'I know I can get back to being a confident businesswoman'


THE PROBLEM: Fifty-one-year-old artist Ann Dwyer feels “completely stuck” in her life. Seven years ago, while she was pregnant with her third child, she started separation proceedings from her husband. It took several years before the divorce was finalised, a period that was “emotionally and financially draining”. In this time she has raised her children alone and is surviving on benefits.

Through State support, interest-only payments and mortgage breaks she has managed to hold on to her house, but worries about how long that will continue.

In the past she ran a successful business but that folded around the same time as her relationship broke down. She says she has not been out of the house socially for most of the past three years.

“As a separated woman you are viewed differently by society; the invites dry up. My status as a single person is much lower than it was when I was one half of a couple,” she says.

She says she is too financially-strapped to have a social life anyway. After she has paid all her household bills, she has practically nothing left. Even so, eating healthily is a priority.

Because of the divorce she made sure the children received as much counselling and support as possible. “I knew looking after their emotional well-being was vital, and they can talk openly to me. They are doing very well at school so that is something I am happy about,” she says.

Ann wants to move on and to get off benefits but doesn’t see how she can without being able to afford childcare. “As a businesswoman all my life, the dream would be to start up a small business that would allow me to retain some of my benefits until I am back on my feet again,” she says.

Her friend organised an art exhibition for her a few years ago, which was a great success. “The exhibition was called Isolation because that is how I felt, and still feel, about my situation. I painted portraits of writers with my toddler on my lap – she actually scribbled on my portrait of young Samuel Beckett but it sold anyway. Working on the exhibition gave me back a sense of who I was and showed me I was capable of doing something. I need to get that sense of self back again,” she says.

Ann would like advice on some health issues. There has been recurring incidences of cancer in her family, which is a cause of concern for her, and as she approaches the menopause she is interested in what effect that might have on her physically and emotionally.

From a career perspective, as somebody with a strong entrepreneurial spirit she thinks that starting her own business is the best way forward now.

“I’ve been researching ideas and looking at what kind of small business might work, given the economic situation. I feel if I don’t do something in the next year or two, now that the children are a little bit older, I might miss a window of opportunity.

“I know that with support I can get back to being the strong, confident businesswoman I used to be. Despite everything, I am still optimistic that I can turn things around.”


The career coach

Jane Downes

Ann, you’re a rich combination of two people: an ex-business owner and a mother who cares profoundly about her children’s physical and emotional well-being. So how do you go about turning yourself into an ex-ex-business owner, without downgrading your commitment to your children? Let’s start with your experience with that art exhibition.

Would your business idea be linked to art? Is there a product or service, whether art-related or not, that might motivate you to run a business? “Product” and “service” are just horribly boring words for potentially enthralling things. Be bold and brainstorm. Identifying the right idea for you will equip you with the escape tools you need.

Perhaps you could run a small lifestyle business that would bring you in some money while also allowing you serious quality time at home with the kids? I’m thinking of an online business.

Alternatively, I would invite you to seriously consider getting a business idea moving with someone else. You wouldn’t have the hassle of running the actual business all by yourself, but you would still be able to deploy your entrepreneurial flair to the full. Also, your sense of social isolation over the past few years suggests to me that having a business partner you really trust could well make the difference between fear and freedom.

Have you explored getting involved in a hothouse project? If not, check out the investment funding section on dit.ie. Consider Enterprise Ireland (enterprise-ireland.com) too. They offer everything from mentoring to grant aid to equity investment. Business Innovation Centres (BICs) are also worth a good look. For training, Skillnets might be a good organisation to approach. They do well-run courses for business professionals who are unemployed. See skillnets.ie

I know people in similar situations to yourself who have had their self-esteem and their professional visibility raised wonderfully as a result of doing one of these courses. You won’t believe what you’re about to read, but what the heck: you need to see your current unemployment as a distinct advantage. Why? Because it grants you the opportunity to avail of a number of free services. And it gives you time to put some serious planning in for your next move. In the meantime, I would suggest contacting Mabs (Money Advice and Budgeting Service) for guidance on how to manage your financials while you’re new business idea is taking shape. See mabs.ie or tel: 1890 283 438.

- Jane Downes is the owner of Clearview Coaching Group and author of The Career Book – Help for the Restless Realist . See clearviewcoachgroup.com

The marriage and family therapist

Owen Connolly

Ann, with the very little you have, you have managed to keep your house and feed your children. The tone of your story is one of hope. You were a successful businesswoman, you are now a successful mother and a resourceful, positive woman. You can visualise yourself succeeding with a new business. Your optimism and confidence will get you through; of this I have no doubt.

That optimism needs to be encouraged, and your need for adult company needs to be addressed. You are saddened by the way a divorced woman can sometimes be shunned by others as though you are some sort of a threat, so friendships at this time are going to be most important. Perhaps you could spend some time cultivating relationships that have fallen by the wayside.

You say the counselling for the children was addressed. What concerns me is this service is available to the children for free, but not for you. Being the carer and mother, you need to find a place to deal with your own struggles. This is often addressed by being part of a support group which may be able to offer baby-sitting and company, such as One Family – see onefamily.ie.

You need adult company and like-minded people to whom you can express your ideas for your ambitions to really take shape. Seek out groups that will provide opportunities to meet with businesspeople who recognise what you can bring to the table.

Move forward with pride. Take this opportunity to really appreciate all that you have achieved, especially in meeting the needs of your children – their need for love, acceptance and encouragement. Try to see all this being reflected back at you.

This country needs people like you: resourceful, energetic individuals who have remained optimistic during the most challenging time of their lives. With all the problems you have had to cope with, you remain hopeful, and that undimmed optimism is one of your biggest assets at this time.

- Owen Connolly is a consultant psychologist and marriage and family therapist in private practice in Stillorgan, Co Dublin. See counsellor.ie

The nutritionist

Elsa Jones

Ann, even though you are on a tight budget, you still make healthy eating a priority for you and your family, which is wonderful. There has been many incidences of cancer in your family and I know this is a cause of concern for you. Not all health problems are avoidable, but you have more control over your health than you may think. What you eat and don’t eat has a powerful effect on your health, including your risk of cancer.

You are also approaching menopause and so the more proactive you are about your health now, the easier the transition should be.

A well-balanced diet is essential during the menopause as it enables the body to adjust automatically to the hormone changes. Consider these guidelines:

Choose legumes over meat: Beans, peas, and lentils are from a family of vegetables called legumes. They are a delicious and economical source of protein, fibre, B vitamins, iron, folate, magnesium and many phytonutrients, and should be consumed on a regular basis. Because of their high vitamin B and magnesium content, they help our bodies deal with and resist stress, which is very important as we age. Beans and lentils also have phytoestrogen properties, which means they can be particularly useful for alleviating menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes.

Eat a clove of garlic a day:Garlic earns its title as a superfood because it helps our bodies fight against infection and disease. It’s best to crush garlic and leave it stand for 15 minutes before adding it to your dish. This will trigger an enzyme reaction that boosts the healthy compounds found in garlic. It’s also best to add it towards the end of the cooking process to retain the maximum amount of flavour and nutrition.

Eat oily fish three times per week:Several studies have shown that regular consumption of oily fish dramatically reduces the risk of depression and Alzheimer’s disease.

Omega 3 also helps lower cholesterol levels and acts as an anti-inflammatory in the body, which means it can reduce joint pain.

Go Green:The likes of spinach, rocket, kale, broccoli and cabbage are powerful health promoters. Regular consumption of green leafy vegetables seems to be able to lessen our risk for many of the most common age-related diseases of the 21st century, including cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and even cancer. Aim to eat at least three portions per day.

Try mixing rocket and spinach leaves together with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for a tasty and super-nutritious side salad.

- Elsa Jones is a nutritional therapist and presenter of How Healthy are You?on TV3. See elsajonesnutrition.ie

The psychologist

Allison Keating

“Stuck” is a word that I hear very often at the clinic, Ann. It is such a horrible word, and when you feel like this, it really is very frightening. What is keeping you stuck? What changes would help you to move from feeling stuck to feeling able to adapt to your situation? From what you have said above it seems that a core element of your identity came from being a businesswoman. What did you get out of being a businesswoman? These are important questions to understand what drives you, and the values that mean something to you.

Examine this by writing the word “businesswoman” in the middle of page and write all the words and emotions that come instantly to mind. Don’t criticise or belittle any of those feelings.

It seems that you have worked very hard to maintain a healthy and emotionally sound home for your children. How has the struggle been for you though? You seem to have lots of abilities and strengths, and to be able express yourself like that is very profound.

You seem to be feeling under pressure to set up this new business now. I would advise you to take time, plan what you want to achieve and do it for yourself and your family. Time-pressure and feeling uncomfortable being dependent on State benefits can be intrinsic motivators for you, but don’t feel you have to move immediately, as you need to put a good business plan in place and, as the sole provider, it needs to work ergonomically with your life.

I think a boost to your self-confidence is needed and perhaps this may not need to come from being a businesswoman – look at all you have achieved so far. Keep up the good work and build some self-care in for yourself as well.

- Allison Keating is a registered psychologist and the director of the BWell Clinic in Malahide, Co Dublin. See bwell.ie

Ann's reaction

“Jane, as you say I do need to find the balance with work and time with the children. You have given me a lot of useful information and interesting ideas that I will certainly follow up and maybe I will come across something of interest which will help towards setting up a business.

“Owen, thanks for reminding me that I now need to look after myself, and I will seek out onefamily.ie and hopefully some like-minded company.

“Elsa, I will start choosing legumes over meat. This information will keep me motivated to continue eating healthy food which I really have to do because of the cancer risk in the family. I am very happy with the information on the right foods to eat coming up to menopause and I’m starting right now.

“Allison, you have it so right. I will follow your advice not to pressurise myself as you’re right, it has to fit in with the time I spend with my children. You also pointed out that I have achieved a lot during a difficult time and that has boosted my confidence because I really had not thought about it that way before.”

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