Social media can be a bitch for reminding you of things that you don’t want to think about at that exact moment, like when you’re waiting for a train in the icy rain and get a:
PING! “Hey Emma, here’s a photo of you from 8 years ago, pre-kids, when you were really slim! Check you out!”
PING! “Hey Emma, here’s your first born taking his first steps, you’re right, they really are growing up too fast! You should probably be at home with them now!”
PING! ”Hey Emma, remember when you were on this tropical beach, all tanned and drinking out of a coconut, and in absolutely no way waiting for a train in the rain? That awesome!”
Yeah, thanks for that Internet.
Recently, it was Linked In who caught me a bit off guard pointing out that I have been ‘doing’ The Pineapple Lounge for the last 7 years (I actually think it might be a bit longer; entering dates has never been my strong point). I don’t know why 7 years felt particularly significant to me, I didn’t feel like this when it said 3 or 5 years, which seem more like ‘thinking milestones’, and knowing me I’ll probably breeze past 10; but for some reason 7 stopped me in tracks.
Perhaps it’s also as I turned 35 last month. Which I know also isn’t really a significant age, but does feel big to me. (Because let’s face it, if you were put in charge of organising a crowd of people into age groups, you’re not putting me with the late 20’s/early 30’s lot any more are you? No. No, your not).
2010 was the year I got married (in a storm in Mexico, just for additional drama) and the year we had our first baby (it was planned, it wasn’t a shotgun wedding, just FYI). It was also the year I quit my job and The Pineapple Lounge became a real ‘thing’, albeit a very small thing to start with. I was living with my husband and baby boy in a teeny-tiny flat in Raynes Park in South West London. It had no central heating and our bedroom was crammed into the loft room so every day you could enjoy waking up by smacking your head on the ceiling. It was a first-floor flat, which was also super handy with a new born baby when you’re knackered and need to constantly go up and down the stairs all day with a pram (just for clarity, that was sarcasm).
Actually, they really were. I have the happiest, fuzziest memories of that time. It was before the-compare-a-perfect-parent-Instagram boom when social media and mobile phone use was still pretty tame compared to what it is now. I poured my heart into what in hindsight, was probably one of the first ‘mum-blogs’. I loved doing it and it gave me a confidence and creativity boost in those early new mum days I didn’t expect back from (probably should have stuck at it to be honest, could have been getting free lipsticks and all sorts by now). Life back then on reflection was very simple. It was like we had these tools and options that networking and being creative on the internet offered, but it was all still very light-hearted and quite untapped. Truly, anything felt possible to us (apart from getting up and down the stairs without the baby screaming).
And so, became The Pineapple Lounge, born out of potent mix of industry frustration, identified opportunity, a very real and authentic passion for the work, a thirst for career autonomy and a strong motivation to shake a bit life into the specialist area I was passionate about – youth and family insight. Oh, and just that small, little thing of finding the holy grail of having a job that fits around family, offers good mental health and a steady work, life balance, you know, with time to go to yoga and have poached eggs and avocado for breakfast every day, that kind of thing. Easy, huh?
Fast forward 7 years (because I promised 7 learnings in the title, and so far I’ve just waffled on about sweet FA), The Pineapple Lounge is now a strong team of 13 based in London, France and the US, with a turnover of 2.5m and a client list that any agency would be enviable of. We win the most engaging types of work, have amazing partnerships with mind-blowing businesses who are quite literally changing the world, and we have the best people on the team. This 7-year milestone (I’m just going to call it a milestone now ok?) has happened so quickly that I feel like I’ve barley taken a breath, and yet at the same time it feels like I’ve been doing it for 70 years, not 7.
To be clear, I don’t wanna sound like a douche writing this, this isn’t a ‘well done you got to 7 years and didn’t collapse or screw everything up’ trophy (because for the record, totally have done both of those things), but I do know (mainly because other mums, look at me really weird when I explain what I do, and the timeline of which I’ve done it), that what’s significant about my experience, is doing the all the business-ing stuff in neat parallel with motherhood and ‘becoming a grown-up’. (Which is I guess is reluctantly what I am now…never have I felt more grown-up than when we got some of those frosted branded window stickers on the office doors the other week. Oophhhhh. That WAS a moment for the adulthood books).
And so this parallel universe of growing and raising business and babies, has bought with it some unique opportunities, frustrations and challenges that have taught me a few things along the way that I thought might be useful to share and put into print (and because I’m getting so old now, I can’t rely on my memory any more).
- On being a woman in business:
Personally, I’ve never felt held back by being a woman; in fact, my relentlessness to create this business was inspired to prove exactly that point; to set an example and create space for others to do so, to be an exception and to prove to my kids that mould breaking is possible. However, that does not make me immune or naïve to the issues made visible by the women’s empowerment movement today. It affects me when clients and peers share horrendous stories of post-maternity experiences. It affects me if I am working at the senior end of corporations and witness institutionalised old skool male behaviours and attitudes to women. It affected me most when I spoke at an event with 100s of junior media employees, where afterwards girls in the early days of their media careers literally queued up to talk to me (sidenote, that was a great day for the ego), each one of them saying the same thing: that they never see ‘women like me, in my position, ‘at my lifestage’, at my level, with children’. They were worried about their future careers as maturing women and what would happen to them. And as I take a glance around, I can see why. Times are changing, it is an exciting time to be a woman, but without a doubt, there is a heck of a lot of work to be done. Sometimes I have intense phases of guilt and shame, that I should be contributing more to this discussion, that perhaps I have a useful story to tell, and should tell it better, louder and more proactively. But it was over a glass of wine with a wise female (obvs) client, who pointed out that in career years, I’m still an early chicken (I feel like maybe the expression is spring chicken? But I’ll just leave as is, sounds cute), and for now, it’s ok for my activism to be focussed on my business and empowering everyone who works there is contributing, in essence making the change, by being the change, so that’s what I’m trying to do.
- On being a leader:
I still have moments where I catch myself waiting for a meeting to kick off and realise I’m in charge and everyone’s actually waiting for me to say something.
I had little management experience when I started the business and to be honest was so focussed on the output, the work, the creative and innovative sides of what I was doing that had to find my feet fast with building a team.
The hardest thing about being a leader is always ‘being on’. My natural soul is pretty much constant one-liners, a lot of (often sarcastic) banter, a fair bit of swearing and a natural instinct to want to be mates with everyone (I mean you can take the girl out of Birmingham…). Carefully dancing around these boundaries and being aware that what I do is scrutinised more consciously or unconsciously and that I am always ‘the boss’ (ugh), can be tiring. Sometimes I don’t want to be in-charge. Realising and making peace that this is just part of it and to move beyond it has been a recent and helpful process to go through.
But the best thing about being a leader is the relationships and sense of family I have been able to capture in the business and share with my wonderful team. I walk out of the office every week feeling energised and inspired and very lucky that so many truly incredible people work with me and care so much about what we’re all achieving. It is a beautiful thing. I don’t have what I consider to be a blueprint MD/CEO/Business-Woman identity and feel somewhat uncomfortable with that identity, but in my own way I think I’ve reframed what that means to me and feel comfortable in my own skin to do my thing and always keep trying to make it better.
- On being younger than most people around you:
When I first started out I was overly, and probably unnecessarily, self-conscious about how young I was in comparison to those in similar roles in the industry. The fact that I have, well let’s be honest, had, the face of a 15-year-old, and a penchant for dressing like a cross-between Rainbow Bright and My Little Pony, made my youthfulness, and thus associated limited experience, always ‘on show’.
Age was a real sticking point for some and I experienced a smattering of patronising comments, dismissals and unfair assumptions along the way. I learned hard and fast that experience is something people are very sensitive about, and often competitive with. My ‘I’m here to bring the future! Let’s go!’ millennial attitude wasn’t always everyone’s bag. That said, I was raised by long line of Midlander’s to respect your elders, and have always hugely valued experience, even when I wanted to do everything the opposite way. BUT, and it is a significant but, I have learnt to value my naivety and fearlessness in the face of new challenges and decision making, and have learnt to know when my instinct is bang on. At times I did not follow it when I was younger and less experienced, and I regret it. There is something quite beautiful about not being bogged down in a lifetime of experience and being able to run with ideas into the fire and this is where I thrive best. And if you can channel this whilst cherry-picking lessons and wisdom as you go, it’s a potent combo. But above all, if you’re young and trying to do bug, big, things just make sure you freaking know your shit – if you can talk anyone out the room on your topic of expertise, no one will give a flying hoot if your 20 or 200, My Little Pony couture n’ all, but if you don’t, bide your time, play it cool and work out when you can.
- On the competition:
‘Don’t sweat the competition’, I don’t know where that expression came from, but it’s a good one. Every now and then I fall into a black hole of online competitor stalking; ‘Oh my god they did this, they went there, they spoke at that event, they won that project’ and so on and so, as I dive head first into a tub of Ben & Jerry’s to try and make it all stop. I can safely confirm, nothing good ever came out of doing that (though can also confirm, if you’re running a business, it’s an inevitable and compulsory part of the madness!). But aside from that, I’ve learnt to have a healthy relationship with the competition and despite being in a fiercely competitive space have learnt not to ‘sweat the competition’.
These days I can even (sort of), find a way to cope, (maintain breathing), when I see our ideas ripped off or imitated (that’s probably a lie), and this ability to not be over flustered by the competition comes from genuinely spending all my time and energy focussing on us and not others. Of course, I’m aware and conscious, but have never wanted to chase, follow or play catch-up with anyone. I don’t copy, replicate or even follow patterns too curtly, mainly because I get zero joy out of doing that. Of course, we all move in similar directions as we respond to client needs and industry trends and inspire each other, but I go over and above to find ways of doing things that that are unique and different. It’s not easy but it keeps me sane (and off the Ben & Jerry’s) and ultimately makes the business stronger and the culture more vibrant.
- On success:
The biggest thing I’ve learnt about success is that getting, feeling and defining it are all transient. It doesn’t always have to be so fixed and it’s ok that is evolves and changes shape. It doesn’t always have to be a big number, it can also be feelings, moments, progression and they are all important.
Realising this made things a bit easier for me, as my perception of success is pretty warped. Though I’m great at spotting this in others and the team and business as a whole, I have extreme issues with calling it out in relation to me personally. For a good chunk of time I perpetually lived in a mind-set of feeling like I wasn’t doing enough – for my team, for my kids, for my business, for everyone. When you pull yourself in many places and do lots of things at the same time, it’s hard to see what you’ve done well but very easy notice what you haven’t. Success is a funny old term, because to me it feels like it describes some finite. Business and life are not, they are a journey and sometimes that is going well and sometimes that is not. Though I have hard markers for success which spell out to me how things are going my biggest marker for success now is my own personal development, how I feel, behave and engage with life and the people in it and what impact that has on them.
- On being a full time working mama:
I’m going to need more that a paragraph on this one. Where to start?
The feeling of arriving at a presentation smelling like kids cereal and dummies falling out your bag. The late nights writing reports looking after a chicken-pox riddled bundle, but not wanting to miss a deadline. The guilty feelings that no one ever gets enough of you at work or home. Carrying the extra baby weight when all you want is wear your killer dress to land that post maternity leave gig. Being judged for working too much. Being judged for not working enough. The constant questioning of should I be doing this? Is it worth it? Will I regret it? Sprinting to parents evening, out of breath, late, sweating, judged. The tiredness. Always the tiredness. The third time you’ve forgotten it’s non school uniform day and you’re running Vans high-tops into the office in fear of your life. Crying in Pret because you can’t do it anymore.
But, there is always them. The kids. They are the compass. They are the drive, the heart of everything. And truly, they are incredible. So I know now, with time and age and experience that it is ok that I work more than some mums, and less than others, it is ok that yes I spent less days with them as young kids as some, and more than others. I don’t feel guilty any more. There are enough people out there to judge us, we don’t need to judge ourselves. We have built a flexible, fun and inspiring family lifestyle that I wouldn’t change at all. Setting an example of what I’ve done in my career has always enabled us to naturally create a supportive nest where we all support each other’s creative ideas in a very real and engaged way – whether that’s running a biz, making films, trying to be the next Taylor Swift or slowly turning the garden into a Parkour obstacle track. That is how we roll and kids are never too young to learn this.
- On being happy:
As I’ve reached the grand old age of 35 (you think this is dramatic, imagine what the hell I’m going to be like at my 40th), I feel like I know more than ever about this one and look forward to learning and experiencing more. Generally, through motherhood, and thus for me also buisness-hood, my happiness has extended and related more easily to places and people around me – to my team, to my business, to my family, to my home, but less so to myself personally. I have been trying for a long time to be happier in myself and work out how to do this. More recently I feel I have a much greater understanding of how to take more control over my own destiny to get back more personal happiness from doing this and to invest much more time in myself. Those things you always say you don’t have time for are often the most important and those conversations you don’t want to have are always the ones that you need to have to make you feel better. I do A LOT more of both these things now and don’t let myself ignore them. I also know that happiness is not fixed, it comes and goes and that’s cool. A continual pursuit of happiness is not healthy, it’s impossible to be happy all the time and I’m more confident about telling people when I’m not rather than reaching a bad place. Rather than trying to constantly chase happy, I am instead trying to have a more consistent energy that helps me do and be who I want to be. (Watching Queer Eye also really helps, as does having a cat that basically looks fake because it’s so cute).
And so to the next 7 years….of being happy, being a strong woman, to setting an example for my kids, to being inspired by my team and to finding success…whatever the heck that might be.
Thanks for reading.