Life Lessons Part 5: Sarah Wood, Isy Suttie & Bella Younger on what every woman should know

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Life upgrades from three wise women: entrepreneur Sarah Wood, comedian Isy Suttie and Bella Younger, aka Deliciously Stella, will transform your life

Photography: Gemma Day

We’ve been proudly shining the spotlight on inspirational women with valuable wisdom to share ever since Stylist launched in 2009. And our fifth (and undoubtedly funniest) Life Lessons event was no exception. 

On Wednesday 9 March in Soho’s Ham Yard Hotel, we invited three particularly inspirational women to reveal the one pearl of wisdom they want all women to know. Hugely popular satirical Instagrammer Bella Younger (aka Deliciously Stella) and comedian, author and Peep Show actress Isy Suttie as well as Sarah Wood, co-founder of successful social video advertising company, Unruly, took to the stage to share their empowering advice in front of an eager audience of Stylist readers. 

A prominent theme was the importance of happiness. For Younger, this meant not comparing yourself to the seemingly perfect lives of women on social media (“People always Instagram the holiday, not the delayed flight,” she said), while Suttie explored the power of letting go of what you can’t control. And Wood encouraged us to cultivate a positive work environment and never underestimate the power of a smile. 

As always, it was an incredibly uplifting and awe-inspiring evening, one that made you want to high five the woman sitting next to you. But for those of you who couldn’t be there, we’ve picked the most life-affirming lessons to share with you here…

Isy Suttie: “Don’t worry about what you can’t control”

Isy Suttie, 37, is a stand-up comedian, author of The Actual One and Sony Radio Gold Award winner for her Radio 4 show Pearl And Dave. She’s best known for her role as Dobby in Channel 4’s Peep Show

When I first started doing stand-up, I was offered a 20-minute late night show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in front of a rowdy audience of stag and hen dos. One night, I was halfway through my set and someone in the audience shouted, “You’re sh*t, I’ll pay you £20 to leave the stage.” I felt incredibly angry and humiliated. But, then I remembered that no-one really makes money at the Fringe and this was technically being paid to do stand-up, so I took the cash. When I went back to my dressing room I burst into tears, angry about how I’d lost control of the situation. It rocked my confidence. However, later I reaslied that there was a lot that I could control, for example, changing my routine or my time slot. The next time I went to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I booked an afternoon show, a smaller room and changed my set. Forget about what you can’t control and act on what you can. 

If you have a platform, whether that’s in a meeting or in a presentation, don’t do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable – you can say what you like. For years, I tried doing comedy material that pandered to the audience because I wanted to give them what I thought they wanted to hear. For example, I once had a routine that ended with the demeaning line, “I’m a bit of a slag,” which I hated saying. Since then I’ve learnt that stand-up is like any other job. In stand-up you are supposed to make people laugh, but in a presentation you’ve still got the floor – you can do what you want. 

I often find that when I’m worried about something, I start thinking about all the possibilities that could happen. If a situation is concerning you at work or a health problem has been playing on your mind for weeks, put yourself at ease and do something about it. If you see on Facebook that someone has a new job that you would’ve loved, have a cup of tea, go for a walk and think what you can do to help you get closer to the chance of getting that job. Don’t let worries invade your mind and stop your creativity – take action.

My mum once wrote my internet dating profile for me, describing me as “feisty, sassy and curvy,” which are horrendous euphemisms. She even added, “I like walks… maybe more.” On the subject of control, don’t let your mum have control over your dating profile. 

I used to have an idea of the ideal guy I wanted to end up with and would try to mould boyfriends into this. My list of the perfect man in the Nineties included: rarely mixes up ‘you’re’ and ‘your’, doesn’t use moisturiser and abides by but doesn’t care for dogs, horses, farmers’ markets and the sea – the sea is too smug. But, when I met my boyfriend I realised you can have an idyllic picture of the perfect man, job and house but it’s OK to let go of your expectations. When you let go, you become happier. There are some things that you shouldn’t have control over. 

Sarah Wood: “Positive emotions are the secret to career success”

Sarah Wood, 42, is the co-founder of Unruly, a social video advertising company which has offices in 15 countries and was sold to News Corp for £114 million last year. In 2015, Mayor of London Boris Johnson named her a technology ambassador for London 

Don’t underestimate the power of emotional contagion – in the same way negative emotions can affect others so can happiness. Humour is subjective but happiness has the ability to travel across cultures, nationalities and language and is incredibly important in the workplace. In order to harness its viral potential, I actively practise empathy during the day. When I have a meeting with someone, I try to think of the day they might have had: ‘Have they had a difficult call with a client?’ ‘Did they get in late today because of childcare issues?’ ‘Do they have an ill relative?’ Thinking about people in a non-work context helps to frame a more human and positive conversation. 

Being happy isn’t just about thinking positively but feeling positively. When I smile or talk to myself in the mirror, I do it in a way that I would to a best friend, my mum or my daughters. At first it might feel strange, but it’s been proven that when you see someone smile, you instantly feel happier and have more courage in yourself. When you’re thinking about characteristics you cultivate, courage is much more important than perfection. Positive emotions are the secret to career success.

The most important values at my company are supporting each other and creating a nurturing environment. Of course, technological and communication skills are important but these can be taught – the way you make other people feel is paramount. When I set up Unruly, I wanted to create a company that focuses on making emotional advertising because emotions matter and have a massive impact on our world. The feeling of positivity you get when you’re working with people who are supportive, recognise your good work and smile at you in the mornings has a contagious effect which is incredibly powerful. Research shows happy people are more likely to be successful, earn more and live longer. Positive thinking is key. 

There are often moments when I don’t exude positivity – normally when I’m rushing from job to job. One trick I’ve learnt is to press a mental reset button before entering a meeting. I take a deep breath, try to leave behind previous emotions or thoughts and reset my mind to start again. When you work in a team, containment and isolation are key. If you feel negative or are struggling with a personal situation, go into another room for an hour away from your team and unload your emotions without letting it affect others.

Bella Younger: “You are who you are and that’s enough”

Bella Younger, 28, is a comedian and founder of the Instagram account @deliciouslystella, which parodies society’s obsession with healthy eating

At the beginning of last year, I’d been through a bad break-up and was hating my job so decided to tackle something new. I considered signing up for a marathon but I’m ‘athletically challenged’ so ended up securing a slot at a stand-up show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, despite having only ever done five minutes of comedy before – I don’t do things by halves. I soon realised no-one knew who I was so I needed to quickly drum up a fan base. I created my Instagram account @deliciouslystella because I felt it was time for a reality check. Ten months later I had over 100,000 Instagram followers. I probably peaked aged 28. 

The legendary comedian Amy Poehler once said: “Vanity is the death of comedy” – I’ve taken this to heart. A few months after I started @deliciouslystella, a newspaper wrote a positive article about it, describing me as a ‘breath of fresh air’. However the readers’ comments online ranged from comparing me to a toothless granny to an orc on a day trip to Earth. All you can do is laugh but what annoyed me the most was how I was first judged by my looks. Women’s appearances are often considered more important than our achievements. That’s why I became an un-spirational instagrammer – I don’t breathe in, I don’t wear make-up and I don’t know how to do duck face. This is my face, take it or leave it. 

Instagram presents beautiful people from magazines as your peers and it’s really easy to forget it provides an edited version of someone’s life. After a while, you start thinking everyone has chiselled abs, they’re all walking past pastel houses under cherry blossom and eating avocado on toast. It’s important to remember that people Instagram the holiday, not the delayed flight. They post pictures of the party but never the hangover. We think everyone’s lives are better than our own but it’s false. 

We all know courgetti is not pasta. If we continue to expect perfection from women, they will continue to strive for it. When I made the decision to stop lusting over other people’s lives and start concentrating on my own, mine got infinitely better. When I started doing my own thing and ignoring what everyone else was doing, I got a lot done. I might not be the most beautiful woman, but I’m having fun. Remember you are who you are and that’s enough. In the words of Justin Bieber, you should go and love yourself. 

Words: Katie O’Malley  
Hair and make-up: Lou Box at S Management
Additional Photography: Nicole Holcroft-Emmess

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