We spend our lives trying to avoid failure at all costs. But what if daring to fail is actually the very platform on which we grow, learn and cultivate resilience?
What if some of the fundamental lessons we need to learn are wrapped up as epic failure?
I want to share with you my story of epic failure.
I’m doing this because I want you to know that failure is the outcome of doing something different, and there should be no shame in that. We shouldn’t be afraid to fail, and we should celebrate those who dare to lead and brave enough to take the risk and learn from their experience. I want to hear about the failures, the rock bottoms and the rising strong from it. Because it’s those stories that inspire and we take great meaning from, and here's mine…
Two and a half years ago, at 38 weeks pregnant, I made the decision to create something that was missing in my life. To try and find a solution to a problem. I felt incredibly lonely having set up in private practice as a female focused psychotherapist in 2015. In 2017 I quit the security and comfort of the 9-5 from my role as Head of Workforce Transformation in the NHS and dared to go it alone.
Girl Tribe Gang started out from a place of passion and a place of my own personal vulnerability.
That passion and courage saw an award winning movement created. It welcomed 5000+ women to over 450 meet ups across the UK and Europe. It created friendships, inspired women to start businesses, reduced loneliness, strengthened existing businesses, improved mental health and connected and supported women up and down the country.
On the outside it looked like a huge success.
But the truth is, that on the inside, it consumed every aspect of my life. To build something like that, with zero investment, from scratch, alongside a new baby, with limited child free time to actually focus on work, juggling a blended family, life, and my own private psychotherapy practice undoubtedly began to take its toll, and I know better than anyone that you can’t pour from an empty cup.
To grow and scale a business meant reinvesting back into it. It meant taking very little to compensate for the time and effort put in. It meant working 24/7 to the detriment of my own health and well-being. It was a business that put everyone else’s needs before my own.
I created this community because I felt lonely and isolated in a business I loved, but I quickly discovered that being the sole director of a business ultimately made me feel lonelier than ever. When people say it’s ‘lonely at the top’ it’s the truth.
Not only that, it took me away from my passion of focusing on doing what I love - being a psychotherapist and transforming women is all I’ve ever wanted to do, and growing my own business got put on hold.
It’s no surprise then that I hit burn out.
You might say that it was inevitable part of my story.
I have always said throughout this journey that the price of success should not come at the cost of your own health and well-being. Because success is not how it looks to others. It’s about how it feels to you - and I felt stressed, consumed, and had no balance in my life - yet every day I had to show up, and I did show up. I felt trapped. I felt under pressure and I was putting my everything into a business that was giving very little back to me personally in return. Yet outwardly, daily, I would receive messages on social media from women singing the praises of what we had created; how it had made such a difference to their life and business. Emails from people wanting us to bring a Tribe to their local town - and I listened to the noise over listening to my gut.
I wanted to check out, and get off the roller coaster ride.
But when you are the sole Director of a Limited Company, with dozens of people who are now part of what you have created, and thousands of people bought into your movement, it’s not a simple case of just handing in your notice.
I felt my only option was to sell off the assets and then put the business into liquidation. Selling the business for me meant that our members didn’t lose out, our Tribes could continue (albeit in a different way) and that the legacy of all that hard work could live on. But it also meant me selling at a price that meant I personally walked away with absolutely nothing and handing everything I’ve worked for over to someone else. It also meant not having any money to pay a number of invoices, because one of the constant pressures of this business was cash flow. Borrowing more money was not a solution, and at some point you have to know when to walk away. The sale of the business and its assets just covered the cost of the liquidation; a process which I am currently embarking on.
Had I not hit burn out, perhaps I might have had more energy into finding an investor or a Co-Director or merging with another organisation - but by this point there was nothing left of me to give, and to be honest, I didn’t even know where to start.
Over the past month people will have come to their own conclusions and made a judgement based on what they’ve heard or been told. But nobody has walked my path. Or knows my struggles. Nobody has shown up in my life every minute and every day other than me. Without being in the arena of my life, for even one second, no-one can make a valued judgement on decisions I have made, nor if those decisions were the right ones to be made.
Getting in that arena in the first place takes courage.
Making decisions takes courage. Being visible takes courage. And no matter how hard I have fallen, I know that whilst I may have ‘failed’ I’ve done so as a result of daring greatly - “because there is no effort without error and shortcoming”.
If I could have hopped on a plane and checked out of my life for a while I would have done. Because all I wanted to do 4 weeks ago was climb under a rock. Heal my wounds, without judgement and then pick myself up and rise strong from my setback. I’ve faced many a setback in my life - but this one has hit me the hardest.
And that judgement from the very people I have put my everything into supporting has been the one thing that has hit me the hardest. At a time when I need support, I’ve been weighed down by the judgement of others and made to feel like I should be ashamed and that I should hide away from the world as a result.
Whilst this is a failure, I will learn from my experience, and re-frame my failures and turn them into learnings. Because it’s precisely that experience that helps us to grow. We all hit bumps in the road, and it’s those bumps that teach us to slow down at the next ones, perhaps a little more cautiously.
But it doesn’t mean we get off the road, and I am not getting off the road.
I want to take my learning, my compassion and my passion for empowering women and championing mental health and well-being to another level, because as a society we don’t talk enough about failure and we are not comfortable with sharing our vulnerabilities; in part because shame and stigma go hand in hand.
But I know that talking helps break down stigma, and that less stigma leads to less shame, and less people needlessly suffering in silence.
We have been telling stories since the beginning of time and I know that the stories of failure, of trauma, of curve balls I have heard over the last 4 years in the therapy room fill me up with compassion. Because those stories are the very essence of what it means to be human. Nobody goes through life without making mistakes and life shouldn’t be lived without risk and with regret. I don’t judge. I’m not here to judge anyone. Because I know that there is only you who has walked your path.
It is for that reason that I have taken up a role with Forward Ladies as their Mental Health and Well-being Champion, alongside my clinical work as a Female Focused Psychotherapist - which last week I was awarded a Fellow by my professional body for ‘outstanding contribution to my profession’ - something I am hugely proud of.
As the gender gap narrows, and more women take up leadership roles and start businesses, the need to focus on resilience is greater than ever. I am a firm believer that we can cultivate resilience through being brave. Life and the curve balls it throws will knock you down, and each one helps us to master the art of resilience and we come back stronger. It also means that I get to work alongside Griselda Togobo, CEO of Forward Ladies and a woman I have a huge amount of respect for. Together, we can make even more of a difference to the brave women who dare to lead and dare to fail..
What has all of this taught me?
Community/Tribe is paramount to your success and your mental wellbeing
I have spent my entire career supporting other people, and what this part of my story has taught me is that I too need the support of others. I am not an island and loneliness isn’t a foundation for success. I’ve also learned that our Tribe will evolve, as we grow, and that we need different types of support, mentorship and connections to support women who lead. What I needed 4 years go is very different to what I need now.
No-one is immune to burnout
Just because I am a psychotherapist and help others, it does not mean that I am immune to burn out. We all have mental health and Girl Tribe Gang made me discover my tipping point.
Basic self-care isn’t a luxury or a nice to do, it’s an essential component to mental wellness.
The basics (sleep, exercise and nutrition) are the first things that get neglected when we are feeling stressed and on the edge of burnout. Yet it’s these basics that provide us with a balanced foundation - physically, mentally and emotionally. Having reached tipping point I have learned the lesson and my own health and well-being will now ALWAYS come first. Over the last month I’ve had the time to exercise, the head space to sleep well, the energy to connect with my family and friends and the opportunity to nourish myself. That is self-care.
We shouldn’t be afraid to fail
Failure is the outcome of doing something different, and there should be no shame in that. We shouldn’t be afraid to fail, and we should celebrate those who dare to lead and brave enough to take the risk and learn from their experience. I want to hear about the failures, the rock bottoms and the rising strong from it. Because it’s those stories that inspire. They are the people who are mastering the art of resilience and I think we can learn a lot from those who have put themselves ‘in the arena’.
Call To Action
This is me sharing my vulnerability in the hope that it inspires even just one other woman to dare to lead and dare to fail and it's my call to action to ask you to support me, to be kind and follow me in my new chapter. If you have any questions at all, or you want to share your story with me, or you have any ideas of how together we can empower more women to ‘dare to lead and dare to fail’, please contact me via email email@example.com.
Catherine Asta Labbett, is an award winning Female Focused Psychotherapist. She works with women all over the world offering skype and in person therapy from her Yorkshire clinic base, and in 2019 was awarded a Fellow from the National Council Psychotherapists for her outstanding contribution to her profession.
Catherine works with women at all stages of their life and has also has a growing celebrity client base. The resident expert on the BBC Radio Leeds award winning Stephanie Hirst show and a regular contributor in the media - as heard and seen on BBC Radio 5 LIVE, Grazia, Marie Claire, Women's Health Magazine, Boots, Virgin and more.
Catherine was the winner of the Northern Blog Awards 2018 'One to Watch' and a finalist in the UK Blog Awards 2019. She is a finalist for 'Mentor of the Year' 2019 with Forward Ladies and was voted in the Top 10 extraordinary women in the 2019 Knomo London Awards.
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