This week’s Northern Power Women podcast Life Lessons have been submitted by Danie French. Danie is a Responsible Business Advisor for Taylor Wessing LLP, who have been in partnership with Future First since 2010, working to support young people in state schools throughout the UK. She has worked and lived in the North West for just over 2 years. We got the chance to speak to Danie about her Life Lessons, building confidence, overcoming your fears, and always bearing the bigger picture in mind.
Danie spoke of the importance of events like NPWLive, supported by Future First, in providing tangible and realistic role models for young women. “After losing my mum in my early teens, I had no immediate female role models in my life, so I would’ve loved to of had an event like this”she shared. As Danie said, the event provides the perfect opportunity to “hear about networking and about other people’s careers, from a female perspective” as well as “to build that network and to know that it’s all achievable”. The ‘pay it forward’ ethos that drives so much of Northern Power Women’s work is something that is also close to Danie’s heart, and motivates her to use her own success to give back to those who find themselves in positions of adversity. “I want to have an impact and to support young people and adults that are suffering, and that’s why I give my time back because I never had that”.
This drive is also reflected in the work that she does with Future First. She described how Taylor Wessing has partnered with Future First in order to “build up a network for those students that don’t have it, that don’t have a way into the law industry and wouldn’t normally have that opportunity. We want to knock those barriers down and make it more inclusive”. In working for Taylor Wessing and Future First to promote the development of others, Danie has also been afforded opportunities by both of these organisations to focus on her own development. “To work for an organisation that wants you to be your best, and are flying your flag and supporting you, has been a game changer for me. I think that’s what drives me even more to help others because I’ve got someone supporting me within my career that’s allowed me to grow, so I want to support others to grow, and my job allows me to do that”
As Responsible Business Advisor for Taylor Wessing Danie has often had to address large groups of people when speaking at events or when addressing social mobility students. Despite being able to present with apparent ease, Danie stresses the importance of understanding how even the most confident of presenters or professionals have undergone their own personal journey to develop their confidence. “Now that I’ve been through that journey, I can talk to anyone, in a public space, I still have those feelings of fear but no one would know”. When working with social mobility students, Danie also takes the time to share her own story, to reinforce just how accessible these life shaping opportunities really are, and what can happen when you make the most of them. “When we do these social mobility programmes, before we start I tell my story […] instantly I know that I’ve got to make them aware that I’m one of them […] I wasn’t academic at school, but look at where I am, and I’m going to help you get here too”.
Danie also highlighted the importance of maintaining a work-life balance, particularly whilst working from home during the pandemic. Luckily, this balance has been prioritised by Danie’s firm, Taylor Wessing, who have encouraged employees to be flexible about their working days, and to take time away from work when needed. As Danie explained, “If I wanted to go to the gym at 3pm that’s fine […] Right now that’s so important, to go for a walk at lunch, or step away from your computer at lunch time”. Although we may now be emerging into spring, many of us will remember the effects of winter on our at-times-toxic work from home routines. “So many people are caught in the trap of thinking that the nights are getting longer, what’s the point of stopping work because there’s nothing to stop for”. Despite this repetitive cycle, Danie encourages everyone to bear the bigger picture in mind, and to prioritise your own mental health over work tasks that may seem like the be-all and end-all, but in reality, aren’t. “It doesn’t always have to be work work work […] Other things can wait, because your mental health is so important right now”
Always having the bigger picture in mind is something that has aided Danie to view failures or mistakes as learning experiences, rather than crushing defeats. She admits, “at the time it’s hard because you naturally take things personally […] but it doesn’t mean you’re not a nice person or you’re not very good”. As she shared in her Life Lessons, “Nobody is perfect that’s why there’s a rubber at the end of a pencil”. By viewing these mistakes as something that is merely happening to us, rather than something we deserve because of the content of our character, we can begin to view failure as a positive learning experience. Danie spoke of this inner conflict between “having the two elves on my shoulders, one saying “absolutely amazing, go for it”, and the other, that teenager voice saying “you must be joking, you can’t do this!”. In order to silence the teenage elf voice, Danie has created a folder in her email inbox labelled, “Happy Thoughts”, where she stores all the positive feedback she has received from colleagues. By doing this, she now has the black and white proof that reaffirms her abilities, and silences the voice that undermines her confidence.