The Gamechanger

Today I have had three emails confirming our services for weddings in 2020. We’re almost fully booked. This really got me thinking about where we’ve come from and what has gotten us to this stage. It also got me thinking about how surprised I still feel when someone confirms our service – imposter syndrome anyone?!

This time 4 years ago I was working in central London in a job I hated. Ben and I lived with my parents at the time and I felt extremely low after returning from 6 months travelling with Ben and our wonderful wedding in Italy. Around this exact time, Danielle (my now business partner) came to London to meet me at a Pret outside my office in my lunch break, to suggest we make Wiskow & White a reality.

At the time, this seemed overwhelming to me, I wasn’t in a good place, but I had nothing to lose. So I agreed that I’d write a website and we’d ask Ben to build it for us. I decided to quit my job a few days after meeting with Danielle, but stuck it out for a few months as I knew there was an end in sight. I had a month in between my old job and new role (at my home-from-home, Oxfam) and in that time built the website alongside volunteering at The Brompton.

Wiskow & White became my hobby alongside a very busy role at Oxfam. I travelled 3 days a week, worked from home, stayed away from home a lot, took many trips over seas and in that time Danielle and I kept Wiskow & White going alongside. Danielle also had another job too! I took the reins in the organisation and set up of the business – I love a spreadsheet – and created processes, templates and ways of storing information to create our own style of wedding planning in Italy.

In the first year we had just 3 weddings and Danielle really trained me in so much this first year. I learnt about the Italian working culture, the networks of suppliers, the etiquette, what it actually takes to plan a wedding and make it happen on the day.

Year two and we had 9 weddings. We were pretty chuffed with this number and we knew that we had created something our couples were loving and we really were too. Our weddings felt relaxed, beautiful and our couples and their guests were really positive about their W&W experience.

Then there was the summer I had Ziggy. No maternity leave for me. We’ve talked about that before – not good times! Moving on…

In 2018 we had over 25 weddings, which was too many. Not because we made mistakes (which we did and always will) but because we worked too hard and saw our health suffer.

There’s been no real strategy until a year ago where it felt like something we needed to streamline and take the reins on. It turned out that we’d made our way this far without any formal training, as we had even a small amount of everything we needed to build a successful business within us. Whether that was Danielle’s experience of delivering weddings in Italy, to my strategic planning, or budgeting skills from various roles – at every turn we’ve been able to navigate our way through the ups and downs of running a small business.

In November 2018, with Ben’s help, I made a conscious decision to really appreciate everything I have with Wiskow & White, to set even clearer boundaries and find confidence to truly be myself with couples from day one (perhaps finally saying bye to the people pleaser I used to be). In this short space of time, we’ve connected with more couples through our website, through our calls and we’ve booked more weddings than ever before during this period of the cycle. Yes there are other factors at play but I feel like our energy and confidence is a huge factor here. This is what I call ‘The Gamechanger’.

I’m by no means a business guru but I wanted to share these small nuggets of what I think are the pillars to what Danielle and I deem success at this point:

– A respectful partnership – I can’t believe how blessed I was to find a partner in Danielle. Someone who hears all my points of view, who lets me boss them around and who’s invested so much in me. I’ve so much respect for my friend Danielle and all she’s taught me, all she still teaches me and when she bosses me around. Our partnership is ‘no effort’ and I don’t think I could have found a more suitable partner if I’d travelled the world looking

And do you know what, if you’re self employed or going it alone, or in fact you are someone in a partnership – respecting yourself and your boundaries is probably number one

– Consistency and discipline – Every damn day!

– Welcoming feedback – We’ve made this a huge part of what we do. It’s important to ask for it, welcome it but also distinguish that it’s not personal (even though it can really feel like it) and work out when it’s valid

– Confidence – I’m not a confident person but I’ve pushed myself into situation that I’m extremely (can’t express how extremely) uncomfortable in and time and time again this has seen my confidence grow. I’ve found that doing something you don’t believe you can do (successfully or not) is the best way to shut those nasty voices in your head right down

– Focus – Having my heart set on wanting something and seeing it through. All I wanted was to go to Italy lots and eat nice food as often as possible. I’d never have known at the time that this would have enabled me to be a part time working mum, with completely flexible working hours and situations and enable many trips away with Zigs and Ben. It’s the perfect life style for us, now. So even though my end goal and purpose has changed, focusing on it has got me where I want to be

– Deciding to be my true self – Every couple’s first touch point with W&W is a call with me. The moment I just decided to be myself (November 2018 – took me a while), has seen our bookings lift off and we’re booking more weddings than ever before. This ensures we’re reaching the right couples and we fill our wedding spots years in advance

– Support – particularly from my mum and Ben. Creating time for me to work, even at unsociable hours.

There’s lots more to learn and lots more work to do on this journey. Good luck and well done to everyone doing their own thing and/or following their dream. If you’ve got any wise nuggets to share, please do!

My W&W space.

My inspiration

It’s been 10 years since Jack and I took a trip to South America together. 10 years since we naively got on a plane to Trinidad, setting out on such an epic and life changing adventure. Just 13 months before, Jack had suffered a huge stroke which completely paralysed him and took his ability to think clearly and to talk.

In the space of just that year, I watched my little bro go from bed bound and almost senseless on a hospital ward, to a (horrid) rehab centre, where he lived for 2 months and started walking and saying some words again. By the time we went to Trinidad he was walking, talking, even applying for his new driving license and to re-sit some of his GCSE’s. Jack is the most understated inspirational person you’d ever meet and I am so lucky to have him as such a huge part of my life.

We had an amazing time on our trip. We also had some serious near misses with dodgy people and some seriously corrupt police in Venezuela but once we made it safely to Brazil, we had the time of our lives. We lived in the jungle. We lived on a boat for 5 days that took us from the heart of the Amazon all the way down river to the sea. We went to (what felt like) a secret beach where we drank 1 dollar caipirinhas, rode horses along the beach (completely unprofessionally, the horses were definitely in control) and ate amazing steak and fish. We partied in Rio, made Jack climb a mountain that in hindsight almost triggered a heart attack (no actual joke) and drank more caipirinhas.

Jack and I in Jericoacoara.

A year later, when Jack was dying of heart failure in Harefield Hospital, waiting for a heart transplant, he asked me specifically to bring in the photo album I’d made of our trip. We sat in his room looking through the photos, reminiscing of what was at the time one of our life highlights. This was something Jack specifically requested we did together “before he died”, (his words). The miracle that followed was Jack’s heart transplant, that came just in time. Jack went through another amazing period of his life where he worked extremely hard to regain his health and strength back to being fighting fit.

He then went to uni, he had various jobs, he made it to my wedding in Italy (something I’d often thought would never happen) and of course is an amazing uncle to Ziggy. On top of this selection of Jack’s achievements, he has travelled to an incredible amount of places; Asia, South America (again), North America, Canada, various European countries, often on his own. His confidence and determination to live out his life dreams is a true inspiration.

I’m now here in South Korea where Jack is travelling. Never settling with less than his dreams, he has further travelled to China, Hong Kong, Japan and explored South Korea.

Jack and I at the Palace in Seoul.

Jack will never understand the extent of the positive impact he has on my daily life, just by being himself. I’m such a proud big sister and I feel so very lucky to be here with him now, 10 years on from our last major epic trip together and with Tobes (our youngest bro) joining us too. Here’s to the next 10 years Jacko.

Back in Rio. Jack may have had too many beers at this point.

2019

I tend to love the New Year; A clean slate, a fresh start and an exciting time span ahead in which to enjoy life and achieve or move closer to your dreams.

Just before The New Year, I took the time to do my favourite annual exercise of reflecting on the past year, things I’ve loved, enjoyed, top moments, achievements and also challenges. It’s a chance to think about what’s made me happy and what hasn’t. This is usually an exercise full of delights, proud moments, sometimes surprises and of course a little pain, depending on how the year unfolded.

On Jan 1st I sat overlooking a lovely beach in Devon, thinking about my intentions for 2019. If possible I love to be somewhere away from the norm and completely open, such as the sea, when I do this.

Importantly this year they’re my ‘intentions’ not my goals or actions. Things I’d like to do, knowing they’ll move me closer to my goals and dreams but not ‘must do’s’ that I can fail at. I’ve recognised that I don’t need to be setting the bar that high, for my own good.

My intentions revolve around these key areas of my life:
– Self – which really is all about my all round health. It includes physical and mental things such as the food I eat and the exercise I do, taking my medicines properly, journaling etc. and setting aside time on my own (a new one this year) – something I love and never do.
– Parenting – remaining true to myself as a parent.
– Friends and Family – from moving towards our family goals and dreams to spending more time with specific people that I love and don’t see enough.
– Work – mainly links to health in maintaining boundaries, maintaining motivations and learning (some) Italian.

I hope in whatever way works for you, you’ve taken the time to reflect on the year gone by, clean the slate and move forward without hindrance into an exciting new year. Bring it on!

New Year’s Day walk along the beach with my little family.

Belief Busting

Sit back and brace, it’s a deep one today. I’m sharing what are some of my biggest insecurities that I don’t really tell anyone, for what I hope is the greater good!

My whole life I’ve felt big. I was the biggest (tallest) girl at school. I went through phases of being quite chubby, especially when I was around 9 and again say 13-15. I was dumped for being big. I was called ‘wide’ in a club. All these things contributed to this horrible feeling I had. Being quite literally a big girl my whole life, I literally take up more space in a room than most other girls. This has always been a huge thing for me and for my whole life until recently, made me feel bigger than I really am.

The connotations that came with being bigger were not simply that I was a bit different to other girls, it made me feel like I wasn’t attractive, I sometimes felt manly and it definitely affected my self-worth for my whole teenage and adult life to date.

When did it start? I wonder when that rhetoric began, telling me I wouldn’t succeed in life if I wasn’t thin. And how was that message reinforced time and time again? A cultural issue through media and others opinions for sure.

Literally last night, I had this realization that this belief has been trying to control and drive many actions I’ve taken in my life. From socializing, to jobs I’ve gone for, to boyfriend choices, food choices, exercise choices and who knows what else I’m yet to consider. I mean, I’ve always known it was there, I have the voice every day in the mirror telling me I’m fat so she’s loud and clear but it was last night I realized that these beliefs were changing and it was all down to having a baby.

Through having a baby, I have tested all these beliefs and, guess what? They’re bullshit.

For example

– I believed that if I were to stop exercising I would get ‘fat’. NOPE. I have really cut back on exercise due to time restrictions and energy levels (ironic I know) and I’m lighter than my pre-baby self. However, not healthier, I would like some more exercise in my life

– If I have a baby I will get fat. NOPE. See above

– If I eat x, y, z I’ll get ill / fat. NOPE. It’s not sensible for me to eat wheat for long term health reasons but in the short term it’s been fine. I’ve been through quite dangerous phases of controlling my food in the past and that was unhealthy and purely because of my beliefs

– If I’m not my thinnest self I won’t be as attractive to Ben. NOPE.

– If I’m not my thinnest self, I won’t be as successful in work. NOPE. Built my business while pregnant, with post pregnancy weight etc. Probably the most successful year of my life!

So why am I sharing this deep info into my personal life and one of the biggest, most secretive areas of my personality? Because today, I find myself in one of the most liberating spaces I’ve been in my whole life. I’ve realized I’m finally free of so many of my limiting, controlling and frankly horrible beliefs. There are other beliefs I’ve realized too: to do with status at work, friendships, money, all realized and busted.

I was so nervous about having a baby because of all those beliefs I have. These beliefs could have stopped me doing the most amazing thing I’ve ever done and in then I’d have never have bust them. And obviously this could apply to anything, not just children. I encourage you to challenge your beliefs! Many are probably bullshit and could be holding you back.

Starting a fresh

Last week I had the stark realisation that I’ve been feeding my body poison for the last 2 years, whilst I’ve been pregnant and in early motherhood. Sounds dramatic but wheat is poison for my body and it’s been doing it no good. After a close family member was diagnosed with a serious disease, I’ve decided it’s time to take back the reigns and not only give my body what it needs but what it deserves.

I’ve made the decision to go fully dairy free, gluten free and organic. Join the fun train guys…come aboard! I can see all my friends faces grimacing now as they realise I’ve become ever harder to cook for / go out to dinner with – fear not, I won’t make you meet my high demands guys. Please still invite me over 😉 I am to eat organic as much as I can but realise this may be 80% of the time.

I was then surprised how easily I convinced Burger-Loving-Ben (yes that’s his Christened name) to reduce our meat down to 2-3 times a week and also come aboard the organic train.

After a quick google, 10 minutes of meal planning for the week ahead and a tactical Ocado shop (not as expensive as you’d think), 70% of the food in our house became organic. We won’t be eating the variety of meals that we used to and as I mentioned, we’ll be cutting back on meat but we’ll be healthier and strangely I think better off financially after making these changes.

What has surprised me the most is how the value I place on food has significantly changed in just 1 day. This food is more special to me, it has to go further, so I won’t waste a drop. I’m embarrassed to say that this isn’t how I felt about food before.

So why the change? Well, it started with a strange conspiracy like meeting with Danielle (my business partner), who happened to be staying at a B&B owned by a bio-chemist named Julie who practice kinesiology and nutrition. She very quickly (and at no cost) explained how my eating habits were harming my long term and short term health and how a few quick changes could really help prevent severe symptoms of my various diseases later in life (how much later is unknown and I’m lucky to have limited symptoms as it is – just for context).

Organic food is the only way to ensure dangerous chemicals aren’t going into your system, being absorbed and doing damage to your body. It’s literally been proven that many crop sprays cause cancer. It’s really quite simple and obvious if you think about it, of course there are harmful chemicals all over the food we eat, it makes the producers more money to work in this way, produce higher yields and make food that lasts for longer.

So with nothing in it for Julie but passing on valuable knowledge and wanting the best for my health, I’m taking her advice and kick starting the (boring) route to better health. Bye Bye colitis symptoms (and incredible Italian food). Hello more energy, better skin and more importantly, hopefully, sustained long term health.

Dads

What a bloody privilege it is to be a dad.

So often that person that you look up to, that teaches you so many things and provides you with so much in life.

What must it be like to be a dad? I’ve tried to imagine it a few times in the last year. Something like this…going through a drastic transformation from a previous life. Working everyday, away from your family on little or no sleep. A world full of new worries; about your child, finances, your partner. Watching your partner change and getting to know the new ‘mum’ version of them. Learning your new job; changing nappies, how babies work, getting them to sleep, keeping them happy, teaching them.

My dad is one of my heroes. I give him a bloody hard time, but I idolise him and I think he’s the best dad that ever lived. Being a parent, I can now see how much my dad has sacrificed in his life, how much he’s given to us all, how many good and bad attributes I’ve gained from him and how much he cares – even though he doesn’t say it..!

Seeing Ben become a dad has been one of the best things I’ve ever witnessed. People talk about natural parents, I mean I think everyone is a natural parent to their own kid. From that day when he woke up as a dad, he’s been amazing.

Funnily, he’s not the dad he thought he’d be.

He’s more uptight about some things, like sleep. He’s been a real stickler for Ziggy routine. Early on we learnt that when Zigs sticks to his routine, he sleeps much better at night. Bingo.

He’s been more relaxed about pretty much everything else and that really works well for us all.

I asked Ben what’s the best thing about being a dad: ‘The love you feel, the awesomeness of watching someone learn, experience, change, ever single day.’

The worst thing? ‘Lack of sleep’. We laughed because Ben says this after 9 hours solid sleep last night. Neither of us can cope with less sleep than we used to get an it’s a bit of a running joke of how pathetic we are about it. Ben clarified that really it’s the interrupted sleep and the not being able to get back to sleep for hearing phantom cries.

So here’s to dads! A much more complex and tiring role than I ever thought possible but wow, you guys are smashing it and you’re simply awesome!

Their first day together.

We made it

Tomorrow will mark 1 month since we left for Italy. What a whirlwind it’s been. We’ve had numerous adventures in this time including a quick stay in France, a trip to Sardinia and many weddings. It’s been one of the craziest (and let’s be honest – stressful) times of my life, but also one of the most incredible, character building (!) and rewarding.

My maternity leave for weddings ended when Ziggy was one month old. Until Ziggy was about 7 months old, I found managing this job and being a mum extremely hard. It’s not something I chose to talk about with anyone other than very close friends or family at the time, as I was just trying to cope. I felt trapped and really on edge, like I would never get through it, like the weddings was taking over my life and stopping me even from resting.

I had major mum guilt. Every time I worked, I felt bad about it. I was torn between working towards my dream and being the mum I thought I needed to be.

Everyone I spoke to was desperate to help me and find a way to take away some of my work so that I could get a second of ‘me time’ or a nap in the day. The truth is that every second I had spare, I would work. I had no choice – I am my product, I had commitments to my couples and I had a future that I was aiming for. My business was growing super quick and I was ill prepared for what it meant juggling all of this with a newborn. Every time Zigs would sleep, I would work. At night, I would work.

If anyone considers working soon after having a baby I cannot stress enough when I say that if you have the choice, DON’T DO IT.

When I was struggling, sleep deprived, desperately trying to be ‘the perfect mum’ and have some sort of life as well as working…I would focus on the summer, when I knew that Ben, Zigs and I would hopefully be in Italy. I’d think about how this hard period wouldn’t last forever and I would soon be delivering these beautiful weddings I was creating, with these lovely couples. I would hopefully see Zigs and Ben having the time of their lives; in the pool every day, eating copious amounts of pizza and gelato. Even more importantly, I’d have a long term way of life that meant that I can work part time and see more of my Zigs.

And now we’re here.

When we arrived in Italy, I had a big glass of prosecco and a big cry. We’d made it. I’d gotten through a really tough time in my life and here I was on the other side. I was still reasonably healthy, still had a husband (!) and friends (who’d stuck by me even though I’d been quite absent from their lives), oh, and everything ready to go for my weddings. I cannot tell you how many times I thought I couldn’t ‘do it all’ and I didn’t have time to get everything done for the weddings.

Most importantly, I have a very healthy and happy Ziggy. I am so sad for myself that I doubted my ability as a mum back in those early days. I was a brilliant mum to Ziggy. I gave him everything he needed and more, but at the time I just couldn’t see it.

I guess my blog today is about a few things; You can achieve things that you think you can’t do, that you never think you’ll have the time for. It’s about desperately protecting that belief in yourself and your goals. Having goals really does work. It’s about the fact that being a mum is hard – no new news here – hormones and who knows what else really do play havoc on anxiety and self belief, or at least that’s what I experienced. And it’s about your team. Those people close to you that do everything they can to help you stay sane and work towards your dreams. I have so much love for my team. You know who you are.

Even though I feel happy and strong in achieving this goal, I’ve realised in this last week that I’m still quite weak. I’ve been through a really hard experience with one of my couples and it’s really knocked my confidence and self belief. It shouldn’t have.

So here’s to another glass of prosecco and working on myself a little more, building back up to full strength and moving forward to my next goal.

More on actually living in Italy next time…

Zigs’ first time in the sea, in Sardinia.

Prancing around the pool.