I’m back! Well, kind of! I am in the middle of teaching a fabulous group of ladies in my Autumn Diploma in Personal Styling in Dublin, busy getting into life in the UK and also busy building a house (that Paul and I may rent out!) in Dublin too So, all in all, I have been doing! I wanted to share something with you guys. I have been an avid follower and have become a bit obsessed with the Irish Times Abroad and the inspiring, sad, happy and reflective stories they share about people whose lives take them away from and in some cases back to the Emerald Isle. If you haven’t read any of the content, you should. It’s mostly very inspiring to share a little part of what people from Ireland go through in living around the world.
Anyhow, having burnt myself out last year after 8 years on the treadmill of my business journey in recessionary Ireland, I was inspired to pack my bags and take off last year (by myself) to Vietnam for an 8 week journey of self discovery (no Eat, Pray Love analogies lol:-). In short, it was amazing. It completely opened my eyes again to the world and the amazing people in it. You get a bit blinkered I think when you are trying to grow a business. I discovered amongst lots of things, that I wanted to change things in my life and I wanted to share my story. Even if it was up until now just with myself, on paper! I used to love to write and of course I’ve had my Stylefish blog. But I haven’t for a long time just sat down and written something personal. And it was lovely. So, here I am sharing with you guys for better or worse a bit of my story and my journey to being in the uk. I would love to know what you think.
Should I share with the Irish Times Abroad??
Flying free, holding on.
It started when I was nine or ten. Sitting excitedly in my wooden dolls house, busy carving out a new business, all the time watching him; my Dad. He would go on to mould my sense of what it felt like to be the boss and work hard. The thrill of creating something new, the excitement when my first imaginary customer bought something ‘I’ was selling. Something I had created in my little dolls house. Nothing in the world beats that magic. The magic of knowing that the drive, ambition and dreams you have in your heart come from such a special place in my childhood.
It happened for real for me in 2009 when I started my own ‘real’ business and nothing since, in the world has beaten that feeling of freedom, or been so hard and terrifying all in the one heart wrenching eight year journey. This journey I have called my ‘flying free’ journey because after all, I gave up my ‘safe’ career to create freedom and income on my own terms, however hard.
Looking back at those years now Ireland and my journey and experiences with my business have become forever rooted in me, in my heart as I start a new chapter living with the man I love in Dorset, sunny south west England. Let me take you back.
I didn’t always know I would do it in real life. The ‘own business’ thing. Not really. Not until I realised my disposition was such that the fear of not doing the thing that scared me was always greater than doing it. That, and the fact that I loved fashion more than life itself (insert memories of sitting on the couch at home with my sister and brother at home, washed, preened and ready for our babysitter, excited as our mum came into the sitting room wafting of beautiful perfume in a black sparkly jumpsuit for a dinner date with my dad). Things were ‘normal’ you might say before this realisation. I got the good steady commerce degree from UCC followed by a career ladder job. So far so steady. Except that’s when I realised flying free and holding on mattered to me, a lot.
It was 2009, Ireland had just been hit by one of the worst economic recessions known and Julie was throwing away her corporate job and company car for a business where my love of fashion and teaching inspired me to create a little brand I called ‘Stylefish’. I mean, up to this point I had my pick of jobs, opportunities and salaries. Surely, making money doing something you loved would be easy, right?
I will never ever forget that feeling I got from teaching my very first styling class, a class I had dreamt of, written, created and filled with wonderful, excited, fashion loving students who all wanted to pay to be in a class ‘I’ was teaching. There was twenty-one of them and they came back every week. For ten weeks. My heart never felt so happy: I made money, I created a website, a brand and a baby that in eight years would become a database of over 3,000 women I had met and taught. It became a passion for teaching bigger and bigger groups. It became a wonderful PR story of hope for small businesses in fashion when I managed to convince Norah Casey, Gavin Duffy and Sean Gallagher to want to invest in Stylefish on Dragons Den in 2011. All I had to give them (literally) was a girl with a dream and they gave me back support, belief and ultimately a brand I owned that was recognised nationally. (This was a particularly high point).
This is me at one of my first classes to hold (The Beacon Hotel, Sandyford) – note the blond hair!
I tried to franchise my classes in women’s homes (training Stylefish branded teachers) but realised quickly not everyone had the same ease for flying free that I did, especially in a recession in a small country like Ireland. My wings wanted desperately to grow bigger, faster, louder but my little country and economy made it hard. Very hard. What I had created on the outside, began to look very different to me on the inside. Worry, anxiousness, a feeling of constant reinvention, propelling myself forward to the next step on my ladder was fulfilling and exhausting all at the same time. In many ways, I loved it too much, worked too hard and forgot what the flying free bit actually was as I dwelled on the hard bits, and the feeling I wasn’t doing enough. Along my journey I met many other entrepreneurs who started businesses in ‘the good times’. Insert loud expletive. Mine was a work your arse off, one step forward, two back, never give up kind of story. A labour of love as they say.
My decision to fly free also led me to meet him. My person: Paul. Another free flying soul. It’s funny how when you change one thing in life, so many other things can change too. He is English. He had my heart. My business, it had everything else. For five years we too’d and fro’d between England and Ireland. He supported my every move, my big dream. He was there when I was graciously flying high above the surface and he was there when I flapping madly below it. He got it. He’s also an advocate of this flying free malarkey.
(This is a very old and very embarrassing photo!)
But I realised in 2016 that something had to give. I was completely burnt out, in a negative mind space and unable to quite lift myself out of it. That realisation has been the hardest thing to deal with. It was also scary just how powerful a mindset can become. Fly free no more. I felt like flying free was so attached to Stylefish, like I could only fly free if I had this business and lost sight that it was actually attached to me and my choices in and outside of Stylefish. No matter where I go.
It is important to note here that I like many of us, are very patriotic when it comes to our little country. I’m very Irish and although the recession and decisions I feel our government has made have somewhat tainted my view, I am a little in love with my country and what it feels like and stands for. It’s where I started my business. It’s home. It’s roots and no matter where you travel too, flying free or rooted steadily, home will always be home. My business will always be Irish. I will always be Irish.
Me with a group of my diploma in personal styling students in 2015.
But sometimes in life you’ve got to make a choice. What does flying free really mean anyhow? I’ve asked myself this a lot in the last year and decided that moving to Dorset was the best decision for me, for my freedom, for my sanity. I crave Ireland. It has my heart. But I am proud of allowing myself to always fly free, to not live by fear of change or taking a chance, something many Irish have had to do thanks to what our little country has been through in recent years. I am proud of what I have achieved, built and believed in and I know sometimes removing yourself from something is the best way to feel your way back. And so I decided to pare it all pack and focus on the things I loved most about it – teaching women through one course, (my Diploma in Personal Styling) who want to be given the chance to explore their love of fashion and helping others. I continue to do this in Dublin.
Building a business and a dream business no matter how hard is a feeling nothing else can match. I recognise what I have built. I am told all the time by others who aspire to do what I have done, to make money doing something they love. I did that. I built something special. Something great. But to me I am a different person now because of that journey. I want new things and being in the UK is giving me a new perspective on that. I have felt anger that I missed out on lots of my ‘life’ because I was busy working on a business that really did burn me out but I also feel immensely proud that I created something special that made so many women happy. I wish things were easier on my journey on our great little Emerald Isle. I wish the Irish government was made up of more people who believed in supporting those who fly free and create new things. I didn’t feel that.
I wish I stopped to smell the roses a bit more but I also wish for anyone who feels the itch that I do to fly free and go and do the things you want to do, because as the great Maureen O’Hara once said ‘above all else I’m a tough Irish woman.’
Julie Cobbe, Founder & Proud Creator of Stylefish