I was introduced to Gaelle by another Masters of Many interviewee. She has had a life journey that a lot of us recognise - experiencing burn out living in busy cities, and realising that a change was necessary. Gaelle now runs her own business that focuses on looking after yourself physically and emotionally in order to reach the goals that you want to in life. I caught up with her to find out more about her journey.
Tell us about what you’re doing now and your journey to date?
I started my career in corporate strategy. I moved to London, working in brand and communications strategy across different agencies. It involved very long hours, and I was getting stressed because of work and personal things that were going on in my life. Someone I knew said I should try meditation. I started nearly 10 years ago, to deal with the stress, but it has brought so much more to me over the years.
I started getting in touch with my values, what really mattered to me and who I was, versus who I had thought I was all these years, climbing the ladder of a career that wasn't really for me.
After a year I went travelling round the world. I spent a lot of time in meditation retreats in South East Asia, Nepal and India. When I got back to the UK a year later, I wanted to help others, so I joined a large charity doing communication planning. I worked there for nearly 3 years because it was a cause that I believed in. But, what was missing for me was working to help people directly. I went to see a coach to refine my values and personality preferences. I realised that I'm much better working with people, rather than behind a screen.
I changed team, in the same charity, working in coaching and training skills, which I did for another three years. On the side I also trained as a mindfulness teacher. I started my company in 2015, but continued to do my job, so it was more of a hobby. I started doing drop in mindfulness sessions at work, and then I ran workshops out of hours where people paid for them. Following that, I ran courses. It grew very naturally, and I didn't even have a website. After a year I realised that I was missing out on new clients because of my day job, so it made sense to focus on my business.
My company is called The Expand Approach. The story behind it is really based on my own experience. In my 10 years in London I've had 3 burnouts, so I know what it's like to be extremely stressed and not to look after yourself, physically, mentally and emotionally.
When we're stressed we have narrow vision. All we can think about is what we're stressed about. We can't have the broad vision and creative mind that we need to really move forward. My aim is to give people the tools to really expand in life: to rebalance, reconnect and expand. I've created a 3-step approach as a course I run and across various workshops. Next year I'm starting to run retreats on those themes.
The first is Rebalance. To manage energy, stress, build resilience, to know what stresses you out and what to put in your life more regularly.
The second is Reconnect: reconnect with the information stored in the body and to think logically about life.
The third step is bringing it to the world: in how you interact with people, how you perform your role and the activities you do in life.
At the moment it's just me, but the plan is to expand and recruit others. I'd like to train people in my approach. It's a six-week course, with various workshops that are practical and inspiring. It's for people who are busy and want quick tools, all based on coaching, mindfulness and meditation.
What made you take the leap to do things differently?
I went to Sri Lanka in December of 2015. I was lucky to be able to take 3 weeks off from work. I've travelled through Asia many times, but I hadn't been to Sri Lanka before. I really reconnected with the spirit of freedom and travel. I wrote a journal every day, I meditated every day and met lots of inspiring people. I got back in January 2016 and realised I couldn't do what I was doing anymore. I liked my job and the company was good, but it was clear that I was ready and it was the right time. I left in May 2016.
How long did it take you to feel like you’d made progress in your new venture?
I launched mid May and in a way it was the wrong time to launch. However, since the beginning of September I've been really busy and I really believe I can make it work. In August I wasn't sure, but all of the seeds that I planted have came to fruition since September.
How often did you feel like ‘it’ wasn’t going to work?
Lots of times! I get self-doubt when I see someone else launching into the same area as me and I question myself. I have to remind myself that people don't come to me for my qualifications, but because of my personality, my story and the way I provide inspiration. But, each time I come across a new company, I think it's becoming really popular and there's loads of people doing it. I have to remind myself that it's quite a niche market.
What did you find difficult about managing multiple jobs?
What's really interesting is that I've always thought of myself as someone who is very organised, but actually launching my business and juggling so many things makes you realise you have to be organised on a different level. I've had to plan my time more, with specific slots for marketing and finance in my diary. For the first three months I hadn't done any accounting and I had to go back and do it and it was really painful.
The social media strategy for my business isn't something I was equipped for. I read a lot about it, but I'm still learning. It was difficult moving from being an expert; to having loads of things I don't know, like finance and drawing up contracts with clients. I had to see a coach about my fear of self-promotion. I had to share lots of myself and I fear being so public and vulnerable.
What do you do to spur yourself on when you get the fear?
I take time to feel into the fear and not to push it away. I try to notice where I feel it in my body and do some deep breathing and really feel into it, which helps to diffuse the sensations. I try and coach myself and identify what I can do to actually learn about it. Then I ask for help, or for friends opinions on dilemmas I have.
What or who do you find intimidating?
I find the way that people try and negotiate pricing can be a little bit intimidating, but I'm growing in confidence. I've had corporates wanting me to run sessions for free. I question what it says about me, but then I speak to my friends who do similar things and they tell me that all clients try and negotiate freebies. I'm reading a great book on negotiation skills to work on it.
What makes you feel good / powerful?
Seeing the impact that my coaching on a one to one or my workshops have on people. I ran one recently on changing careers, and a lady at the end came to see me and she had tears in her eyes. She'd had a revelation. She was in a career that she thought she should do, not that she wanted to do and now had a clear plan from the session. It had a real impact on her.
What’s the best compliment you’ve been given?
Someone who had come on a few workshops made a big change and moved to Scotland and they contacted me to say that I'd changed their life. It was the loveliest email I'd ever received.
How do you define success now?
I'm very driven by values, so for me success means living by my values. They're on my wall in my room and I see them every day and every day I put all my intentions to live by them. They are inner peace: being comfortable with all of the emotions I can feel, and specific actions like meditation and writing a journal. Inspiration is my second value and trying to cultivate that daily by meeting inspiring people, reading articles and books, and viewing art. The third is connection, to myself and to other people, to nature and to the world around me. If I live by my 3 values most of the time, that's success.
Where would you like the business to get to?
I tend to have ideas and a rough plan, but not in detail, as it's good to remain flexible and open to new opportunities coming my way. I have ideas like training people in my approach, but I'll be very picky in terms of who I choose, so it may take me a while. I want to develop some online courses for those not based in London who want to benefit from the approach. I'm already in process of developing the process in Paris, which is where I'm from. I plan to run a retreat in the UK, and then to write a book. If I keep visualising the rough plan in my head, it will happen how and when it's meant to.
How do you start your day?
With my past of being prone to burn outs it's important that I look after myself. I wake up and I do a bit of yoga, meditate for half an hour, and then do some journaling for about 10 minutes. I write about how i feel, what I think, what qualities I want to cultivate for the day and bring that intention to the fore so I have a thread throughout the day. Then I get ready, have a good breakfast and start working around 9am.
Biggest thing that your new way of working has changed about your life?
It's changed so much! If anything I just feel like I'm living the life I'm supposed to live. It sounds spiritual, but I was creative as a child and I let go of it for my career as I was working 60 hours a week. Now I play piano, do art, and make time to go to exhibitions and gig. I feel at home, like I'm living the life I'm supposed to life, and that's priceless. It's not always easy, it's hard work but I wouldn't give up that freedom for anything.
How do you come up with new ideas?
I don't have a process, I'm not big on processes! A friend of mine is starting a business and we meet weekly to bounce ideas off each other. That's really helped me. I come up with a rough idea and she asks me questions and I help refine it. I read a lot. I make sure I have a slot each day. I go to an entrepreneurial event at least weekly, whether it's Google Campus, Virgin Start up, Huckletree.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a choreographer or a singer as I used to be in lots of singing competitions when I was younger. Then I went through a phase of wanting to be an actress. But then I became a teenager and school influenced me and I decided I was going to work in business.
What would you tell your kids about working out what they want to do in life?
That it's OK not to have a vocation from the start and that self exploration is key in finding out what you want to do. That going out and seeing the world is key for both inner and outer exploration.