I set-up Unity - a brand engagement agency - with my business partner, Gerry, six years ago. It's been an interesting few years for us. Against the backdrop of the worst recession in living memory, privately I've been battling my own set of personal challenges - five miscarriages and a baby (sounds like a dodgy 80s film).
I struggled a bit on whether I should reveal such a personal side to my life in such a public forum, however the platform of International Women's Day tipped the balance for me. Very few people have the ability to shut one side of their life down, whilst focusing on the other, so it seemed right to reveal the truth behind what many people go through - having to retain the strong public image, whilst behind the scenes you crumble.
As a leader it's always a balance in trying to present a human, approachable side, whilst never letting people feel your fear. In relation to the miscarriages, over the last three years my public face has crumbled on occasion, but those few colleagues that have witnessed it have shown nothing but compassion and kindness, and I've never felt it's weakened me in their eyes. Instead they've rallied and supported.
There was the time I travelled by train to Manchester to meet Lady Gaga for a high profile launch - only to be hit by a mammoth migraine that left me vomiting and crying in my seat. I stayed on the train and came right back home - was I expecting too much of myself just three days after my second miscarriage? Undoubtedly yes, but at the time you don't see that.
And what about when we were asked to pitch for my absolute dream client, and I started miscarriaging - in a brainstorm - four days before pitch. I excused myself for 10 minutes - cried - and then came back and continued. I hid my anguish in my work and focused on writing the pitch of my life, which we went on to win. I found out whilst having lunch with a future employee - it took some explaining as to why I cried like a baby (how appropriate) on hearing we'd won. I'd put every bit of me into that pitch and don't think I could have handled the rejection.
And there was the time I flew abroad for my Christmas party - just days after my fifth loss. Putting on the brave face and painting on the party mood to ensure that team got the party they deserved was difficult but necessary.
So the public face is one key challenge. Another is the blame game. Having had all the tests there is nothing actually wrong with me - so why five? The blame inevitably falls on you. Am I doing something wrong? Am I too stressed? Why am I constantly rejecting the thing I want so much? But no one lives in a vacuum. No one can 'check-out' of his or her work life to live in a zen-type bubble. Also - this busy person is who I am, right? RIGHT?
Those observant amongst you will have spotted the 'baby' bit in the title. This tale does have a happy ending. Maggie is fast approaching two and is the joy of my life. I've had three of my five miscarriages since she was born so the struggle isn't over, but I've come to appreciate how lucky I am. I have what so many people want but never actually get - an incredible daughter, a loving fiancé and a supportive family that have shared and absorbed my pain where they could (thank-you all).
And professionally we made it through the tough times. I'm proud of myself. I fought through my personal struggles whilst never losing my grip on my original baby - the company that is Unity.
But I can't take the credit here - far from it. I've had a team of people around me who never cease to amaze and delight me with their talent (as well as putting up with terrible hormonal mood swings - I'm sorry people, maybe now you understand why?).
There's my long suffering PA who's covered for me, held my hand, talked me back down to earth so I could walk into a key client meeting sounding sane, whilst underneath my heart was breaking.
And above all there's my business partner Gerry. He's the real hero in this tale. He's the one that held me - and the company - together when we most needed it. Thank you Gerry.
So here I am. Pouring my heart out for public critique, on a cold day in March. But it's the right thing to do. On this day of all days we have to remember that we - womankind - are more than one thing.
Yes I am a 'businesswoman', and I care passionately about what we do and the difference we make; not only to brands and businesses, but - through our cause-related work - to people and causes who are often overlooked. I can sleep well tonight knowing that our Sound off for Justice campaign has made a real difference to the lives of thousands of women. This week the campaign scored a victory in the House of Lords by forcing the Government to ring-fence the legal aid budget that helps them escape their circumstances. That makes we so happy.
But I am also a working mother of a young child (many of you will know that this isn't easy), and an individual who has experienced hope, joy and grief in a recurring cycle in a short time frame. And a fiancé. And a sister/daughter/friend. We are all many things.
But I am also a colleague, and the morale of my tale is this: we never know what life is going to chuck at us (that is after all what makes life interesting), so if it's in your power - and it often is - surround yourself with people you like and that can hold you up in the bad times, after all most of us spend more waking hours with colleagues then we do with anyone else.
That's how we thrive and survive. Thank you Gerry, Emilia and Team Unity. x
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