THE BLOG
13/11/2013 04:48 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 18:56 GMT

How to be Strong and When to be Weak

"Is Mummy ever going to walk again?" asked my 7-year old, bottom lip wobbling.

Two weeks ago I had a total hip replacement. I damaged the joint somehow many years ago - probably skiing - and my body responded in an unusual way. It produced bone to fix the damage, but never stopped. The pain of all this extra bone was intense and I had to give up all sports except swimming.

I'm now recuperating at home, and my mind has turned to strength. Not just physical strength, though of course in my diminished state it does spring to mind! But inner strength, the reserve you turn to when you've been treated unfairly or when you're faced with a significant problem, as happens in business sometimes.

One of the most common questions I am asked by fellow entrepreneurs is "How did you get to be so strong?". I know I am strong, as I have had to deal with some immoral people in my life, and I have responded to their threats well. I am pretty sure that most people have inner strength, though some people may find it more difficult to access at the right moments.

When I'm facing a difficult situation, I've found it helpful to recall all the earlier times that I have shown strength. The very act of calling these moments to mind reminds me that I am resilient, and I then feel more able to square my shoulders and respond robustly to my current antagonist.

The other thing I do, in order to be strong, is simply do. When I face a challenge, I act. When an investor once threatened closure of my business unless I could show I had £50,000 of cash in my current account, I did a deal the next day, charging upfront cash fees of £50,000. When I finally received an accurate diagnosis of my hip pain one month ago, and knew the only solution was surgery, I finished my work, cleared my diary and underwent a 5-hour operation one week later.

But my word of warning: inner strength may not always be the best antidote to a problem. My recent health challenges have proved this to me.

My pain crept up slowly over a decade and only in the past year or two do I now realise that it was impacting me greatly. I told almost nobody about it, as I thought I needed to be seen to be strong. I needed to show everyone that I could cope with anything. After a day attending meetings or giving talks, I'd feel depleted and aching. Once, after a particularly big day of panels and interviews, I collapsed on the train home and felt that I would curl up and cry. But of course I didn't - I'm strong remember, and so I soldiered on. Even as I was admitted to hospital for my surgery, I still kept quiet, concerned that you all might think that I am weak.

I now know that rather than concealing my condition over the years, I could have quietly told a few trusted colleagues and perhaps said no to helping others so much (which often depleted my physical reserves further). Sometimes you need to let people in to your pain. I'm not advocating that you expose your weaknesses to everyone, but it may help to let some people know that, at times, you may not be coping, and that very admission leads in itself to someone helping you.

The reason I'm now telling you this story is twofold. Firstly, my surgery is positive. My recovery will take somewhere between 6 - 12 months, but my pain will be gone well before then and I can already walk a little way with a stick. Everything I do over the next few months will be done through the lens of my physical (and emotional) recovery. Selfishly, it would help me a little if people that I interact with understand what I'm going through.

Secondly, I have a very small public profile. I do not want anyone who reads about me to believe that I am yet another super-tough, resilient businessperson where troubles bounce off me like rubber. I would like people to see that we all have problems and challenges in our lives and we are all quite human.

Strength is a desired attribute in business and with entrepreneurs especially. Successful entrepreneurs are often presented as resilient towers of endurance. Words like grit, courage and determination proliferate the vernacular. But this is not my personal experience. While successful people of course are often courageous and resilient, they can also be sensitive, fearful and anxious.

You may have problems in your life or with your business, you may have days where you don't feel that strong at all. Me too. And my message to you is that we are all like that. Do not think that the seemingly successful business people in our world are any stronger than you.

There is nothing special about me. My success has come because I have learned to tap in to sources of strength, but I still suffer sometimes, like everyone else.

Finally to my son: I will be playing chase with you and your brothers by Christmas Day. I promise.