In this mini-series, I am sharing some things I did that helped me beat the anxiety that was holding me back from being my best at work.
Anxiety can be really bad for your focus and attention to detail. When there is chaos in your mind, it can really flow out into the practical parts of our lives. I have often read stuff that talks about how exercise is scientifically proven to improve your mental functioning, as well as your physical health. When I really decided to embark on a mission to beat the anxiety I was experiencing at work, one of the things I started to do was running. And, let me tell you, the Couch to 5K app was a game changer.
It’s a nine week series of podcasts that guide you through intervals of running and walking. The idea is that you do it three times a week, gradually building up to being able to run non stop for 30 minutes. It’s such a confidence builder, as you can see your progress week on week as you push past your limits.
Within a couple of weeks of consistently following the programme, I noticed a new sharpness and precision in my thinking, and in my ability to focus. The amount of mistakes I was making reduced dramatically, and my managers noticed this.
If you don’t believe me, have a read of this article from the Guardian which goes into more detail about the science behind it...
Next week, I will be interviewing Mark and Odette Clayton, the directors of M&O Ltd, a company that provides personalised coaching to individuals, couples, parents and young people, to help them be the best in their relationships, jobs, education, and life in general. They are just one of the many start-ups that Curricula and Co have worked with.
Just like all the others, this series will be packed with stories, wisdom and insight from real start-up owners with real life experience of the challenges and successes of starting a business.
So, keep an eye out for this great new series. It’s gonna be amazing, trust me!
Anxiety is a big issue in the lives of millions of people. It affects us in so many different ways, for so many different reasons.
The workplace can be a stressful place, that can be a big trigger for anxiety, and performance can be a big one.
Work based anxiety was a big problem for me for a long time. It would affect my performance, causing forgetfulness, which led to things going wrong. I would get all nervous and shaky whenever there was a meeting, or whenever my manager would ask to speak with me. This can be frustrating if you really want to do well, and to progress.
But thankfully, I found some really helpful ways to change my thinking patterns, and my lifestyle, that made a huge difference in the way I think about work, and in my confidence in the workplace. Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing a few of these things. Here’s the first example:
When we are feeling anxious, often the last thing we want to do is face it head on and ask for some help. We want to hide away and hope it all goes away!
Counsellors are there to guide us through the process of exploring our problems, and finding some of the underlying things, maybe from the past, that have been keeping us limited. Honestly, it took some courage to take that step, but I do not regret it one bit! Getting it all out in the open was something I found very empowering, and when I was able to identify what it was that was causing the anxiety in the first place, it helped me to take charge of my thinking, and dramatically changed my perspective of myself in relation to work, and performance.
So go and sign up for counselling! You won’t regret it!
Final Chapter Dinky Mix - Part III
Time management and overcoming comparison
Welcome to the final part of my interview with Chi, the founder of Dinky Mix - an amazing family-focused company that sells charming art prints to use as wall art, and in the form of t-shirts, themed party sets, and more. Dinky Mix’s main mission is to celebrate the cultural diversity of children and their families. This is something she is very passionate about.
In this final part of the series, Chi talks to me about how she does it all! Balancing her top priority, her four wonderful children and her marriage, alongside a new and thriving business. A lot of what she said is a pleasant surprise…
“My 4 kids take priority, of course!” Chi says, “seasons change for me - some weeks the focus is mostly on things relating to the business, and sometimes I have to lay the business aside for a time, and concentrate on the kids, making sure that nobody is hurting each other, basically! It’s definitely not 9-5, more like working to do something from 6 in the morning for about an hour, getting a coffee, and doing a bit of work, or last thing at night when everyone is in bed. That is the beauty of having my own business, I can prioritise what I need to. This is the great thing about taking a slower and more organic approach. I can let my kids be the main priority”.
It took Chi a while to get used to this new way of doing things, especially in the area of the general expectation that if you have a business, it has to be GO GO GO all the time, and that you have to everything as soon as possible and fill up all of your spare time. She kept bringing herself back to that part of her manifesto about being slow, and reminding herself of the reason she started the business in the first place - for herself and her family. She highlights the importance of remembering what’s best for her family and also for her sanity!
A lot of people might have a business idea somewhere in the back of their minds, but if they have a family, it might put them off from doing anything about it, because of the heavy demands it would place on their already stretched schedule and personal capacity, and the expectation that you have to be super busy all the time in order to make anything happen with it. But actually, for anyone balancing both things, there are two things that are critical for making this work: time management, and how you manage your resources.
“As with any business, you have to be ok with the fact that there are slow times and fast times, times when orders are coming in, and times where you’re like ‘hello, is anyone out there?’, Chi explains, “you have to be ok with that and find a way to make it work around you”.
I was curious to know the practicalities of how Chi manages everything.
“I make sure I know which are the busy times and which are the slow times”, Chi said, “when it’s busy, I make sure everything is in place, and when the slow times come, I kind of work on things in advance, so I put all the work in during the slow times that I would need to have done by the time the busy times come around, so I am prepared and not overwhelmed when things ramp up. For instance, Christmas is coming up soon, so I have to do a lot of rushing at the moment. In January, it is super quiet for the whole month, so I use that extra time to do my prepping for the end of February and beginning of March, when it starts to get busy again. I am always ahead of myself. It’s all about thinking ahead and being prepared”.
Chi’s lifestyle, since she left behind the 9-5 routine, is not nearly as regimented as it used to be. She remembers that when she used to work full time, she would feel obligated to do overtime. She would come in early, and drop off her son at the breakfast club, For fashion shows, the company would often ask her to work during the weekend. Of course, this was a great opportunity for her to get to travel, but she hardly had any time leftover to see her child! These days, Chi is now in total control of her time. If she so chooses, she can work 9-5, or from 6am to 9pm - whatever suits her to work around her circumstances. She is secure in knowing that if her child gets ill at school, she can drop what she is doing at any moment to bring them home, and not worry what her boss is thinking.
I asked Chi what the biggest challenge is that she has faced since becoming an entrepreneur.
‘The pressure I put on myself to do as well as others that I see, especially other brands on social media. I often think, ‘how are they doing as well as they are doing? Am I doing something wrong?’ And thenI have to remind myself that, actually, it’s ok to do it my way, at my pace. I will get there in the right timing. I know I need to stick to the slow and steady approach, rather than the quick rise, which works for some people”.
When Chi feels comparison kicking in, she reminds herself that she does not know what is going on behind the scenes in their businesses. In the social media world, a lot of people talk about followers, and it seems that this is how people measure success - and then it begs the question of how well the followers are engaging. For Dinky Mix, like a lot of other things in the business, the followers seem to be organic too! When Chi goes off the radar for a bit, the followers are still there when she comes back, and a lot of them are like “welcome back, we missed you!” It’s about reminding yourself that there are so many different stories, and different ways of doing things, and Chi brings herself back to focusing on her own rather than everyone elses.
The people you compare yourself to, that you see on Instagram or Twitter or wherever, what you see is the results of a lot of hard work that they have put in behind the scenes. And that is most likely to have taken many months and even years.
“You have to be persistent and determined, knowing that you will eventually get there, and not trying to rush anything, because if you rush in, you rush out. We need to build things with foundations that can be sustained”, Chi says. Wise words indeed.
The good kind of comparison is where you remind yourself where you have come from. You get so caught up in the day to day running of things that you can easily forget to zoom out and look at the bigger picture. When you take the time to zoom out, you can surprise yourself when you notice how far you have actually come.
Five years ago, Chi was miserable in her job. But it was necessary for her to gain the experience that would benefit her where she is today. She is now glad that she stuck it out for as long as she did, because now, she has the commercial awareness to know how businesses work, and this has played a huge part in informing how she runs and operates her own business today. As well as this, she can identify things that she would do differently, which she can take forward when her business really starts to scale up. Even though she didn’t like it, it was necessary.
As well as commercial awareness, that hard slog in commercial fashion instilled some good qualities in Chi. One of these is a thick skin, as well as a lot of patience. “Fashion is very ‘dog eat dog’, she says, ‘you always need to be looking over your shoulder. You have to be super confident, and push yourself forward. Before learning that in that job, I wasn’t very confident. I am still working on this, but I am much further along than I was before that job. I am getting there!
Coming back to the whole thing about fast fashion, and how the industry has made it so that clothes tend to be more disposable and instantly accessible than ever before, Chi is adamant that she does not want to contribute to a throwaway culture. She would like to see a change in the way people use and relate to things. She wants to create items that are of a very high quality - for example, she uses strong paper and good quality inks, and packages her things in a way that encourages people to value what they have bought, and to see the beauty in it. She wants to make things that will last a long time, so that people can pass them on to the next generation of their family, so that there are stories and memories attached to them.
This is a big thing in Nigerian and African culture. They pass stories on to each other by word of mouth. With that, there is a lot of guidance for younger people, as people share their life experience, teaching the next generation in a relational way. This is part of the values that Chi weaves into her business and the art she makes with such passion.
‘The thing is, with fast and throw-away fashion’, says Chi, ‘companies on the high street, like Primark and New Look, find the cheapest possible materials, which buys into this trend where people are more likely to buy something and wear it once, and then not use it again. But if you spend money on a designer coat or bag, you are mindful of the workmanship that has gone into creating that thing, and you are more likely to value it and keep it for many years. I’m a great believer in passing things on to someone else if you don’t want them, and not throwing them in the bin. I love going through vintage clothes, and making them more me. It’s like I get to be part of the next chapter in the story of that item’.
I think we could all learn a lot from Chi’s attitude to stuff. As someone who shops high street, I definitely can!
Dinky Mix always gets a great response from both kids and adults.
Chi says, ‘with the kids, they always are like “this is me!” when they see the pictures. It’s always about that sense of identity. I got a great response when I started doing superhero themed drawings, because you don’t often see a brown superhero. A little boy or a little girl, when they see a picture of a kid with their skin tone with a cape on, doing all the poses makes them think “I can be that. I can be part of that story, it’s not just me having to watch from the sidelines and watch others in that role”. Representation really matters. I got really into the Black Panther movie. It’s the first time, and I am approaching my 40s, that I have seen on the big screen an African who is a superhero. I also saw strong women in the film - not the stereotypical villain or drug dealer - that is all I ever saw black people represented as when I was growing up. The only way of success open to people of colour that I knew when I was growing up, was to be a rapper or a sports star’.
Children seeing someone who looks like them as superheroes, ballet dancers or astronauts sparks their imagination, which leads to having ambitions and goals. This starts with how they imagine themselves. Chi believes that every child deserves the right to imagine themselves as whatever they want.
‘My daughter graduated from nursery recently’, said Chi, ‘and was like, ‘when I grow up, I wanna be a rainbow!’ I was like ‘yayyy!’ Of course, she’s not really gonna be a rainbow, but it’s amazing that she can imagine herself as something like that. I love to let her imagination run free. At the moment my 4 year old son is going to be a dinosaur, and we are all for that! My oldest son is 16 and has started a course in video game development. The youngest is 2, and wants to play with lego and get lots of cuddles. Kids are my main inspiration for Dinky Mix’.
My final question to Chi, was what would she say to anybody who is in a full time job, and believes they want to break out of that and do more?
This was her answer: ‘Just do it! Start small. It doesn’t have to be all in straight away - start a business and leave your job - I started on Etsy, and began experimenting with my drawings on social media. If you have the guts to leave your job and jump in head first, do it, why not? I am more cautious. Just doing little bits at a time is priceless’.
And that concludes this series of articles on Dinky Mix! A big thank you to Chi for being so open and honest about her business journey, and taking the time to meet with me.
Do you feel a bit aimless in the way you handle your finances?
Do you wish you were able to do more of the stuff you want to do, like go travelling, or improve your home, or be able to help people more?
There are loads of practical things you can start doing right now to change the way you look at and handle the money you have. Here’s one:
Go on your online banking, or go to the bank and get about 3-6 months worth of your bank statements. Have a look at your spending habits, and be super honest with yourself about where your money is going.
Maybe, like me, you go to coffee shops a lot! Maybe you LOOOOOOVE SHOES!
Maybe you love getting fancy brands when you shop for groceries. Maybe you can’t leave the house without bringing back a new nail polish...
It might help to write it all down on a list, and plan some things you can do instead of spending money on that thing, and create some strategies in advance for when you run into those moments of temptation.
One of the best things to do, is keep reminding yourself of the bigger WHY behind your new financial habits.
DINKY MIX Part 2
Catch up on PART 1
Chi, the creative brains behind Dinky Mix, which makes and sells beautiful artwork prints aimed at children with the aim of celebrating their varied cultural heritages, is of Nigerian Heritage. Growing up in Manchester in the 1980s, she had to cope with the challenges of an environment that does not celebrate or encourage cultural and racial diversity in the same way it does today.
I greatly admire Chi’s resilience, in using these very tough challenges as a catalyst to becoming the confident person she is today. Her creative and colourful business, Dinky Mix is truly a testament to that. In this second part of the article series that details the recent conversation I had with her, she tells me more about the beautiful ways she grew and developed in spite of, and indeed, because of the intolerance she faced in the environment she was living in.
‘From a child’s point of view’, Chi explains, ‘life was hard. Everything about me was different to the people around me. I would be called names about my hair texture, my skin colour, and everything, so trying to navigate that, and fit in, I lost a lot of self value’.
I would encourage our readers to have a look at Chi’s blog on her website, where she describes in more detail, in a very eloquent way, what that felt like. In the blog, she also discusses her experience and the journey it took to rediscover her identity, and becoming proud of who she truly is.
“It was difficult”, she admits, “but I wouldn’t change any of it, because it made me a tough cookie. In the neighbourhood we lived in, there were two black families, and I became really good friends with the daughters when I was about five. We are still the best of friends now, and we still make time to see each other. It is due to the fact that we grew up in the same tough situations together, that we are still as close as we are today, and we are in the positions we are in now.
When I grew up and was doing my degree in fashion design, I would always depict my models as caucasian women with blonde hair. That was how I had been conditioned to perceive conventional beauty. Once, my teacher asked me why I always draw white women. This made me think more deeply about the reasons for this, and I talked to her about it.
She told me that I have absolutely no reason to devalue other kinds of beauty, and to to have such a narrow definition of what is beautiful. She told me that there is beauty in all races and all colours, and all kinds of hair, and all skin tones, and all cultures, and that I should allow myself to be comfortable drawing people that look like me, and what represents me
It was as a result of this amazing teacher that Chi started doing just that, and enjoying the creative process of breaking out of the mould of what mainstream society sets up as the norm for beauty. That was the significant moment where things shifted for Chi.
I asked her what she loves most about her Nigerian cultural heritage.
“Everything!”, she laughed. “I guess the Nigerian culture is so vibrant, and the resilience definitely comes from that. Anyone who has gone through difficulties, whether they are rich or poor, they will still cling to their joy in life. I love the music, the colour, the patterns, the language, and how they do humour - there is a lot of humour. And then there is the British side of me. I love the same things, and it is so diverse, and I love how it comes together in me, and how I express it. It’s CHI CULTURE!”.
Chi has, and continues to, pass on her pride in her background on to her own children. She commented on the fact that they have what she didn’t have access to at their age. When she was growing up, she had nobody to share that joy with other than her parents and immediate family. It was an awful feeling to me made to feel ashamed of being Nigerian, so she is overjoyed to see her children’s genuine pride in it. When anyone asks her kids where they are from, they say without hesitation, “oh, I’m Nigerian!”.
They love it, and there is no negativity associated with it. This is such an important thing to Chi and her family, and the fact that that positivity has been there from day one for them. The fact that Chi’s kids have had a better experience than she did, is as a direct result of her staying strong and sticking out the hard times, and choosing growth instead of bitterness.
Chi gives a lot of credit to her own parents overcoming their own challenges. Things were a lot harder for her parents when they first arrived in the UK from Nigeria before Chi was born. “My parents arrived over here in the 1970s, and the stories they tell are absolutely horrific, of the lack of welcome and the hate they experienced. Bad though my experience was, it was not as bad as theirs. That is because they stuck it out and stayed strong through the challenges. And I did the same thing, so it would be even better for my children. It is my parents that really put in the hard graft.
WOW. Just wow. I love hearing stories like this of how different generations can work together to build up a huge picture of progressive improvement. So much of the freedom and harmony we experience today, that we normally take for granted, the people who went before us, our parents and grandparents, put in the hard graft. And the Chi’s of this world are putting in the hard graft to make things even better for the next generation. It is important to zoom out sometimes and appreciate the bigger picture and the bigger story we are all part of, and that our part, though it feels mundane and tough at times, REALLY COUNTS, both for now, and for the future, not just for ourselves, but the people around us, and the people that will come after us.
Coming back to Dinky Mix, I wanted to learn more about the process it took to start it up.
I was surprised to hear how new it actually is. The original concept came about in 2016, it was launched in 2017. For 2 years, a lot of work has gone into bringing the business to life, and getting it to the point it is at now, where Chi is starting to think about scaling up. The start of the business overlapped with Chi finishing her Masters degree