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  • emma3423

Out of my comfort zone

On my 40th birthday last year, I had a party. In a speech at that party I talked about ‘walking off the edge of a cliff’ into my new freelance life. I also talked about the privilege and support that meant that the fear and anxiety I felt about the decision to set up Emma Duke PR was accompanied by pure excitement.

In the nearly-a-year since then, I’m very glad to say that I’ve never looked back. The fear has got me at times, together with some rougher mental health than I’d have liked, but, again: friends and family, and if there's one good thing about having a cronic condition for 30 years, it's resilience.

Then I started working with a business mentor. The lovely James Ross wasn’t necessarily who I expected to team up with. He made me do things that made me shudder. Cold messages to companies I admired. Awkward approaches to my network after years of silence. Again, I was out of my comfort zone, but it’s paid off. We found a happy place for the business development: accountability and arranging meetings with people I really like and want to work with, resulting in positive conversations, a growing business and my web stats going through the roof.

And then I found myself on a cliff, near Penrith (that rhymes) about to leap into open water, wondering what on earth I was doing?

I started working with the The Outward Bound Trust earlier this year and loved our work together immediately: talking about the role of outdoor residential education in supporting the mental health of a generation whose lives were interrupted by the pandemic, locked away when they were due to start building relationships, making connections, exploring the world.

They invited me to join a Teacher Taster event; experience the activities myself, meet the brilliant teachers supporting this generation’s learning, growth, mental health crises and nourishment (far too literal in some cases thanks to our current government).

In the lead-up to the trip I found the fear again. Outdoor adventures? Lake District weather? Wearing a wetsuit??

I experienced all of these things while on my adventure with Outward Bound: wetsuit donning, rowing across the Lakes in a massive downpour…and then there was that cliff jump. It was one of the first exercises, we jumped in a speedboat, a group of strangers and then leapt out of said speedboat into freezing water to swim to the cliff…ready to jump off it.

I talk a lot about the importance of vulnerability and authenticity so I’ll be honest; I faltered. As the lovely instructor Tom counted down from three I just froze, staring down at the choppy, bloody freezing water, full of who-knows-what and just stood still. It’s hard to emphasise just how much of a metaphor this was for me right now: staying safe, retreating, feeling the fear and stepping back.

But I jumped.

And it was cold and I didn’t take a breath for a loooonnnnggg time and it was hard to get back in that boat (the others in my group lifted me by my lifejacket back in and I lay there like a fish at the bottom of the boat).

But it was exhilarating and heart-bursting and vibrant and I felt so proud of myself. I’d done the scary thing, I’d leapt into the unknown and I loved it. Beautifully, that group of strangers in a boat returned to Howtown a team of people exhilarated by themselves and each other, having shared an amazing experience together. Imagine what that would do for a group of 14-year-olds?

At the end of that 40th birthday speech I thanked my wonderful friends and family for their support and I’ll do so again when I turn 41 next week – together with a new group of friends: my clients. For all the chaos that continues in this world, the last year has taught me one thing, when I jump off a cliff, instead of falling…I can fly. (Metaphorically. D

on't try that at home kids).

The Outward Bound Trust believe that all young people, whatever their circumstances, background or level of aspiration, deserve the opportunity to develop self belief in order to thrive in education and employment, the resilience to bounce back from setbacks, a willingness to accept responsibility, the ability to plan and set goals and the capacity to build positive relationships with those around them. If you choose to, please consider a donation to help them to do this.

Thank you to Shelly Phillips and James Ferguson for giving me this opportunity and to Rebecca Randles, Emily Wormald and Verity Randall for looking after me over the weekend.

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