Why every social entrepreneur should meditate

Though his organisation Stepping Out, serial social entrepreneur Craig Dearden Phillips has made it his mission to transform public services for the better. It has not been plain sailing however. He explains why finding Headspace has been a lifeline.


It happened to me 18 months ago. I was in Australia taking a break. Burnout was stalking. I was three years into my business, Stepping Out, and things were not going to plan. I was in the 'Trough of Sorrow' that all entrepreneurs go through when the great idea is no longer looking so good – two new hires had bombed and our office in a fancy part of London was turning into the vainglorious mistake I had feared.  

Added to this, our competition was just getting better while we were standing still. Cash was running out and I faced three win-or-die tenders once back from vacation.

As you might imagine my mental state at the time wasn't good. My sleep was bad and I lost weight.  

My first few days by the pool with the kids were a welcome distraction. But my thoughts soon returned to what I might do to secure my business.

As you do in these situations, I was going round in frantic circles. Mentally I knew I was a bit fragile and had to watch it. Twenty years earlier I had ended up in the care of the NHS following a bad bout of anxiety and depression and I knew my triggers well.

Then I had a thought. 'You are here, at the other side of the world on holiday: why don't you learn how to meditate?'

Actually, to be truthful, this hadn't come from nowhere. I had tried meditation before and failed, partly in reaction to the Buddhist mumbo-jumbo that seemed to come with all meditation teaching.  

Then I discovered 'Headspace'. This was an app that seemed designed for busy people who are topped out with stress but don't want to sit on a mat chanting with a bunch of pony-tails. 

Hence Headspace. This app lets you learn to meditate where you want, when you want but, most importantly, in secret! People don't need to know. Or not until you want to tell them. Which in my case wasn't for quite a long time. This was part to do with my background – north-west, no-nonsense... and part because I didn't want anyone to know if I failed!   

So off I went. What happened? Three things to say. The first is that I got the hang of it really quickly. Meditation is a technique like learning to swim or ride a bike. Hard at first, easy once learned.  

The second is that it quickly becomes a necessity and you wonder how you managed without it. Don't get me wrong, it's not like taking drugs, all the same emotions swirl around, it's just that it's a bit like watching a storm out of the window rather than being soaked to the skin outside. 

The third is that, unlike I feared, it doesn't turn you into a stoner or rob you of your edge. Quite the opposite.

So what happened when I got back? I stopped waking up at four in the morning: that was a good start. Then, having trimmed my team and opened an office close to home in Cambridge, I set about winning those do-or-die tenders. The pressure was just as intense but I learned to relate to it all better.

Thankfully we won all three and have since kicked on to consecutive years of growth, profit and impact as a small galaxy of new public service mutuals were born with our support. The Trough of Sorrow had been truly escaped. All with the help of a little app called Headspace. 

To conclude, I say this to all Pioneers Post readers: setting up a business means a big hit on your coping mechanisms. You live with every emotion. Meditation is a tool to help you live better with those emotions and get through those times in one piece. For those of you with families and co-founders, meditation also makes you easier to live with too. More smiles, fewer shit-scenes.  

For all these reasons and more, every entrepreneur, social or otherwise, should get some Headspace!


Photo credit: Liz West