Next in our inspiring series of interviews on brand transformation, we meet Caroline Pankhurst, who changed her name by deed poll and added a strong feminist dimension to her brand after seeing a life changing play.
Tell us a bit about who you were before the change? What was your personal brand? What were you known for?
It’s interesting to consider who I was ‘before’, my view of my brand was probably different to everyone else’s. Now though I think they are one and the same. I probably defined my identity more in relationship to others rather and in and of itself. I had massive impostor syndrome about my working self, lacked confidence. Others probably saw me as confident out-going but knew I was full of self doubt and fearful. Some values have always been consistent, true and authentically me – humour, energy (be that good or bad), drive, people first. I known by my married name too.
Tell us where you are now and how your brand has changed?
I would say in the last two years that I have completely re-programmed my brain, reframed my mindset and learned to embrace me. I’ve worked in tech and I think there are so many similarities between software and coding and the way the brain works. I liken the last two years to having run a series of software updates to the various applications that run in my mind. Figuring out the ones that needed to be deleted, upgraded or reprogrammed.
This has meant I’m a braver person, I can be confident knowing its not the same as arrogance, I can accept my achievements, be resilient and fail forwards, I have vision and purpose, I am energetic, and passionate, out-going. I don’t define myself in relation to anyone or anything, and most certainly not to a partner or relationship. I chose to be a Pankhurst and I am a proud Pankhurst.
What made you think you needed to change? Was it a bolt of lightning moment or did it happen over time?
I went to see a play with my ex-husband called Her Naked Skin at the National Theatre, it was about the Suffragettes. I was moved to tears, impassioned confused, angry, upset – how had my education omitted such a defining part of my identity as a woman? No hunger strike for me, I devoured every book I could find on the suffragettes and feminism. My eyes awakened to the inequality everywhere in our patriarchal society and change within me became inevitable. I also had a meal out one evening with Shelley Silas and Stella Duffy and remember being in awe of how powerfully they held a room and how passionate they were about diversity and women rights.
How did you set things in motion? Did you leap in or make the change in increments?
My reading shifted things for me, knowledge is power, I became to realise I’d lacked confidence because I felt I perceived I was disadvantaged because I was woman in the workplace and not a man. That’s deep, that’s pretty tragic and it’s probably being one of Thatcher’s generation – I felt I needed to be like a man in a man’s world to succeed as a woman. So wrong.
So I started to embrace my feminity and rethink what I actually wanted that to mean. I was a founding member of the Women’s Equality Party. I changed my name via Deed Poll to Pankhurst after Emmeline Pankhurst who is also from Manchester. I went back to Uni to study psychology, I trained as a coach and an NLP practitioner, I resigned, set up my own company.
I found a sense of purpose and I just followed it, I still am doing now, less about knowing what the outcome is and more about following what I believe in and what I believe I’m meant to do.
What was the reaction of others? Did they support you or did they resist the change?
I’ve had nothing but support from 99.9% of people – I think passion, clarity and dedication are hard to argue with. When you see someone energised, excited and being brave in pursuit of their dreams, how couldn’t you support that?
I had some resistance to my hair change, but after I’d done it everyone loved it. Getting a fringe after 40 years felt like one of the bravest things I’ve done, and as is often the case when we finally stretch ourselves, my immediate reaction was ‘I LOVE it, I should have done this YEARS ago’.
What was your most valuable resource? What kept you going?
My coach. Holding a mirror and allowing me to see myself, having a space to be open, honest, truthful, to dare to dream has been the most liberating, non-judgmental, exciting and transformational experience of my life. And one I will never be without. I’d also say resilience and my understanding of how to fail forwards.
How do you feel now that you’ve made the change?
I feel like I’ve woken up to a world I want to live in, I feel strong, brave, resilient, energetic, excited, resourceful, creative and above all else. Happy. BBC Radio 5 live described me as ‘A woman who follows her own path’. I liked that.
What’s your advice to anyone contemplating something similar?
Get a coach. Your way is your way and yours alone, there is only one you, there is no cookie cutter for this one life you have. Be braver, make it count, dare to dream, then dream bigger, figure out what’s stopping you, rewrite it and march forwards. Deeds and words I say. Laugh, laugh at yourself and laugh with others. Every day. It’s the best thing for keeping the stresses and strains of life in perspective and for just indulging in a moment and enjoying the privilege of being alive.
Thank you for such an inspiring interview, Caroline!