The Playful Den


Why I quit my big girl job to #liveplayfully

Welcome to my new office. The office of…life? Instagram? Blogging? Creating? Inventing? Dreaming? Who knows? I’m sure I’ll figure out what comes next.

This is the part I’m most excited about – trying things out and experimenting. The very  cornerstone of a playful mind.

Let me rewind. 10 years-ish ago, 6 months after my first born, I left another agency job to go it alone as an independent youth  researcher and brand consultant. I couldn’t see how I could achieve the flexibility I craved as a working mum in any job so set about carving my own version.

Having just grown a human and released it into the world from my vagina (not an entirely accurate description of the true experience) other grown up life things no longer seemed a big deal anymore. I was riding this incredibly strong wave of pride and self-belief knowing that I had somehow stumbled through one of life’s biggest challenges (and gifts) and emerged relatively intact (yes, even the vagina). I noted all the new skills I had gained as a parent and loved the refreshed wisdom and perspective that motherhood gave me. I was ready to apply it all to a new future. I also had a strong instinct that to be the best parent I was capable of becoming, I had to first be the best version of myself. A huge part of that for me was feeling driven, fulfilled in work and continually inspired creatively – without these things, I’m not very good at being me.  

I often think back to that time when I made that leap into something new, fully betting on myself and determined to sidestep some of the trappings of parenthood. I wish I could bottle that feeling and spread it around. In my utopia, women would step out from that first 6-12 months of motherhood feeling like they’ve just smashed the biggest promotion of their life, one they assumed they were unqualified for, but were undeniably made to do (however it went down). They would be alive with the variety of insane new skills they’ve acquired with a charged sense that, equipped with their new toolkit and ability to cope with constant change and challenge, they were now empowered to enjoy and conquer the world in whichever way they choose and whatever that means to them. That is truly how I felt back then. That anything was possible. I believed and so I achieved. It saddens me knowing the opposite feeling after having children is true for so many. 

Anyway, off I went on my mission of working for myself and building something for me and my family. I spent the first few years building my agency, The Pineapple Lounge, a global insight agency focussing on kids and family brands, to a level that went beyond my expectations – though possibly because I had none in the first place. It was a lot of fun. A lot of hustling, travelling, a fair bit of prosecco , a lot of hard work and a whole new host of people I’d never met before and was delighted to be working with. Before I knew it I had 2 kids, a team of 15, offices in London and New York and we were turning over an annual revenue of up to 3m. Life was full and fast. I put in a lot of hours in those first 5 years. I was beyond dedicated to making it all work to the point where the boundaries between home and work did for periods get too blurry. I often thought about work way too much, but now when I look back, I do feel it was all worth it. I have no regrets or guilt. Show me someone who built something that didn’t plunge in deep; working hard is often something women are criticised for when they have young children and something on the contrary men are praised for. 

That said, I juggled pretty well with epic support from my husband Ben. I don’t like to say I am lucky to have a supportive partner who is hands on with childrearing, because if you’re in a partnership, these kinds of partners should not be unicorns. I could perhaps say I am lucky to be with someone who I have been able to build a relationship that is healthy, loving and fun that’s founded on teamwork. Often people ask how it is possible to build a business whilst having babies – I do not know any other way than you need a partner who has their game face on, is capable, fully on board and makes you happy. I know it’s not available to a lot of women. And honestly,it is truly criminal how many ideas, hopes and dreams are lost because support is absent.

In those early years, building the business alongside children helped me thrive as a mother. Because of the rapid upskilling I was doing I got a lot of confidence and validation from this and it had a knock on effect to how I parented and my overall sense of self. I never had the headspace to sweat the small stuff, I was very fulfilled and so my attention with the kids was always on things that truly mattered – having fun, connecting, building joyful relationships and nurturing their independent little souls. I never got bogged down in the weeds of parenthood, perhaps indeed it’s why I did it all in the first place, as knowing my mind as well I do, I know that those weeds would inevitably sink me. 

As my career grew, I noticed I was acquiring an external perception of what was sometimes referred to as a ‘super mum’ or a ‘mumboss’ – someone equally engaged in bedtime routines and boardroom matters. This was not a comfortable association for me. It did nothing to empower me and made me feel quite empty. If a man is successful he is evaluated on the basis of his work and ability not on how he manages to get to places on time and fit things in. I cannot tell you how many times people would say to me; ‘I don’t know how you do it all’. It was meant as a compliment of course, but it always made me feel a bit meh. I never knew how to answer it. Do I talk about my childcare arrangements? Express my ‘luck’ for having a partner who shares the load? Is it a criticism about where my attention is at? Or as was usually delivered by other women, was it actually just a way of reflecting their own lack of fulfillment? I could never get away from this comment and for a period it made me really self conscious (by the way if you’re reading this thinking ‘omg I’ve said that to her, or I say it to others’, don’t panic, Im not offended, it’s just I was always excited to talk about my industry, team, ideas and business, but literally all anyone ever said to me was that – I don’t know how you do it all). I am making more of an effort these days to talk and reflect about the business with some of the ways men do – size, revenue, growth, vision, because I felt my success was evaluated in context of my mothering status for better and for worse.

The latter 5 years of the business were very different. Less of the rapid upskilling and start up energy, and more about getting into stride. Growth came in abundance and with that came success but also a weightier pressure. I found myself falling smack bang into the ‘founder trap’, a description of where someone grows a business with a particular talent and as the business grows they are pulled in multiple directions many of which may take them away from that talent. My responsibilities and tasks become an expansive mix of management and leadership. Running a team and being a leader is a highly skilled endeavour and I am proud to say I proved to be pretty good at it. But there is a vast difference between doing what you’re good at, and going towards places where you get your optimum energies from. This is a predicament I found myself in frequently.

In Feb of 2020 we had our 3rd baby, 10 years after our first one and 10 years after starting the agency. Covid hit right after he was born – quite literally, as we were leaving the labour ward as the team were opening up boxes of PPE. Shortly after, I found myself on business crisis zoom calls whilst breastfeeding a 6 week old as the impact of that first wave caused the world to pause (thank goodness for the camera off feature). I had planned a very relaxed maternity leave given that the last two had been spent in the throngs of business building, and that by now I had an amazing team, a thriving biz and so was excited to switch off and go all mother earth on this 3rd baby that we thought we’d never have. Instead I was homeschooling, breastfeeding and navigating some heavy business scenarios. Fortunately for the company, because of our reputation, loyal client base and kick-ass team we bounced back and went on to have one of most successful years on record.

But the whole experience made me very aware of time spent. And having survived all that, my other baby, my beloved agency, with it’s mischievous history and ridiculously smart team in line with my own personal dreams and desires, now felt grown up enough for me to go pursue those other energies that were calling.

And so here I am! I’m excited to be retaining a consulting role continuing to support the team from an arms length, but as for the rest of my time….it’s play time.

Over the past few years my Instagram channel, a place for me originally to channel creativity and connect with other women has continued to organically grow. I will be working closely to nurture this thriving community who tune in to hear about my philosophy #liveplayfully. Having studied kid-culture and specifically play, for over a decade and built strong muscles in looking at life with kid-wonder, there is a lot I want to do with these unique skills to spread joy to others and support parents. I believe deeply in the impact play can have on mental health and am particularly passionate about getting parents to embrace their inner kid and play more. 

I have quite the challenge ahead me, I am sitting here just over a week out of my role and I’m starting to feel a bit of wobble at the reality of having stepped away from something established and with such momentum and into something that is at square one. However, just like 10 years ago it feels incredible to bet on myself, make difficult decisions led by my intuition and set about again carving out a new way of balancing family life. I am so drawn to the vision I have for building a brand that encourages people to #liveplayfully my mind is fizzing with ideas which makes me super happy. 

I have no idea yet for how I will translate all this into a new business, but the strategy I am taking is to fully walk the talk. I want to see if the more I play, the more I can unlock opportunities and ideas. I’m fairly confident this will work so here I go to #liveplayfully. 

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