Tag Archives: women

Interviews with Inspirational Women

If you’ve been following my blog for a while you may recall that I run an irregular series of interviews with women that inspire me. It’s been a while since my last one but given that yesterday was International Women’s Day, what better time (other than yesterday, obviously) to add another interview to the pile?

This one is a bit different because it’s with my own lovely daughter, Frances (Franki) Hackett.

The Intrepid Miss Hackett

She has grown into an exceptional young woman and I am delighted to introduce her to you.

I hope when you read her interview you’ll see why I find her so inspiring.

Who are you and how do you spend your time?

I am Franki, I’m your daughter, and I’m just about to finish my undergrad degree in PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics) at Oxford.  Largely I spend my time reading, writing, and obsessing over problems that most people would probably think are largely irrelevant.

What’s your philosophy for life?

A friend of mine has the motto ‘the best things in life leave you feeling a little bit sticky’, which I have to admit appears more apt the more one thinks about it.  However, I guess for myself my main philosophy is to try to make wherever I go a better place when I leave than how I found it, and that the only way to solve a problem is to properly understand it.

As far as I can see the only way we can give meaning to our lives is by affecting the lives of others; I try to make a positive difference.

What shaped that philosophy, and how has it changed over the years?

My philosophy has been shaped in part obviously by my upbringing; I was taught very early on that human beings are of equal worth and that all of our differences should be tolerated, if not celebrated.

I hate seeing people suffer and I have trouble ignoring it or forgetting it if I know it’s happening; in all my studies it has only become more clear to me that we have duties to everyone, regardless of our national or local affiliations, or the distances between people: if human suffering is a bad thing it is bad regardless of where it is, and that means we have a duty to do something about it.

I’ve been lucky enough to have been taught by some of the finest minds in the country, and by people who are very aware of their moral situation. I guess my basic philosophy has always been the same, but they’ve taught me how to act on it, and that not acting on it is not an acceptable alternative.

What’s your definition of what it takes to be a successful woman today?

This is a hard question, in part because the word ‘successful’ is so loaded.  The most basic criterion is, I suppose, to be accepting of oneself.

I think we will have achieved a lot as a society when to be a ‘successful woman’ fits within the same bounds as to be a ‘successful man’, but we’re certainly not there yet.  Similarly I don’t think that to be a successful woman you have to have broken through some glass ceiling, although obviously for some people that is a real success.

Each individual is going to have to define success for herself, and it has to be a definition that fits: if you hate mathematics, there’s very little point in deciding to be the chair of the Bank of England. You are the person who can know you best, if you have worked out your true potential in something you love, are following that potential, and can honestly say that, most of the time, you are happy with the choice you made, regardless of what other people might have expected for you, then you are successful.

I think that definition can apply to men as well as to women, but I think it’s harder for women; we are loaded with more guilt for not living up to what others would like us to be.

Facing up to and moving past that guilt is, I think, a real mark of success.

What do you think have been your greatest achievements so far?

I have a tendency to underrate my achievements, on the basis that I am determined not to get complacent: I’m rarely completely happy with the way I perform on the basis that I could always have done better, that’s what drives me to excellence.

But I think that getting to Oxford was a real achievement, no matter how much help I had along the way I had much less help than many of the students here.

And simply working incredibly hard for such a long time to get my degree has been an achievement, like they say it’s a marathon and not a sprint, and as my mother will tell you I had to work against my natural inclinations to run this marathon, as like her I’m definitely not a completer-finisher.

And finally, learning to stand up for myself has been a real achievement; I used to worry that I talked to much in group settings, particularly academically, and I have been very likely to agree to do things even when I didn’t have time because I hate letting people down.

Learning to say ‘no’ to unreasonable demands, and then to stand by that has been a real achievement (I won’t claim to say I’m perfect, some projects are just too tempting!).

At the same time, when I learnt that in group settings men do something like 85% of the talking, and almost 100% of the interrupting, I decided to change that statistic, even if I had to do it on my own.

If I have a reasonable point to make now I make it, even if I have to interrupt to do so, I won’t be broken off unless I’ve finished my point, and if another woman is having trouble getting heard I’ll stop the conversation to give her a chance.

At first I worried that this would make people think I was rude and obnoxious, but I’ve had nothing but complements: men saying how refreshing they found it to have a voice raising a completely different perspective and engaging with them by their own rules, and women saying how nice it was to feel that someone had taken the lead and given them cover to voice their own opinions without seeming ‘shrill’.  That has been a real eye-opener, and I consider it to be an achievement.

And what do you still have left that you want to achieve?

There are many things I still want to achieve, I feel that at the age of 20 that’s the right way to be.

As I summarised my life plan to a tutor a few days ago when he asked me if I was interested in doctoral study, I intend to do my masters, then go out and ensure that every woman in the world has access to decent maternity care, both post- and ante-natal.

Having achieved this and won my Nobel prize, I will then return to University to do my Dphil.

I also hope to have a family at some point, and I’d like to keep an allotment, since it’s the day-to-day maintenance of something like that which is much more of a challenge for me, and I think that growing vegetables is good for the soul.

What’s been the most important learning experience in your life, and what lessons did you take from it?

I can’t pinpoint one exact moment or experience, but several times during my life I have spoken with someone about something which I felt that I understood, and had them reveal an entirely different view of something that was previously very familiar.

The only example I can think of at the moment is my study of power: as a concept we all feel that we understand power and yet no one can really settle on a decent definition.

Most people define it as person A’s being able to get person B to do something which she would otherwise not do.  After centuries of this kind of definition, Foucault came along and said that power is not something that one person has or does to another, it is a set of structures around us which constrain us even if we don’t realise it, particularly in the form of knowledge.

So, for example, as certain ‘abnormal’ behaviours became defined medically rather than simply as ‘deviance’ in the middle of the 19th century they began to be controlled in new ways simply because people understood them as medical conditions, not simply as differences.

Those moments of paradigm shift are very important I think, and it’s a wonderful feeling, suddenly seeing things from a new angle like that.  It’s taught me to keep looking, from perhaps rather surprising angles, at the things I think I know.  That is the essence of creativity in a way, and it’s the only way we have of moving forward.

We celebrated the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day in 2011. What message would you like to give to the next generation of women?

Define yourself.  This is the only way to really achieve success, and if we insist on our own definitions of ourselves, then we are much less likely to be controlled by other people’s definitions.

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An Interview with Guilt

This morning I was in a room full of businesswomen having a rare old time networking. The amount of noise and laughter was testament to how much we were all enjoying being there and as we went round the room introducing ourselves it was clear that there was a vast amount of skill and talent in that group.

The organisers had asked us each to ask a question of the group to see if any helpful answers were forthcoming.

And this group of apparently strong, bright, independent, feisty women had one big issue that a lot of them were struggling with.

That number 1 issue was Guilt – “I try so hard to be the perfect wife, the perfect mum, the perfect business owner, and I don’t do any of them properly” said one lady, to nods of sympathy and understanding from all around.

“I tend to start work after lunch and then go on till around 10pm”, said another, “but I feel guilty that I’m wasting time in the mornings and  I should be working proper business hours”.

Now, I used to suffer HORRIBLY from Guilt, to the extent that I often thought I should have been Jewish or Catholic and then it would have made sense.

But I made a conscious decision to give up Guilt as a waste of time and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Just this once, and purely in your interests, I’ve decided to invite Guilt back for a visit so that I can interview him and you can get to know him properly and find out what makes him tick.

Me: Guilt, thank you for joining me

Guilt: Well I’ve been waiting long enough for you to call. If you were a real friend you’d have rung ages ago but I suppose you’re too important to bother with little old me any more.

Me: I see you haven’t changed. I’d like to start by finding out a bit about you – what motivates you?

Guilt: I see it as my job to ensure that people abide by society’s morals or ethics, and to keep people in their place. The more things a person feels guilty about, the less he or she is likely to want to rock the boat and step out of line. In order for society to function effectively we need everyone to do as they’re told – you could see my role as a kind of policeman of the conscience, that’s why I’ve had so much consultancy work from a number of organised religions down the centuries.

Me: And why do you feel it’s important to keep people in their place?

Guilt: Well because that’s how society functions, isn’t it? If there are no rules then you quickly descend into anarchy and people get hurt. We can’t have that, can we? So if everyone knows their place and knows what’s expected of them and what is and is not allowed, then we all stay safe.

Me: And who decides what is and is not allowed?

Guilt: Well, the leaders of whichever society you happen to live in. So for example a civilised society will have a law that states that murder is illegal. If someone commits murder, it’s my job to ensure that they suffer an appropriate level of guilt to ensure that they won’t do it again. I ensure that everyone has a clear idea of society’s laws and expectations and I make sure that people operate within the boundaries of those expectations. I like to think of it as a form of public service.

Me: So, if we concentrate on British society in 2011, which laws and expectations are you enforcing by ensuring that so many women feel guilty because they’re not perfect?

Guilt: Eh?

Me: Well, I know lots of women who are continually racked with Guilt because they’re trying to live up to an unrealistic standard of perfection. Who decided that it was appropriate for you to insinuate your way into people’s day to day lives and make them feel guilty for just being who they are, and doing their best?

Guilt: I think you’ll find that what I’m doing is encouraging them to maintain their standards…

Me: Are you really? Encouraging women to maintain their own personal standards by making them continually feel bad about themselves? It’s an interesting take on it and a huge leap from making people feel bad about real wrongdoing isn’t it? And are you really encouraging them to maintain their own standards, or are you really making them feel that they have to maintain impossible, unachievable standards that they will never, realistically, be able to achieve and quite possibly don’t want to anyway?

Guilt: Well now you’re just twisting my words!

Me: Am I? If your function is to stop us from transgressing ancient ethical and moral codes, then what right do you have to come barging into our everyday lives and making us feel bad for wanting to go to work instead of staying at home all day with our kids, or wanting to stay at home with our kids instead of going to work, or wanting to work during the hours when we feel most productive, or wanting to express our own opinions and beliefs? What’s that got to do with maintaining moral and ethical standards?

Guilt: With the greatest of respect, I don’t think you understand. What I’m trying to say is…

Me: Is it not the case that really you’ve just got drunk on your own power, and that, for you, this is now far more about keeping people subjugated? What’s the REAL danger to society if all these vibrant, talented women were to throw off the shackles of guilt, rediscover their self-confidence and go out to realise their true potential? What are you afraid of?

Guilt: But….but….that would be GHASTLY! If I let people do that then they would start calling EVERYTHING into question! They’d start being more demanding of their elected officials, they’d turn on the media, they’d insist on greater equality, they’d do all SORTS of awful things!! We can’t let just ANYBODY start expressing their opinions and changing the world!!!

Me: And there, Ladies and Gentlemen, I think you have it. Most of the time, the only purpose Guilt serves is to deflect you from making the most of yourself and your opportunities. Oh dear. Guilt appears to be…yes, he’s ripping off his microphone and stalking out of the studio…oh dear.

What a shame.

Guilt has left the building.

If he comes knocking at your door, don’t let him in, will you?

Thank you, Universe

Well now. How excited and amazed am I?

Very, since you ask.

This morning had Fairy Dust sprinkled all over it and the sparkliness will last well into this afternoon and beyond, I can tell you.

You know how I go on about the Universe? Well, it’s done it again and provided me with exactly what I most needed, at just the point where I’d got out of my way enough to realise that it was what I needed.

Let me explain.

You may remember this post from a while back, where I fessed up about the pig’s ear I had made of my financial situation.

Since then I’ve got things far more in hand and although things will still take a while to be properly OK, I’ve paid all the lovely people who agreed to wait a while and things are now in far better shape than they were.

You’ll also, if you’ve been following this blog for a while, be aware that I’ve been through a really big shift in my thinking and understanding of why I’m here and what my Mission and Purpose is.

In the last couple of weeks those 2 strands of my life have come together in a quite remarkable way. I’ve used the down time over Christmas and the New Year to do a lot of reflection and re-evaluation.

I been doing a lot of journalling and working through some fabulous self-help books and have come to some major realisations about how I’ve been getting in my own way and making life far more difficult than it has to be.

I think we all sabotage ourselves to some extent and I’m no different to anyone else in that respect but I and the Universe have decided that last year’s sabotage strategies are old hat and we don’t want them any more.

So I’ve ditched them and I’ve made some major decisions:

  • I am no longer even attempting to do my own marketing because I’m crap at it and Eli, my Chief Fairy Dust Sprinkler, is an expert.
  • I have stopped fighting the Universe and decided to listen to its advice regarding my target clients.
  • I have started to focus my networking on areas where those clients are likely to be. Too much (well all, really) of my time over the past year has been spent networking with very lovely people who aren’t my core market. That stops now – and here’s where this morning’s gloriousness comes in.

Over the past couple of days I’ve been honing the text that will go on my soon-to-be-unveiled combined blog and new website (it’s very lovely, and very user-friendly and I’m very excited!!).

Some of that text describes my “new ideal clients” – successful, intelligent, high-achieving, professional women who appear to have it all but who, in reality, don’t recognise their own worth and feel like frauds as a result.

I have a very clear picture in my head of the type of women I need to start networking with and this morning I suddenly found myself in a room full of successful, intelligent, high-achieving, professional women.

I had been invited to go along as a speaker at the last minute and I’m so glad I accepted. I really believe that this morning marked the turning point for me and the shift into the next phase for me and my business.

I made some excellent contacts, met some truly inspiring women and have a new client session to arrange as soon as I finish this.

Listening to the women around me I realised that I was in exactly the space I need to be from now on and I became completely aware that this is exactly what happens when you become clear about what’s right for you and then tell the Universe – it provides.

And now, looking back through my emails for the past few weeks, I can see a lot of other nudges in this direction that I had previously ignored. Some opportunities I will have missed, but that’s OK. I’m going to follow up every nudge and see what comes of it because even if that door is now shut, there will be another one opening somewhere else.

There an ancient Buddhist (I think) saying along the lines of “the path is easy, why do you put rocks in it?”

There’s also a joke that runs like this:

A man was out on his fishing boat when he got into difficulties. A passing trawler stopped and offered him help but he refused help saying “God will protect me”. Things got worse and an ocean-going yacht chanced upon him and again offered to help. Again, the fisherman refused saying “The Lord will save me”. Inevitably, his boat capsized and he drowned. When he got to Heaven he was furious and demanded to know why God hadn’t saved him. God looked at him despairingly and said “I sent you a trawler and a yacht, what more do you expect?!”

What rocks are you strewing in your own way?

What help, hints or nudging are you failing to notice?

As ever, please comment – I love to know what you think.

I Felt The Fear…

Firstly, I’d like to say a MASSIVE thank-you to everyone that responded to my last post, it was really lovely to get so many positive responses across such a wide variety of media, social and otherwise!

Yesterday turned out to be an absolute blast – by the time I finally arrived at the venue I was almost giddy with excitement (although not nerves, strangely), and although I knew hardly anyone there, within 5 minutes I felt like I’d known the other ladies all my life and that some of us were best friends!

There was much shrieking and giggling and as the hair and make-up artist (the astonishingly talented, and apparently indefatigable Jean Rhema from Baddesley International Hair & Beauty Academy transformed us all into 60’s style goddesses so we bonded over shoes, jewellery and swapping knickers (clean ones, obviously…)

It was a long day, and our lovely photographer, Belinda McCarthy, handled her nervous, over-excited and unprofessional models with kid gloves so that every single one of us came away from our session in front of the camera saying what great fun it had been and how, despite initial nerves, they wish they been able to bare more!

We did all this for charity so if you want to see the results, you’ll have to buy the calendar when it comes out in mid-late September – details of how to get hold of it will be on here (and everywhere else). We’re planning a Launch Party in early October and tickets (the price will include a copy of the calendar) will be available to anyone that wants one (or 10…)

So, given what I said in my last blog, am I glad I did it? You bet I am! I had a lovely day and made some new friends (and we also managed to do a bit of business networking along the way!) But more importantly, it really brought home to me, emotionally rather than intellectually, just how strongly most women dislike their bodies. There didn’t appear to be a single woman in that room yesterday that didn’t have at least one area of her body that she actively disliked including those that, to me, had stunning figures that I would kill for.

There were, as you can imagine, a number of different conversations about which bits we didn’t like, and why, but the stand-out moment for me was when Lisa, the organiser, very generously lifted up a dressing gown and showed us someone else’s bottom!

“Look at this bottom girls!” she yelled “isn’t it gorgeous!” and indeed it was, an aesthetic and athletic beauty, tanned, toned and taught, just like you see on posters. In between shreaking with laughter at the look on the face of the owner of the bottom, we all joined in with a chorus of praise and comments along the lines of “I wish mine looked like that”.

And do you know what the owner of this delicious bottom said (and bear in mind that the rest of her was, to my eyes, equally tanned, toned and taught)? She said she’s never noticed it because she was always focussing on how wide her hips and thighs were.

Ladies, we MUST stop doing this to ourselves! There is NO SUCH THING as a perfect body and the more we concentrate on the bits of us that we feel are “wrong” the less we celebrate the lovely bits. It’s really difficult to change your own self-image (I know, I’ve tried!) so how about making a pact, for the good of the sisterhood? From now on, whenever you meet up with another woman, whether she’s a complete stranger or a lifelong friend, your mother, your sister or your daughter, pay her a complement about some aspect of her appearance. If you envy her lovely soft skin, tell her. If you wish you had neat little ankles like hers, tell her. If you wish you had womanly curves like hers, tell her. Whatever it is, just tell her. Because even if she knows that there are things about her that are lovely, the chances are that she doesn’t spend much time at all thinking about them – she’ll be too busy obsessing about the bits she doesn’t like.

And gents, make sure you tell your lady on a regular basis which bits of her body you love. (If you can find a way to compliment other ladies without being branded a sleazebag then go right ahead, and teach the others how to do it too!)

We each have so many gifts and talents, and far too many of us hide those talents away because of the insecurities we carry around about our bodies. It’s a shocking waste of happiness, time and talent and it needs to stop.

So there.