I was speaking at a conference this week and got asked this question by a parent:
I want my daughter to be the best she can be, but I’m not sure how hard I should push her?
I get it. You want what’s best for your child. You want to give them the best possible start so they can be happy, achieve their fullest potential and lead successful lives.
But… there is a fine line between being encouraging and pushing too hard. Don’t apply enough pressure and the potential that you see might be wasted. Push too much and pressure mounts, which can cause resentment, disenchantment and even anxiety.
I want to take you back to my childhood because the messages we receive as we grow up shape our identity and influence our path to success. I didn’t come from a place of privilege, but I did come from a place of love and support. Growing up my parents gave me two key ingredients for life.
The first was there’s no such thing as “I can’t”. Those words were not allowed in my vocabulary.
Do you remember learning how to play the recorder in Primary School? I hated those things with a passion. I didn’t enjoy it, I couldn’t get the hang of it, and anybody who happened to be in the vicinity when I was practicing might justifiably have been mistaken in thinking I was trying to strangle the neighbour’s cat.
One day I’d had enough, so I stamped my foot, threw the recorder across the lounge and shouted, “I can’t do it!” My mum picked up the recorder and said, “There’s no such thing as ‘I can’t’. We’ll both learn how to play.” And we did.
I got there in the end, if you consider a tuneless rendition of Little Donkey at the school Christmas play a success, but I did it.
The second ingredient was to work hard. As long as I gave something maximum effort and did my best, then win or lose, my parents would never be disappointed with any of my results.
With these two ingredients I grew up believing that I could do anything I wanted to do, be anyone I wanted to be. No dream was too big, no goal outside the realms of possibility, as long as I worked hard and never quit.
I wasn’t pushed in a particular direction, but rather encouraged to explore, try new things and find my passions. If a new opportunity came my way I was taught to jump at it. If I wasn’t great at something I was encouraged to practise. When I got derailed by challenges I had to pick myself back up and find another way around.
This approach did not mean that life was all learning and hard work though. My parents found ways to pique my curiosity. Activities were made to be fun and competitive, and challenges were all the more rewarding for seeing them through.
Perseverance and resilience are core ingredients in the pursuit of any goal, requiring us to keep fighting and keep pushing through our comfort zone. How we support children to develop perseverance is a delicate balancing act.
Here are three tips to help get the balancing act right:
1. Understand your child
We are all different and we all respond to different stimuli. Different personalities respond to pressures differently too, so knowing your child is the first step. Understanding their passions, strengths, capabilities and motivations will help. Ensuring that your child is party to conversations about their interests, activities and career aspirations is key. Engage, discuss and explore – understand what your child wants to achieve and the help they might need to get there. This allows them to buy into the process rather than being dragged along.
Positive reinforcement is a great way to develop intrinsic motivation, self-esteem and perseverance. Praise needs to be meaningful but it needs to be regular, so it is important to praise them at the right times for the right things. Focusing on specific points and drawing out positives even when things haven’t gone as well as hoped are really important, as is praising their effort and tenacity.
Motivation and perseverance are key skills for success. If you would like to learn more about how your child can stay motivated, as well as other crucial success skills like stepping out of their comfort zone, setting BIG goals and preventing being blown off course by instant gratification then you will want to get your hands on a copy of Be Your Best Self.
Written by myself and Nathan Kai, this exciting new book for children is a recipe for success, happiness and esteem. It encourages children to raise their aspirations and turn exciting dreams into a reality. It’s a thought provoking career tool, a vital people skills asset, a modern day confidence builder, an engaging life-hack, and it empowers children to make the most of – and create– opportunities to lead bright and successful futures. Opportunities that EVERY parent would want for their child. Positive and practical, Be Your Best Self empowers children to be happy, be confident and become the best versions of themselves.
We like talking about big goals.
Dream big is a core theme in Be Your Best Self. Setting your sights high and pursuing something bigger than you allows you to push yourself further than you ever thought possible.
I’ve always had big ambitions for my future. My mind was a playground of possibility, where I explored different ideas and passions and I grew up believing that I could do anything I wanted to do, be anyone I wanted to be. The future was full of hope and opportunity, and I couldn’t wait to make my mark.
But despite this drive and determination I faced a challenge that forced me to reassess my life goals.
I have something called Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, or CRPS for short. Thanks to faulty wiring in my nervous system I am in chronic pain all the time.
It started with a burning sensation in my feet when I was eleven years old. It didn’t take long for it to become a permanent companion, burrowing itself into every facet of my life and affecting everything I did. Walking became unbearable and on some days impossible. My existence revolved around hospital appointment after hospital appointment, where medical practitioners hadn’t a clue what was wrong with me for five long years.
And with it came an overwhelming sense of fear and isolation.
It felt like I was stuck in the middle of an epic tug of war. There were these big ambitions wanting to push me forward and these major hang ups that had developed around my self-worth trying to hold me back.
In a world which prizes perfection I was terrified that my aspirations would be pushed out of reach. That other people wouldn’t be able to see past my crutches and wheelchair to the value that lay underneath.
Was my success story over before it had even started?
What made this a million times worse was that people like me weren’t represented in the world around me. Very few high achieving disabled role models made it onto the pages of books or were pictured in illustrations. I couldn’t find them in TV, in magazines or other forms of mass media. And when people with disabilities did make the cut they embroiled in stories around ethical dilemmas, pitied, or misunderstood.
These messages have huge implications.
Underrepresentation and misrepresentation of disability have a profound effect on how we value and identify it. These messages – or lack of them – changed the way I saw myself and those big ambitions I held for my future.
I was different, and different is sometimes a very lonely place to be.
When Nathan and I wrote Be Your Best Self, our vision was to create something that helped young people to realise their dreams and reach their fullest potential, even in the face of life’s adversities.
And we wanted it to be representative.
This wasn’t to tick a box or to be seen as doing the right thing, but because becoming the best version of yourself is something that we can all achieve.
Something that we all deserve to achieve.
Everybody’s dreams are valid. Everybody has the capacity to achieve great things – and we want to help children of all backgrounds and abilities build strong foundations for successful futures.
And it is so important that the illustrations reflect this.
If you can see it you can be it.
We are super proud that our illustrations show a true representation of disability and ethnicity, as well as not conforming to gender stereotypes that are habitually normalised. Nobody is born successful, but it is something we can all learn to achieve with the right support, guidance and skillset.
It is critical that children’s books (as well as other mediums) portray disability as a normal part of life rather than a token or something to be pitied or inspired by. All of our illustrations have been carefully worked to highlight the points we write about - and some of the characters just happen to have a disability.
The human race offers the most amazing spectrum of personalities, talents, strengths, and abilities. These are the things that make us who we are and it is essential that all children feel included, accepted and able to resonate with important messages. We want to provide creative role models that all people can identify with as well as shaping perceptions of others.
Be Your Best Self - coming soon!
Written by Danielle Brown MBE and Nathan Kai, this exciting new book for children is a recipe for success, happiness and esteem. It’s a comprehensive framework that encourages children to raise their aspirations and turn exciting dreams into a reality. It’s a thought provoking career tool, a vital people skills asset, a modern day confidence builder, an engaging life-hack, and it empowers children to make the most of – and create– opportunities to lead bright and successful futures. Opportunities that EVERY parent would want for their child.
Positive and practical, Be Your Best Self empowers children to be happy, be confident and become the best versions of themselves.
I get to meet some interesting people doing what I do. It’s definitely the best part of my job. Each event is completely different, the audience bringing their own ideas with them.
And at one of these events I met Nathan Kai.
Nathan was seven years old when he approached me at a MENSA event for gifted children. I’d been booked to speak about how to unlock your potential and overcome obstacles on the way to success. After introducing himself Nathan asked: “Have you written a book for children about how they can become the best they can be? I’ve been looking for one for ages, but I can’t find anything.”
“No,” I said. “But that’s a really good idea.”
And it was.
There are thousands upon thousands of self-improvement books for adults, each one offering a different perspective on how to maximise our capabilities and live more fulfilling lives. Children are incredible hopers and dreamers who can see a future full of possibility, a life without limits. However, there isn’t much out there to help them turn these dreams into reality. We all have the capacity to achieve great things and this starts by laying strong foundations - and children deserve this developmental support just as much as adults do.
Nathan thought about it for a little while and then came back to me.
"Can I write one with you?"
Like I was going to say no to that. Taking the initiative to think up a solution to his challenge and create an opportunity to make it happen, as well as his obvious eagerness to commit to this had me completely sold. This had the potential to have a HUGE positive impact and I wanted to be involved.
We had some fantastic discussions about what being the best version of yourself really meant and talked about the different actions, tools and advice that could help children achieve this. We both left our first meeting with a list of chapters that we would focus on and I couldn’t wait to get started. I spoke about many of these topics on a regular basis and I was super happy with my first attempt. The chapters read well, it was inspiring stuff and it was going to make a real difference to children’s lives.
I sent it across to Nathan to edit, hoping he enjoyed reading it as much as I had enjoyed writing it. Nathan did a spectacular job at editing – my pieces came back with lots of strikethroughs and constructive comments. The overall learning was good, he said, but the way it had been written needed a bit of work. One piece of advice really stood out to me:
"Children don't like being told what to do."
I don’t like being told what to do either.
When I re-read the text I saw what he meant. I’d been a little heavy handed with the ‘shoulds’ and ‘need tos’ which failed to clarify that success isn’t about following a set course, but about creating your own path. Instead of telling children what they ‘should’ be doing we explored the different areas they could focus on to help them with their individual journey to success.
It took us just under a year to finish our first draft and my speaking agent Diana suggested I went to The London Book Fair. Since we were both equally involved in this project I asked Nathan if he’d like to go too. If I’m totally honest, I was a little bit nervous about this. Getting myself across London is always a bit of a mission, never mind being responsible for somebody else. The goal for the day was to get to the book fair and back without losing him. I normally set myself much higher aspirations, but I was way out of my comfort zone on this one.
If you ever want to win at networking, take an eight-year-old with you. Nathan was brilliant. At each stand we visited he articulately explained why he wanted a book to help him become the best he could be, and how we had written one together because there was nothing out there. And unsurprisingly he was a big hit.
Mission accomplished. Not only did we both manage to get there and back without incident, but we came away with some really positive leads and a few conversations later we signed a contract with Button Books.
It’s an unusual pairing, but it’s one that works really well. Nathan offers a unique insight into the emotional wellbeing of children and important ingredients for success, and I bring my performance background to the table. Together it makes a really powerful combination, and we are both super excited about being given the opportunity to help children turn their dreams into realities.
Be Your Best Self is being released in September 2019.
Written by Danielle Brown MBE and Nathan Kai, this exciting new book for children is a recipe for success, happiness and esteem. It’s a comprehensive framework that encourages children to raise their aspirations and turn exciting dreams into a reality. It’s a thought provoking career tool, a vital people skills asset, a modern day confidence builder, an engaging life-hack, and it empowers children to make the most of – and create – opportunities to lead bright and successful futures. Opportunities that EVERY parent would want for their child.
Positive and practical, Be Your Best Self empowers children to be happy, be confident and become the best versions of themselves.
Children want to be the best they can be. They want to know how to succeed and become super amazing at anything they put their minds to.
When I was 7, like now at 9, I loved reading. I also love listening to Mum’s guiding advice, but I wanted to be able to read it too, and learn from some of the best, most successful people in the world. I think a lot with this mind of mine. So for Christmas I asked my Mum for a book on “how to be the best”.
“That is inspirational, Nathan! How to be the best at what?” she asked.
I looked back a little baffled. She is great at understanding me, but I didn’t mean the best at one specific thing, but how to be the best at life.
I wanted a book on how to be the best you can be.
Always sure to encourage and guide me, she was happy at the thought of providing another opportunity for positive growth and healthy self-development. But there was nothing. Not one single book out there.
Can you believe that?
No comprehensive guidance for children on how to grow into the best, happiest, most successful versions of themselves. No children’s books on how to enjoy life, how to cope when the going gets tough, how to succeed and achieve the things you want in life, or how to manage big emotions.
I know I certainly needed this. I’m a go-getter, with great drive and ambition, and I know so many other young people out there are too. Tell me one person that doesn’t want to be the best they can be.
Who wants to settle for a grown up life of boring mundanities, broken dreams, disappointments and set-backs because of undeveloped skills, missed opportunities and poor coping? That sounds like the opposite of the life I want.
People often say that children see the world differently, that we dream about futures without the limits and lenses that adults wear. But if we are ever going to get there we need the right support and guidance. We need tools and strategies and solid foundations from which we can grow and develop.
We are all unique, we are all brimming with potential - and this make us exceptional. So instead of learning how to fit in we need to be taught how to become the best, truest versions of ourselves. When we learn to do this we can live life to the fullest and be happy and successful.
That was why I wanted a book on it.
And when I couldn’t find one, that is why I wrote one.
Be Your Best Self is being released in September.
Opportunities that EVERY parent would want for their child.
Positive and practical, Be Your Best Self empowers children to be happy, confident and become the best versions of themselves.
We have some very exciting news!
Our first book Be Your Best Self is coming out this September. Written by double Paralympic gold medallist, Danielle Brown MBE, and nine-year-old MENSAN Nathan Kai, YOUNGEST self-development author in the world.
Be Your Best Self is an exciting new self-development book for children, but it’s so much more than that.
It is a recipe for success, happiness and esteem. It’s a comprehensive framework that encourages children to raise their aspirations and turn exciting dreams into a reality. It’s a thought provoking career tool, a vital people skills asset, a modern day confidence builder, an engaging life-hack, and it empowers children to make the most of – and create– opportunities to lead bright and successful futures.
Opportunities that EVERY parent wants for their child.
Our vision is fuelled by Nathan’s determination to become the very best he can be. He wanted a book that would act as a guide to help him realise his dreams and reach his fullest potential, even in the face of life’s adversities. But Nathan found a problem – there wasn’t one out there.
So he decided to do something about this, teaming up with Danielle, a world class athlete, renowned public speaker and inclusion champion, to make it happen.
We all have the capacity to achieve great things and this starts by laying strong foundations. Be Your Best Self equips children with a ‘supply kit’ for success. This kit contains ideas, strategies and suggestions that develop skills in a positive and encouraging way. From helping children understand and figure out what success means to them, to building self-esteem and confidence, to learning the important components of self-care, each chapter gives important insight and practical tools to achieve the success they are capable of. Amidst emotional IQ builders, come chapters on building resilience, making the right choices and ensuring we follow the important components of good self-care.
Above all it lets children know that they are special, unique, valuable and important, and that they can achieve their dreams. We can all be BRILLIANT if we work hard and develop our strengths and weaknesses.
Writing this book has been an incredibly fun journey, bringing together our unique perspectives and skillsets to create innovative and exciting guidance that children can really relate to, and empowering them to become their best selves. Children are capable of achieving extraordinary things with the right mindset and support structures in place.
We are thrilled to be working with Button Books who have shared our vision and helped us turn it into a reality.
A little bit about Nathan and Danielle...
Six months ago I agreed to do the Great East Swim.
As a speaker and coach I spend a lot of time focusing on limitations - or more accurately how to break through the self-imposed and physical barriers that can prevent us from achieving our goals. Challenging ourselves, pushing our boundaries and redefining what we think we are capable of is an important part of our professional and personal development. And if I’m going to talk about it, I think it’s good practice that I actually do this myself.
So when the opportunity to do a 5k open water swim came up I said yes. This was a big challenge for me, as well as a chance to represent The Mintridge Foundation who are an amazing charity that works across the UK. Harnessing the power of sporting role models, Mintridge increases sports participation and helps young people develop essential life skills like confidence and resilience. As an ambassador for the charity I’ve seen the impact of their programmes first hand and how these sessions really transform people’s lives.
Somewhat tentatively I put my name forward.
Mental endurance I can do, but my physical endurance is a bit of an unknown. The sports I’ve excelled at in the past have been very mentally demanding, but not very tough on my body and if I’m honest swimming has never been my first choice when it comes to sports.
My mission was to cross the finish line. I normally have way higher aspirations than that, but I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’m a complete slowpoke when I swim at the best of times, so I was a little concerned that the organisers would see me floundering around like a demented turtle and think I needed pulling from the race.
But I did it. That space outside my comfort zone is one of my favourite places to be – the more I push myself the better and stronger I become. It was hard work, I was super slow and I really enjoyed it. I was still smiling at the end and it’s something I’d love to do again.
I was very impressed at how well the Great Swim team catered for people with disabilities. Sports events aren’t always the most inclusive, especially when they’re open to mixed abilities. Removing barriers to sports participation doesn’t always require a total overhaul of the way the event is run, but often just needs small adaptations to create an accessible, safe and non-judgmental environment. And this makes a huge, huge difference. Many activities I’ve been involved in come with a long list of warnings, rules and advice – along with the resiliently offensive question “do you think you’ll be able to finish it?” – that our able-bodied counterparts aren’t subject to. The organising team and volunteers were brilliant, making me feel like just another participant whilst ensuring that my crutches made it over to the finish line without making a big deal out of it.
As well as the wonderful support team, a big thank you also goes to 2XU for sponsoring me with a wetsuit. Awesome kit, awesome staff and now I have no excuse not to continue with open water swimming.
And thank you to everybody who sponsored and supported me. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it. If the money raised changes just one young person’s perceptions about themselves or empowers them to pursue a meaningful career in sport or otherwise on the back of it then it’s a job well done.
This year I signed up to do the Great East Swim. 5km in open water to support The Mintridge Foundation because they do some truly incredible work increasing sports participation and improving physical and mental health of young people.
It’s not that I just dislike the cold, but it makes my pain levels much worse. I can’t handle it like most people. Even in spring I dress as though I’m ready to tackle the Arctic Circle. This is because my life is a carefully balanced operation where I avoid things that exacerbate my pain so I can achieve the things I want to do.
I was super worried how the cold water would affect me. Whether I was even going to be able to do it, whether it would cause me to cramp up half way round – or even if I was going to be able to walk afterwards.
But with the 22nd June getting closer I couldn’t put it off for much longer, so I persuaded my brother-in-law Stu to take me – if things did go wrong I wanted somebody I knew there. He arranged a trip to Capernwray Diving Centre with his running partner.
That morning doubts crept in. A part of me thought I’d made a horrible, horrible mistake in signing up to this. That I’d completely lost the plot.
At speaking events I talk a lot about fear and its impact on our ability to perform. The same emotional response that can protect us from harm can also be disempowering – paralysing even. It can take a single thought and distort, manipulate and magnify it until the challenge in front of us looks impossible to tackle. Fear is powerful enough to chain us to the safety of our comfort zone and stop us from taking action.
But we don’t have to listen to it. We don’t have to let it rule our decisions or limit our lives. Confronting our fears head on is the best way to put problems into perspective, stretch past the limitations that we put on ourselves and redefine what we think we are capable of.
So that’s what I did.
I got in the water and I really enjoyed it. The cold wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d thought - although two wetsuits, dry socks and warm gloves probably helped. The lake was stunning and far more interesting than bobbing around in a pool, and I’m stoked that I did it. It is easy to listen to our fears, but when we do things that scare us it feels so exhilarating and so rewarding.
Having amazing people around us also helps. My family is the best; I was joined by my Dad, my sister, brother-in-law and my dog, and I can’t thank them enough for their support. Stu kept me company, kept me laughing and stuck with my tortoise crawl, my sister leant me her wetsuit and Dad was chief photographer.
Dad also fixed up hot soup in the camper for when we’d finished, knowing that this was where I was most likely to suffer. My goals, both personal and professional, would be so much more difficult to achieve without these guys and I am so enormously grateful.
I honestly can’t praise Mintridge and the work they do enough. The impact that they have on developing grassroots sports and giving opportunities to young people is extraordinary. You can learn more about the wonderful work they do here.
Sponsor me here:
I was speaking at an event recently where I got asked:
Do you think your time in education helped you to succeed in sport?
Education taught me many things, but I can categorically say it was sport that helped me succeed in education, not the other way around.
There is one common trait that all elite athletes possess - the ability to perform brilliantly when they need to produce results. On competition day it’s about putting your training into practice and bringing home a medal.
This is exciting. It’s exhilarating. And it’s also really stressful.
When you look at the education sector, this is exactly what students do. Their academic career is geared up towards the exams at the end of it. They prepare, they revise and they have to perform in their exams.
The difference is that athletes are taught how to deal with pressure – to turn the stress of competition into a comfort zone. We learn how to get the most out of ourselves, channelling our nervous energy to increase the chance that we will performing at our very best.
This ability to perform under pressure isn’t something that just an elite few are good at. I choked at crucial moments and experienced my fair share of mental meltdowns as I progressed along the performance pathway, but I was also given a lot of support. I was taught tools and strategies to get the most out of myself and deliver the results I was capable of.
And the better I got at sport, the better my results got at school and university.
Performance is performance, whether in a sports arena or a school. I want to share three simple techniques that help athletes deliver the best results they can when under pressure:
1) It’s all about mindset
Sport might be seen as being predominantly physical, but the real battles are won in the mind. What separates those who win from those who don’t is the mindset, and even small shifts in the way we think has a BIG impact. Elite athletes expect to succeed, instead of trying not to fail – which is a super important distinction. This is about focusing on what we need to do in order to do a great job, rather than focusing on all the things that could go wrong.
Sometimes negative thoughts sneak into our brains without being invited, but we have a choice over whether we listen to them. Choose to ignore them, choose to focus on something else, choose to talk back and tell it that it’s wrong – but most importantly choose to succeed. If you stick to the revision plan, if you keep working hard and set your sights high, then you are gearing yourself up for success.
2) You have a support team – make sure you use it
The best coaches I had were the ones who believed in me, especially during times when I didn’t. They offered positive encouragement, they inspired and supported me, and they held me accountable for my actions. We all have people around us who want to help, but they don’t know what support we need unless we ask for it. If you want somebody to bounce ideas off, somebody to help you work through topics you don’t understand, or even somebody to talk to then find those people and ask. Your team can also offer positive encouragement as well as helping you stick to your revision plan.
3) Appreciate the things you do well
When you’re preparing for something it’s all too easy to look at the areas that you need to improve. Whilst this is always useful feedback, it’s super important not to forget all the things that you’re doing well at or the progress that you’ve made. There are lots of areas that you will have vastly improved in, and things that you’ve picked up. Even small steps take us in the right direction, and the more steps you take the further you get. Take time out each day to reflect on the good points, celebrate the small victories and feel proud of your progress.
The exam period can be a very stressful time for students. I've created this video to help students increase the odds of performing better when put under pressure:
For as long as I can remember I have been told that I can achieve anything I set my mind to. If I work hard enough and if I am resilient enough, then I will succeed. Yet even though I was told to aim high and dream big, at the same time I have been drip fed information about the gross gender imbalances that thrive in today’s world and would make my journey to success much more difficult.
I remember the first time I heard about the glass ceiling. It was a school assembly, I was sixteen years old and our head teacher spoke of an invisible barrier that the girls in that room would face when we entered the workplace – about the uphill battle to get promotions and pay rises.
He must have finished it with words of inspiration. He must have told us that the world was changing and we shouldn’t let barriers hold us back, but I can’t remember that bit. What I do remember is a cold fury spreading across my body. There was no way I was going to let a glass ceiling park itself over my head. I would prove to the world that I could carry out tasks better than anybody else.
Yet it planted a seed all the same. Despite my determination not to be shoved to the side-lines a little pocket of doubt started to grow. What if, despite my best efforts, I wasn’t even given an opportunity to demonstrate my abilities? What if I got stuck in a net and I couldn’t do anything about it.
When I look back, I can’t help but wonder how many girls in that room heard the same messages I did and gave up. How many of them thought that the path ahead would be too difficult, too demanding and settled for less because that’s just the way it was?
I didn’t. The positive messages that other people in my life kept feeding me were stronger and these were the messages that I chose to believe. I think that we are all worthy and capable of achieving great things, and even when barriers, setbacks and challenges are thrown in our path we need to remember that these ceilings are made of glass, not steel. Keep hammering away and it will crack and break. Collaborate, connect and work together and it will shatter.
The movement for women’s equality has come an astounding distance when you look back at the turn of the last century. Progress has been slow, but the changes implemented have been monumental. Using a sporting analogy, in terms of women’s equality, I feel we are currently at medal potential. Many of the big, radical overhauls have been made, but to get to the next level – to achieve true equality for everybody – we need to start working on changing the fundamental perceptions of women and men.
And we have a very long road ahead of us.
That’s why International Women’s Day is so important. It’s recognition of the distance we have come and a call to action to propel us further ahead. We all have a responsibility to ensure that everybody’s voice gets heard and to challenge the perceptions we hold about all genders. The beautiful thing about the human race is the endless spectrum of differences that it has to offer. Inclusion and equality isn’t just the right thing to do, but it’s a critical performance driver. Difference leads to creativity, innovation and better problem solving abilities.
For me, International Women’s Day is about celebrating success and initiating conversations about how we can start redefining perspectives and break through barriers that still exist. And it’s about bringing everybody together. The theme this year is #balanceforbetter, which I am super excited about. The future is not female, and it is not male. The future is people and we achieve more together. Men and women should be allies - collaborators not competitors, who, by working together, can work change gender expectations in a way that helps everybody.
So this year for International Women’s Day I’ve split the week between London, Cardiff and Edinburgh, using my voice to empower women to recognise their limitless potential and shed limiting stereotypes. Nobody’s dreams should be extinguished because of their gender, or any other factor for that matter. We are capable of redefining what is possible and making powerful strides forwards, breaking through barriers that are in our path. By their very nature barriers are tough, but it doesn’t mean that they can’t be beaten with the right support and strategies.
I’ve always liked challenging myself. I’m not a fan of small, realistic goals; my philosophy is to set the bar high and find a way to achieve it. Stepping outside my comfort zone is a thrilling mix of excitement and apprehension, and it never ceases to amaze me how quickly we can adapt, stretching the limits of our potential and redefining what we think we are capable of.
This year I’ve pushed myself in a completely new direction and signed up to do a 5km open water swim for The Mintridge Foundation. If I’m completely honest, I am a teeny bit terrified and wondering how I am going to rise to this one.
my body to breaking point. Sure, I do a little bit of swimming to maintain general fitness levels, but the reality is that I have one speed only – slow – and I look a bit like a demented turtle.
stadiums in Shanghai and Italian summers. So yes, I think I’m going to find this part the hardest and I’ve got some thinking out the box to do to make sure my health is not affected.
So why am I doing it?
I want to prove to myself that I can. Setting new challenges teaches us more about ourselves; pushing the boundaries of what we think we are capable of is key to our personal growth and development. You can never know your full potential until you test it. Sometimes the biggest barriers that we face are the ones we put on ourselves and I want to live my life without self-inflicted limits.
And as well as my own personal aspirations I am proud to support The Mintridge Foundation. They do fantastic job at increasing sports participation and improving physical and mental health of children and young people. Sport is such a powerful vehicle for change – it transformed my life as a teenager and helped me come to terms with having a disability. It taught me how to deal with setbacks, build my self-confidence and really value my self-worth. So many people helped me get to where I did and I really want to put something back. Doing this challenge as part of Team Mintridge is awesome – it’s great to feel part of something bigger and it’s giving me the motivation to dig deep, keep getting up early and get swimming.
And sure, it’s a daunting. I always find that the hardest part is taking that first step out of my comfort zone. In that space outside things become clearer and it’s easier to figure out how to raise your game. We find a way to make things happen and get the job done. When we confront the things we fear, when we have our tenacity tested and when we push through it we come out much stronger on the other side.
So I’ve stepped out. I’m working hard and I’m slowly building up to getting out in the open water. Yes, I’m looking forward to the challenge. Yes, it scares me, but I’m going to give it my best shot. I’ve never been very good at quitting and I’m really looking forward to discovering the full measure of my potential.
I am taking part in the Great East Swim on the 22nd June. I would be super grateful for any support to my chosen charity The Mintridge Foundation, to enable them to continue to make a difference.