. If somebody isn’t the right person, they don’t stay. They might drop in for coffee, but they don’t stay in my life.
How would you define the ‘right people’?
Well, I guess people who are not motivated by shopping in Boden!
I’m getting a clear picture that money is not one of your key values.
No. I’d really like it to be because I’m incredibly poor at the moment. Poorer than I’ve ever been. But it really doesn’t rock my world. I’d really like to be with a partner for whom their world was rocked in that way and I could sit back and allow that!
Ah, settle into a rich man’s wallet!
Absolutely, settling into a rich man’s wallet would be quite nice. But they would have to be very tolerant of me.
But then if he was the right man, he would be. Wouldn’t he?
My friend Diane Holliday would say that there’s plenty of money out there, there’s plenty of love out there. They’re just forms of energy.
I guess the energy of love is far more motivating to me than the energy of money.
What a beautiful phrase.
Yes, and I wouldn’t want anyone to think that I’m not motivated to have nice things. I am motivated to have nice things. I’d love to live in a nice house, I’d really like if my car would go up a hill, which unfortunately it doesn’t. I will only wear the nicest clothes that I can have. Where they might come from, in terms of what route from shop to me…
I like charity shops
And that’s another way of spreading love, is it not?
Indeed! So, when I think about how rich I am, I think I am rich, but I’m just not rich in money. I’m open! Every month I say to the universe, ‘Can you please bring in enough for the mortgage this month’, and every month, on the day that the mortgage is due, something turns up. So I absolutely, fundamentally believe that I am in the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing and I will fundamentally be okay. That faith (and I say that in a very non-religious way) is born out of all the experiences that I’ve had before. I absolutely know that I’m meant to be here and I’m going to be okay, and that is so relieving. When things get really bad, it’s nice to be able to say that it will be okay. I know it will. I absolutely know it will.
That’s one of those useful pieces of advice my mother gave me when my children were small. Whatever it is you’re going through that you think you can’t stand for much longer, it’s just a phase. And then there’ll be another phase after that, and then another phase.
Actually, having two children, one of whom who is an adolescent, and who is a very lovely adolescent, those phases are even shorter than they’ve ever been. So, whatever phase he goes into, whereas before it might have been for six months, now it really is a six week thing!
If not half an hour, sometimes!
Oh yes, and I do love that. I can put my head into my hands safe in the knowledge that I won’t have to have my head in my hands for much longer!
So we’ve talked about your mission and your values, and this thing about nurturing and healing and love, and the energy of love. Fast-forward five years and look back over those five years. So, it’s 2015 now and you’re looking back – what have you done between 2010 and 2015 and where are you now?
Well, in the next five years, what I’d really love to do… I’d like to be some kind of motivational speaker. Now on paper that’s going to sound really gross.
Because I find that really off-putting when people sell themselves as a motivational speaker.
What are your assumptions around motivational speaking?
I guess that people are riding off their own… I don’t know. I’ve met quite a few people who don’t really have a lot of substance. I want to listen to somebody, not who’s learnt how to speak, I want to listen to somebody who’s got something to say to me. About where they’ve been, how they’ve come out of that, and how that can teach me something in terms of a recovering process. That’s the kind of motivational speaker I would want to be. I’m not egotistical enough to think that I am that, but I would love to be able to share, I guess, the things that I’ve recovered from. Incidentally, I’ve never been comfortable saying it all out loud in one go. People have always had bits of things, but never the full picture.
How does it feel? Now that you’re being loud about the full picture.
I thought it would make me feel quite vulnerable but it doesn’t. I think I’m done with it. I turned forty this year, which I think most people would say is a turning point in your life in terms of your own sense of belonging on the planet. It doesn’t feel angry, either. I don’t feel like I’m being angry about it. I feel like I have a peace with it, I have a peace with my childhood; I have a peace with my past. I went through some very terrible things that have huge stigmas in society that I didn’t necessarily want to be associated with, and certainly not when I was working in social services with children and families. I didn’t want people to know where I had been… I’d tell the odd person the odd thing. But the factual truth of the matter is that if you’ve been ‘in care’, you are statistically more likely to feature in all sorts of circumstances from the harsher side of life. For example, I’m a recovering alcoholic; I went to my first AA meeting at the age of twenty, and haven’t had a drink since. Children in care are more likely to experience homelessness; I was homeless for two years between 16 and 18 years old, some of it ‘street’ homeless. They are more likely to underachieve in education; I was excluded from two schools. These are things that have huge stigmas in society and that people make lots and lots of judgements about, what those experiences mean, and what sort of person might be sat in front of you saying it. I think people are always shocked when I stand up and say it. I don’t want people to be shocked any more, I just want people to understand that we all have stories, and that we’re not here to judge other people’s stories, or to necessarily think that we know what a person is presenting to us when we meet them. That’s another thing about turning forty is that discovery that what’s presented, people are not necessarily all they seem. I’m just at a point where I’m happy to be honest about that, now, because it’s done, it’s gone, and I’ve got another twenty years, after that first twenty years, that don’t look anything like that. In the last 20 years I have just been a woman, going to University, having children, developing a career, being self-employed. So, I think the first twenty years and the second twenty years mean that there’s now an equality. There isn’t any ‘most of my life has been spent in…’ because it hasn’t anymore. I think that that’s been very healing as well. Time is, in fact, an amazing healer. The expression comes from somewhere! And it’s very true.
It strikes me that your openness about this actually gives you a position of huge strength. You come across as enormously grounded and, as you say, at peace with everything: this is it, this is what’s happened, this is my life and this is me now, and that makes me think about the next twenty years which will be different again.
Absolutely! And, I would hope in the next twenty years, following on from your original questions about five years, I think that’s a really nice way to think about it. Because in the next twenty years maybe I can make some use of that, hence wanting to write books, perhaps run workshops, perhaps be some kind of motivation for people. I’d love to set up a charity and use money to help people. I went to university, but I did that because a charity funded me to do so, a charity that never policed anything about me, wanting to know what grades I got or anything like that. They just supported me. They loved me and trusted me unconditionally. They’re called The Buttle Trust and they’re still running now and they were instrumental in my ability to go to university. I was working all hours, I was trying to run a flat, that I’d been given by the council after my homelessness, in Wandsworth, and I would love to give something back to people. I would love to have a charity of my own or a trust fund that I could then support people who need to, who want to, who’re motivated to and who have it within themselves to have a better life but are hampered by all the things that have happened to them. I don’t want people to be hampered by the things that have happened to them, I want people to learn from them and grow from them. Not to repeat the same patterns, focus on bringing up the next generation well and focus on healing themselves. That’s a big ask, isn’t it!?
It comes down to personal choice, really, doesn’t it? Because we all have things that happen in our life and to a greater or lesser degree they’re going to be traumatic, but you have a choice: you can either let those experiences taint the rest of your life or you can take them as you’ve done and make a conscious choice to take them as starting points to go in a different direction but use them as a bedrock, which is what I see you doing. So, the learning that’s come to you from that experience and the values that have come to you as a result of that. It strikes me that what the Buttle Trust did for you was unconditional love. We talked about the energy of love before and what you want to do now is pass the unconditional love on again.
And some of the people that you help will go forward and pass that unconditional love on again, and it’s that rippling effect of someone sending the love on out there.
And that would absolutely be the hope. Absolutely, pass it on. I think there was a film called Pass it On, lovely film, and I think the other thing I would say to people is ‘gratitude’, not in a gross, churchy way, but in a kind of real way. In a kind of ‘I’m going to write down ten things that are okay about my life today that I’m grateful for, like there’s food in my cupboard, there are clothes on my back, I have people around me who love me’, I mean, however basic it is, being grateful, and I’m grateful for every single moment of hell that I have ever endured because that has made me the person that I am, and that, again, sounds so clichéd. I have self-love, which, to me is the cornerstone, the bedrock, the foundation for everything, in how you can then relate to people. When you have love for yourself… I’ll tell you a little story; when I got my university place, I rang them eight times because I didn’t believe them, and in the end, the woman got really cross with me and she said, ‘For goodness sake! You’re starting on October the 5th. Just turn up and we’ll sign you in. You have a place.’ This letter had sat on my cooker (obviously, I didn’t cook a lot at 21) and I almost missed the place by about 24 hours or something ridiculous, I found it again because I’d misread it! I thought it had said that I didn’t have a place because that was what I believed about myself. I was twenty-one and I believed, why should I get a place, why would anyone give me a place, why would I be worthy of going to university? I later learned that of course I was bloody worthy! At the time, having been excluded from two schools, having then gone to do A-Levels and getting a D and an E, which I’ve subsequently lied about on every CV I’ve ever written…
I won’t write that down!
Well, you can if you like because why not? Why should I be told I’m a D and an E? For me, to get two A-Levels after what I’ve been through, was astonishing! When I get really low sometimes, and I don’t get low very often, but when I do, I need to remember where I’ve come from and I forget. So, I compare myself with people who have generations of stability behind them, generations of emotional and financial stability, and I think ‘Why am I not them? Why do I not have a twenty year marriage? Why do I not have… ? Why is my mortgage so large that it will never be paid in a million years? Why? Why? Why?’ and then I remember, actually, where I’ve come from.
The other thing to remember is that the only person you should ever compare yourself to is your previous self. So, when you make that comparison, what are you worrying about? And also, as you said earlier, we look at the world through our own eyes, so you see people with generations of emotional and financial stability behind them, but they’ve got wrecked marriages, they got mortgages they can’t afford to pay and credit cards amounting to thousands of pounds. I don’t think we’re the only ones who find things difficult.
I have grown out of some of my more fantastical behaviour. I have a few fantasies that I created. One was the illusion of the family, which I lost quite a few years ago, and I’m really glad, but my illusion was that everybody had lovely family Christmases, and during the summer holidays everybody ate strawberries on large lawns. The other fantasy that I’ve learned to get rid of is the fantasy of marriage. That has been the hardest, because that has been the most elusive thing for me. The long term relationship with someone who absolutely accepts and stands by me. The one thing I’ve had to learn about myself, which is quite painful is that I will never be loved enough. Whatever relationship I’m in, because that part of me that needs that love is the childish part of me and that time has gone. I’ve never had a father, so that relationship never happened; my relationship with my mother is non-existent really. I was in a home for unmarried mothers at the very beginning of my life, which I believe hampered the bonding experience which was then never repaired through a healthy relationship. Knowing that has meant that I can have relationships with men, and understand that they will never give me what I need, which would have been useful knowledge twenty years ago. But I’m glad I have that knowledge now and I may be able to find someone whom I perceive as loving me enough.
It’s still useful for the twenty years, isn’t it?
Knowing it and accepting it and coming to terms with it, intellectually, is different from knowing it and accepting it emotionally.
Right, I’ve got two last questions before we get any deeper! So, given all the experiences that you’ve been through and where you are now, what’s the best piece of advice that anyone has ever given you?
God, I’ve been given a lot over the years! I will come back to that, but one of the best pieces I could give somebody is learn how to communicate your emotional world, learn about emotional intelligence. If you learn how to articulate and express your emotional world you free yourself up from huge amounts of pain. Now, in terms of what I’ve been told, let me think. Stop looking at other people’s outsides and comparing them to your insides. Write a gratitude list. Think about what you can give rather than what you can get. I can’t imagine what order these come in but I’m sure I didn’t come up with them all on my own. They’ve been given to me from somewhere.
Finally, then. We’re doing this interview because, regardless of what you think, I find you enormously inspirational, so who inspires you, or who has inspired you?
Anita Roddick of The Body Shop, mainly because she sought after her goals in an ethical way, regardless of what you think at the end, if she sold out, if that’s how you perceive what she did. She did provide for her children, but she did not set them up for life in a financial sense, and I think she knew the power of finding your own way in life and she wanted them to have that gift. She did not take that gift away from them, I think that’s immensely powerful and were I ever to win the lottery, I’ve told my children I would do the same much to their dismay!
Who else has inspired me? People who have made a difference; Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Alice Walker. Emmeline Pankhurst, Aung San Suu Kyi I’ve been very inspired by lots and lots of people. By lots and lots of people who never become known, who may have just dropped by my life for a coffee.
How AWESOME is she?!
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