Way back in 2012, I wrote a post on this blog about ‘storming the castle’. That post was supposed to be the beginning of sharing with readers the journey I’d taken over 23 years with the Hysterectomy Association.
The problem was, back then, I was too shy, too worried about what other people would think, how they would judge me based on my (perceived) lack of success with my little social enterprise. Back then, I set myself up and then let myself down. But that was then!
And now here we are in June 2018, almost six years later, and much has changed, not least me and my understanding of what matters in life and how my thinking scripts my experiences. And I’m finally ready to start sharing the journey I’ve made since I began the Hysterectomy Association back in 1995.
But first, I’d like to share a video with you. One that made me smile because it tells of a journey we can all take if we choose to. And it starts, with making your bed ..
You may be wondering why and how this video is relevant to my story, to my own experience of setting up and running a tiny social enterprise here in the UK. It’s relevant because every change we make matters; not just to us, but to the others we come across along the way. We may not always see the end result of what we accomplish (big or small), but if what we do is done with a good heart, with the willingness to help another or shine a light into the dark; then we will always make a difference to someone.
So, how did I get started?
In 1994 I had a hysterectomy, yep that’s right I had all my womanly bits removed and it was the best thing I ever did. I’d got the point of being sick and tired of being sick and tired. I was in my early 30’s and considered young to have this type of surgery. I thought I was reasonably bright, but when I started to get some menopausal symptoms I began to wonder just how much I really knew about the effect the surgery would have physically.
I was fortunate enough to return to full-time education in the early 1990s and began the long haul through an MSc in Information Studies and it was when I discovered the subject of patient health information that the penny started to drop. My thesis was called ‘Hysteria, It’s not funny on HRT’ and if you really want you can read a summary of its findings here: The Information Needs of Women Undergoing Hysterectomy (1998). As well as the research itself, the research also produced a booklet and a website, which were to be examples showing how the new t’internet age could be used to share this information. It was never intended to be anything other than a piece of work that got me through my higher degree.
But, I hadn’t counted on the women who’d taken part in the research saying ‘we have no support group’. I agreed to leave the website online ……!
As a result of my thesis, the accompanying website and the little booklet that was stuffed into a makeshift pocket in the front of the bound document, I am now a social entrepreneur with my own social movement, the Hysterectomy Association. The website deals with tens of thousands of women and serves up 100’s of thousands of pages each and every month. It is the place where women share their stories, fears, hopes, dreams and questions with each other (and with me) and the booklet was the basis of the first book I ever published called The Pocket Guide to Hysterectomy.
Three points to make you think
- My story is not unusual. There are many others like me who stormed the castle and changed their lives, and the lives of others, in all sorts of unexpected ways.
- I did not start out with the intention of changing my life or the world – it just sort of ‘happened’.
- There was no luck involved.
So, what happened?
I’m sorry to admit this now, but for many years I was ashamed of the Hysterectomy Association; so ashamed that I often didn’t mention it to people I met in case they asked me about it. I was ashamed despite the emails I received every day from women telling me how much it meant to them; I was ashamed despite the amount of discussion that takes place in the forums and on the various pages of the website and I was ashamed even though I met loads of wonderful people.
It left me feeling I’d done a disservice to the millions of women who have used the website over the years and who have given freely of their experiences for the benefit of others.
The reason for my shame was that if I was such a ‘success’ at this, why wasn’t I wealthy?
What I’d failed to see, until relatively recently, was the bigger picture and I was measuring it (and myself) against a whole load of criteria that were delivered to me nicely bound and packaged by ‘society’ that I had never subscribed to. In spite of all I knew about psychology and business I couldn’t see the wood for the trees and I’d been focusing on the wrong thing.
That package tells us that to be successful in this life we have to earn lots of money, have a great car, fabulous kids and live a luxury lifestyle. Even though mentally I’d moved away from those values, I was still bound by them because of my upbringing and the social mores which run deep in the Western World.
I’ve really struggled with this one I must admit and it’s only in recent months that I’ve finally started working through the issues it raises and realised that my life may not be the same as some mega superstar, but it’s probably better. I have a job I love, I’m at home four days out of every seven and I get to spend lots of great quality time with the wonderful Stevie. I have more than enough money to pay the bills, put food on the table, enjoy time out with friends, go on holiday, see my family and take days off when I want to.
The Hysterectomy Association is perfect just as it is. It covers all its costs and makes a small profit. It was never meant to be a financial success, it was designed to be a social success and that’s exactly what it is. It doesn’t rely on external funding to pay its bills as it generates all its revenue itself from the sales of books and other products and services. It meets the needs of the audience it attracts, and they in turn help it by talking about it and recommending it to others.
What I now realise is that without it, I wouldn’t have the skills and knowledge I do, I wouldn’t do a job I love, I’d never have written a book, let alone eight; neither would I be a professional speaker. And I certainly wouldn’t be living the life I live – I’d probably be in a job I hated dreaming of the day I could quit and do something more interesting and fun instead.
These changes are what made the Hysterectomy Association personally successful for me and it behooves me to support it at least as much as it has given me over the years.