Business designer and strategist Melissa Pepers shares the major turning points that lead to a complete paradigm shift when it comes to work, life and personal wellbeing.
Do you have a clear line between work and everything else in your life, or is it more intertwined?
It’s a little of both. I love what I do and find even the challenging parts stimulating. If I could spend my time doing anything at all it would be this business. Having said that I thrive best when I have lots of time alone to just mentally explore and tinker with any idea or rabbit hole that intrigues me. I also need to make sure that my work doesn’t start feeling effortful by managing the proportion of time I spend doing it. Switching off used to be a challenge for me and I realised it wasn’t an issue of being aligned to my work, it was an issue of proportion.
I find a schedule extremely empowering and many are blown away by how much I manage to do compared to the average person whilst still thriving. Whenever my life has changed enough that I need a new rhythm to feel aligned I sit down and look at how my time is currently organised. Then I work out what my current priorities and needs are and work out what proportions of time I’d like to spend on different things going forward. So think a bucket for my family, for friends, for business, for thinking, for play, for rest, that kind of thing. Then I work out what proportion makes sense going forward and I build a new schedule around that. I know it can frustrate people that don’t operate this way – especially those that thrive best without a schedule as I will often say I can’t do something and the retort is “oh you’re so busy”. I haven’t used the word busy though, and I could very well have scheduled that same time to just rest and do nothing. It’s not busy time, it’s me time and that’s just as important. I think over time my friends have learned that I need a lot of that type of time. I can say yes easily to spontaneous plans as well, it’s just got to be the right kind of spontaneous thing to nourish me at that moment.
What are some of your daily rituals that support you being your best?
I change up my rituals frequently, depending where I am at. Probably from a mix of loving variety and loving to tinker.
However there is one ritual that has stayed with me throughout everything, which is my love of the cathartic power of dramatic weather. It started as an angsty teen thing, when the weather would be extremely rainy and intense, I would wear all these layers of clothes so I could stay warm and dry for as long as possible and then I would get music and walk in the rain for hours. I find it extremely meditative and freeing. I also get a milder version of the same experience from showering – usually in the dark or by candlelight, once again with music. I think music is really powerful for shifting mood, so I just turn my mind off and revel in that experience. It’s so good.
What advice would you have for a small business owner who is feeling overwhelmed?
Examine your relationship with internal and external goals. This advice I have here is also for people who are currently not overwhelmed but can get like that.
It was a big paradigm shift that came to me last time I burned out, which was in the early 2010s. I was so spent and it dawned on me that the pressure I was putting on myself was completely disproportionate to the factors causing my overwhelm. That paradigm shift set a lot of self discovery in motion to unpick where and why I learnt to carry that stress with me when it wasn’t mine to hold.
What I do:
Consider - what is the absolute worst that could happen here? Then, how likely is that to happen? Is that really that bad?
On any given day, the worst is rarely that bad and is often also not very likely. When I realised that the level of anxiety I felt was worse than any of the outcomes I feared I immediately felt the sweet relief of an “a-ha moment”. Of course sometimes the worst is bad and/or likely. In which case it’s about preparation and resourcefulness.
If I am in an intense situation, and I have been since that realisation, the rules are a little different. The main theme here is around the idea of an internal locus of control. It’s about switching gears from dwelling in fear to dwelling in my personal sense of agency. I really like to lean in to my personal resourcefulness so that I can prepare myself to best weather whatever that storm may be. That is to say, instead of spending my time ruminating on the enormity of all those possibilities I shift my focus to the present. This approach is two-fold, it’s about calming myself through grounding so that even if I don’t feel good, I can feel peace while processing what is happening.
Was there a turning point for you professionally when everything you thought you wanted changed? Was this an exact moment, or more of a gradual thing? Tell us about Bonbo and how it came to life?
Oh yes! There were actually two turning points that occurred in a short space of time. I had worked for myself before Bonbo but at the time of these turning points I had turned my previous business into a side hustle and had been working for ad agencies for awhile. It led to me quitting my job and diving completely into this.
So the first was around my methodology and what I actually do now. I had been pulling on the thread of an idea related to how to build niche businesses for some years. I knew that I was better suited to strategic work than design work and that the challenge I wanted to focus on (creating interesting businesses) didn’t exist as a job role. In many ways that area of focus has been with me since I was a kid, where I used to create hypothetical and actual little businesses all the time. More actively in the years before Bonbo I had been training myself in different areas that I thought could really add something to this discipline that I wish existed. There was this one night where I woke up in the middle of the night and spent from that time until well into the next day writing out my methodology. It’s like all the pieces had arrived and in my sleep was when they all clicked together. So I knew what I wanted to do and how to do it. Then I tested it out on a friend’s café that had just been purchased and they went from turning over 2000 a week to over 26000 in a matter of days. I knew that what I did worked and that I was ready.
Then something happened which at first had me counting my lucky stars that I was an employee. I had a huge health crisis that led to me not being able to walk for more than 10 minutes without entering a state of medical emergency known as rhabdomyolysis. Very long story short I spent the worst of it feeling disoriented, suffering with a lot of fatigue and pain and stressed by a medical system that was failing me repeatedly. I really felt like I wasn’t going to live for very long and the downward spiral that the head of neuromuscular sciences drew with his hand that was tactlessly supposed to represent my future was looming over me. I mean how disenfranchising can you get? I described earlier what I do when feeling overwhelmed and I did that here. I essentially spent the tiny amount of energy I had researching and poring over medical papers for any kind of clue that I could trial on myself. Eventually I discovered two areas that started making a difference and with the guidance of two experts in that area I started getting better and better. Today my life is pretty much back to normal, excepting strenuous activity like a hike or a marathon which can cause a flare up of symptoms. I’m actually healthier and happier than I’ve ever been in my life so I really have a big middle finger for that Doctor that suggested a horrible demise was all that was in store for me.
As cliché as it sounds, I realised I didn’t want to spend another second living in a way that wasn’t right for me. I was also in just enough of a privileged position to be able to quit my job and dive in the deep end. I have loved every minute since then and am so grateful that I can spend my days helping other people by creating the exact business that is their dream, not someone else’s. That sense of inner agency and giving yourself permission to ignore what other people think is possible for you and go and make yourself is such a big driver of my work.
As my business is built for me, how I work, what I love and what I want to be possible, rushing and hustle don’t even factor into that. I love that saying that whatever is meant for you won’t miss you. I think I’d add that when you’ve found what is meant for you it just keeps getting better and better.
Learn more about Melissa and Bonbo.