LOSING MUM CHANGED EVERYTHING
Marsha had fought hard to get to the top of her career. But losing her mother gave her the impetus to take a total change of direction..
I had a job I loved. I was a business partner at a large company in the financial sector and I’d worked hard to manoeuvre myself into that position. A single mum, I’d worked my way up from a junior position and done an HR Masters with two young kids, while working full-time. It was a struggle but I loved it. I was really committed to my career. I saved hard and bought my own house and a car. I loved my life. But in 2011 I left it without a backward glance.
I always have a hypothetical conversation with myself: if my mum were here now would I be where I am today? And the answer is no. Because my mum’s death in 2011 changed everything for me. It was a trigger for many things.
Mum embraced her death. She knew she was going to die. One of the lessons I learnt was to be brave about death. If you fight all you’re going to do is make yourself more anxious and ill. The Sunday before she died she told the gathered family “I am days away from my 53rd birthday and I had 52 fantastic years, I’ve done everything I wanted to do and I’ve lived”.
“I didn’t want to look back on my life thinking ‘I wish’, full of regrets”
Two days later she died in my arms. Her last words to me were “Marsha it’s time to pull up your socks and put on your big pants and get on with it. I’m not worried about you – you’re going to do what you need to do’. After her death I took four weeks off to focus on my two children who were traumatised. They’d always spent so much time with my mum, she’d helped bring them up.
When I went back to work my company was going through huge change. I was at the forefront of the change, but I just couldn’t connect with it. My whole world had tilted on its axis. When appraisal time came round, based on the feedback from the business I was given a poor grade. I’d always worked so hard, and had positive appraisals. I told them why I wasn’t performing at my best. I knew my stuff, but was going through a gruelling time emotionally.
It was their lack of support that made me resign. It made me think ‘What is all this about?’. I used to love my job. But if I’m going to come to work and feel undervalued by the people I’m working with, what is the point?
But it was more than that. Mum had said she’d loved her 52 years. I realised I didn’t want to look back on my life thinking ‘I wish’, full of regrets over what I hadn’t done, but rather thinking “I did’ – having done something meaningful and on my terms, whether it was successful or not. Like Mum said, it was time to do what I needed to.
“I was lucky to have such a fantastic start and I wanted to empower girls to have the confidence to aim high”
Since then my feet have hardly touched the ground. I’ve launched a social enterprise, Beleve UK, and a wellness business, Eve & Grace. The purpose of Beleve UK is to run workshops and events to build up girls’ self-esteem and help them navigate their way to success. The idea was born out of the fact that Mum always encouraged me and my sisters to make something of our lives and believe in ourselves. We grew up in a single parent home on a housing estate, but we’ve all been successful and it’s thanks to Mum.
She taught us everything is possible and that rather than focusing on what you lack, focusing on what you have and building on it is the way to achieve. I was lucky to have such a fantastic start and I wanted to pass that on to teenage girls, to empower them to have the confidence to aim high, without limitations. Last year we ran a festival in Peckham, South London called Out The Box, with live music, DJs and workshops with female entrepreneurs talking about their route to success. The aim was to enable girls to think differently about their future careers, and it went down a storm.
I have just turned 40 and it feels like a good time to take stock of how far I’ve come. It’s not been easy, but I get the greatest satisfaction from knowing I’m living on my own terms. I don’t have someone threatening to dock my pay because I’m not there. In fact, for the past seven years I’ve been living my best life, which might sound crazy in view of the fact I lost my mum. But Mum’s death galvanised me and I’m so proud of how far I’ve come.
I do miss the person I used to be when I had my old job. I loved the atmosphere and the responsibility and of course the regular pay cheque. But it was liberating to say ‘I’m not going to put up with this’. A lot of people would stay in a job they’ve worked hard for out of fear or a need for security. But I’ve really lived since then. I haven’t had tons of money, but it’s not important to me. I always manage. Juggling two businesses and two kids is a struggle on my own. But somehow I make it happen. And I’m proud to be doing something that empowers teenage girls like my mum empowered me.
Words: Louisa B