No matter what you’re doing, you need a detailed plan to make things happen. Or so we often think. In a post Covid19 world it’s hard to imagine a worse time to make a plan for big changes to our lives. How can we possibly plan in this vacuum?
Setting up Your Own Place in 2013 occurred during a blur of personal tragedy and a need for something new. What I didn’t recognise at the time is that my life needed something new and not just my career. This amount of change probably required a plan.
This blog explores this supposed need for a detailed plan and the timing for change.
Way back when Your Own Place was just a glimmer in my eye, some of the best advice I received was not to wait until everything was perfect before starting something new and brave. As someone who feeds on control, this was hard to believe and harder to implement. Looking back it’s unclear when the decision was made to start a social enterprise, how or exactly why.
Following two decades of agonising illness that did untold harm to my family, my mum died quietly in 2013, six months before Your Own Place was incorporated as a Community Interest Company. It’s easy to see this as something planned or as a birth following a death. It wasn’t. It had been gestating a while. By chance I had told just enough people about the ‘plan’ to leave my secure job at the council and so to subliminally hold me to account. On reflection this was an important achievement, as I wasn’t even ready to hold myself to account. The truth is, Children’s Services, my employer at the time, was in such turmoil that no-one had the wherewithal to convince me to stay. Or, the alternative truth is that it appeared so certain that I was leaving, no-one tried. Either way, I’d have given anything to be persuaded to stay – because there was no plan – detailed or otherwise. This remained the case until the last year.
What was also unfolding at this time was the collapse of my relationship, a relationship that had started in 1999, shortly after leaving university. A chance encounter with an old school friend, long before I admitted to myself my relationship was over, warned against entering into self-employment (as company directors are treated). She informed me of this, ruefully from personal experience it turned out, as we made tea in the kitchen at County Hall. I learnt that as a single self-employed person I’d have little chance of getting a mortgage. It didn’t seem overly relevant as I wasn’t really leaving my job or my relationship was I?
It all started to unravel over the coming months.
Fifteen more months passed of half-hearted work on the enterprise whilst working equally half-heartedly at the council. Everything came to a head in late 2014 and early 2015. I felt pushed out of a job I wasn’t ready to leave to lead an enterprise I wasn’t ready to run and a relationship that I should have already left. And I still didn’t have a plan.
Working full-time for Your Own Place in early 2015, my 18 year relationship finally collapsed nine months later. Sure enough, I lost everything. I lost my home, my sense of self, half my household income, most of my support network and had little chance of getting the stability of another mortgage and a home.
So this would have definitely been the time for a plan. Sadly not yet. I was bereft. I pitied myself, shamed myself, cried every day for exactly a year, hid away in crappy damp rented accommodation on a marsh and ruptured my calf muscle in the middle of it all. Naturally this left me more isolated than ever. I’d never less wanted a plan.
And yet Your Own Place began to get a name for itself, a good reputation, thrive even. We received some high profile funding and our first member of staff. I worked hard. Really hard. Not always focussed or productively, but always hard. What else had I to do if I was going to avoid sinking deeper into depression and a kind of self harm? The kind that involves living on a marsh in the middle of nowhere.
When was the corner turned and a better plan developed?
That people regard me as this ‘lucky’, smiley, successful and passionate person feels pretty at odd with my daily life. It’s often frustrating. It feels far from my truth and as though people are making assumptions about who I am. As so many, I’m a person that obscures a multitude of denials about my strengths, my ability to do detail, my worthiness to have the best job in the world and my ability to see anything through – including to follow and be accountable to a plan. I’ve never planned because hitherto I’ve not really had to. For one reason or another I’ve always believed that I can probably wing it. The stuff of middle class self-belief and (penniless) privilege – and a wonderful contradiction of the above-described imposter syndrome.
Winging it is fine if there’s just you. Wonderfully, gratefully and objectively, the difference now is that it’s no longer just me. The responsibility I have is to my team who put unfathomable faith in me. And greater still, the people we support who trust us.
Another chance conversation linked me up with a mortgage broker. Moving into my little home in Norwich, whilst on crutches, was a wonderful moment. As CEO of an enterprise that aims to end the indignity of homelessness, it was a small insight into the self-esteem, self-worth and security that comes of having your own place.
It’s not that I’m not worth having a good plan for you’ll understand, but being seen to fail is not an option. You can’t fail if there was never a plan in the first place. In addition, winging it has undoubtedly brought unexpected benefits through the people I’ve met, opportunities I’ve taken and strengths and resilience I have developed.
Today I have a plan and I’m proud to articulate it to you, the team and our incredible new Board. We will prevent homelessness. We will develop a unique and impactful model to do so and take it to ten cities in England and we will make a difference to 1000s of lives.
To answer the question, when’s a good time, the answer is probably now! Neither the plan nor the situation have to be detailed or perfect. You just have to start, be prepared to reflect and learn, hold yourself accountable and keep moving forward.