Beauty Tips

Owning The Room

Golden three tiered stage with lights and confetti

If you’d told me as a young woman that one day, I would be able to stand in front of an audience of 14,500 women, deliver a keynote speech and love every single minute of the experience, I’d have laughed in your face.

Public speaking? I’d honestly rather have run a 10k – in the opposite direction (away from that podium), at that point. And anyone who knows me, knows how much I hate running… Like most people, I found the idea of standing in front of any kind of audience heart-stoppingly terrifying. I was that creature with palpitations, clammy hands, a lump in my throat, suffering stage fright at having to stand up in front of any kind of audience beyond my nearest and dearest.

And yet not so long ago, I had progressed to the point where I could speak in front of thousands and ‘own the room’ – to be precise, Liverpool’s Echo Arena. The phrase comes from the title of what I think is the definitive book on public speaking, by stand-up comic and journalist Viv Groskop; to give it its full title, her book is ‘How to Own the Room: Women and the Art of Brilliant Speaking’ (recently published by Bantam Press). What’s more, I came off stage thinking: ‘Now I know why Mick Jagger’s still touring…’ (Or will be, when he’s feeling better again.)

After sharing with my biggest-yet audience the story of Green & Black’s – the chocolate brand I built with my husband alongside co-writing the Beauty Bible series of books and working as a journalist (and yes, it meant lots of 18 hour days)– I experienced a champagne high without the bubbles. Along with the incredibly satisfying feeling of held the attention of the audience for 40 minutes. And I’d have gone right back on for an encore, frankly.

So how did I go from mouse to roaring lioness, public-speaking-wise, with a team of speaking agents booking me to talk to banks, law firms, retailers and yes – the AGM of the Association of Sliding Door Manufacturers? (I am very big in sliding doors now, I can tell you.)

Well, to be honest, moving towards owning the room was a slow progression – but as with so many things in life, it basically boils down to practice, practice, practice. It’s been said that with 20 hours of focused, deliberate practice, you can go from zero to doing something well – and I reckon public speaking definitely fits the profile of skills that can be acquired. Personally, I was pushed into the deep end and expected to ‘public speak’ when I became a magazine editor at the age of 23. I began to host reader events. I gave presentations to high-powered advertising execs, trying to get them to take space in my magazines. Sometimes, I’d be asked to present an Award, at some media ceremony or other.

There are lots of reasons any of us might be asked to stand up in front of an audience. Making a presentation on a work project. Talking about a charity we’ve become involved with, to help raise awareness (and hopefully, supporting funds). A funeral address. But you know what? The secrets are the same, whatever the ‘gig’.

I’m going to start by wholeheartedly recommending that anyone reading this who might ever have to stand in front of any kind of audience buys Viv Groskop’s book. (Never met the woman. Not on any kind of commission here, in case you’re wondering.) But I’m also going to share the secrets I myself have learned, over the years, while entirely unexpectedly building a side-hustle career out of public speaking.

Find out just what’s expected of you. Do you have ten minutes? Three minutes? Thirty minutes? What does the person who’s asked you to speak want you to cover, in particular? I honestly think that one of the reasons I’m good at speaking is that I approach it in the same way as a piece of writing for an editor. What does he/she want me to cover? What’s the angle? What’s the length? Who is the audience? All this knowledge helps you to shape what you’re going to say. And very importantly, for how long. I never used to love homework (indeed, I don’t think I ever knowingly handed in any during my 12 years of school) – but when it comes to speaking to any kind of audience, I’m all about the prep.

Because the better prepared you are, the easier it is. Oh, this is true about just about anything in life – but when you know your material, when you’ve rehearsed what you’re going to say, several times over, and made sure of any facts you’ll be sharing, it’s a lot less scary. What’s absolutely terrifying is ‘winging it’, which I’ve seen people do too often. They lose the plot, wander all over the place – and the sense of rising panic as they realise they’re not holding the audience’s attention.

Consider writing out every single word of what you’re going to say. Better still, type it, in minimum 24-point text. This is a trick I picked up from my husband. As I’m typing, shaping and editing my presentation, I’m actually learning it – so that on the day, I barely look down, pretty much just move the pages from right to left. But the all-important thing is: it’s my security blanket. If I was to freeze, it would be all there in front of me. Not notecards, not Biro on the hand (I’ve seen speakers whose only notes are written on their left wrist) – if worst came to worst, I could read it from my script. I also go through my speech and mark where every slide should appear, using a fluoro marker and making a big star that catches my eye, as I turn the pages, nudging me to use the clicker. I read through the speech at least four times before I’m due to perform. Once on-screen before printing. A second time the day before. Once while at the hairdresser (because trust me, good hair is a major and entirely necessary confidence booster). And once just beforehand. (The other great thing about writing out your speech is that when you read it out loud, you can time it. We’ve all been to presentations where the person on stage doesn’t have a clue how long they’ve been wittering on for, and has run over by 20 minutes, thereby giving the organisers palpitations. Stick to your time slot and they’ll love you for it.)

Forget graphs and charts. Unless you’re giving a very specific budget presentation, perhaps, or talking about a financial forecast. There is a phrase called ‘Death by Powerpoint’ – and you don’t want to be guilty of it. Instead, create some eye-catching slides with evocative visuals and inspirational thoughts – or key quotes from your talk – to have as a background. But my experience is that the minute someone sees a bullet point, they start surreptitiously scrolling through their e-mails.

Prepare for any kind of presentation rather as an athlete might a race. Go to bed early the night before, and use every sleep aid you can muster to get a good night’s sleep. (Note: pre-speech anxiety dreams are still perfectly normal. I still have regular nightmares about being on stage with my skirt tucked into my knickers – although the upside of this is that it does make me check, before I step up to the podium each time, that my skirt is NOT tucked into my knickers.) If you’re speaking at lunchtime, have a good, protein-rich breakfast – but don’t eat just beforehand; it’s awful to be fighting back indigestion while talking to the crowd. If you’ve got to speak after dinner, eat incredibly lightly no matter how delicious the grub, for the same reason. And don’t drink. I know it’s tempting, to knock back some ‘Dutch courage’ and take the edge off the fear – but you want to have every brain cell you can muster. (By all means have a stiff gin & tonic or glass of champagne afterwards. You’ve earned it.)

I use my Calm app on the morning of my speech – and ideally, not long beforehand. I’ve written about this before, but in this case, five or ten minutes of meditation is amazing for focus and for quelling any butterflies.

Look at the audience. OK, this is the REALLY scary bit, for most people. But good speakers sweep the room with their eyes and smile, really making the audience feel a connection. Nobody wants to watch someone mumble into their lectern.

Because to quote Ms. Groskop: ‘Form matters more than content.’ The simple fact is that (alas) almost nobody will remember what you said afterwards, no matter how mind-blowing your stats, or how earth-shattering your revelations. They’ll remember how confident or relaxed you appeared and how you well-dressed you were. (I get more questions about my shoes afterwards than almost anything else.) In her book, Viv quotes a stat that 60-90% of communication is non-verbal. In other words, body language. It’s just as important to focus on that as it is your actual message.

Last but not least, watch TED talks. Watch how it’s done. See how you can learn from the great speech-givers.

And when you do get to see someone deliver a great presentation, applaud like hell. We love it. And if you work at it, one day, you’ll love it too.

Why JOMO Is The New FOMO

jomo-is-the-new-fomo-by-jo-fairly

There’s much talk of FOMO, nowadays. Fear Of Missing Out. I blame Instagram (and other social media, to a lesser extent): when we scrawl through pictures of yummy dinners in fancy restaurants, once-in-a-lifetime finds in a posh department store’s Blue Flag sale, or see pictures of perfectly-manicured toes in front of an azure horizon on a sun-drenched beach, it’s easy to feel that we are indeed missing out. On life, bargains, exotic cocktails with paper umbrellas in them, whatever. So the other day, my heart did a little dance when I heard about FOMO’s (much saner) close relation, JOMO. It’s short for ‘Joy Of Missing Out’ – and I realise, I’ve pretty much been embracing this my whole life. Only now it’s got a name. (Or rather, an acronym.)

Technically, in 2019, JOMO is about disconnecting from tech and embracing real life. It’s about not picking up our phones to scrawl through pretty images that make us feel inadequate, every five minutes. JOMO is also very much about not letting social media make us feel that we really need to be keeping up with the Joneses. (Or the Kylies. Or the Beckhams. Or any ‘influencer’ who ever learned to use an iPhone filter, frankly.)

Indeed, there are now websites (experiencejomo.com), podcasts (the JOMOcast), and even books (Christina Crook’s The Joy of Missing Out: Finding Balance in a Wired World), which encourage us instead to reconnect with the ‘real world’. You know, that quaint old place where people actually talk to each other and eat food together and maybe even leave their phones in their coat pockets for the entire duration of these experiences.

Now, I absolutely, 100% love those definitions of JOMO. As any of you who read Victoria Health editorials regularly will have observed, I’ve developed all sorts of strategies for cutting down my exposure to technology and e-mail. Fact: nobody, but nobody, will go to their grave wishing they’d spent more time on Instagram, no matter how seductive and gorgeous and pretty it often is.

Because the trouble with social media (one of them) is that it can be the fast-track to a misery-inducing case of envy – and not for nothing was that declared a ‘deadly sin’, several millennia ago. If you’re not at peace with your home, the luxury level of the holidays you can easily afford, the size of your car – and so on and so on – then you’re likely always to suffer, comparing yourself unfavourably to others who are ‘better off’ (or ‘luckier’, as some people tend to think of it). Because the fact is that even if you’re a millionaire, with an envious mindset you just can’t win. There’ll always be someone with a faster yacht/car/bigger walk-in wardrobe/more houses/private jet/whatever – and I’ve seen it eat people up inside, frankly.

But for me, JOMO has another meaning, too. It means not feeling bad about refusing to fill my precious time with stuff I don’t want to do. Literally: the joy of not doing anything that doesn’t make my heart soar, at the prospect. For each of us, that’s different. But top of the JOMO list, in my case: going to parties. Now, you may love them. Be the very embodiment of the life and soul, and all that. But I am really, really happy to miss out on almost any party, anywhere, ever. (While being perfectly happy for my party-loving partner to go to just about any party he wants to, so long as he doesn’t expect me as his arm candy.) It’s just who I am, and there’s no point pretending otherwise.

For various reasons, sometimes professional, I have been invited to flower-filled, wall-to-wall-celebrity parties in glamorous locations that people would all but kill for invites to – and I’ve mooched miserably in the corner, just counting the minutes till I could go home. Fact: sequins and I are not best friends. High heels, ditto. (See last month’s editorial.) I loathe small talk. I don’t even like alcohol, much. And since an Ayurvedic doctor told me last year that I really should be in bed by 9 pm at night, on the basis of my dosha (or constitution), I now have the perfect excuse to be a party refusenik. For me, there is literally joy in missing out… on any social gathering of more than eight people.

It isn’t that I don’t like people. I love people! But I’d far rather see them in small groups, or even individually. In a (not-too-noisy) restaurant is fine. But I’m just as happy with a bowl of home-made soup or a cake at a kitchen table decorated with nothing more extravagant than a bunch of daffs in a jug, where I can actually hear what they’re saying, and chat properly. (Preferably my own kitchen table, but I’m not that much of a hermit.) Frankly, there’s almost no party I’ve ever attended that has felt more fun, to me, than reading my book at home would have been.

Once upon a time I’d have been called a ‘party pooper’ for that, but now I can just say that I was an early adopter of JOMO. And I’m just going to share with you just the best tip if you’re someone who, like I was, would often say ‘yes’ to an invite far off in the future, where the diary was entirely empty, and then increasingly come to dread the event as it hurtled towards me, wondering how I could gracefully cancel. Every time an invite comes in, ask yourself: ‘If it was tonight, would I want to go?’ And in my case, the answer is almost always: ‘Noooooooooooooo!’ Making it much, much easier to decline at the time the invite arrives.

True JOMO boils down to experiencing gratitude, too – on a daily or even hourly basis. Enjoying small pleasures, rather than lusting after what we don’t have (and probably never will have, lottery win aside). The sunny beauty of that jug of daffs. The trouble someone’s gone to, to bake a cake. Losing myself in a good book (which can be a library book, or a well-thumbed paperback). A walk in the spring sunshine, appreciating the clouds scudding through the sky, or the feeling of fresh air on skin after months shrouded in layers. Watching an old movie, curled up on the sofa with family. (Or a pet, if you’re an animal person.) A hot water bottle on a cold night. Honestly, teeny-tiny things that when you take the time to appreciate them are very, very happy-making. Much, much happier-making than a yacht, I’ll warrant. (Though I’ve no intention of finding out.)

So if the JOMO movement’s looking for a poster girl, I’m right here. Admiring that spring flowers on my kitchen table. Listening to the soup simmering. But most importantly, not wishing to be somewhere – or someone – else, ever.

A Woman’s Right To Shoes

legs in the air with colourful high heeled shoes

Get any bunch of women in a room and it is not long before talk turns to shoes. Honestly, any bunch of women you could name. But among my circle, the conversation’s shifted, somewhat. These days, we’re not debating the gorgeous mauve suede of a pair of kitten heels vs the lustworthiness of a pair of red-soled Louboutins, but which makes of shoes are the comfiest on the planet. Because when you’re aiming for 10,000 steps a day for optimum health, you want to stride, not teeter. (This is even more important if, like me, you’ve managed to fall over twice and break a wrist. Even though once that happened slipping on a greengage on my own lawn wearing flats, I still want to minimise the chance of falling from any kind of height onto a hard surface.)

Now, I often think that if an alien landed from out of space, one of the things they’d marvel at would be the spectre of millions (probably billions) of women on Planet Earth having a minimum of two pairs of shoes with them at all times. One pair to look pretty, the other actually to get from A to B in. I have in past years sometimes had the privilege of being invited to the annual Women of the Year lunch. This boasts an informal ‘re-shoeing area’ at the foot of the stairs leading to the ballroom, where everyone from cabinet ministers to TV presenters to Olympic athletes (oh, and me) would change out of their practical flats into their heels before lunch, then reverse the process after coffee had been served and the last Award handed out.

Almost the only woman who didn’t have to do this was my neighbor at the lunch a couple of years ago, Cressida Dick CBE, whose role as (the first female) Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police meant that nobody batted an eyelid that she was wearing sensible police-style lace-ups rather than ‘party’ shoes to the lunch.

None of this means, however, that I want to go around wearing shoes that look like they were made for a hobbit, or an extra from Game of Thrones, or which basically resemble a Cornish pastie in shape and colour. So I have become a bit of a world expert on stylish COMFORTABLE shoe brands. Here’s what I recommend to my best friends – and of course, to you.

Allbirds. After an ad for these – promising they were ‘the most comfortable shoes in the world’ – had popped into my Instagram feed for around the 734th time, I finally rolled over in submission and took myself off to their UK flagship store in Covent Garden to try them out for myself. And guess what? They are the most comfortable shoes in the world, made from felt-like wool (and lots of sustainable/reused materials), with soles so springy I’m now doing a fine impression of Zebedee from The Magic Roundabout. I so loved my first pair that I went back three days later and bought another. First day I wore them, I notched up 17,000 blister-free steps – which is unheard-of, in a new pair of shoes. What I would say is: made from wool, they don’t have the support of a sturdier material, thus I wouldn’t wear them for long country rambles.

Veja. This Brazilian brand also has a super-comfy line-up, and will be my summer go-to when wool shoes are going to feel wrong, just so, so wrong. Veja offer lots of examples of white tennis-style trainers (these are still going to be on-trend for summer 2019), all with a ‘V’ emblazoned on the side so everyone knows how cool you are. Actually, I’ve never been cool – but the Duchess of Sussex is. I admit I was a teensy bit put out that Meghan put Veja on the global radar when she wore a pair of their trainers on the Royal tour to New Zealand and Australia – I got there first, Meghan, been wearing them for a year! – but very happy for the shoe brand, which uses lots of sustainable, organic and even recycled materials. You can basically pretty much wear white sneakers with a ballgown these days, which is great news for our tootsies – and I won’t be looking any further for my next pair.

Ecco. These Scandi guys have really moved on from the time when they just made shoes that only your great-aunt would actually swoon over. I find them particularly good for comfy summer sandals and even funky hiking sandals. (Yes, I now hike – although I do not own a compass or a waterproof kagoule, which definitely makes me the fairweather kind.) Many styles are smart enough to wear to meetings. And I’m talking city meetings, not gatherings of the Women’s Institute.

Ferragamo. I also have one pair of sturdy, shiny, rubber-soled, shiny, black Ferragamo lace-ups that basically look exactly like something out of Cressida Dick’s shoe wardrobe, and I bloody love them. The famous Florentine shoe line does not always have sensible flats in their collection, but I’m always keeping my eyes open for another pair – even though mine show not a sign of wearing out for many years to come. I have to admit: the pair I bought cost an arm and a leg (and both feet), but they are so beautifully constructed that I can (and do) walk miles and miles in them, so the cost per mile is now a fraction of a fraction of a penny.

Chie Mihara. OK, I’ve saved the best for last, here. Every year, I invest in one new pair of Chie Mihara heels (because they really aren’t cheap either). But I still have and wear almost every pair I’ve ever bought and I have lost count of the number of times I have been stopped in the street or at parties or after giving a speech and asked: ‘WHERE DID YOU GET THOSE AH-MAZING SHOES?’ I’ve got gold lace-up heels, and a similar pair in black embossed leather. Chunky platform sandals in snakeskin and also a deep velvety rose colour, with a suede rose adorning the front.

The platforms make me taller, while showing off a pretty pedicure – but the bottom line is that all these shoes so, so, so comfortable because (so I’m told) the somewhat unpronounceable Chie Mihara herself, founder of this Spanish shoe brand, used to be a podiatrist. So she (or rather, Chie) perfectly understands foot architecture, and that we need padding under the balls of our feet, and that we most of all want stability and not to fall off our platforms or our heels. Ever. And that once we reach a certain age, we want styles that are – yes – stylish, but basically timeless.

I’ve been known to walk fairly long distances in her heels, if needs must – and I really haven’t done that since I was about 19. You do have to pick your style – I like the ones that look more like tap shoes, but they just don’t suit me – but I have a little piggy bank with ‘Chie Mihara’ on the side, for my next pair.

Happy walking…

How To Follow A Social Media Diet

Book leafs in a heart shape

I’ve always been fairly convinced that nobody would go to their grave wishing they’d spent more time on Twitter. But I don’t mind admitting that over the past year, my addiction to Instagram reached a level where I knew that action was required. When the first thing you do is roll over in bed in the morning, reach for your phone and scroll through photos of friends’ kids/pets/gardens, or swoon over inspirational houses or holiday destinations – well, by any measure, you’ve got a problem.

My Instagram ‘rock bottom’ happened one day just before Christmas, when my alarm went off at the usual time – and when I looked up, I realised I’d just spent an hour and a half on Instagram. I’d been suckered by their clever algorithm into frittering away 90 minutes of my life – and for what…? I wasn’t chatting to my husband, tucked up in bed beside me. I wasn’t reading a newspaper. (Not that I think there’s anything WRONG with not reading newspapers, BTW.) I wasn’t looking up from my screen to take in the beautiful view that I’m blessed with of our ACTUAL garden, out of the ACTUAL bedroom window. I was looking at pretty pictures.

Notwithstanding the fact that I’d implemented ScreenTime on my iPhone – which tells me when I’ve hit a self-imposed limit of a certain number of minutes – I was habitually over-riding the warning by hitting the button that says ‘Remind Me in 15 Minutes’ – or (more likely) the one that says ‘Ignore Limit For Today’. (Initially, I’d gone for a 15-minute limit overall until I realised that was over in the blink of an eye. But I’d been hitting the ‘Remind Me in 15 Minutes’ button four, five times in a day…)

The thing is, I don’t even have a particularly addictive personality. But this was bad – and I remembered a bumper sticker that my late father-in-law had on his car (he was American; bumper stickers are allowed). It read: ‘Turn off TV, turn on life.’ So I decided to adopt a similar philosophy, with Instagram. Living my life, not reading about other people’s – while also dealing with the challenge that I can’t go completely cold turkey on Instagram, because I actually have to use it professionally (@theperfumesociety and @beautybibleofficial). So: here’s how you can do the same, whether your problem is Instagram, Twitter, Facebook (or all of them).

Move your social media apps off your main screen

When you have to search for them, or even swipe for them, it gives you pause for thought. (It’s the social media diet equivalent of putting the biscuit tin in the cupboard.)

Set a timer

By all means use ScreenTime, if you use an iPhone. (It was in the most recent system update.) But pledge to obey it, OR – alternatively – set a timer on your phone that rings when your (personally allotted) time is up. I find that much, much more effective, actually; when you’ve got to leave an app to turn off an annoying alarm, you can’t ignore it – and you then have to make a conscious effort to reopen the app.

Don’t sleep with your phone by your bed

It’s probably emitting all sorts of hideous electro-magnetic radiation, anyway, which we shouldn’t have anywhere near our heads. In the early stage of my ‘diet’ I put my phone in a box on the other side of the bedroom. I’d have to get out of bed to get it (and frankly our bedroom’s so cold – I am married to someone half-Viking – I was reluctant to abandon my hot water bottle to do so). After a while I found this had helped get me out of the habit of rolling over and hitting the Instagram icon first thing, and I could safely return it to the bedside table. And beyond that, once I’d broken the habit of feeding my early morning Instagram addiction even before I’d fed my early morning caffeine addiction (which is of course an entirely different story!), it was much easier to put off my first foray into its photographic joys till later in the day because I wasn’t craving the next serotonin hit.

Make a list of your favourite accounts and restrict your ‘diet’ to these

That way you don’t have to miss out on a daughter’s smile, or your best friend’s latest baking triumph, or news from websites you really, really find valuable (like VH of course!) I’ve actually PRINTED the list of sites to check in with daily (or at least regularly) in order to ensure I’m not missing anything ‘important’, and I keep it handy. (In fact, actively visiting friends’ pages has kept me more in the loop with their lives than I was before – because the algorithm wasn’t showing them to me in my feed).

Give yourself a specific time when you’re allowed to binge

If someone keeps me waiting for an appointment or a meeting, I ‘allow’ myself to go to Instagram and gorge. Ditto: if I’m in the back of a taxi. Otherwise it’s like being told you can’t eat sugar: all you do is fantasise about cakes, sweets and ice cream. It’s easier to resist temptation if you know you’ll be allowed an occasional indulgence.

By all means post pictures – but don’t check on your ‘likes’

I still love taking photos for Instagram – it’s a real creative outlet (I’m a bit of an Annie Liebowitz manquée). And every day, pretty much, I still post something (@jofairley, if you’re interested!) But what I have weaned myself off is habitually checking who’s liked my posts or commented. I check in with that once a day (during that ‘timed’ session) – not every hour or so, as I had been. (To continue the diet analogy, this equates to a few squares of Green & Black’s at teatime, rather than a biscuit on the hour.)

It’s been quite a few weeks since I started this ‘social media diet’ – and it’s worked unbelievably well. I’m confident I’ve conquered that addiction and am not only up to speed on my magazine subscriptions – the media pile was a high avalanche risk, when I started this – but I’ve got through another pile that I’d hidden in a cupboard to stop me staring at them and feeling guilty about NOT reading them. I’ve finished several books (yes, BOOKS!) that I’d never have found time for. My Christmas ‘thank-yous’ were done and dusted in record time (I decided to write those first thing, in bed – and trust me, the feel-good factor exceeded that of Insta-scrolling, which never gave anyone a rosy glow of achievement). And I’ve had some remarkably sparkling conversations with my husband (although we can talk about his iPad Scrabble habit another time). You know what else (surprise, surprise!)? My overall concentration is vastly improved, because I am not constantly answering the tug on my attention from social media.

Let’s face it: social media isn’t going anywhere soon. But as I’ve found out, encouragingly, it is possible to control IT rather than have it control YOU – thereby avoiding a flood of regret on the day of reckoning that you’d frittered away so much time watching other people’s lives on a small screen, rather than enjoying real sunsets, real flowers and real conversations…

Why We All Need A Telescope And A Microscope

pink pencils

We all need heroes in this world, and one of mine – notwithstanding the fact that she went to jail for insider trading – is Martha Stewart, creator of a homewares and mega-media empire in the States. It’s not because of her gorgeous floral arrangements, or her gardening tips, or the drool-worthy recipes in Martha Stewart Living, her glossy lifestyle magazine. (Sad but true: being a great believer in the power of home-making – as a solace not just for self, but for the family and much-loved friends who gravitate to ours – I still have every issue ever published, which means over 20 years’ worth!)

I like the way Martha’s made a business out of style, and taste, and reassured me that just because I may want to decompress from a week of 18 hour days by organising my linen closet or my gift-wrapping supplies, that’s OK; it doesn’t mean I’m not intelligent, and it doesn’t mean I’m not a feminist. It means I just like things to be nice, too.

But what I really admire Martha for is an excellent book that she wrote called The Martha Rules. It’s a brilliant how-to book for women, in particular, setting out on an entrepreneurial journey – so good, in fact, that I’ve gifted it to lots of young women embarking on start-ups. But the lesson I really took away from it is the importance of having two tools: a microscope and a telescope. Martha was referring to business – and how important it is to step back from working on the detail, to look at the bigger picture and how your business sits in the wider landscape. But what I took away from that book – and what I try to apply to my life, not just my ventures – is the telescope lesson.

Today, all of us spend our lives fixated on tiny screens, on problem-solving, on figuring out a way to deal with one crisis after another, whether it’s a sick kid who unexpectedly throws a spanner in the works (or rather the working week), a broken dishwasher (my current domestic status update), a lost bank card (er, actually also my current status update), whatever. Entire days – no weeks! – can disappear, simply dealing with everyday life, without us ever taking a moment to stand back and look at that bigger picture.

And it’s just so, so vital to do that – because it’s only by looking at things from afar that we realise a) what’s really important in life, and b) what needs changing. Fact: life is short. Way too short to spend it mindlessly dealing with trivia (trust me, nobody’s going to go to their grave wishing they’d spent more time on Twitter), or lurching from one crisis to another, or generally watching the days slip between our fingers. And this isn’t just about stopping to smell the roses (or right now, the lily of the valley which are flourishing near my back gate and I’m spending too little time up-close-and-personal with). How often have you read about someone with a life-threatening illness talk about how it was such a wake-up call, and it made them realise what really mattered (whether that was spending time with family or a partner, or quitting a job they didn’t enjoy, or maybe even ticking that climb up Kilimanjaro off the bucket list)? Answer: all too often, because for many of us it’s only when something dramatic happens that we get to look down that telescope.

So: how to do that more often? Well, one way is meditating. I’ve written about that before – and personally, I now swear by an app called Calm (check it out at calm.com). For ‘big picture’ stuff, perhaps think about taking an actual course in meditation – not just because it’s a great way to learn to focus, but because there’s something about signing up to learn anything that can make us think: ‘Shouldn’t I be finding time to do more of this, in my life…?’ Which can perhaps nudge us to do more new things, rather than just more of the same.

Holidays are great for ‘big picture’ stuff, too. (As in, perhaps: ‘Do I really want to be doing this stressful/unenjoyable/dull job that I am going back to next week/in a fortnight – or should I be thinking about looking for other challenges and new opportunities?’) For me, though, it’s daily walking that helps me with the big picture stuff. Almost as if I’ve got an invisible telescope packed in my pocket, alongside my phone and house keys.

Recently, I had a big challenge with one of my ventures. A tricky conundrum that nobody could seem to solve – not business-threatening, but something that needed a new approach so we could move forward when we’d been going round in circles. One morning, partly because it was just gloriously sunny, I absented myself from the office and my team and took myself off for a long, blustery, blue-skied seaside walk. A few miles. Instead of whiling away my morning answering what always feels like a deluge of e-mails, I chewed on my metaphoric pencil, as I put one foot in front of the other – and hey, presto: after a mile or so, I had the required brainwave. Ta-dah! I took the solution back to the team, we actioned it – and could move forward again. But I absolutely, 100% know that wouldn’t have happened if I’d been at my desk, sweating the small stuff and dealing with detail.

So I invite you: make this the month you invest in yourself – and your life – by trying to spend time looking at things from afar. After all, if Galileo could discover the moons of Jupiter (and more) by staring down his telescope, what heavenly future can you make for yourself, just by spending a little time standing back from the world…?

PS. In her intro to The Martha Rules, my hero Martha does acknowledge the jail term and the lessons it taught her – so it’s not like she’s brushing that under the carpet with some posh broom! She’s clearly not proud of what happened. But I also admire that she didn’t let a huge, image-damaging incident hold her back. Which might just be fodder for a future editorial, I suspect…

Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Perfume

toppled empty perfume bottle

A couple of weeks ago, following in the footsteps of Shabir, I did a fun-tastic Facebook Live with Trinny Woodall. Formerly one-half of ‘& Susannah’, she is now a Grade A beauty expert, bringing that same famous critical eye to all the beauty products she reviews – often HILARIOUSLY, by the way, but always informatively. What is less well-known is that she adores perfume, so we’d been workshopping the idea of me sharing the knowledge I’ve acquired over the years – which have led me down the path of founding The Perfume Society – with Trinny’s audience.

 

Boy, did we have a blast. (You can watch it on her YouTube channel – IN MY BATHROOM… with Jo Fairley.) I spent a lot of the hour-long chatathon answering the sort of questions that I hear time and again, about fragrance. So I thought for this month’s editorial, I’d address some of the things that people consistently seem to find most baffling, about scent. Read More…