From tick-box success to real success

Sarah Pittendrigh’s new book charts her own life experiences and how she used those to mentor other entrepreneurs and get them to refocus their lives.

Woman over 50 reading an email about winning prize in online lottery, success

Woman over 50 reading an email.

“I can’t feel any joy, I’m overwhelmed. I’m lonely and isolated,” a top female founder told coach Sarah Pittendrigh. It wasn’t the first time, she says in her new book, The ‘I can’ method.

She says many women in their 40s and 50s come to her saying they’ve done everything that constitutes ‘success’, but they are not  happy.  In fact, in some ways they are more unhappy because they thought that was the way to be happy. Many are lonely and feel overwhelmed and trapped by work. 

“They feel their work or business controls them, that they have created a monster,” she writes. “Often these people who look like they have it all from the outside – the designer bag, the nice car, the house straight out of a magazine – don’t want to admit it isn’t working out so well on the inside. They are so exhausted from pretending they have it all under control that when they come to me, either in person or over video call, they break down. They often cry. It is like turning on a release valve; the tears come flooding out. They are so relieved to finally admit what is really going on for them, to get the weight of their worries out in the open. It is a relief to them that I understand, that I get it.” 

The reason she gets it is that she has lived it herself as a businesswoman, the owner of the Simply bows and chair covers franchise, a high-end linen business that caters to hotels offering luxury experiences. In her book, Sarah tells her own story and it is certainly one of dramatic ups and downs. 

She says the feeling of not being good enough originates from her early years, from a horse riding accident and from not being able to ride the horse her parents owned that she thought would be perfect for her. She was bullied at school and the parents of her boyfriend – then husband – gave her the distinct impression that they thought she wasn’t his equal. She had panic attacks. 

From ‘success’ to success on her own terms

In part that lack of confidence helped to drive her forward to prove herself and she helped build up a successful corporate events business through hard work, but it collapsed as a result of a combination of a contract with a large hotel group and the 2008 recession. Sarah, by then separated from her husband and with a nine year old son, was in danger of her house being repossessed. She recalls spotting someone from the bank in her drive checking the house out. The fear of losing the family home fuelled her to turn her life around by starting up the franchise. She saved the house and built an award-winning business. Moreover, having previously separated from her husband, she remarried him. Along the way she was diagnosed and overcame skin cancer, which she describes as a rebirth which gave her the desire to live with a greater sense of purpose. 

Then the pandemic hit and Sarah realised that busy-ness had been “a huge crutch” and a distraction from her own feelings about herself. She felt stuck and sat down to strategise a plan for herself. She was turning 50 and she decided what she needed was to give back and support other entrepreneurs. 

Sarah opted to become a Mindset and Business Mentor. With help from a coach she devised her eight-week programme which is not about telling people what to do, but giving them a safe space to dig out their own answers and conclusions. She writes: “I urge my clients to turn their pain into power and to rip out their self-limiting roots. The point is to get to grips with the truth of their situation and to identify when that negative seed was planted that has created all those self-limiting thoughts that hold us back.” People started being referred to her through word of mouth and the business built up over the lockdowns. 

The book, developed in collaboration with the journalist Eleanor Mills, is not just her own life story, but the second half of it is about getting other women to think through their own strengths and weaknesses and plot a day to day strategy to get them where they want to be. There’s a journal section with questions that prompt in-depth thinking about everything from whether they are happy and if not, why not to what they can do to change things. A vital part of the method centres on nurturing – nurturing their business by taking daily steps to achieve the goals that have been set – and self-nurture to ensure they do not fall back into a negative pattern or state.

The real strength of Sarah’s approach is her personality and her strong sense of empathy. She says: “Everything I do, I do from the heart, whether that is this book, or my social media channels, or my public speaking. I coach with genuine empathy and understanding. There’s little anyone can share with me that I haven’t been through in some way. Divorce, bereavement, bankruptcy, cancer, self-doubt, rejection—I’ve got the t-shirt.”

*The I Can Method is just out, published by Silver Lough Publishing, price £12.99.

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