The Interesting Women Interview (#8) - Lea Rice
It's Tuesday which means it's time for another Interesting Women Interview! I'm so glad to see so many of you enjoying this series - let me know if there's anyone in particular you'd like to see me interview... I've got a cracker for you today and I bet you won't make it to the end of this post without feeling moved and inspired. I first came across Lea Rice a couple of years ago when I started writing for Unsorry Mag and she has made some huge changes in her life in that time. In this interview we talk about mental health in the workplace, inspirational ladies and running a successful freelance business. Enjoy...
1) Hey Lea! I've been lucky enough to work with you on the Unsorry Mag for a couple of years now, but for anyone who might not know you can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Hello! I’m Lea Rice, the biggest thing I’ve done on the internet to date is run the Unsorry Magazine and podcast with my best friend, Sam Sparrow, for 5 years.
I have also spent 4 years on the burlesque scene as a showgirl. I stopped dancing last year to concentrate on growing my business, but I’m still scrubbing glitter out of my carpets!
In terms of a day job, I trained in journalism but was more interested in digital marketing than anything else, so I cut my teeth in social media agencies and, later, worked in communications for a youth charity, but I recently took this whole day job malarky into my own hands…
2) 2016 was a big year for you - you quit your job and started your own business! What encouraged the change?
2016 was an absolutely insane year! I actually didn’t start my business by choice, but it was a really wonderful thing that came out of a terrible situation.
At the start of 2016, and in the year leading up to it, I was really suffering at the hands of workplace bullies. My mental health was non-existent because of it. I had a predisposition with depression and anxiety, but this job had me crying my way through the days and even invoking suicidal tendencies, and on top of that the team I loved working with had almost all resigned.
Before long I crumbled completely under the pressure. I was signed off by a doctor for five weeks, which I was later penalised and blamed for by the individuals concerned. I was both entitled to and in need of that time away from work, but essentially it made the situation worse. I was too depressed to handle the stress of a formal grievance. I was a shell of a woman and so miserable.
One day, I was openly bullied in a meeting in front of an entire department and I snapped. My mind was barely working and I was crying hourly, but even through that fog I knew I couldn’t live like this any more. As I exited the meeting room, an email flicked up on my iPhone: a friend of mine had inquired about the possibility of freelancing for her charity. A quick calculation concluded that I could just about cover my rent on the rate she was offering, and I felt a kick of spirit that I hadn’t felt in months; surely I could make a living from freelancing if I can cover my rent with one client?
That was it. I hit up every single freelancer I knew, asked for advice and plotted my escape. I handed my notice in the following week. I had no idea WHATSOEVER what the fuck I was in for, but I did know something had to change. I genuinely don’t know where I would be if I hadn’t made that decision. Although it was all completely unplanned, it was the best decision I’ve ever made in my whole life.
3) I have been so totally impressed with the bravery and tenacity that you've shown while establishing your business. What have you learnt about yourself in the process?
I know it’s vom-worthy, but I’ve learnt that I have the power to take control of my own life and change it if I want. And it will work out, because it has to.
I’ve learnt that I can get through the very worst circumstances (not only did I leave my day job chronically depressed, but also a couple of grand of debt having paid for counselling to get through my days at work - basically I started out against every good piece of freelancing advice out there!). If I’m taking the right steps to protect myself, and if I have some wonderful people supporting me, then I’ll be able to see and act on the opportunities that come my way.
Lastly, I learned all over again that I’m really good at my job, and that the connections I’ve made throughout my working life are really incredible, talented people. When your confidence has been chipped away that hard for a prolonged amount of time, it’s very easy to stop seeing your own self-worth.
Oh - and I’ve also learnt that you’re never too old to be scared of your parents. I was so worried about what they’d think of me quitting my job that not only Facetimed them to tell them the news, but I pretended I was unexpectedly pregnant first, just so anything I said after that would be less shocking. It did not work.
4) The internet is awash with advice to "quit your job!" and "live your dream!". Is working for yourself as great as it sounds? What are the best and worst bits?
Oh my god, ok, so here’s the thing: Instagram may well be rammed with hygge pictures and pretty girls in sharp blazers laughing into their £7.50 matcha latte in front of their Macbook. And sometimes, when business is good, those photos perfectly capture that feeling. Those working from a posh coffee shop days are great. But it is very fleeting. What they’re doing there is what I call the ‘celebration pose’. To get to the celebration pose you have to not only have worked hard, but mastered your own business plan, marketing plan, branding, sales technique, website update, lead generation, accounts, work disciplines… the list goes on and on and on. And whilst they’re totally doable, you learn and execute all of those things entirely alone. It is not as easy as grabbing a latte, sending out a tweet and watching the sales roll in. The loneliness and the challenge of setting your own routine and discipline is an absolute bitch to get down pat, and those things have easily been my biggest struggles in my first year of business. Make no mistake that if you don’t get your shit in line, success becomes even harder to achieve, and your hygge-blazer-latte moments will become very few and far between.
Another challenge I’ve grappled with is comparing my success to the success of others (which definitely feeds into the social media standards thing). I fall into the habit of pressuring myself to ‘do better’ just because someone else has seen a success that day and it’s pointless. I just don’t need to do better than I am right now - there is money in the bank, food in the fridge and friends to share it with. I often have to remind myself that starting from where I am is all I need to do, and I don’t need to chase after things that someone else has. It’s a surprisingly hard lesson to learn, but important for your sanity.
All this said, there are of course huge silver linings to working for yourself. As you can imagine, once I made amends with lonelier days (which aren’t that lonely any more as I have the most wonderful Social Media Assistant, Flo, working with me now and we Slack all day long), I realised how much happier I was without office politics. I am genuinely not sure I’ll ever work for someone else again because of this factor alone. It’s given me greater focus and more ambition because I’m learning to be productive on my own terms. Now that I’m up and running, I’ve really got the business growth bug, and the best thing that cutting out the commute and the more unproductive elements of office culture is that I have extra hours to plan my future. Expanding my business and life vision has been very character building, and allows me to be proud of myself and my achievements.
Lastly, I don’t mind admitting that I’m still in recovery from my last mental health episode. Working for myself has changed a lot for me, but of course recovery isn’t ever as straightforward as changing one thing. Owning my business not only took me out of the space that was provoking the problem, but it also gives me the space and privacy to be a mess if I need to. I find I can pick myself up far more quickly if I don’t have to fake my way through eight hours in an office first. Even if you love your job and nothing in particular has provoked an episode of anxiety or depression, there are some days where you’re better off in the long term for taking a day out.
5) What's the best advice about work and careers you've ever been given?
“The universe has your back.” My wonderful friends Jennifer Begg and Emma Ward repeated this to me often when I first started out and would panic about what I was supposed to be doing or what I would become. I think it was originally a quote from the Gala Darling blog.
I’m super grateful the girls brought that into my life though - I say it to myself often, and it calms me down enough to look for new opportunities, which have almost always been in front of me the entire time - I was just too worried to see them! I pay close attention to so-called “coincidences” too. Lately, everything really does seem to be happening for a reason - the universe really does have my back.
6) Who inspires you, both in business and personally?
I’ve already mentioned Jennifer and Emma, but I also need to add my Unsorry Magazine partner in crime, Sam Sparrow. Anyone who’s had the privilege to work with her already knows that she’s incredibly talented and, purely and simply, a total don when it comes to social enterprise, doing good and charitable things, running businesses and coaching people. You’ve never seen anyone work like her, trust me. Sometimes it’s really annoying being her best mate ;)
I’m also in absolute awe of Unsorry Magazine’s fabulous Deputy Editor, Michelle Allen Davey, who is always my graphic designer of choice to work with on client projects. Her work is just fabulous!
7) As well as running your own business, you have also been running the ace Unsorry Mag (formerly The High Tea Cast) for the past 5 years. What inspired you to start it and what have you learnt from working on it?
We were inspired by the gap there was in female hosted podcasts back in 2011, and simultaneously raging at the guff being printed in women’s magazines about how we “should” live our lives and what we “should” look like.
We used our podcast to hit back, which took off, then the website and eventually our lovely editorial team came along and now we’re a long-term operation that brings women together to support each other all over the world.
I think the biggest thing I’ve learnt from running Unsorry with Sam is the importance and durability of female friendships in all forms. That wonderful group of female writers have been some of the most kind, clever, funny and supportive women I have ever met - together, we’ve all gotten each other through some really rough times. I haven’t even met half of them in person! How amazing is that?!
It hasn’t always been an easy ride because everyone has so much else on their plate, but we’re still going and still there for the women who feel like they’re being pulled in all directions. Knowing someone has your back really can be life changing, which is why we think of ourselves as a ‘digital bestie’. It’s absolutely a labour of love.
8) Finally, what are you looking forward to in 2017?
Well right now I’m in the throes of designing my very first product to provide some passive income for my business. I can’t give much away right now, but rest assured that if you’re a blogger or work across digital marketing in any way, you wanna get on my mailing list… ;)