Interview by Jo Macdonald
Life is full of ups and downs. That is one of the few inescapable facts of life. But it isn’t the highs and lows that really define us in the end, it’s how we choose to react to them and what we decide to do next. This month’s inspiring woman, Business Mentor and Digital Strategist Gemma Went, is the perfect example of someone who chose to respond with beauty and passion to this rollercoaster we call life.
‘If the things that happened to me after 40 had happened to me a decade earlier I’m not sure that I’d have been equipped to cope with it.’
Gemma has been sharing with me in her friendly, no-nonsense, down-to-earth way, how in her forties she found herself single, jobless, and seven months pregnant. ‘I could’ve really got down about it, but at the time that felt like a luxury I couldn’t afford. So I didn’t make it about me, I fought the feelings of not being good enough, I saw the gifts instead and just got on with it. It was hard but I just needed to focus on getting through and doing enough to keep going. So that’s where my focus was. It was amazing.’
It really is amazing. I think it’s fair to say that many of us in that situation (and having personally experienced this exact scenario at 23) might choose to simply crawl under the duvet and consider not coming out again! Gemma’s solution? Strike out on her own and launch her own business.
‘There were a lot of emotions and hormones of course. But I would never have been brave enough, or had the confidence to say, ‘okay, I’m stopping and I’m going to start my own business’, and I’m way happier now. I love this. As hard as it was, it really was a blessing. And now I live an amazing life…none of these lovely things would have happened without the horrible things. So I feel quite lucky.’
Now the owner of ‘a successful multi-six figure business with a team of 5’ she had to work incredibly hard to set up her business and get it live before her son was born. Securing her first client when he was just 5 months old, Gemma then had to quickly work out exactly how to balance motherhood with a new business. ‘I worked out very early on that I wasn’t that mother that could run a business and have my son in the same room. I could either be being mum, or I could be running a business. But I couldn’t do both, because then I’d feel I wasn’t doing either really well. So, I realised that I would have to earn enough for childcare as soon as possible, so that became my goal. I found an amazing childminder for two days a week and I worked out that had to be my target. I needed to earn enough to pay the mortgage, living expenses, and childcare. So I did everything to make that happen. And as he got older I’ve slowly increased the childcare, but we still have lots of time together. For me it was important to work out what worked best for me, I don’t think everyone’s the same, so we need to go with what works for us.’
What is so inspiring about Gemma is not only the way she took a potentially derailing life situation and turned it into something really positive (and hugely successful), but that she also took her business seriously right from day one. It was never a hobby, or about dipping her toe in the entrepreneurial waters, it was about creating a thriving business that supported her and her son. I asked her what advice she had for other entrepreneurs:
‘First get really clear on what lights you up and what you want this business to do for you, because when you have that kind of clarity and alignment, it’s easy. If you’re forcing yourself to do anything, or are not sure, the it makes it hard to be successful in that business. So finding that clarity and what really lights you up first is really important.
And secondly, ignore your doubts and choose not to worry, because that can just halt all of us. Those kind of negative-self stories, self-doubts, the worrying about ‘what if I’m not good enough, or I’m too old now’ – whatever those things are for you, just choose not to listen to them, and to move on anyway. I work with a lot of women, and a lot of them over 40, and those are the things that hold them back. It’s a choice, we get to choose whether to listen and believe them or not. Being really kind to ourselves helps a lot, we should nurture ourselves through this.’
Gemma knows only too well (both personally and through her clients) the gifts that women over 40 bring to businesses: ‘Definitely the breadth of experience, and not just work experience although that’s important, but life experience too. There’s a certain strength and resilience from an older woman and I think that really helps in business, it brings a depth that I don’t think we have when we’re younger. And I think it helps you make better decisions for you, because you intrinsically know what’s right for you.’
As she talks, the strength and focus that has got her this far is abundantly clear, but what is so inspiring is how she radiates joy and is clearly passionate about her work. ‘One of the things that really lights me up is empowering women to feel the same as me, to help bring their dreams to life and get the same satisfaction and freedom out of life that I have.’ Gemma runs a Mastermind group and it’s easy to see how much she enjoys connecting with women in this way: ‘I’m helping them grow and scale their business, the transformations they get is huge, and facilitating and being part of that journey is so satisfying. I love it.’
Four years after the birth of her son, and now with a thriving business and her upcoming wedding to plan for, Gemma is definitely loving her life after forty – ‘I’ve never been happier. This is such a great place for me. I have so much freedom, I do what I want, I’m financially free so I don’t have to worry about money, I feel really optimistic and positive about the future. It’s funny, I speak to some ladies [over 40] who think they’re tailing off a bit and might have to start thinking about retiring, and I feel like I’m just revving up! I’m just getting going. I feel really free and confident and that I’m in exactly the right place for me. I spoke earlier about having clarity and alignment and doing what you should be doing and I absolutely have, so it’s easy. My life is really, really easy. And it’s magical when you have that.’
I highly recommend checking out Gemma’s website as it is a hugely valuable business resource with lots of inspiring and informative articles, plus ways you can work with her. You can listen to her brilliant Podcast ‘The Simply Smart Business Show’ here, and connect with her over on Facebook too.