The Menopause at Work

menopause equilibrium

Hands up anyone who had the menopause explained to them properly.  No, me neither. 

Did anyone warn you how much it would affect you in the workplace?  Nope, me neither.

Do you tend to keep quiet about it or find people smirk if you mention it? I do.

The menopause can affect men as well as women however I can only address the female perspective as that is what I am.

For some reason the menopause still seems to be a taboo subject. If you are brave enough to mention it there is very little sympathy and the understanding of its implications in your day to day life are often belittled precisely because no-one talks about it openly. So here I am, being open…

How does the menopause affect your work?

Not everyone suffers badly, but many of us do and it can go on for years.  When it hit me I thought it just involved a few hot flushes and the loss of your monthly cycle but how wrong I was.

The closest comparison I can get to is puberty.  Strange things start happening to your internal chemical balance with the drop in, mainly, oestrogen. Your body and mind starts behaving as if it is an alien entity.

For me it started off with the hot flushes, particularly at night.  I would wake up absolutely drenched and I mean dripping which necessitated a change of nightwear and bedding.  The ones that occurred during the day reminded me of literally (as I know) being on fire and it was impossible to cool down sufficiently to maintain any form of composure. Very, very unpleasant but I suppose something that just had to be coped with.

I then found that my energy levels dropped off.  If I did not get a 30 minute nap during the day I was absolutely stymied by the early evening.  Even if I did manage a daytime snooze being able to function effectively each day became a matter of pure willpower.  Gigs that finished late at night became something to be dreaded.  I also found that my memory (which was never great) got even worse which, in my case, when you are trying to remember talks or speeches was not helpful.  And my mood fluctuated all over the place with my patience and attention being stretched to their limits all the time.

Dealing with the menopause and its weird effects

But there was a much worse symptom.  I lost the ability to string a coherent sentence together.  In my mind I kept losing words that have formed part of my vocabulary for decades and there seemed to be disunity between what my brain knows it wants to say and the words coming out of my mouth.  Sometimes, my tongue feels incredibly weird and will not help me out with the correct pronunciation.  For someone who speaks for a living this could have been potentially a death knell for my career.

I tried all sorts of homeopathic remedies to lessen the symptoms but nothing seemed to work for me.  Eventually I gave in to HRT which, though it hasn’t got rid of them entirely, has brought the symptoms down to manageable levels and saved my profession.

I know that I am not alone.  The menopause when it strikes alters you completely.  It affects every facet of your life and dealing with it at work takes a lot of adjustment.  You have to listen to what your body is manifesting and telling you and then find ways around the symptoms revealed and/or, as I have done, reconfigure how and what you are doing to accommodate them.  Your brain and body have become a new, strange land that you must re-navigate around to find a new path back to some form of equilibrium. 

If any of you have found ways to minimise the effect of the menopause on your working life- do share and comment below- there are a lot of us out there who would appreciate the help.

You Are A Hero – Live your own story

You Are A Hero – Live your own story

Every single one of us is.

Consider this – you are, at this very moment, living, breathing and planning your very own story where you are the major character.  You are the star in your own story.  The person sitting next to you has their own story within which they are the star.  In fact everyone you encounter or see has their very own story going on.

There is no great over-arching story that we are bit players in even when we think there is.  Any ‘bigger’ picture or concern is simply what we choose it to be and how we then embrace it, that then influences how we continue to live out our own story. 

You live your own story while others, and the planet, live theirs

Even something such as climate change is founded upon other people’s stories; in as much as our effect on it is down to the stories that people told themselves in years gone past, which led to its causation and its continuing or not will also be down to what people tell themselves now, and in the future. (I have a pet theory that when the earth has had enough it will get rid of us). 

However, back to the here, now and more personal this is just the way it is.  From the time we are born we develop our own narrative as to what our life is, what we do, the emotions we feel and how outside influences will affect us.  We don’t always know or see the outside influences heading our way but whatever they are we very quickly manage to weave it into a narrative that makes sense to us, even when we are blaming someone else for them. It is the nature of humans that they are driven by a complex combination of nature and nurture but how we react to that is our own choice. Above all we as a race need a purpose, and what that is becomes an entirely personal decision.

We are literally our very own home-grown Hero.

Once you start appreciating this and the fact that you are also the author of your own story you can learn how to become a Master of It.

Fed up with your position in life? You have the ability to change it.  Prefer to work with nature rather than in an office? You can cause that to happen.  Envious of what others have? You can totally alter your future to bring that stuff into your life.

It doesn’t matter one iota what you think you might be missing, you can re-write things, so your story starts to follow the course that you want it to. The hard part is always having the courage to change your narrative and then putting what is required into action.

Our story and star quality is a personal thing.  It may interact, overlap and influence other peoples but it will never be theirs.  So, own it – be the Hero that you decide and want to be. Go enjoy living your own story.

The Benefits of Walking Away

Walking Away Perspective

The year 2018 seemed to fly past and, with so many changes in the pipeline, each year appears to pass faster and quicker than ever before.  Yet it is important to take some quality time out in order to remain strong, supple and resilient.

When time is short and tasks never ending it is very easy to get caught up in the ongoing, relentless roller coaster of getting things done, completing and then moving on to the next thing.  Yet, I was reminded recently of the benefits of walking away for a while.

I had occasion to disappear for a month for reasons of maintaining my health.  Before I left I was working 65+ hours a week, briefing my support staff, tying down lose ends and contacting ongoing commitments to explain the necessity of my absence and assuring them that all was in good hands.  The long hours and countless communications were nothing unusual, just the context was. It did feel that I was walking away, but I knew I needed to.

Walking away gives you perspective

While I was gone, I kept an eye from afar that my arrangements were working and that nothing urgent or imperative was cropping up but otherwise I went hands off.  I maintained my personal promise that I would only check in briefly once a day and would not interact with work unless it was absolutely necessary.  I have never been so distant from my work for almost a decade and, though I had qualms and misgivings, I chose to ignore these and really apply myself to the break.

Reading was only fiction, science and fantasy.  Watching was only films, visiting was to museums and art galleries, eating was indulged with different cuisines tried, and sleeping was pandered to before anything else.  It took about a week before the ‘guilt’ abated but then it was complete and utter bliss. Walking away was painful at first but ultimately a brilliant idea.

Coming back from walking away

I returned totally refreshed.  My mind, whilst idling, had obviously need the peace and space as new ideas, perspectives and attitudes have suddenly appeared.  Previous obstacles now have potential solutions and no longer appear overwhelming.  New avenues to explore have presented themselves and, though my office has an avalanche of emails, calls and post to be dealt with, they are being tackled with clarity and efficiency that had deserted me before.  My days are calmer and more productive – a state I am determined to maintain moving forward. Walking away literally gave me headspace.

Try walking away for a while

However busy, frenetic or challenging your life may be, it is so important in today’s world to allow yourself time off.  Your brain, body and personal wellbeing need space and rest in order to function efficiently the rest of the time.  It needn’t be as long as a month (I’m lucky being self-employed), it could be making a concerted effort to ignore work at the weekend or turn off your electronic devices when you get home. Concentrate on the people, things, hobbies or pastimes’ that give you joy and enrich your soul. 

Walk away for a time from your work. Not doing so may well lead to the things we fear most; failure, dis-satisfaction and burn-out.

What Business Model Do You Follow?

Business Model

If you are part of a large organisation you probably won’t know the specifics however, in general terms, you probably follow a similar business model to the rest of your competitors.

Does your business model still work?

Big banks follow the same basic methodology as everyone else in their field as do investment houses, insurance companies, accountants, solicitors…and so the list goes on. Therefore most businesses are caught and spend their days in executing business models. They follow a fairly standardised model accepted across their sector.  This is why change or an alteration in their course is so hard to achieve.

Now think about the disruptors that have shown themselves in recent years.  Uber, AirBNB, Fintech’s etc.  These companies are not following a standardised model.  In fact, when they started, I doubt that they had even conceived a business model at all.  They were in the process of discovering what their business model was which left them free to try things out and find what worked and what didn’t.  Hence they were able to angle themselves into industries with new, fresh outlooks and new ways of doing things which caught their larger competitors by surprise.  Consequently, they stole a sizeable, sometimes huge, chunk of that particular market share.

Discover your business model and become an industry leader

When you are discovering your business model you are unencumbered by all the things that weigh down your competitors.  You may have to make room for concerns such as regulation and legalities but for the most part you are able to play and experiment with what you are offering and then provide your consumer, user, client with exactly what they are looking for.

Disruptors such as these also, in the main, have the advantage of being small, are agile and nimble enough to adapt to changing circumstances and demand.  However, the most successful ones don’t then sit back and follow the same business model year on year.  They are always looking forward, testing the water with new ideas, new avenues, different structures to see where they can go next (think Netflix – from video hire to streaming).

Business models should be a journey of discovery and one that never finishes unless you want to become stale, static and eventually irrelevant.

Don’t get overtaken by competitors, adapt your business model

There are no reasons why larger or established companies can’t adopt the discovery attitude. It doesn’t mean they having to instigate major upheaval or close down in anyway.  What they do need to do is look at start-ups and pay attention to the new skills they display, especially mind set. Setting aside a few people and resources, perhaps a separate department, dedicated to the concepts of discovery, change and disruption could work wonders and catapult your business forward.

So my question to those of you in larger institutions out there is; are you courageous enough to experiment?  If your business model isn’t working, do you have the foresight to change it?

The Power of Thank You (the personal power tool that costs £0!)

The Power of Thank You

Have you ever been in the situation where you have held open a door for someone and they sailed through without saying a word? Or how about letting someone in front of you in a line of traffic and they make no sign of acknowledgement. Or, as happened to me recently, you spend an entire day preparing a feast for a dinner party to have someone turn up empty handed, they eat your food, drink your wine and never say thank you, not even a text!

Annoying isn’t it? It can make your blood boil, and have you noticed the unpleasant sensation it leaves you with afterwards? The only thing greater than the power of thank you is the sour taste a lack of thanks can leave.

The power of thank you is seriously underestimated

Some employers make the mistake of thinking that things such as money, extra holiday entitlement, or promotions are the only ways to keep staff happy. Of course these are great to receive but it all costs money and eats into profitability if they are the only tools used.

There are plenty of things leaders can do that cost absolutely zero £.  The first of these is the all too obvious but much underused words of ‘thank you’.

Human beings respond much more positively to praise.  If you actively look for what is good in a person or what they are doing which is spot on if not surpassing your anticipations, then actively bring attention to this by acknowledgement and a thank you, that person will respond in a favourable way. The power of thank you is the warm glow it gives a person.

You don’t need awards or anything over the top by way of a thank you.  Just stop and consider how good you felt when someone took the time to notice something you had done or achieved and then went out of their way to come up to you and say something great about it.  How did that make you feel for the rest of the day? It’s that feeling you should be instilling in those you are responsible for.

The power of thank you costs zero £ but a few moments of time

Even when you’re busy there is always time to glance up and outwards to review how your team members are doing and, if you are a good leader, how their morale is.  Some may need more encouragement than others, some may not trust their own regard for themselves and some may need support and help.  But how are you going to know this unless you take the time? Acknowledgment and thanks are extremely powerful, especially when times are stressful or tough.

It is very easy and often the norm to watch employee’s performance and pull them up on what it is that they are not doing or are doing imperfectly.  While this may be regarded as positive feedback because it will help them improve, it quite often isn’t and doesn’t.  Criticism and having what are perceived as negative points raised can be viewed as an attack on their personal identity and I’ve never known a person respond well to it.

Of course, sometimes it is necessary to address performance issues for the overall good of the team and company, however first look for the good and start with that.  Think carefully about the more negative issue you need to raise and how you can do so without attacking their personality and always finish with a positive phrase or aspect directed back at them as a person.

You’re human, they’re human – treat them as you would yourself – with positive regard and humanity. Use the power of thank you constructively and enjoy the smiles you get in return.

(Oh, and thank you for taking the time to read this article)


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Are we really all born equal?

I was recently watching the movie Made in Dagenham which is based around the story of the 1968 female workers at Ford walking out in protest over unequal pay.  They succeeded in their battle and it led to the 1970 Equal Pay Act being introduced.

Have things changed since the 1970’s? Or, is being born equal irrelevant?

As I watched a scene where the fictional heroine orders a Babycham, I mused over how you would never hear that phrase in a bar today and perhaps it was just as well that things have moved on since then.

But have they….?

The Equal Pay Act 1970 was replaced by the Equality Act 2010.  Under the Act all employees have a right to equal pay for equal work, men and women, and pay includes the complete pay and benefits package. The pay received for a role can be compared to anyone who is doing the same job, used to do the same job or is in a directly comparable role.

In 2018 companies with more than 250 employees were obliged to provide gender pay gap information to the government.  The figures are imperfect as, due to some unexplained exemptions, high level executives pay was excluded.  However, I’ve looked at some of the companies and their reported gaps and was appalled at what has come to light (I suspect the picture is probably worse because of the exemptions).

On average women are paid 9.7% less than their male counterparts for the same role.  Doesn’t sound too bad? (though there shouldn’t be any gap at all)

We may be born equal but are we treated equally?

But I then delved deeper, specifically looking at the financial services sector, I checked out 12 well known, respected and, I would have hoped, forward thinking companies and this is where my jaw dropped open:  the lowest gap was 23.4% and it then ranged upwards into the 30%, 40% with the highest a staggering 59%!

I am not going to name the companies concerned, suffice to say anyone can check out the same information at https://gender-pay-gap.service.gov.uk  It allows you to look up individual companies as well as running comparisons to get a broader picture.

Thankfully the government’s requirement for companies to continue reporting their gender pay gaps will continue every year so logic dictates that these companies will be forced to address and equalise their pay structures tout suite.

I sincerely hope they do act quickly as 50 years on from the original, unambiguous and clear Equal Pay Act is quite long enough for parity to have been achieved and it is a disgrace that it hasn’t as yet.

We may propound the notion of being born equal; now we literally need to put our money where our mouths are and make sure all are treated equally.


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4 Tips Guaranteed to Increase Productivity

increase productivity burning midnight oil

Sleep – increase productivity

You simply cannot take getting enough sleep for granted.  Without enough sleep you will, literally, slow down. Whether you work shifts, or 9-5 you need enough sleep if you want to increase productivity. Forget about our concept about time – the minutes and hours we stipulate as day and night.  The human body has its own internal circadian clock (which happens to be roughly 24 hours, just over) which, when factored into our routines, keeps our bodies, minds and organs functioning at optimal levels.  We are, of course, able to over-ride these natural rhythms (paying more attention to external clocks) however, over a period of time this will affect our ability to perform at peak levels and decreases our productivity.

Sluggishness, irritability, feeling unwell, compromised immune systems are just a few of the effects of becoming sleep deprived and can lead to serious and long term mental welfare problems if left unaddressed.

There are plenty of articles, advice and tips online about how to get enough sleep (approx. 6-8 hours) and it’s important to know what your individual body needs. Proper attention to knowing what you require and then doing everything you can to ensure you get it, is the easiest way to guarantee your ability to perform at your peak level and increase productivity.

Meditation and/or Mindfulness to increase productivity

Managing stress can sometimes be easier said than done, especially if you work in a highly challenging environment.  However, to mitigate some of our stress levels meditation and mindfulness definitely help. If your mind is over busy, your body slows down, and everything is a struggle. To increase productivity, you need to help your mind regain focus.

Both meditation and mindfulness are terms bandied about a lot these days.  In simple terms they are both used to calm our frenzied minds.  Meditation is an umbrella term, which can include mindfulness, and denotes acknowledging your mind and self-regulating it.  Mindfulness is the act of focussing in on the present whether that be drinking a cup of tea, peeling vegetables or concentrating on your breath.  You are so present in whatever you are doing you can banish any other thought or worry from your mind and only be aware of the act you are doing.

Again there are plenty of exercises in both meditation and mindfulness online, find the one that works for you.  Starting your day with at least 10 minutes has been proven to improve brain functionality for the rest of the day.  Where possible repeating the exercise when you get overwhelmed will also help as it will with sleep if done before going to bed.

Daylight – nature’s way to increase productivity

Going back to the body’s natural rhythms, daylight plays a large factor in our overall well-being.  Before time or clocks were invented we would rise with the daybreak and sleep when night fell.  Today, we are cooped up in buildings with artificial light or in transport travelling to and from our occupations so we get little opportunity to get natural daylight.  This does inhibit some of our bio-chemical messages which in turn affects our productivity.

Standing outside, even on a cloudy of rainy day, with our faces turned up toward the daylight for at least 15 minutes a day gives a boost to our bio-chemistry. By looking into natural daylight your eyes take it in and produces the hormone Serotonin which helps us feel calm and focussed.  It also boosts our vitamin D levels which helps our bones, staves off anxiety and depression and is speculated to assist in fighting off some forms of cancer. So, daylight is nature’s easy boost to increase productivity.

Move More – yes, it’s true, our bodies need exercise to increase productivity

I can hear the groans from here.  We all know that exercise is beneficial for us yet so many of us don’t do it.  ‘Too busy to fit in’, ‘hate the gym’, ‘I don’t want to get sweaty’, we can spend an inordinate amount of time thinking of ways not to exercise.  However, it needn’t be that regimented.

Walking is one of the best forms of exercise when done briskly and in the fresh air.  Taking stairs, cycling, swimming, doing yoga.  It doesn’t really matter what the exercise is just find something that you enjoy or don’t mind doing and doesn’t interfere with your daily routine too much – you’re more likely to keep it up.  Check out my stress busting exercise tips here

The trick is to make sure it puffs you out a bit and gets your heart pumping.  That oxygenates your blood which in turn helps your little grey cells and eliminates nasties from your system at the same time.  If you can find 10/15minutes a day to get a coffee you can substitute one of those times to get a bit of exercise.

If you’re in a sedentary job then get a standing desk at the very least.  You’ll be surprised how much energy you burn when you stand regularly and work at a standing desk, plus it improves posture.

With so many days of productivity being lost to stress as well as back and neck pain, these 4 simple, easily implemented, non-onerous tips really will help you feel better and get some positivity back into your work. Rather than burn the midnight oil trying to cram more work in; try these 4 tips to increase productivity.


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Unlock the creative brain – try being a southpaw

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a study I found intriguing with some interesting findings around the brain and its function with creativity. I decided to try an experiment to unlock my creative brain.

Your brain has 2 hemispheres, left and right.  Your left hemisphere functions  with things such as logic, practicalities, reason etc. and the right is where our more creative impulses lie; creativity, imagination, dreaming, artistic leanings.  In normal day to day life we tend to use our left hemisphere most of the time and the right remains somewhat under-used (unless you are an artist of some sort or lucky enough to be left handed). Are we denying our creative brain?

Our right hand communicates towards out left hemisphere and our left hand towards our right.  The study suggested that encouraging more use of our left hand would ignite more synaptic pathways into our right hemisphere and lead to more creative thinking – which we could all do with in this day and age.

Experiment for the creative brain

I decided to give it a try by practising writing left handed, every day, for 10 minutes at a stretch for a month. My very unscientific experiment found some surprising outcomes.

I believe it did indeed unleash more creative thinking for me.  I found that, whereas I might have had to stop and think about one problem or one thing at a time the ideas started to flow with ease.  In fact they started to flow so fast and often I had a hard job keeping track.  It was like a grasshopper on speed!

Others noticed it too.  I didn’t realise at first that when I was speaking to someone, I would be verbalising ideas, thoughts, solutions as fast as they were popping into my head. They would sometimes spiral from immediately obtainable to possibilities and then eventually away into fantasy that would need a few more inventions to make reality. Those listening to me found it difficult to keep up with me and my thought-flows.

Warning, the creative brain can need controlling

I have had to make a concerted effort to rein it in.  To consciously re-introduce my left brain thinking so I can explain my ideas slowly and deliberately to those around me so they can grasp each portion before we move on to the next.  I’ve also lessened the amount of time I spend cultivating my left-handed writing to calm my excited thought processes. My creative brain needed a little more discipline.

I would therefore surmise that there is some truth in the study’s findings I read.  If not injecting you with some sudden creativity chemical I would speculate it at least breaks down blockages and opens avenues in your brain that have been under-utilised before.

Don’t just take my word for it – give it a go for yourself, after all who couldn’t do with more creative thought processes in this day and age? Try unlocking your own creative brain by writing left handed, 10 minutes per day.


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Resilience and being tested

being tested and surviving

Some time ago I wrote an article around resilience as I am asked so often how I find the resilience to keep doing what I do and then something happened recently that highlighted what I had tried to explain in a simpler and more human way: It was an example of being tested.

Though I catch the train into London again I try to avoid rush hour commutes as it is just too frenetic, crammed and stressful for my PTSD condition (a legacy from the crash) However, I was on a 3 day training course in London that necessitated peak hour travelling.

Arriving at the train station on the third day I found (along with thousands of other commuters) that some electrical lines had come down just outside of Paddington which had closed the routes into and out of Paddington.

Rather than give up on the day (I hate not finishing anything I start) with the rest of the masses I traipsed off to the Waterloo stopping train that would take hours to reach London.

Being tested can occur at unexpected moments

There was standing room only and, as more and more people squeezed on, I found myself crushed into a corner near the far door, unable to move or hang on to much, mainly held in place by other bodies. My resilience (and PTSD) was being tested and it was a thoroughly unpleasant experience.

As we set off, I could feel the panic rising in my throat. I began to sweat profusely, mouth went dry and the nausea rose from the pit of my stomach. I bit my tongue hard in an effort to ward off the crying out I could feel welling up in me as the flashbacks began again, coming ever thicker and faster. Alongside all this the arthritis in my legs began to flame with painful heat making standing excruciating but there was no way I was ever going to find anywhere to sit.

I was literally stuck in a corner with no visible way out, feeling absolutely terrible and in pain…and this is where resilience all stems from.

Resilience - Being Tested

When you are being tested you have choices

You have, at that moment a very simple choice. 1. Give up – give in to your doubts, fears, circumstances and let them wash over and engulf you. There is nothing that can be done to help or alleviate your immediate predicament so find the nearest or soonest escape route and take it.

Or 2. Fight back – accept whatever is happening to you but search for a way to cope with the immediate discomfort however rotten you feel, think about ways you might be able to improve the situation for yourself (in my case squirming around until I could reach my painkillers), and then work out how you will do it differently if circumstances were ever to repeat themselves. For the entire time know and appreciate that it will not last for ever and will, in some way, eventually be over. “This too will pass” is a mantra I use a lot! It is all about how you deal with your resilience being tested.

being tested triumphing

Assuming, like me, you always choose option 2 then you are resilient-proofed pretty much for the rest of your life.

I did get to my course eventually. After 30 minutes of pulling myself back together in the ladies I was able to re-join the rest of the group and carried on with no-one else the wiser. Oh, and I passed the leadership training accreditation it was teaching me so option 2 always trumps option 1.


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Don’t be too proud to ask for help

Ever had one of those days when your decision to be an entrepreneur seems like a mistake? Do you ask for help? It can be tricky, especially if you are a solopreneur. Everything seems to have gone belly up and you are soldiering on trying to ignore the feelings of doom and gloom. To quote a well-known phrase, “no man/woman is an island”.

Build a network and ask for help

If you are just starting out I cannot stress the importance of building a network of support. Those early days of a business can be terrifying. If you are an established business going through change you may need to extend your network to include new skills and different contacts to help manage that change.

Nobody is good at everything. My area of expertise is finance and change disruption. I was reluctant at first to tackle marketing, so I enlisted experts. I found social media at best irritating, at worst overwhelming. That was until I understood that I didn’t have to be EVERYWHERE, just where my potential clients were. My marketing expertise is growing because I found experts who were willing to educate me as I went through the process.

Sometimes you need to ask for help on a personal level

You may be awesome at your job, but you are only human. Life can derail the best of us and that is when we need to ask for help. If you have others depending on you, don’t struggle on regardless, it could jeopardise their wellbeing. Ask for help and admit that, today, you are not handling things well. You would be amazed at how people step up when you ask and may even find an employee who could share the load in some areas. When you ask for help you often empower others and get to see the best of them.

I am reminded of several friends who used to joke that their partners would never ask for directions, preferring, instead, to get hopelessly lost. I wonder if that is the case nowadays with Sat Nav? If you are unsure of the direction your business should be going and it is giving you sleepless nights, then get some guidance.

Ask for help to get back on the right track

The UK and the USA have a huge variety of business networks, advice centres, professional associations and consultants out there all whose sole purpose is support and help. It is arrogance to think you can do everything. As an entrepreneur, solopreneur, business leader, whatever your position; you are not the fount of all knowledge.

Great business consists of great teams and your teams’ expertise is there to be used. Great business makes connections and knows where to ask for help.

Great business leaders have friends and colleagues who willingly offer support and who are happy to help. So, if today is not a great day, reach out, ask for help, share the load. Tomorrow will be better.