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Dealing with uncertainty: Five lessons learnt from heart surgery

When I made the decision to leave my job to start a new business, it was BREXIT that was my main cause for concern.  How would it impact on the UK economy?  Would it trigger a recession that reduced consumer spending confidence?  

Little did I know that Covid-19 lurked around the corner!  A largely unforeseen global pandemic that triggered some of the biggest changes in peace-time Britain.  It means we would be starting a business in the face of a bleaker economic outlook than I could have imagined.  Is it terrible timing or is there reason for optimism?  Many a smart person has said a recession is the best time to start a business – only time will tell.

A routine check by my GP led to a life-threatening heart condition being discovered. And just four months later I was in theatre having an aneurysm removed and my heart valve repaired

Diana Bowman

What it definitely means is a period of uncertainty.  And how we deal with those feelings can be incredibly important to our mental and physical well-being.  I know from experience.  Last year I underwent Open Heart Surgery.  A routine check by my GP led to a life-threatening heart condition being discovered.  And just  four months later I was in theatre having an aneurysm removed and my heart valve repaired.  Thankfully it all went well and I’ve made a great recovery.  

The experience taught me a lot about myself and what’s important.  Here are the five main lessons I learnt, and how I’m applying those to the challenge of launching a new consultancy during these strange and unprecedented times.  

  1. Focus on what you can control: It can be hard not to feel overwhelmed when you reflect on all the things happening to you. So instead put your energy into the things you can influence.  For instance, I could control the time I dedicated to my loving family and friends before my operation.  And likewise, I can control how diligently I prepare a proposal, even if I can’t control if the client can afford to proceed.   
  1. Balance worry with optimism: When you have no idea what tomorrow might bring, it’s easy to fill the void with negative thoughts.  But that gets you nowhere.  And it just drains energy and spirit.  If you can’t avoid worrying completely then balance those thoughts with what-ifs of a positive kind.  Yes it might be a tricky first six months but equally the changing landscape might bring about some brilliant opportunities that wouldn’t have otherwise been possible. 
  1. Set targets and track your progress: Before I underwent surgery, I set myself some goals for the months ahead.  Relatively small things ranging from doing all my rehab each day while in hospital to running a 5km within three months of the operation.  And recording that progress helped me see how far I’d come, even if it didn’t always feel like it.  The same is true with our business.  Setting measurable objectives and tracking success helps focus the mind and build a sense of momentum.
  1. Use the support of your network: Whether its empathy or encouragement, the people around you can make a huge difference.  Just the process of talking about how you feel can be a very cathartic and powerful exercise.  This was truth for me before and after my surgery – the messages of love and support gave me a huge lift.  And the same has been true so far with our business.  People have been incredibly generous with their time, advice and support.     
  1. Believe in yourself: It’s something that doesn’t come easily to a lot of people I know.  But its so powerful, and so important.  Before my surgery I kept telling myself how determined I know I can be.  And that I would channel that resolve into my recovery.  I could and I would do everything I could to get back to being fit and active, because that’s what I really wanted.  And the same is true with our business.  I have confidence in what we can do, and what I’m sure we can achieve.

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