People of Marvel: International Women's Day Special

A few days before my wedding in October 2018, I received an email from Rosie Wilson at Pan Macmillan.

Pan Macmillan were promoting a new novel by debut author, Molly Flatt and would Yolk curate a panel around the concept of success. Bloody eck, well even though the ‘best’ day of my life was fast approaching, that email made me feel like maybe the position of ‘best day of my life’ ‘ad been filled.

Celebrating women and being in the proximity of the smell of freshly printed books. This was a dream gig.

Little did I know that the dream gig was yet to come when these awesome women that we had brought together congregated in late February. They ripped up the rule book on the definition of success and here’s what I learnt…..

The Leeds Panel, Duke Studios

The Leeds Panel, Duke Studios

Panel events often begin awkwardly.

Bringing together 6-7 people who have in the main never met each other can understandably make panelists feel a little on edge. Improv at its finest, aside from their own ideas of success, these women agreed to a conversation watched by strangers all in the name of ‘redefining female success’ and sharing their stories. Molly puts everyone at ease within five seconds.

“I am too much”, say says. “I am too loud”.”I am too ambitious, I am too big. I am too much.” Ears prick up and we immediately resonate.

Aaah, we all feel. This isn’t another panel event with people sharing their own stories of brilliance and making my own little world feel tiny in comparison.

Fear is a theme park to me

The Manchester Panel, Pot Kettle Black

The Manchester Panel, Pot Kettle Black

Our first panel in Manchester introduce themselves within the laid-back context Molly has set. Alice Sparks, Founder of homelessness charity, Invisible Manchester, Dior Bediako, Founder fashion network, Pepper Your Talk, Jo Morfee, Founder female tech motivator, InnovateHer, Lauren Coulman, Founder Noisy Cricket, Charlotte Instone, Founder ethical clothing brand, Know the origin, Vimla Apadoo of Future Gov and our chair and author, Molly Flatt.

After introducing their respective vocations and careers, we got straight down to business. Beneath the surface of the Forbes 30 under 30 accolades (Charlotte has recently won), and the collaborations with House of Holland (kudos Dior), all these women are normal humans with fears and feelings. Particularly potent was Lauren Colman’s declaration that ‘fear was a theme park’ to her. So omnipresent in the life of an entrepreneur and in fact anyone daring to do different that it is practically a world of its own.

Money Talk

Molly Flatt’s debut novel, The charmed life of Alex Moore published by Pan Macmillan

Molly Flatt’s debut novel, The charmed life of Alex Moore published by Pan Macmillan

So too was the revelation that money does not grow on trees for those who dare to set up on their own. Dior lived on £300 per month and Molly, our host and author shared with the audience that despite being a published author, she still works on corporate projects for most of the week.

You can’t be a perfectionist and write a novel

But before you think this panel was some kind of fear-filled, baked bean-eating love-in, the atmosphere was one of relief. One of taking off our own shackles in the light of other’s truths.

Molly smiled as she said; “Novels make me fail and see constant failure as part of my craft.” That the F-word (failure) was so honestly paraded, to me, felt like a triumph. Here we had seven fantastically brave, kind and - dare I say it - successful women, not just talking, but listening. Listening and learning from others and their own failures and swooping up the kind of ‘I’m actually doing OK’ feeling that you just can’t put a price on. When we see other women whom we herald as our heroes also struggling, it is kind of a lightbulb moment for our own self-judgement and right to self-love.

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

The Leeds panel was stocked with the kind of women I wish my daughter would grow up to be. Dangerously successful, completely, heart-racingly, justifiably idol-worthy but refreshingly down-to-eath and kind.

Lucy Sheridan, the world’s first Comparison Coach and Instagram sensation spoke candidly of bailiff’s outside her front door in the early days and inspiring people to love themselves not imagined versions of themselves. Natasha Sayce-Zelem, Sky’s Head of Tech is a woman who I’m sure must have a time machine for all the amazing things she manages to fit into her life is the kind of true female hero who lifts other females up the ladder. Much like the ones I have read about in fairy tales (Instagram) but had not yet met in real life.

Laura Wellington, the owner of the venue we were in, Duke Studios, so much a woman after my own heart in her complete and fervent love of all things, was more frank and inspiring than I ever expected. A passion for ‘going for it’, smiling through the struggles and grabbing life by the balls, I found her love of life in all its attractive and unattractive forms infectious. Could I love a welsh woman more than I love Nessa from Gavin and Stacey? Probably no, but Laura came close.

Kimberley of Keep Real and Lou of Woman Ready so passionate in their desire to help others feel better about themselves and who have made unbelievable impact across their communities.

Author, Molly Flatt

Author, Molly Flatt

All confident women, clearly comfortable in their own skin and committed to making a real change in the world.

Asked at the end by Molly, ‘what would you do if you weren’t afraid?’, the answers from the panelists were eye-opening but even more so was the exhale of breath from the audience. The recognising of how much fear we all contain within us and how far could we go - despite all the hurdles we’ll encounter - if we weren’t afraid?

Natasha Sayce-Zelem would go to the Oscars. Laura answered (on Instagram that next day - these things need time!) that she’d make herself a creative curator role for the city of Leeds.

And so it was that I can to my own take-home from the two days of panels.

One published author, one Instagram heroine, one Forbes 30 under 30 winner, one woman at the top of the corporate ladder. All united in their celebration of bravery and failure. For failure is something to be celebrated, because really what failure means is that you have done something.

Because you cannot fail if you have not done anything at all.

And what I saw in all of the panelists was the beginnings of a group of strong women becoming really comfortable with failure. And the more we are comfortable with this, the greater leaps we will make and the greater things we as women will achieve.

When we talk about our fears and our wobbly interior moments we take away their power. Knowing that these women were ‘failing’ and fearing too on a regular basis made me feel as though I should not feel weak or embarrassed for feeling those emotions too.

So it was that a panel with ‘success’ in its title made me feel more comfortable with my own failings: imagined and realised than I have felt in months. And so my International Women’s Day advice is this: Go out and Fail. Try, trip, fall, make mistakes, fear, get it wrong, practice, refine, evolve. And maybe some years down the line that in amongst all this adventure you’ll find that you have succeeded.