The freedom to be myself

I’m meeting Milda, nutritional therapist and emotional eating specialist with her own practice – Nutrition Path. We’re at the Rye Bakery, one of several ‘hot spots’ for entrepreneurs in Frome. This beautiful converted chapel also caters to parents of preschoolers, yoga fans, and as the name suggests, bakes delicious sourdough bread and other tasty food daily. Milda arrives and luckily she’s as hungry as me, so we decide to share a veggie tortilla and salad while we’re chatting.

I had a gut feel about interviewing Milda, but what exactly was it that convinced me that she could share some wisdom about happiness at work? I noticed straight away that Milda had a strong sense of meaning and purpose in the work that she does – within a few minutes she had told me about her own struggles with binge eating, and how her search for answers had led her to train as a nutritional therapist and help other women overcome emotional eating issues.

Milda learned through several job changes in her 20s that unlike her colleagues who were willing to ‘suck it up’, she was different and wanted to stay that way. She realised that it was important to her to have the freedom to be herself at work.

The road to fulfillment often isn’t smooth though, and Milda went through some rocky patches. Having studied hospitality management, she got a job in London at a Michelin starred restaurant. That might sound glamorous, until you imagine working 60 hours a week in a basement with no natural light. Then factor in the fact that it’s a hierarchical structure where those at the bottom of the pile are literally fed kitchen scraps while the managers eat gourmet food, and where being shouted at is the norm, and maybe you’ll see it differently.

A combination of stress at work, panic attacks, late nights and low self esteem compounded by a destabilising relationship break up resulted in Milda turning to binge eating. “I didn’t know what self care was in those days,” she explains. “I wasn’t even taking proper breaks – when I wasn’t working I was studying for my sommelier exams.”

Thankfully, Milda’s love of learning and personal development meant that she soon took steps towards recovery, and making self-care a priority. Reading the Dalai Lama’s book ‘Art of Happiness’ and taking a regular yoga class came first, and she was open to trying therapy or counselling, the only stumbling block was the money.

Signing up for some counselling sessions turned out to be a smart move for Milda in more ways than one – she realised that although her counsellor was very professional and there was value in exploring her past and relationship issues, she also needed to know the practical steps to take to change her habits, which was not something her counsellor addressed at all. This realisation of course was what put her firmly on the path to becoming a nutritional therapist and learning to coach women to change their own food habits.

Do you know someone like Milda, whose work relates very clearly to key life events and personal experience? In the broad spectrum of the ‘helping professions, wouldn’t we all look for a therapist who can relate to what we’re going through? Would you open up to a marriage counsellor who’d never been in a committed relationship? Or see a financial advisor who was short of cash?

Nutritional therapy is quite a new career field, and many people assume it’s simply a ‘talking therapy.’ In fact it’s the combination of coaching and scientific research, as well as marketing, that makes it a great fit for Milda. She enjoys keeping up to date with the latest research on nutrition – a necessary part of being a member of the British Association for Applied Nutrition (BANT) and she also enjoys the creativity of marketing; “Seventy percent of my time is spent building my business, so I feel lucky that I really enjoy that part!”

Is there such a thing as an ‘ideal’ job? Milda says she doesn’t have it… yet. “It might not help that I’m a recovering perfectionist,” she laughs. Now that she’s discovered the value of self-care and work-life balance, Milda is very aware of her tendency to overwork. “My partner is a fabulous support to me in that way, he helps me to switch off at weekends.”

Milda explains that having experienced an eating disorder helps her to empathise with her clients, but that it’s also important to disassociate herself from that in order to really help her clients. Now in the second year of running her own practice, she does regular yoga and meditation, and tunes in to hear what her body is telling her, a key strategy that she teaches clients in order to get back in control of their eating.

We walk down the hill towards the town centre, returning to our daily routines – Milda to her home office to finish off some marketing work, and me to the supermarket to find something tasty for tonight’s dinner.

Reflection questions:

What is the culture of your workplace? Does it reflect who you are or do you feel you need to change yourself in order to fit in?

Steve Jobs once talked about ‘joining the dots backwards’. What are some of the important ‘dots’ (or life events) that have led you to the work that you now do?

Which skills do you most enjoy using at work? Are you a specialist (you prefer using a small number of related skills) or a generalist (you prefer ‘multi-tasking’ or getting a balance between say desk and people-focused work)?

If you, like Milda, have found happiness at work, I would love to hear from you and interview you for the blog. Or, if you’re feeling trapped by your job and wondering what to do next, perhaps I can help? I am a bit of a geek when it comes to researching happiness at work. I trained as a solution focused coach and help people learn to ‘futuresurf’ – navigate the waves and find ‘flow’ through meaningful work.

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