“Perhaps what you need is a shiny clean slate, because following other people’s dreams will leave you eternally unfulfilled!” Like where this is going? Meet Phanella and Alice, founders of The Step Up Club.
One a former international finance lawyer the other a high powered journalist, both balancing motherhood on the side. The career experts for modern women talk to us about their tips for career success and how to achieve work/life balance…
Phanella: Your career began as an international finance lawyer working on multi-billion dollar transactions. Can you describe a typical ‘day in the life’ then and now?
Now: I get up early to exercise. By 6.45 I’ve showered then start getting dressed: one hand doing my hair, dressing daughter with the other. Quick porridge at 7am whilst drilling number 1 son on his spellings. Drag number 2 son out of bed (he likes to lie in).
We vary our schedule: 2 days a week I do the school run then am at my desk with Alice by 10am. The other days, we work from home or fit in meetings and after the school run, things can be unpredictable. After work, I sit and chat over an early supper with my kids, bath them, read to them, put them to bed. By 7.30pm they’re asleep and I have time to catch up with my husband or head out with friends.
Then: Get up late after working till 3am the night before. Into work, porridge at my desk. Work work work peppered with coffee catch up with colleagues. Work till 9pm, taxi home. Wake up and do it all again.
Phanella: How has being a mother of three changed your outlook on life?
Motherhood has profoundly changed things for me. My definition of success is different: Now it’s as much about a happy family as it is personal goals. I am also more focussed. As Kirsty Young said in our book, if I am going to leave my kids and go out to work, it had better be damn well worth it.
We always say that having children can be a brilliant catalyst for your career. You are forced to become more strategic, better at delegation and the leadership skills you need as a parent, transfer so well back into work.
Alice: How do you maintain a balanced life as a high powered journalist and mother of two?
Alice: In many senses, I think balance is a state of mind. Having children has strangely helped me to remain more balanced as I now have a specific reason to close my laptop and change my mindset. There was a time, maybe a year or two ago, when I tried to multitask my way to success. I would quickly check my emails while the girls were playing next door, or make their dinner while I was managing a work call. Needless to say, this blended method ended in disaster.
I thought I could do it all, and I just ended up feeling that I wasn’t giving either side of my life the energy or focus that they deserved. Today I have a more managed approach: I work when I’m without my girls and I’m mentally switched on when I’m with them. Yes I’m tired. Yes I find it hard to prioritise myself, but I am generally feeling a lot more relaxed. I am absolutely fastidious about going to my gym classes. I attend at least 2-3 a week, and they are my release. I feel so much better when I’ve worked out and given my body a physical work out!
How did you both meet?
We met in our early twenties, just when our respective careers were starting to form. Alice is an old friend of Phanella’s husband and over the years, we would see each other at parties and always end up talking about women and work. In 2015 we decided it was time to put those discussions into action. We pulled together our contacts and a beautiful venue, to create an event around women and success. As we had suspected, there was huge appetite for the format and we were also picked up by Random House at the event.
We took a few months out to write our book, Confidence, Success and Your Stellar Career in 10 Minutes A Day, which came out last September. Since then we’ve grown our blog, newsletter and events programme as well as collaborating with brands to spread our message. We want to celebrate our careers, enable you to feel comfortable in their definition of success, build confidence and empower you with the skills to achieve your goals.
What was the inspiration behind The Step Up Club and what can we expect from Step Up School?
Step Up Club came from a persistent feeling that careers should be talked about in the same breath as fashion, interiors and food. We have wonderful, diverse and exciting careers and that’s something to celebrate.
Plus, when we have the right tools to build our careers, everything becomes possible. Step Up School – our one year programme to supercharge your life and work – was a natural extension of our other activities. Currently running in London, our first intake of 40 women sold out in just 7 hours. We’re taking a new intake in January (the waiting list is growing fast) and launching online next year.
What are your three pieces of career advice to women looking to build a start-up?
Believe That You Can: When you embrace positive beliefs about your own ability, you will not only feel more confident, but you will act more confidently too. Customers and colleagues will, in turn, think more positively about your abilities and a virtuous positive circle will take shape.
Embrace Failure: Think of tech start-ups. When did you last use version 1.0 of an app? When you are able to see failure as a learning opportunity, fail fast and move forward, your business (and you) will flourish.
Use your network: Around 75% of new jobs are found through contacts and for small businesses, networks produce over 80% of new fruit. Identify who is in your network, then spend some time expanding it and filling in gaps. Finally, connect regularly with your network – why not send over that interesting news article you just read? – and opportunities will flow.
Who is your biggest career inspiration and why?
Phanella: My mother in law. She has maintained a huge global career whilst staying very involved in her 4 children’s lives. If I can be half as successful on the work and home fronts, I will have succeeded.
Alice: My father. He is a man with integrity, nous and ruthlessness. He is the fairest person I know and is generous to a fault.
Favourite way to work out and chill out?
Phanella: Work out: Pilates at Heartcore. Chill out: Flat out on the sofa with the papers and Netflix.
Alice: HiiT classes at Ten. Laughter with my girlfriends. Date night. Virtual shopping on Net-A-Porter (guilty pleasure) and lots and lots of skin-to-skin cuddles with my children.
Favourite bar or restaurant in London?
Phanella: Hoppers. Buzzy atmosphere + perfectly spiced Sri Lankan food = my perfect dinner out.
Alice: Caravan. I love their all day dining approach. It’s there whenever you need good food and the right vibe: you can rock up for easy brunches or drunken dinners at any time of the day, and no one bats and eyelid.
Phanella: Yes You Can. I truly believe that if you set your mind to something, you usually can achieve that goal.
Alice: Be yourself. There is no point wasting energy comparing yourself to others. We are all unique and wonderful – let’s celebrate ourselves.