“The vision must be followed by the venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps– we must step up the stairs.” - Vance Havner
Sat here at a new desk, in a new office, with a new goal, I’ve found myself questioning why I hadn’t ended up here sooner, working to build something new and something meaningful in a space that bridges two of the fields I’m most curious and passionate about: women in sport and women in leadership.
Yet, when I look back on the path and the time that led me to this point, I realize that there were no shortcuts I could have taken; that each obstacle and each lesson was a necessary part of the journey, and that three things have guided and shaped me along the way.
By 2011 I had achieved a good deal in my career. Still in my early thirties, I had held a global leadership position in one of the world’s largest banks, I had trained as a coach, and I had led one of the world’s leading mentoring consultancies through a US acquisition. I had been dedicated and driven, and I had worked my butt off, but the focus that brought me here had also meant that the time I could dedicate to passions and interests –and even reflecting on my broader aims- was minimal. I decided to set myself a goal that had nothing to do with my professional career, and chose a challenge that simultaneously let me indulge in my favourite sport, cycling, and test myself against a goal that would take absolute commitment to achieve. My plan was simple: to ride the entire route of the 2012 Tour de France –all 3,479km of it- a week before the professionals, but matching their distances day-for-day and stage-for-stage.
The story of this ride, the Tour de Force, is for another time, but reaching the Champs Elysees after 21 days (and the year of hard training that preceded those three magical weeks) was a precious experience, and a milestone in my life that affirmed the importance of three things that we all need to fulfill our potential:
1) Passion. Henry Ford talked about the importance of enthusiasm, the “Spark in the eye, the spring in the step, the grip of the hand”, and deep down, it was the sheer joy that I derive from cycling that kept me going through daily stages that stretched to 226km (140 miles) with Alpine passes, torrential rain and gastric flu. To many people it would sound like hell on wheels, but I loved every moment. All too often in life, however, we seem to deny ourselves the opportunity to follow our passions, and we lose a great deal as a result.
2) Purpose. The belief that what I was doing was not only deeply enjoyable but also worthwhile was what fueled my passion. I didn’t always know how I would achieve this mammoth goal, but I always knew why I wanted to, and why it mattered, and that was crucial. There were many moments when I doubted my ability to reach the finish line, but with a genuine sense of purpose –a deep-rooted belief that what we are doing is important- then we often find ourselves capable of achieving more than we thought possible.
3) Failure. Buoyed by my success on the roads of France, and by the confidence that sprang from achieving a challenging goal, I decided to set my sights higher, and to pursue this passion full-time. My vision was to cycle around the world, and to do three things along the way: to complete the 18,000-mile route faster than any woman in history, to raise £1million for great causes, and to inspire and encourage women around the globe to get on their bikes. To cut another long story short, I poured my heart, soul, life savings and 18 long months of energy into training, fundraising, planning and preparing for WorldRide. I had some fantastic partners on board, but at the eleventh hour a crucial sponsor withdrew and my dream was shattered. I was heartbroken (and I didn’t touch my bike for two months) but as a result WorldRide has now evolved to a team-based concept that is far more in line with my core values and purpose. The biggest and most public setback of my entire life was a profound blow, but it led to a period of introspection and reflection that grounded me, and that clearly affirmed what matters to me personally and professionally.
Looking back on my journey so far, the signposts and landmarks that steered me along an often-difficult path were not physical features, but the interactions I had with the people around me. I have always believed in the importance of surrounding myself with great people; individuals I can learn from, but also who will challenge my assumptions and ask me the difficult questions. Looking forward, I feel honoured to be working with a team of global experts in mentoring, leadership, research and finance, and who are united by the belief that sport has a unique and powerful potential to change society and to accelerate women’s advancement. I am excited about the change we can create together, and about sharing the story with you as it unfolds…