A Meltdown and a Retreat


It was my birthday yesterday (yay!) and I am now the grand old age of 35. Woolf Works is also turning the grand old age of 1 in a week or so, so it feels like a particularly poignant time. This year has really been the cliché entrepreneur’s rollercoaster – big highs of accomplishment with big lows of ‘what the hell have I gotten myself into’.


This last month or two particularly has been tough on me and in the interest of ‘keeping it real’ I’m going to be honest about what I have been going through – because I know behind all the happy social media photos we all go through crap times.


I had a bit of a burn-out last month, though probably no one else knew it. It’s amazing how conditioned we are at keeping up a façade isn’t it?


My burn-out was caused by a multitude of factors including:

  •  working on a bunch of different things simultaneously and without enough planning or support
  •  not packing lunches or snacks for work and so either not eating, or eating takeout
  •  no exercise
  •  not enough sleep
  • two kids who were fighting constantly
  • a husband on a on a long overseas trip
  • over-scheduling myself

It ended in a lot of tears.

But, most importantly, it also ended in a great chance to reassess how I was doing things, which was obviously unsustainable.

Once the tears had passed and I realised it was time to make some changes – some of which are short term, some are long term:


  •   Taking control of my work by extensive list making, project-based organization, deadlines and identifying what I can delegate, what is urgent and what is just going to have to wait. I’m also exploring automation and creating pathways and forms that require less input for me while getting the right information out.


  •  Seeing a nutritionalist to help with food planning, learn about healthy snacks to fuel long days at work, to learn about healthy menu choices when I am eating out, and to get some accountability and track what I am eating.


  •   Seeing a therapist. Yes. Here I am, saying it out loud. And you know what, it feels great to have an outlet and to learn skills to deal with unhelpful thought patterns and negativity.


  •    Limiting nights out to two per week and learning how to say ‘No’. There are so many great events on, so much I want to be part of and so many people I want to meet! But if I want to be healthy and effective I need to have sleep. I already have a 2 year old keeping me up – I don’t need to be out till midnight all week on top of that.


  •    Exercising when I can. Last year I went hardcore – personal trainer three times a week, running two or three times a week. I’m kind of all or nothing with exercise and the last three months it’s been nothing. Now I’m finding an in-between, something manageable and much less stressful. A swim one morning, a 3 km run the next evening, or a yoga class at lunch time.


The last, and quite possibly the best thing I’m doing: A weekend retreat.

I’m writing this from a hotel room in Singapore, tucked away from the world. I have a pile of books, some writing projects and my running shoes. I plan to sleep and read a lot and I have been looking forward to this for weeks. It was time for me to get off the frantic bullet train of life and have some time out for me.


I’m learning that one of the greatest gifts of getting older is getting to know myself better. Learning my triggers for over eating or not eating, learning to give myself structure to stop the overwhelm and learning that ‘good enough’ can be enough – I don’t need to be perfect.


Have you taken a personal retreat? How do you cope with overwhelm?


We have two retreats coming up with Woolf Works this year – the first is a Writers Retreat, dates to be announced – a long weekend close by to Singapore with lots of time to write, share, have a massage, write some more and make new friends over dinner and drinks in the evening. Interested? We’ll be limiting the numbers so email me at michaela@woolfworks.sg to be on the first invite list.

The second retreat is to Bhutan where we will be working on mindfulness and self leadership. It will be in either November or March. Lots more info available here and you can register your interest here.

Always great to know your thoughts and feedback. Drop me a line anytime (though forgive me if I don’t reply immediately, I’m taking that email pressure of myself too!)


A Day in the Life

A Day in My Life  – pre-Woolf Works

6.30am: Alarm goes off with message ’30mins early morning writing time!’. I try to extricate myself from Baby T sleeping on my arm but fail. Lie awake for fifteen minutes thinking brilliant things I could have been writing about which I will instantly forget as soon as I stand up.

6.45am: Big sister comes storming into the room, throwing the door wide with a shout of ‘IT’S MORNING’. Baby T is now definitely awake.

8.45am: Right. Big Sister is at school. Baby T is playing quietly. NOW IS MY TIME. I slink into the home office with a cup of tea and straight away notice the giant pile of random papers that need filing away. I really must have a clean desk before I can get into writing.

9.30am: Baby T is crying and I’ve been lost in a wormhole of filing / working out if I paid last months phone bill / re-labeling the folders since we changed banks AND phone companies last month.

10.45: Baby T is happily napping. My mother skypes from New Zealand and wants me to sneak in to his room so she can watch him sleep.

11.15am: Right. Lets get into this. No more mucking around. Fresh page. Nice pen. I’m free writing to find an angle for my next short story.

11.25am:Baby T is awake.

11.30am: He is well rested and fed so surely he will play nicely just there next to me and I can get some work done.

11.32am: What’s that smell?

11.33am: Nappy change

11.40am: Baby T shuts his finger in the drawer and screams like banshee.

11.45am: Time to go for a walk, I need some fresh air.

1pm: Baby is in the safe hands of our helper, Siony. Time to get to work. I write a power list of three things I need to get done. One. Reply to five emails. check. Two. Back into free writing. I’m feeling the flow.

1.45pm: Doorbells rings and the Singapore Dengue Police want to have a serious discussion about the state of my flowerpots. I’m also under strict instructions to remove a banana tree which is apparently a mosquito paradise.

2pm: Back to my desk, spend twenty minutes googling Dengue symptoms and trying to alleviate mother-guilt.

2.20pm: Start to put together a framework for a short story. Vaguely remember a brilliant twist I’d thought of this morning when a courier rings the doorbell.

3pm: Think about putting together a website for my work but feel lost about where to start. What is a domain host anyway?

3.15pm: Big sister is home from school with two grazed knees and lots of tears.

4pm: Baby T throws Big Sister’s favourite My Little Pony into the toilet. World War Three commences. I give up on getting anything else written for the day.

8pm: Kids are sleeping. I’m exhausted. Still haven’t been for a run. I go to bed with my laptop, Netflix and a glass of wine and set my alarm for 6am with the note ‘Must get up! 30mins quiet writing time!’

A day in my life – post-Woolf Works

6am: Wake up – have perfected the art of extricating myself from Toddler T’s arm so I stealthily escape, throw on running clothes and head out the door.

7.30am: Breakfast with kids, shower, dress.

8.30am: Drop Big Sister at school, Toddler T at Play School, head into Woolf Works.

9am – 11.30am: Work quietly and productively on current projects with a  coffee break and chat to a fellow member about which CRM systems are best.

12noon – Pick up Toddler T from play school, have some cuddle time.

1 – 3pm: Back into Woolf Works, have amazing Vietnamese Pho from a local restaurant while writing and editing.

4pm – 4.30pm: Meet some potential new members and show them around the space.

4.30pm: Meet a local business owner who wants to collaborate

6pm: Home for dinner, bath and bed for kids.

8pm: Glass of wine and chat with my husband

9pm: In bed with a book to read.

Woolf Works is a shared work space for women located on Joo Chiat Rd, Singapore. The concept came as a direct result of my years of of frustration, distraction  and loneliness as a stay-at-home mum / student / amateur writer / entrepreneur dreamer from 2008 to 2013. Woolf Works is a quiet, calm, distraction-free space for women to work productively and find community. Email info@woolfworks.sg for more information.

Sorry, but could you possibly, when you have a minute, read this blog post?


Read This.

Which sounds better?


The other day I sent my sister an SMS. This is my sister, not a work colleague, a boss, or a stranger – my sister. It read-

“When you get a chance can you please send me the height and width of that bookcase and I’ll try to sort out a pick-up xx”

I sent it. While I waited for a reply I scanned my message again. Hang on, I’ve done it again, I thought.

I struggle with passive, weak language. It slips out of my mouth without warning, it hides in my smses and emails. I’ve actively tried, in the last few years, to be more direct and firm. To simply state what I want without apologizing. I am getting better, but obviously still have a way to go. So why didn’t I send her a message more like this:

“Hey sis, send me those bookcase dimensions and I’ll organize a pick up. Thanks.” ?

Still polite and friendly, but direct and clear. There’s a few reasons. And its common to many women. Judith Baxter, author of The Language of Female Leadership researched women in UK board rooms over an 18 month timeframe and discovered women are four times more likely than men to use weak language and to second guess themselves. Why do we do this?

  • To avoid conflict
  • To downplay our own power
  • To be liked

Who do men not feel the need to gain approval from their audience? Why do they feel comfortable with their own power?

My guess its that it is years of practice and habit. These things are inculcated over years of watching our mothers, fathers and teachers. They are learnt as teenagers, reading magazines and watching movies. As teens we love to copy, to play roles and we pick up language nuances subconsciously. Eventually those roles become part of our persona. We daren’t be the bossy, brash one; we are terrified of being cast out of the group.

To be an effective leader, business owner and role model to my daughter and son, I am making a commitment to change these habits. To stand strong with my own power and to believe in myself and my needs. I am not a teenager playing roles, I am my own person and my words have value and power. I want my daughter to see this strength.


So whats my action plan?

To start by observing:

Listen to myself and others. Be hyperaware of language.

Re-read my SMSes and emails closely.

And then edit.

Edit myself – think before speaking.

Edit my emails and SMSes – scan each and every one and remove passive, meaningless words.

There are a few usual suspects. Words that slip easily into the conversation, words that belittle and reduce our own power without us even realizing it:


“I’m just going to pop down to the shops.”

“I’d just like to thank everyone for coming today.”

Why just? Why not be direct?

“I’m off to the shops.”

“Thank you for coming today.”

Doesn’t it sounds more confident, more credible?



It’s nice to apologize if you’ve made a mistake or arrived late to a meeting. But sometimes we apologize for no reason whatsoever.

This is from Jessica Bennett’s article on Time.com:

“Once, I was my trying to leave a bookstore and my way was blocked by a woman who was sitting on the floor,” screenwriter Nell Scovell tells me. “I hesitated and was about to turn around when she noticed and started to get up. ‘Sorry,’ she said, because she’d been blocking my path. ‘Sorry,’ I said, because I made her move. Then she bumped another woman who turned around and said, you guessed it, ‘Sorry.’ Three grown women all apologizing to each other for no reason in under five seconds.



I use ‘maybe’ all the time:

“Maybe we should go out to dinner this weekend.”

“Maybe I’ll go and have a shower quickly before we leave.”

Remove those ‘maybe’s’ from the beginning of the sentence and the words sing out clear and true – I want to go out to dinner, I want to have a shower, so why add those unnecessary words?!



As above – a really unnecessary power stealer that sits at the beginning of our sentences.

“I think I need to get a haircut.”

“I think we need to relook at the financials before making a decision.”

Take out ‘I think’ and these sentences are strong and direct.


The small changes we make can have large effects when they ripple out. Small changes in language can help you feel stronger and more confident.

Since I’ve made the transition to full time working mum, from stay at home mum, I’ve had to force myself to put MY needs first. If I have to stay late or go to a function – the household is going to have to deal with that.

Since I have started being more direct I have discovered it is easier to put myself first, to feel confident in my power and my journey – and to realize my value as a nourished, working mother to my kids.

I hope that as I continue with my conscious observation and editing, this confidence will continue to grow and take roots in all other aspects of my life.


What is your experience with passivity and weak words?

Take time to observe your language for a couple of days and see where you can improve.

Let me know how it goes!


Further reading:





Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In – esp. pages 26 – 30


Sunday Reads

I had a motherhood fail today – I took the kids to a waterplay park, already wearing their swimmers and swim nappies and forgot to take any other clothes. Good times.

I then had two shivery, un-nappied and unhappy kids jiggling around and dropping towels while waiting for Sunday lunch takeaways from the fried rice stall. Felt like an excellent mother alright. Perhaps it’s something to do with transitioning to a fulltime working mum about two months ago, I seem to have forgotten all the basics for outings. Now they are dressed, napped, fed and actually playing quietly and I am enjoying a cup of tea and some Sunday reading..

E-commerce friends will like this one, though many of these apply to all businesses:

41 pieces of advice from e-commerce retailers

A lovely piece of writing that will resonate with those living far from home or even just frequent travelers:

A Place That Will Stay Within Me

Fantastic profiles of Australian women in business:

Browse by Location

Planning a trip to Bali in October to listen and learn at

The Ubud Writers Festival (anyone want to join me?)


What are you reading this Sunday?