Melissa MacGowan’s life changed dramatically due to the early onset of menopause. Wanting to help others, she left her corporate role to launch the Meno Collective, which partners with workplaces to provide menopause education and resources. Here, she shares the lessons she has learned from doing it differently.
What inspired you to launch your own business?
At 44, I had complete burnout. I had no idea that I was suffering from the early onset of menopause and was spending entire nights awake and full days sobbing in bed with no idea of the cause. I quit my big corporate job (after building it for 20 years) for the sake of my health, my family, and my sanity, as there seemed like no other alternative. It got me thinking, though. If there was no help for me, then I should help other women struggling with menopause. The outcome was the Meno Collective.
Starting a business takes courage. What obstacles did you have to overcome?
Self-belief in my ability to do something on my own. It’s a very different mindset than when a third party is responsible for your paycheck. That and the fact that I could earn enough to support our family (I’m the main breadwinner).
Whilst the UK is going great guns with recognising and supporting menopausal women in the workplace, Australia is a long way behind. I’ve been on a steep learning curve on menopausal education and building a strong network of like-minded women to get behind my initiative. It often feels like eat, repeat, sleep, eat, repeat, sleep when you have the same conversations again and again.
What challenges have you faced running your business, and how did you resolve them?
Deciding what to do first is a big challenge. When you’re an ideas person who is used to having an entire team to implement strategies and plans, and then suddenly it’s just you, you have to focus hard and quickly. What are the priorities? What shall I do first? What’s going to make me enough money to pay the bills? What are the short-term wins, and what shall I put into the long-term plan?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Menopause affects half the population, and as soon as you start talking to other women, you realise they want to learn more too. Collect some great minds and make them part of your team, even if they are voluntary to start with, and keep the best ones for later on in the permanent squad. If you don’t ask, you don’t get, and most people want to invest at least some of their time into a project that gives back.
What achievement/s you are most proud of and why?
My four kids, no question. Being married to a man that supports my decisions and has my back. Quitting the big job. Having girlfriends around me that say, “you’ve got this”. I am empowering women to own their menopause experience. I am talking about menopause on LinkedIn. It’s terrifying and liberating!
Have you ever experienced imposter syndrome? How did you address it?
Often and I still do. Dealing with the inner jerks in our heads is ongoing work. The new level-new devil, as they say. I have learned to embrace ‘progress, not perfection’. The discomfort is real. I walk the talk, remembering I’m one of the women I coach in leadership and tell myself the same things I tell them. It definitely helps, and you can’t argue with your own reflection!
Who has been your biggest champion on your journey, and how did they help you?
Stewart, my husband of 25 years, partner in crime, father of our four kids, home-maker, calming influence, sounding board, devil’s advocate, supporter, defender and all other things needed in a champion. He never says “no”, there is always a solution to a challenge, and his mantra is, to say “yes” to every question; there’s nothing lost from trying something new.
What skills do you believe women must have to succeed as a leader?
Tenacity, resilience, energy, enthusiasm, honesty and compassion.
Work/life balance can be difficult. What are your ‘tricks of the trade’?
I don’t work between 6 am, and 9 am; that’s a rule not to be broken. That time is family time, meditation if I can, exercise if I can, and anything else that needs doing that is non-work focused. That way, even when the day careens out of control, I’ve had those first three hours to help restore a little balance.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
Maybe, probably, definitely. But there’s no point ruminating or over-analysing. I have made plenty of mistakes and will continue to.
I have to be uber-aware of where I spend my energy. looking back, we can only go forward.
A good friend of mine says, “life is like a car journey. There’s no point thinking about the old guy who pulled out on you or the traffic light you just jumped. Put your focus on the road ahead, the vehicles and potential obstacles around you and find your way through. That’s what will get you to the destination”.
Melissa MacGowan’s Top 3 Leadership Lessons Learned:
1. Motivate yourself through compassion, not criticism.
2. Manage energy, not just time.
3. Hormone changes impact health, work and life.
© Laini Bennett, MBA