Tuesday afternoon and I'm sitting in a little cafe with my neighbour Sarah, my skin is frustratingly itchy. Our electricity supply has been cut off for the day, which has forced me to leave the sanctum of my home office for a new environment and much needed fresh perspective.
My arms are driving me insane this week. Itching had become a distant memory. I'd almost forgotten how unbearable this feels. I’m much more aware of my body and my skin nowadays, and I know there are only a few things to trigger such intense aggravation. Either I've eaten nightshades (nightshade foods are a persistent problem for me) the change in seasons is drying my skin, or I'm stressed. I’m inclined to think it's actually a little bit of all three - although stress is most likely the prominent culprit today.
If there’s a little list of words my colleagues would choose to describe me, I’m certain ‘strong’ would sit notably on top. I’m the tenacious one, the friend that never gives up no matter how tough things get. Sarah is sat opposite me, sipping her cup of tea listening intently to me bemoan my situation. The poor girl has enough of her own s**t going on this week, but it’s not often she sees me downbeat. I’m extra grateful to her for letting me vent.
Two days ago I was done. Ready to jack everything in for the simple life. I wasn't cut out for this. Give me a small plot of land, my camper van, half a dozen feral animals and I'm good. The danger of becoming a nomadic mad cat lady is real!
It's funny isn't it how we look at other people and envisage their rose-tinted, picture perfect existence. Smiling mommas with immaculate children, twenty something gleeful couples travelling the world in style, tough independent women acing their careers, climbing to the top rung and well beyond. Yep, it all looks blissfully enchanting on Instagram. I can only share the unvarnished truth behind one of these fairytales, although chances are, if I'm going to shatter the illusion for you on the career front, be sure those insta-mummies and intrepid influencer couples can most probably do the same in their specialist subject. Life just isn’t as glam off the gram.
Building an empire is damn difficult. I have always been my own boss and from an early age taught myself every basic element of business. Web building, PR, marketing, sales, accounting, SEO, google adwords, blog writing, social media ... you name it, I studied the books and mastered the skills. So, whilst my devotion to sharing and educating natural skin care came about purely through personal experience, I had already finessed all the elements necessary to help spread the message and build a positive space for people to grow comfortable sharing their stories. Some might say the universe aligned. That felt amazing.
This passion and purpose lead me to develop my own natural skin care range, which I pitched last month on a television show called dragons den. I was offered investment by all five dragons, a scenario most entrepreneurs dream of. It's been a whirlwind ever since and I wouldn't change that experience for the world. Honestly, one of the best days of my life. I wasn’t so naive that I expected an entirely smooth ride post-den, but I don't think anything could have prepared me for the past few weeks.
The emails and messages I’ve received from strangers over the years have always felt as though they’re coming from a growing community of likeminded friends. Chatty, kind and filled with hopeful anticipation - excitement at having found my book, gratitude at being shown light at the end of a very dark tunnel. There have been days when I’ve been faced with over two hundred messages but I’ve found joy in responding to every single one.
Something changed this month.
Perhaps it's people's perception? Maybe now that I have investment there's an expectation that I have huge team behind me diligently doing my job for me. That’s most definitely not the case. Whilst Tej and his company have been wonderfully supportive, my business is still very much my own - essentially ... me!
Could you put me through to your web designer? Speaking.
Could I talk with your accounts team? I am she.
Your marketing department please? Hi there!
Of course as the business begins to grow I will have the opportunity to bring extra people on board, but for now I am solely responsible for all these things. Add to that little lot brand building, product development and customer services all rolled into one. I’m front of house, behind the scenes and everything in between.
‘I am VERY DISAPPOINTED’ *Margarets email boomed out from the screen in front of me this morning.
‘WHERE IS MY ORDER? WHAT SORT OF WAY IS THIS TO TREAT YOUR CUSTOMERS?’
Margaret must have missed the bold note at the top of each product page on my website explaining an 8 week lead time. An easy oversight. I patiently replied highlighting the pre-order text, attaching my free skin care guide and warmly reassuring Margaret “I’m excited to let you know we're now just a couple of weeks away from dispatching your order”. My email was chatty, informative and polite - because, why would it be anything else?
‘JUST TELL ME WHEN I WILL GET MY THINGS’, shouty Margaret could not even be bothered addressing me by my name. ‘I'M NOT INTERESTED IN YOUR CHAT.’
Wow. I hadn’t quite prepared myself for Margarets dismissive bellowing. Right there, sat in front of the laptop, my heart sank a little. What happened to speaking kindly to another human? Or is the person on the other end of an email conversation so anonymous these days that they might as well be a robot?
‘What part of I DEMAND A REFUND do you not understand?’ different customer, same entitled attitude.
And so, over the course of the past couple of months these bawling messages continued to pepper my inbox. Opening emails began to make me feel sick with anxiety. Messages that previously comprised solely of polite questions tinged with enthusiasm at finding my book and excitement at receiving a personal reply, had suddenly become interspersed with haters, shouters and demanding doubters. Is this what business expansion equates to?
Try not to take it too personally, friends reassured me - at least that’s made marginally easier when the perpetrator can’t even be bothered addressing me by my name! It hurts slightly in my soul. They're right, of course, my wonderful, well meaning friends who have seen me pour blood, sweat and tears into building a positive online community over the past five years. But it's hard not to take it personally, when everything I share is so personal.
‘I sent you an email 2 hours ago and no one has even bothered getting back to me.’ another delightful message drops in. That’s because ‘no one' is me. And it’s 9pm on a Sunday, so I had a break to eat my dinner, I hope that’s ok with you? Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could abandon politeness and respond to every email we get with our honest train of thought. Maybe that’s my cathartic journaling exercise for the week, writing out the replies I wish I could send!
Please don’t misunderstand me, the majority of the messages and emails I receive are still overwhelmingly kind and understanding. My book has received over one hundred five star reviews on Amazon this week - I am immensely grateful and proud. So I’ve had to do a little soul searching of my own to establish why my mind has felt intensely crushed by a small minority of churlish rants. I'm googling, trying to make sense of my own thought processes through reading articles and blogs.
Something called ‘negativity-bias’ keeps cropping up. It seems our complex human brains are hard wired for negativity and therefore criticisms often have a greater impact than compliments. I’m almost relieved that psychologists have defined why I'm feeling this sting of disapproval so much more intently than I'm enjoying the kind comforts of praise.
Besides business, some of the everyday areas where we’re likely to experience results of this badly wired bias, include our relationships, our decision making processes and the way in which we perceive friendships. Take a look, these might apply to you;
- You react more passionately to negative moments than to positive ones
- You can recall insults much better than praise
- You mull over negative reactions more frequently than kind ones
- You recall traumatic experiences more clearly than positive ones
None of these things make you a failure or a bad person. In fact part of the reason we pay more attention to negative experiences is because we welcome a greater opportunity to learn from them - when life gives you lemons and all that. But continued negative bias can take its toll on our mental health. It can lead us to dwell on dark thoughts and impact relationships with those around us.
Reframing the situation, establishing new thought patterns and savouring positive moments can all help us to adopt a more cheery outlook on life. Taking a mindful approach that simply involves being aware of our tendency towards negativity and consciously elevating happy thoughts, is one of the best ways we can work on traversing the darkness.
Let’s not forget, behind each email address, every anonymous call centre operative and those seemingly faceless corporate social media accounts, sits a real life human being.
In a world where we can be anything ... let's be kind.
*names have been changed to protect the shouty ;)