Grace Graham | MAKERS + Be Bold, London

Grace Graham | MAKERS + Be Bold, London

Video Transcript

GRACE GRAHAM: Welcome, everybody. It's a pleasure to be here today. I'll just lower this slightly. A pleasure to be here and a pleasure to be a part of this incredible initiative. My name is Grace Graham. I'm the founder of WorkSpa, a workplace well-being company. And we provide organizations with mental health and physical health initiatives to support employees well-being at work.

I founded the business a few years before the pandemic. And during that time, we supported over 200 corporations across the UK with a range of different initiatives such as DLA Piper, HSBC, and Fujitsu to name a few. We thankfully survive the pandemic. And we're now back supporting our clients with a team of over 15 wellness experts who deliver our services. Our mission really is to provide holistic and inclusive well-being solutions to organizations so they can deliver and develop more authentic and wholesome approaches to well-being at work.

My life has changed dramatically. And I had to overcome much adversity to get to this point today. As a teenager following the death of my father, I was raped. And a few years later my boyfriend was tragically murdered. I spent the next 12 years of my life addicted to substances in order to numb the pain of my experience. I became incredibly good at hiding from my pain that I seemed to convince everybody that I was OK, as if somehow if I could continue to hide from my feelings, perhaps it would all go away.

At the age of 26 I decided it was time to move through my pain and not out of it. Quite literally I was sick and tired of getting out of my head. At this point was when I was introduced to the Prince's Trust, an incredible charity set up by King Charles III to help young people in reaching their potential. The interaction with the Prince's Trust was a pivotal moment in the changing of my life.

See, when you're a carer for sick parents, your needs are not always met. And with the dark places that my substance misuse took me to, I developed incredibly low self esteem. My interaction with the mentors at the Prince's Trust actually gave me an opportunity to be seen. They didn't see a woman who was suffering from addiction. And they didn't allow me to be defined by that. Instead, they saw a woman with great potential and nurtured that potential until I was able to believe in myself. Just imagine for the first time in over 15 years somebody actually saw me.

My amazing mentor at the Prince's Trust, Chris Letcher, continues to guide me in stepping out of my comfort zones and not being determined or defined by my experience. There is great empowerment in being seen past the expectations that we hold of ourselves, the opportunity to be seen in a greater light allows you to break down barriers and step into your true potential. I had two options when faced with this opportunity to change my life. I could either stay in a state of unconscious pain or wake up and take responsibility for my well-being.

So I decided to do that and I checked myself into rehab and got clean. With this newfound confidence and self belief, I was encouraged to become an ambassador for the Prince's Trust. This role took me across the globe, talking about my life to help raise more money to give back to the charity. Over that time I raised 400,000 pounds to support the organization in supporting more young women like me.

Before I talk any more about my business, I would love to share a few words about my incredible mother, Jane, an activist and ally. As a young child she shared with me the incredible stories of many women who fought for our liberation like the suffragettes and Harriet Tubman. Those stories started to resonate with me and I started to question what I wanted my legacy to be. A story of continued pain or one of transformation and change. My mother passed away four years ago and it is her stories and her legacy that continue to carry me.

So this is where my second life began. I'm incredibly passionate about giving people the opportunity to be seen and creating a more wholesome and holistic approaches to their health. Since 2016, we surveyed over 7,000 employees across the UK and when we asked women what they felt was a barrier to their success, many said having a relatable role model was crucial to success but also seeing women doing it made them believe that they could. As a female CEO and ambassador for the Prince's Trust, I believe it is my responsibility to empower women, especially women of color, to know that we can be in all spaces.

I am determined to give women the opportunity to be seen through my story and know that no matter your starting point, change is possible. It's bold to question the spaces we are in and be brave to do something about it. Whether that is to be a good ally to somebody or a colleague at work or to just take time to understand somebody else's experience no matter how different from yours without judgment. To not fear, but step into it and lean into it and ask questions. It's incredibly important for me when creating my team of wellness experts that they come from diverse backgrounds so that we can really understand the diversity of employee's well-being needs in organizations.

So I suppose my life experience has taught me a lot. And I really do believe that we have to kind of recognize and embrace our own imperfections. And in doing so, recognize and understand the imperfections in others.

My life has taught me that we do have to face our pain. We have to face our fears and insecurities. And for many of us, that can be incredibly painful. But what I have learned is if you can find time for introspection this is a key part to your healing journey. So I suppose quite simply what I am saying is that we really need to get to know ourselves in order to start the healing process, which can, of course, take time.

Being still has been a huge part of my journey, taking time to meditate and just have moments of stillness throughout the day has enabled my feelings and my experiences to catch up with me. I suppose I'm learning to embrace change and it's discomfort. And grief has been a huge part of my journey. A change that will, of course, never get easy.

For me, grief has been like a wave. You know, sometimes you're bobbing along just fine and then all of a sudden you're knocked off your feet, overwhelmed. Life has taught me that nothing is for certain and change is constant. But if you are rooted in your foundation, you can never be swayed.

To end, I would like to recite a poem from one of my favorite activists and poets, Maya Angelou. "You will face many defeats in life, but never let yourself be defeated. It is perhaps necessary to encounter such defeats to work out who you truly are. If we can be bold enough to move through our pain, perhaps we can be kindly surprised with who we meet on the other side." Thank you.