By day they boss boardrooms and run companies, yet end up eating cornflakes for dinner and ignoring their laundry. Stylist uncovers the fallibilities of high-flyers…
It started with a casual chat. Sitting around our desks in the Stylist office, one confession after another spilled out. “I couldn’t be bothered to cook last night so I had Weetabix for dinner,” “Well, I only managed pitta bread and hummus” and “I had Marmite on toast.”
Not earth-shattering but each disclosure came with a sense that we were revealing something a bit shameful, something that didn’t meet others’ expectations.
When the chat expanded into a discussion about the pros and cons of changing into pyjamas the moment you get home, we knew we were on to something: why, when we all work so hard, do we feel guilty that sometimes we let superwoman go and embrace our inner student? After all, who has the energy to be winning at life literally all the time. Do they? Surely we’re not the only ones?
So, we decided to explore what really goes on behind the public facade of successful people’s lives to discover their less-than-ideal habits. Comparing ourselves to others is a natural human reaction and not just the result of too much social media scrolling, according to a recent behavioural study published in the scientific journal Neuron. But comparison isn’t necessarily a destructive force.
Studies have shown that the the frontal cortex in the brain is responsible for what researchers call ‘self-other mergence’ (ie comparison with others) and that the more we empathise with successful people, the more successful and confident in our abilities we feel.
Empathy is in short supply in our society, but it’s especially hard to bring forth when we’re desperately covering up our fallibilities. Jealousy, disappointment and shame can be easier emotions to turn to. I know I’ve sometimes been guilty of pretending my life is wall-to-wall unicorns and rainbows, when it would be more truthful to admit that I’ve experienced some major stress, doubts and flapping among my perfect moments. And talking about that would be more honest and might strike a supportive chord with others. After all, what harm would revealing our lowbrow habits actually do? A moment of embarrassment, maybe, but in the long term it allows us to empathise with others who, let’s face it, are often in the same, slightly leaky boat.
So, in the interests of being real and ending the myth of endless perfection, four high-achieving women share the occasionally messy, lazy moments of their everyday lives…
“I have a dream kitchen but I eat cereal for dinner”
Emily Murray, 41, aka @pinkhouseliving, is an award-winning interiors entrepreneur from Edinburgh and author of Pink House Living. She has 63,700 Instagram followers and has designed a capsule collection of sofas
“My day starts well and finishes in a less admirable manner. I’m usually up at 6.30am
for a 5km run or a yoga class, then I’ll get stuck into my work emails. Right now, I’ve also got clients photographing a flower collection here because I rent my home as a shoot location.
Later in the day, I’ll meet a client, go to a brand’s press day or check in with my architect about renovations. My last bathroom was officially Pinterest’s ‘most pinned’ so I want to do something even better this time. While I’m out, I do a lot on social media as Instagram is the lifeblood of my business. I’ll pop in for evening drinks with another brand, then I finally get home.
So, do I feel like a fraud sitting in my kitchen – the same kitchen that topped decor bible Apartment Therapy’s list of favourite kitchens ever – eating cereal before bed? No. I never cook. Unless pouring milk over Special K, or occasionally Cheerios, counts. I know this doesn’t match with the image of someone who has built a whole business around creating a beautiful home, but the truth is that I don’t waste my time or energy doing things I’m rubbish at, like cooking. I focus on what I know I’m good at.
I realise that eating cereal for dinner isn’t necessarily the best way to stay on top of my game. I spent a week at The Body Camp last year, where we were educated on the importance of eating more vegetables and less sugar. Back home, I stocked up on seeds, quinoa, protein powder, goji berries and a whole host of other foodstuffs I’d never even heard of before. But then everyday life got on top of me again, the quinoa ran out and I went back to eating cereal for dinner.
I would like to eat more healthily, but it’s just not enough of a priority for me right now. In the meantime, eating a bowl of Fruit ’n Fibre with soya milk in the evenings makes me feel marginally more virtuous. The alternative is to exist solely on Pot Noodles, which doesn’t bear thinking about…”
“At work I perform complex operations, at home I can’t move for laundry”
Dr Anita Mitra, 33, is an NHS gynaecologist and obstetrician. She has written healthcare handbook The Gynae Geek, published over 30 academic papers and is an ambassador for cervical cancer charity The Eve Appeal
“There’s so much I want to do that I have become militant about microscheduling my time, and I set my alarm for 5.15am every day. First thing in the morning, I’ll either write for two hours before I leave for work or I’ll go to the gym. I can deadlift twice my body weight, which I’m really proud of. Exercise is a treat for me – it’s time away from my phone where I can relax, count my reps and let my head empty out. My body appreciates the workout, too. My job involves a lot of operating – hysterectomies, caesarean sections and surgery for ectopic pregnancies – which is essentially sitting still all day, so I need to move.
On my days off, I’ll usually work on one of my research papers. At the moment I’m looking at the vaginal microbiome in relation to HPV and cervical cancer – research which has the potential to save lives.
My life is not perfect, however. When I get home, my sloppy habit becomes clear. I can’t be bothered to do the laundry. My whole flat is full of laundry that never gets put away. I pick clothes up off a pile on the floor and put them on – job done. My boyfriend, who lives with me, regularly complains, ‘We can’t live like this!’
Well, we do. I’ll never get on top of my laundry and I honestly don’t care. There are a million and one things I’d rather do than iron my clothes. I know some people pride themselves on having perfectly clean and well-organised homes but that’s just not me and I don’t feel guilty about it.”
“I’m a technology trailblazer, but at the weekend I’m a couch potato”
Abadesi Osunsade, 31, is the co-founder of Elpha, an online network for women in tech, and she was recently hailed as one of the most influential leaders in her field. The author of Dream Big, Hustle Hard, she has helped thousands of women break into tech and further their careers
“I work 80 hours a week. I usually get up at 8.30am to go to the gym for an hour, then I’ll work until midnight or 1am because a lot of the Elpha community works in a different time zone in San Francisco.
When I’m not presenting workshops, recording my podcast Techish or travelling, most of my day is spent building our community network for women. I prepare the daily newsletter, manage all the social media content and I’m on a lot of calls with partner groups and my team. We have thousands of members all over the world who want advice on things like preparing for interviews or negotiating their salaries, and they are often dealing with serious issues.
Compared to 16-hour work days I am a complete couch potato at the weekend. I binge on Netflix and order a Domino’s American Hot pizza. Watching TV helps switch off my brain when I’ve been working all week. I love silly sitcoms like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, but my favourite show is Terrace House, a Japanese reality show that’s a bit like a zen Big Brother. In one episode, one of the housemates ate all of another guy’s meat and he was so upset that he cried.
In the past, I would have felt too ashamed to admit to my screen binges. I felt like there was always more I could be doing. There’s that feeling that, because I live in London, I should always be out eating at the newest restaurant or watching the latest play, but I’ve been burnt out before, so now I’m totally OK with doing nothing.
There is pressure to be a productive, perfectly manicured superwoman at all times, but that’s not who I am deep down. I have learnt the value of rest, relaxation and just being lazy. For me, self-care means being realistic, and the reality is that some days I don’t want to change out of my pyjamas.”
“I’m a successful osteopath and a secret scatterbrain”
Leah Hearle, 34, is the go-to registered osteopath for Olympic athletes and film stars. In addition to her own Harley Street clinic (leah.hearle.com), she is a medical acupuncturist and the team osteopath for West Ham FC
“You’d never know from first impressions that I can be disastrously scatty. My working life as an osteopath runs like a well-oiled machine. It helps that I’ve got to a point in my career where my schedule is organised for me by a team of clinic managers. Clients send cars to pick me up and take me to them. A food delivery service brings three healthy, macro- managed meals to my clinic every day. I have a personal trainer who looks after me too, because I have to be fit and physically strong to treat up to 30 patients a day. Everything is arranged to take the everyday pressures of life off me so that I can focus on doing my job to the highest level possible.
But left to my own devices, this all falls apart. Away from work I forget my keys, my purse, my phone. I’m often running late, getting flustered and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve managed to lock myself out of my own apartment. How is it so difficult for a grown woman to remember her key?
Once I got locked out in my bare feet. I had to run 10 minutes to my office shoe-less to pick up my spare key from my desk. Being locked out is a waste of time and energy. It makes me feel so stupid. That occasion was particularly embarrassing because I was going on a date afterwards, so I turned up sweaty and dishevelled.
Honestly, it’s a relief to admit I’m a secret scatterbrain. I have developed ways of dealing with it. If I forget my wallet while I’m out for a coffee I’ll use Apple Pay on my phone. If I lock myself out I can pop back to the office for the spare, if I’m late I’ll apologise. I think my problem stems from trying to fit an unrealistic amount of to-dos into one day. The amount of things I cram into every week is nuts. I had only one day off after my wedding. My friends were like, ‘Leah, just say no. Take time off.’ But I have this sense of responsibility and I just don’t want to miss out on doing everything that I love.”
A box for every occasion
After a hard day, these are the cereals you need depending on your mood…
Nostalgic: Coco Pops take you straight back to the days of rough books and Kirby grips. And there’s still nothing as satisfying as watching the milk turn chocolately. (Kellogg’s,
£1.50 for 295g)
Lazy: When you’re too tired to even find a bowl, just add milk to your chosen cereal (we’re calling Honey Cheerios) in the brand new Box Bowl of your choice and eat. (Nestlé, £2.10 for a 214g six pack)
Saintly: Deliciously Ella’s Bircher Muesli comes with apple, raspberry, chia and sunflower seeds and is gluten free. All health boxes ticked. (Waitrose & Partners, £3.99
Daring: Vegetables in your cereal? Primrose’s Kitchen has added beetroot, carrot and courgette to its 100% natural range of mueslis and granolas. (Ocado, £3.99 for 300g)
Jaded: “Now with magical unicorn marshmallows”: words you never thought you’d hear about your evening meal. Until Lucky Charms came along. (Urban Outfitters, £10 for 297g)
Images: Dennis Pedersen, Unsplash, supplied by case studies