Looking back: that time I nearly lost my mind

…and making sure it doesn’t happen again.

When I look back now on 2019, it seems like it was a pretty good year. Loads of lovely photos of the family out and about, and funny memories of the children making us laugh out loud unexpectedly (“Mum, we need to go home now and put brandy in the Christmas Cake”). Professionally, my podcast Cracking Charity Chat got going properly (having started late 2018) with some high profile guests and lovely feedback from sector people that I really admire (a career highlight when Julia Unwin shared it).

I spoke at a couple of conferences, which given that early in my career I was borderline panic attack if I had to say my name in a meeting (not a joke), was actually a big deal for me. I also worked on lots of interesting projects with new clients, mostly helping organisations better articulate their purpose, offering and impact to secure funding. I joined the Institute of Fundraising’s Fundraising Convention Board, so am currently helping to shape IOFFC 2020, which is pretty cool. And by the end of the year I had plans for my own funding training which I’ve just launched.

But 2019 was also the year that I nearly lost my mind.

It started the year before. As it happens, having two small children, relocating and going freelance within a couple of years, and – the crux of the issue – interrupted and not enough sleep can nearly break a person. I was offered medication for post-natal depression, but rejecting that was twice registered on a course to support those with anxiety, which I missed both times due to being in London for work and then having tonsillitis – again.

I’m writing this not because I’m #sadfishing (that’s so 2019) but because I don’t think it was PND. I think that everything together was too much. I’ve always taken on a bit too much, but just about been alright. But at some point, something’s got to give. I think this way of existing is true for so many of us.

Moreover, as a woman, I was totally sold the dream of having it all. And sure, that’s possible; people work full-time and parent and nail it. But for me, if ‘all’ doesn’t include sleep, quite frankly, ‘all’ can get in the bin. So I now have some New Year’s principles (I’m not stitching myself up with resolutions). They are around having more focus on what I do, and trying hard not to try hard in areas that are pointless for me.

Family comes first

As it does for everyone, I’m sure. But it takes a while to work out what works best for you and everyone else in your family. I actually applied for my dream job last summer and pulled out before shortlisting because while the thought of doing it really excited me, the thought of missing breakfast, pick-ups and probably quite a few bedtimes, didn’t just worry me, it physically upset me. I noticed our 3yo get really stressed when my partner and I took on too much and juggling childcare got messy. I know I’ll not get this time back with the children – soon they’ll be at school and part of the system.

I’m available to work three days a week and that’s it. We’ll eat a lot of pasta-based meals and be quite picnic dependent when out and about, but that’s hardly a sacrifice. We’ll also do more pottering about in the Peak District and baking of the solar system.


I’m not positioning myself as a thought-leader
I don’t have the time or inclination to do a newsletter

It feels like everyone is trying to be a thought-leader now. I mean, why? It’s really stressful developing a social media following and sector profile, and then you have to keep at it. If I think of the sector leaders that I most respect, they don’t care if they’re on a Top 10 list of whatever. They are respected and influential because they consistently deliver and consistently have their values at the fore of their work.

I know what I’m doing and I stay engaged and up-to-date. I don’t need anything to show for this or anyone to assure me of this. I do, however, need to balance this mindset with having to do some promotion; how I do and feel about this is still work in progress! January’s notes page in my new (Wonder Woman!) diary sums up my thoughts on this.


Cracking Charity Chat

Now every joker has a podcast! I’ve therefore had to re-think how to position mine. Here’s the deal:

  • Senior, insightful guests with a unique story and/or something they articulate better than others.
  • One episode a month, max.
  • Only a handful of guests based in London this year.
  • More up north – and another jaunt to Edinburgh beckons!
  • Only people I can meet face-to-face to record (or have met beforehand).
  • Last but not least, the best sound quality 😉
Choose my clients and projects

I’ll only work with clients that I can get behind (in terms of their ethos, services and leadership, for example) and on projects where I feel I can really add value. I’m now focusing on smaller organisations – those with a bit of funding to bring in external support, perhaps through grants-plus funding. If larger organisations want some support on strategic projects (like the Stroke Association’s options appraisal) I’d be thrilled to help. But in terms of funding consultancy, I’m better placed with smaller organisations.

Just do it

Last year I spent a lot of time thinking about delivering my own training. What if nobody turns up (seriously, please could you book it?)? What if it’s a disaster and I get bad reviews? What if I step on the toes of other providers? Well, if it’s flop, I just won’t do it again. And there’s enough social need for another player, especially in Yorkshire where, IMO, there isn’t enough, regular funding support on offer. Sheffield has a really good independent, entrepreneurial vibe, so I’m channeling a bit of that too. And Nikki Bell at Pizza for Losers is a gem and is sponsoring the venue for the first workshop.

If any of this resonates, you might be interested in these few links:

  • Enewsletters worth reading – Richard Sved’s and Paul de Gregorio’s newsletters have everything you need. True story.
  • Charity Well? – Claire Warner’s wellbeing research, which she’ll be analysing soon.
  • Funding training in Yorkshire – Funding Strategy, Case for Support and Corporate Partnerships workshops. March and April, Sheffield. Book today.
  • Cracking Charity Chat – Guests include Karl Wilding, Kate Collins, James Jopling and Joe Jenkins, to name a few. Listen now.

2 thoughts on “Looking back: that time I nearly lost my mind

  1. This is just ace. Beautifully written and lovely as a fellow charity working parent to read. Good on you and may 2020 be the year that goes right.

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