Meet Joanna

You’ve spent the last number of years of corporate life moving up the firm, and you are seriously killing it! Others look at you, and they see this kick ass powerhouse, out there serving clients, building your team, and establishing yourself as an expert in your field.

Only problem is – when you look at you, you see something different. You’ve spent so long trying not to put other people’s noses out of joint and downplaying your achievements, that you are starting to believe the story you are telling yourself. That you are nothing special. Just doing your job, nothing more nothing less.

You’ve forgotten what a Powerhouse you really are, and instead you spend your time second guessing yourself and worrying that you are going to screw everything up. Be that around the politics in the firm, or speaking on stage, or taking on a new role in the organisation.

The whole thing is exhausting. And it’s hard to be seen for who you really are, and how amazing you really are, when you are terrified of showing yourself in the first place.

It’s okay, I can help.

I’ve been there, and more importantly, I’ve come through to the other side.
I am an Executive and Public Speaking coach and I work with very successful women who, despite their impressive track records, are still full of self-doubt as they advance in their corporate careers. They are exhausted from second guessing themselves all the time, and they know they would have a lot more to offer the world if they weren’t so afraid of screwing it all up. I help them quiet those fears and rebuild their confidence so they can navigate a way forward and get on with the Work they know they are meant to do.

But it wasn’t always the case. I used to be, wait for it, a tax consultant.

I used to work in an international accounting firm as a tax consultant, firstly in the UK, then in Luxembourg.

For sixteen years.

A pretty high-flying job.

But a pretty shitty life.

Until I turned my life around and found that there was a different way to live my life. A different way that I could choose for myself.

Now I am helping others do the same.

 

Let me tell you about what my life used to be like

Picture the scene.

It’s 5 a.m.

 5 a.m. on my thirty-fifth birthday and I just got home from work.

For the last couple of months, I’ve been working on a project with a West Coast client, and for the last couple of hours, I’ve
been finishing some documents to send to them.

But now, everything is done and dusted, and I’ve come home.

It’s been a particularly long week, and I must admit that 5 a.m. finishes are very unusual. But at the same time, twelve,
fourteen-hour days have been the norm for years.

And you know what? I’m tired.

It’s 5 a.m.

I should be sleeping, but instead I’m on the phone with my ex-boyfriend, and I’m opening the present my parents have sent me. It’s a framed picture of me and my sister from when I was fifteen years old.

Fifteen years old and my entire life ahead of me.

And at that moment, looking at the photo, I realise.

The sum of my life is work.

I’m a lawyer by training, and by now, I’m nearly ten years into my career as tax consultant for an international accounting firm
On the face of it, I’m some definition of success; I’m the go-to person for my teams, my clients, and my bosses. I am someone who can come up with innovative solutions to very tricky problems, and I’m a role model for other women on my team. I also spend a very big part of my life speaking on stages all around Europe and further afield, talking about tax.

But behind the scenes, I don’t believe the hype. I don’t believe I am a success. I just see myself doing my job. Nothing special. Nothing extraordinary.

The more I advance in my career, the more I am second guessing myself.

With each step forward – new promotion or project – I take 5 steps back. I forget all the reasons that I got the promotion, or the new project, and start to believe that it was an act of divine intervention, not one based on hard work and merit.

With every waking moment I believe I have something to prove, I have to show I am worthy, and that I can do this job. I have people coming at me from all angles – my bosses, my teams, my clients. The higher I perform, the higher the bar gets placed. The more things I have to juggle, the more things I have to do.

But rather than learn how to do things more effectively, or find better ways to delegate, or put my hand up and ask for help …. I just work longer hours.

The more hours I work, the more exhausted I am getting. The more exhausted I am, the less I can concentrate. Everything takes longer and longer to do. And so, I work more and more hours

And slowly, my life is starting to fall apart. Always having to be the strong one, never asking for help.
I am just so tired of it all.

In that moment, looking at that picture, I realise that I don’t want my life to be like this anymore. There has got to be more to life than this. And I’m right, of course I am. There has to be.

But here’s the problem.

I feel trapped.

Intellectually, I know there has got to be more to life than this, but emotionally, viscerally, in every other way of my being, I also believe that this exhaustion is the price you pay if you want to succeed in corporate life.

Because to work in corporate life, if I want to succeed and excel, means putting the hours in, sacrificing my personal life, and always being in competition. I learned that when I was young, and it’s been reinforced all through my life.

That is what I believe.

If I want to succeed in the corporate world, I have to choose work because I sure as hell can’t choose life.

Because if I were to choose life—in other words to rest, take time to breathe, look after myself—I would be committing the cardinal sins of being selfish, lazy, and unprofessional. And worse still, if I were to ask for help, that would mean I was weak.
So, in that moment of realization, I don’t have a choice. This is all there is. Work.

And the very next day, the day after my thirty-fifth birthday I get out of bed and I continue to do what I have always done.

I choose work.

Not to rest. Not to look after myself.

Work.

Because I believe I don’t have a choice.

 

I still don’t get it.

In the years that followed my thirty-fifth birthday, I kept on working to the same rhythm because I didn’t know how to do anything else.

I didn’t know how to slow down or breathe or take time for me. I just knew how to work. And so I did, and I kept on working till

I burnt myself out.

Not once. But twice.

Until one day in 2014, six years after the photograph incident, when something happened that made me challenge the truth and change my choices.

By early 2014, I felt like I was constantly walking through molasses in a world where all the joy and colour had been sucked dry. I woke every morning filled with fear and dread—fear about going to a job that I no longer enjoyed and dread that others would see through this façade of success to see what I saw—that I was an impostor, bad at my job, and good for nothing.

It was burnout number two, and I was super-glued to the sofa.

Didn’t want to wash, to eat, to go out.

And I sure as hell didn’t want to tell anyone.

But on 6 March 2014, I had my life-changing wake-up call.

Not some gentle nudge from the universe like that twenty-year-old photo, or the panic attacks, or the OCD behaviours, or the trips to the emergency room with chest pains that I had had since my thirty-fifth birthday. No, it was a real, in-your-face wallop that I had no choice but to listen to.

That was the day of the funeral of a colleague, Peter.

At the age of sixty-seven, Peter had died suddenly, and I just had to be at the funeral. He was a gentleman, and a gentle man, and I needed to be there even if it meant leaving the apartment for the first time in weeks.

During the ceremony, I realised something. Peter hadn’t just died of a heart attack. He had committed suicide.

He had spent Saturday and Sunday with friends, laughing and joking. And the Monday morning he got up, he went to the red bridge in Luxembourg, and he jumped.

What stood out in particular during the service were the words of his friends.

“We would have been there in a moment,” they said. “Why didn’t he just tell us?”

Their sadness is clear—and also their confusion. They had spent time with him less than forty-eight hours before. But it was nobody’s fault. Peter didn’t want them to see what he was living. And so, he had not said a word.

As I got into the car that afternoon to come home, the tears came, and my heart broke.

At the age of sixty-seven, Peter believed that he didn’t have a choice. He was living his own kind of hell, but he believed he couldn’t tell anyone or reach out for help.

So, he did the only thing he could. He jumped.

As I sat in my car, I realised that there was something in his story that hit home and acted as a mirror for my own life. And for what my future might be if I continued to believe I had to do it all alone and not ask for help.

If I continued to believe that I didn’t have a choice about how to live my life.

And I realised it didn’t want that future.

And there was something in his story that gave me courage. Courage to make a different choice. Not to go home to an empty apartment and an empty sofa, but to pick up the phone, ask for help, and trust that someone would be there.

And so, I did.

 

Now I get it. Now I understand. My life has to change

Over the last six years since then, I’ve picked myself up and taken back the power of my own choices. I’ve started to recognise and reject the stories that were ruling my life, and the truths that were killing my career.

No one was forcing me to work these crazy ideas or not ask for help – I was the one believing a story.

And I realised it wasn’t just the story about asking for help or working long hours. I was also telling myself stories about how to show up in my life, about how good I was, and about what I was capable of.

They were just stories. And I did have a choice.

And so, I started to make different choices.

But it took a lot of work.

At first, I needed to sleep, rest, and take some distance. I needed to find my friends again, remember that I wasn’t alone—and I needed to find a good therapist!

Around the same time, I discovered a TED talk by Brene Brown about Vulnerability and imperfection, and I learned it was ok not to be perfect. I then began to hoover up anything and everything I could find that she had written. I began to read Tara Mohr, and “Playing Big”, Liz Gilbert’s “Big magic”, as well as a whole bunch of other books and talks.

And I started to see the stories I was telling myself about how life was meant to be. And I started to challenge those stories and ask myself if they were helping or hindering me.

When I was able to see those stories and start to unpack them, I was at last able to give myself permission to find a different truth about how life could be.

And in turn, that allowed me space to think long and hard about what it was I wanted or didn’t want in my life. After sixteen years as a tax consultant, I finally decided that there was more to life than tax returns, and it was time to do something different.

My first step was to leave my tax career behind and do something different. Having spent a big part of my career giving very successful presentations and speeches on stages all around Europe and in North America, and having already been asked on a number of occasions before then to help colleagues prepare to give presentations, I knew this was something I was good at. And so, together with another colleague, we co-founded an in-house function within the firm to coach colleagues who were preparing for client pitches, big conference gigs, or for presentations to be promoted within the firm.

Two years later, in 2016, I decided to leave the firm and set up my own business as a public speaking coach.

But I didn’t stop thinking about my own experience working in corporate life, and all the aspects of my life that had led to my burnouts. Because during that time I was also talking to others about their experiences of going through similar things.

Many of the people I spoke to were women. Many of them had had similar struggles working in male dominated areas, trying to fit into a corporate box of how life was meant to be, and how work was meant to be done. Many of them had ended up in burnout too and I spoke to them about coming through to the other side.

What was clear was that each of them has had to win a battle. They all had to do the same work to unpack and examine their stories and start to deal with the shadows so they could start to make different choices.

And they all have a day when they decided to choose themselves and their own well-being and to let go of the stories. For one it was a motor bike accident, for another a colleague drop down dead at work. For a third, it was the day she realised she was too exhausted to remember how to make spaghetti Bolognese for the kids.

Whatever the trigger, one day there was a choice. And they made it.

And it is doing this work for myself, speaking to others who have also done it, and realising just how long we all took to learn these lessons that have inspired me to write a book that brought together the readings and things that had helped me, and to do two TEDx speeches about my experiences.

And it also inspired me to expand my work beyond just the public speaking into other areas of that impact my clients.

Today I work as a coach full time, not just on public speaking but also on areas around mindset and fears, building community, and looking after ourselves.

My life’s mission today is to help my clients see that they don’t need to wait until their lives are falling apart before they start making different choices.

That there are stories that are getting in the way of doing the work they are meant to do – but those stories can be re-written. There is a different life out there ready to be lived – a different future being written right now – one full of joy and colour and love and laughter. One doing something they love and doing it in a way that fills them up, not one that tears them down.

 

 

(Photo credit from the TEDx in Surrey: Jamie Kanehisa, University of Surrey)

 

Have you forgotten what a Powerhouse that you are?

To find out more about what I do with my clients, check out the different service pages you will find on the home page – or better still, schedule a consult to talk more about how I can support you.

University of Surrey, UK, March 2019 (in English):

University of Brest, France, December 2018 (in French):

JD Speaking and Strategy Ltd
River House
48-60 High Street
Belfast
BT1 2BE
Northern Ireland

joanna@joannadenton.com
+44 (0)7795085297