June last year we got the devastating news that this legend of a man had an incredibly rare form of kidney cancer that was terminal and meant he had no more than a few months. I left my family in Carmarthenshire and moved back to my childhood home of Northumberland to be his 24/7 carer, and that has been life for the past 13-14 months.
To say it has been challenging would be a gross understatement. Managing a company that can easily consume 18 hours of my day with the demands of an increasingly poorly man has been hard, but more emotionally grueling than physical. It is devastating to see someone you love so much, someone who throughout your life, has been your most honest critic but also your most fiercely loyal fan, literally waste away before your eyes.
Pretending to the outside world that all is good when you’re not just dropping spinning plates, you’re smashing them; your standards are slipping; you’re letting people down; you’re doing everything half measure; and something you’ve worked sooooo hard for is not getting an ounce of the attention it needs to flourish.
Throughout my almost 30 years in business, I’ve maintained a very firm delineation between business and personal life, a belief that to share too much would be unprofessional, and that clients, partners, and colleagues are interested in Andrea Collins of Global Trade Department, rather than the real ‘me’. But these last 13-14 months have been been unprecedented in terms of the sheer stress they have imposed on me both mentally and physically. I found myself having to be honest with those in my professional world and say that all was not OK; not to do so could lead them to believe that I was simply no longer invested in my company and them, and nothing could ever be further from the truth. The response, understanding, and empathy I have received in return is so overwhelming, it can often lead me to tears. I have been both staggered and comforted by support that has sometimes come from the least expected places.
This isn’t a ‘woe is me’ story. Yes, I am emotionally and physically drained most days. Yes, I have had to pass on work to associates that I’d really like to be doing myself. Yes, I’ve had to opt out of bidding for projects. Yes, I’ve had to apologise profusely more times than I ever thought I’d have to when I haven’t been able to meet a deadline or do a call. But the knowledge that the day my life returns to normal and I can be united again full time with my husband and son, will be the day that this most amazing man is no longer in my life, well, it’s almost unbearable to think about.
Rather than ‘woe is me’, this story is actually one of realisation and immense gratitude. The realisation that however successful and driven we are, we are all basically just ‘people’ that often share common life experiences, and the compassion and empathy that exists among us is really quite astonishing, it has certainly been a great source of strength for me. And gratitude. I am so grateful for the amazing clients, partners, and colleagues who have supported me. I am beyond grateful that this ‘Old Man’ as I call him, has beaten the odds by 8 months so far and turns 80 on Saturday, a milestone worthy of celebration for anyone, but never more so for him. I’m immensely grateful for the special moments we’ve shared; always a Daddy’s Girl, I thought we’d said everything all before, but it seems we can always find more to discuss and debate!
Global Trade Department is my absolute passion, its clients and how we can better support them is never out of my thoughts. It will once again get my undivided attention and long days; the sad reality being that day is painfully not so far in the future now. But I’ve realised I can never get this precious time back with my Dad, I need to cherish it, and it’s OK to stop beating myself up about not being able to fit the equivalent of a 40-hour day into 24.
So to my amazing clients, partners, and colleagues, I thank you so much for your support and kind words. To my amazing Dad who has fought so bravely, I salute you, you are a true inspiration. And to my younger self, who knows what you may have missed out on in business through not sharing more of ‘you’?