How to win in life, by Essex coach Mandie Holgate
- Credit: Archant
We must ‘fight the fear’ to conquer our negative mindset, she says
You sense it would take a lot to have Mandie Holgate waving the white flag. Physically, she’s not feeling top-notch today, but there’s no suggestion of postponing our chat and spending the afternoon beneath a duvet to nurse a sore throat.
A long-time sufferer of various auto-immune conditions, she’d spent a chunk of the previous day at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge. “A fun day out!” she chuckles. She’s on “a great new drug” that unfortunately seems to be aggravating one of her illnesses. But: “No worries at all.” Head down, engage positive outlook, on we go.
And here’s the second realisation: Mandie places great store on openness and transparency. She reckons we don’t value those attributes highly enough; yet, perhaps paradoxically, people do seem to admire those who are honest about their thoughts and feelings.
It’s the only way forward, she argues.
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So, she’s willing to talk about anything – including her fight against depression years ago that saw her self-harm and twice try to kill herself.
Details of her illnesses aren’t off-limits, either: Lupus (a complex condition whose symptoms include joint pain; Raynaud’s (which affects the blood supply to parts of the body, usually the fingers and toes); fibromyalgia (a chronic condition that causes pain all over the body) and Sjögren’s syndrome, “which basically means you don’t produce tears or saliva. Not ideal for a public speaker…” she laughs.
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Honesty is at the heart of her book Fight the Fear: How to beat your negative mindset and win in life. (WHSmith’s non-fiction Book Of The Month for January.) First, she advises, we need to be honest with ourselves.
“So often we hide what we really want, who we really are and what we really enjoy in life, for fear that other people may not approve,” she writes.
So, an early exercise for readers is to work out their values and what drives them on. Do they really covet a six-figure income and a Ferrari on the drive, or is money not too important, with peace and family time top of their priorities?
Action should then be guided by those core values.
“No-one has the right to tell you who you are except you. And yet, unless you define yourself, this world has a habit of doing it for you…
“When you feel confident and internally empowered about the person you are and what matters to you in life, you will be able to live in a way that makes you feel good.”
And in Mandie’s experience, good things tend to follow for anyone who can do that.
While her speciality is business-related coaching, it seems to me that most of the book’s ideas can be applied to life in general.
Later chapters seek to boost self-confidence (to kickstart the process, she suggests we all write two sides of A4 about why we are awesome); learn how to ask for help without thinking it’s an admission of failure; defeat our fears about speaking in public, and learn not to be afraid of talking on the phone (to prospective customers, for instance).
A key skill to develop is the ability to say “no” – ideally, not as starkly as that but in a more constructive and diplomatic way that still gets you the outcome you need. (Mandie talks a lot about the “just-ers” – the people who ask “Could you just…?”, and eat up a lot of our time for their benefit.)
Essentially, she feels, it’s our worries and anxieties (usually about what could happen, but might very well not) that hold us back.
“Fear lurks behind so many elements of our lives, and to be successful you need to find ways to battle it. You must find where it hides and eradicate it.”
Mandie Holgate knows what it’s like to confront that little nagging voice inside our head.
She went back to work in 2013 after about 18 months off because of illness (“lying around in a dark room, saying ‘ouch’”) and knew she’d have to pace herself.
Yes, there was a chance she’d alienate some clients by drawing lines in the sand, but reckons that by being honest she’s actually gained more work.
Nowadays, there’s no room, for instance, for vague-ish “can we meet for a coffee”-type chats or lengthy trips. If someone is interested in working with her on a one-to-one basis, they can talk via Skype, phone, Facebook Messenger or face to face… and that probably means a trip out to Mersea Island, near Colchester, where she lives.
In 2017, she’s going to be working closely with NatWest – running courses across the east of England for businesses – “and they came traipsing all the way out here! Before I finished booking the meeting on the phone, I said ‘Ooh, hang on a second. I’ll just check there’s not going to be a high tide!’” (Road traffic using The Strood, which connects the mainland to the UK’s most easterly inhabited island, is ruled by the tides.)
It comes back to the notion of knowing our own minds, hearts and bodies; knowing what we want out of life; and striving to “live” those principles.
Mandie admits many of us find it a challenge to be true to ourselves – fearing the loss of a contract, for instance, or being overlooked for promotion, if we don’t try to meet every demand made of us.
“Many business owners and others who want to climb the corporate ladder are really frightened to say ‘I’ve got children and want to go home and listen to a piano recital’.”
She adds: “From my experience, I have seen people achieve a lot more when they feel able to turn round and say ‘Actually, this doesn’t work for me.’”
She cites a Suffolk business owner who was having to trek down to London once a week, for work reasons, and it wasn’t doing a lot for the small enterprise. With a modified approach, she says, it was able to get more money from its client, commit fewer hours and get recommended for other jobs. “But that couldn’t have happened unless they had the courage and strength to overcome that fear to say ‘This isn’t working for us. You’re not enabling me or my company to grow’.”
And as for that fear we have of leaving the office on time because colleague X, who is still at his desk, will land that forthcoming promotion instead of us… well, don’t get Mandie started.
The UK doesn’t have the best levels of productivity, and yet we have some of the longest working hours, she points out. “It’s not working. We are not the leaders in technology. We are not coming up with the best ideas. The companies where you’re free to come and go as you please – work the hours you choose – they are the ones increasing productivity and coming up with the innovation our country needs to be sustainable and grow economically.”
We have imported some unhelpful and unhealthy attitudes from across the Atlantic, she says, but Mandie feels we are starting to question the idea we should be all things to all men, and always “on duty”.
Look, she points out: a number of extremely capable women are choosing not to go on the boards of firms, for instance, because they don’t accept the sacrifices that would be expected of them.
They think: “Why should I go and make a sack of money for someone else when I can make my own choices, I can take my children to school, bring them home. I can educate them and help them grow up to be great people – and not kill myself in the process.”
With a fair wind, change will come.
Mandie was born in Newmarket and lived at Kedington near Haverhill. She went to work in the car industry and was one of the UK’s youngest bodyshop managers in the automotive industry. She and husband Andy had son Harrison (now 15) and Mandie took a break from her career. “I just wanted to play Mummy,” she says.
When their son was a year old, they moved to Mersea Island. Mandie had known it since she was nine, and thought it would be a lovely place to bring up children. Sophie, now 13, followed. Mandie developed depression five or six months later. She doesn’t think it was of the post-natal variety – Lupus does have a history of being connected with depression – but the precise cause will probably remain a mystery.
What it definitely did was herald some very dark days. The depression was severe. Mandie found herself crying constantly and not sleeping, and often smashing herself on the head with a bottle of polish.
She twice tried to kill herself. “I was in a very, very bad way for many months.”
Mandie was unhappy with the overall response of the NHS, pointing out how ridiculous it was to tell someone who was suicidal that there was a 10-week wait for treatment. She found much practical help from the mental health charity Mind, though.
“When I discovered CBT in 2004” – cognitive behavioural therapy is a “talking” therapy designed to manage problems by changing the way we think and behave – “it just blew me away and I knew I wanted to train as a coach. Who knew I’d get paid to talk for a living!” she laughs.
Knowing she needed something to stretch her mind once the children hit school age, she did indeed train as a coach – starting her own business in 2008 and The Business Woman’s Network the following year.
Now operating in a handful of counties, BWN meetings offer the chance to network and benefit from business-focused master-classes.
Mandie’s said that when she founded the organisation she’d sought to create “an environment where any business woman could get the answers that she needed for her success”.
She doesn’t turn any men away, she laughs, or make them feel different. “It’s not about feminism or empowerment: it’s about networking to increase sales, confidence and success. And highlight issues that affect women.”
Finally: a reiteration of Mandie’s clarion call – that need to work out who we are, what we want, and how we can achieve it.
She remembers having to get into London on the day of her book launch, recently.
Travelling by Tube, train and taxi would be draining, she recognised, but she didn’t want to take some of her regular drugs because they might dent her sense of clarity too much on a key occasion.
“The minute the very last guest had gone, I looked like a 90-year-old! I could hardly get out of the building.
“But I’ve always been determined. I think, when I had the depression, the CBT and the CAT (cognitive analytic therapy) helped me learn that’s an illness. It enabled myself to say ‘Do you know what? This is like a broken leg. I’m going to respect myself.’
“I don’t think, as a human race, we’ve learned to respect ourselves. We put everyone else on pedestals and we never do it for ourselves.”
Fight the Fear is published by Pearson at £12.99
Some of the things Mandie is pointing out:
n So often we hide what we really want, who we really are and what we really enjoy in life, for fear that other people may not approve.
n Don’t be too hard on yourself. We are far nicer to other people than we are to ourselves.
n Some fear hides in your subconscious and attacks your results without you realising…
n To help, you must find the inner confidence, and override the feeling that says the real you has to hide what matters to you. The person you really are is perfect, just perfect, and if you want real success in life, you need to know what that perfect version of you is all about.
n Success will be easier to achieve if you are not putting on a pretend façade that needs to be constantly maintained.
n In a world of motivational sayings on social media, we need a little less talk and a little more action.