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Our CEO Kirsten Samuel talks wellbeing

As the owner and CEO of a successful business, how have your first 18 months of motherhood been? 

I’m not going to lie, it’s had its moments! But things are settling down now. I think the first year with your first child is always going to be a bit of a roller coaster (understatement!) which nothing can prepare you for. And when you add running your own business into the mix, that gives a whole new meaning to the term ‘spinning plates’! But, I am absolutely loving being a mum. My son, Samuel (don’t worry, his surname isn’t also Samuel!), has brought so much joy and fun into our lives, as well as a load of sleepless nights and exploding nappy incidents – life will never be the same!

How did you navigate maternity leave…did you take any time off?

Yes and no. The first 2-3 months I wasn’t capable of doing much other than recovering from the birth and learning how to look after a newborn. But I didn’t really take an official period of time off. I’m hugely passionate about Kamwell (my first baby, in a sense!) and always felt I’d be able to find a way to integrate running a business with motherhood. So for the first 6-9 months, Samuel came to all my meetings and I’ll always be so grateful to my customers and partners for being ok with this. He always drew quite a crowd! Part of me wishes I’d taken a little longer to recover and eat cake all day long but I guess that’s just part and parcel of owning a business that you want to see succeed. And, interestingly, the year I had Samuel was a great year for Kamwell.

What do you attribute that success to?

  1. Having a fantastic and trusted team that share my passion for the business and our customers.
  2. The mindset that you CAN do both. This is really important. You need to believe that you can continue to work at a high level when you have children.
  3. Focus - nothing improves your focus and attention more than being time poor!
  4. Self-care – I really had to prioritise this when my overwhelming gut instinct was/is to always want to put my son’s needs first.

You mention the importance of self-care…can you tell us a little bit about how you look after yourself?

I always put a lot of thought into my wellbeing. By nature, I love working (too much!), I put a lot of pressure on myself to do well, I’m a perfectionist, I’m self-critical, and I have so many interests that I inevitably end up wanting to do everything - a combination of all of these things can absolutely lead to burnout. Over the years I’ve had to learn how to manage this.

I typically turn to things that give me energy and are good for my soul. My biggest passion is music – whether that’s singing with my choir, bashing out some Queen on the piano (although I’m a bit rusty now) or putting some Pharrell Williams “Happy” on full blast and dancing around the kitchen with my husband and step daughter like we own it! Music has always been one of my greatest passions and therefore is also a fantastic stress buster for me – works every time!

I also love being active, and definitely see the positive effects within myself when I am active versus a day of sitting at my desk. I find going for a brisk walk really helps clear my mind. I also love triathlons, yoga/pilates, park run, golf, squash, spinning…you name it. If only there were more hours in the day!

Having regular points to unplug and recharge and to have some ‘me time’ away from everything is also really important to me. One of my all time favourite things to do is to go on a day’s wellbeing retreat – at least once every 2-3 months – it’s just the reset I need.

Are there any areas of wellbeing you struggle with? 

For me, my biggest challenge has always been nutrition, even more so since having Samuel. Unfortunately, I have passed the point of being able to blame my incessant desire to eat giant chocolate buttons all day long on having a baby! I’ve always been a foodie but I’ve also always had a fast metabolism (which is rapidly slowing as I reach a new decade milestone!) and been very active – so – I never gave my diet much thought. But over the past couple of years, I’ve become a lot more conscious of eating the right foods that will fuel my body and give me the energy I need – building on this is a big aim of mine for 2019/2020. 

I also work really hard at trying to maintain good back health, which has always been a concern of mine after slipping 3 discs playing hockey in my late 20’s (I’ve suffered with a bad back since then). So now I try to do a lot of yoga and pilates, proactively see an osteopath, have a standing desk and sit on a swiss ball instead of a desk chair. The more active I am, the stronger my back feels, which is also an incentive for me to exercise.

What would be your number one tip for someone wanting to give their wellbeing a boost?

Think small and consistent changes – this is the best way to start introducing some new healthy habits into your life. For a long time I’ve been an ‘all or nothing’ person (probably a trait of being a perfectionist), which makes it so much harder to get back up when you’ve missed a day’s exercise or opted for ice cream for dinner because you’re too tired to fire up the wok! So I regularly have to tell myself it’s about small and consistent changes, so when you do inevitably have a day that doesn’t go to plan, it’s only a small step to get back up. And remember, sometimes, you just need to be kind to yourself – everything in moderation including moderation!

With such a busy life, there must be moments that are quite stressful…how do you manage this? Any tips?  

Well, everyone is different so what works for me might not work for someone else. But things that help me:  

  • Go for a walk – couldn’t be simpler!
  • Take a few minutes each day to focus on your breathing. I like to imagine I am breathing in and out through my heart, taking deep meaningful breaths each time.
  • Write a to do list – whenever I get overwhelmed by everything I have to do (which is quite regularly!) it helps me to get it all out on paper. Then at least I know what I’m dealing with and can prioritise.
  • Tidy up at home – I can’t think straight if my home is a mess. Tidy home, tidy mind as they say! I’m always decluttering!
  • Connect with friends and family – something that’s so easy to take for granted. Even if I’m not in a particularly chatty mood, a call to someone I care about is always a great mood booster.

For anyone out there wanting to get to know you a little better, we’ve got some quick-fire questions for you!

What book are you reading at the moment? Brene Brown “Dare to Lead”.

Song you’d want played at your funeral? Beautiful Day by U2.

Proudest moment? That’s a no brainer: having my son.

What does happiness look like to you? Love, good health, family and friends, a fulfilling career, amazing food, and a house full of labradors!

Favourite cuisine? Chinese (but done well).

What did you want to be when you were growing up? When I was 13, I wanted to set up my own stationary company.

What would be your dream job in a different life?: A professional conductor.

Guilty pleasure? In my 20’s it was a family bucket of KFC and bottle of champagne (don’t judge me!). Now it’s probably binge watching a Netflix box set over a weekend (not that there’s much opportunity for that anymore!). And currently it’s Love Island – I like people!!

You’re off to a desert island for 5 years. Bar food and people, what 5 items would you bring with you? Trainers, kindle, guitar, a comfy bed (with some fancy surround insect net!) and my journal.

Weird fact about you? I like plane spotting! I am a bit of a geek at heart.

Any final words of wisdom: Remember: you are only human. I may run a corporate wellbeing company and be embedded in the world of wellbeing but at same time, I’m also a human being…I have ups and downs…I’ve had things happen that disrupt my flow. So whilst you might have all the info and all the tools, you need to figure out how to make it work as a human being. And don’t beat yourself up if things don’t go to plan, that’s life, just get back out there!