Escaping the 9 to 5 with Moira Newiss
Moira Newiss spent 20 years in the NHS with a passion for delivering high-quality clinical services and ensuring staff were well trained and happy in their roles. Unfortunately, this passion began to fade in the face of persistent financial difficulties that affected the culture and caused a lot of stress. It was a clash in values and, ultimately, burnout that led Moira to take the leap and first take some time out and then retrain in Nutritional Therapy. Today, she specialises in burnout and chronic fatigue, while also finding the time to launch a sustainable sports skincare brand.
*Resources mentioned during the episode*
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Burnout and chronic fatigue
Anna: Hello everybody and for this month’s interview, I’m here with Moira Newiss. Moira and I are part of the Youpreneur Incubator Mastermind. In fact, we have a long session together this afternoon, which we’re excited about, and that’s how I came across Moira. So I’m interested in hearing more about her, just as you all are. So Moira, why don’t you start by telling us what were you doing previously in your career and what are you doing today?
Moira Newiss: Okay. Hi. Thank you. So I’m Moira Newiss and I’m a Registered Nutritional Therapist, but I spent the major part of the last 20 years working as Senior Manager in the NHS.
Anna: Perfect. Short and sweet. [crosstalk 00:00:48] Let’s start the first question I wanted to ask you is why did you make that a change? So maybe if you tell us a bit more about that experience. You know, 20 years is a lot of time in a particular industry, in a particular career. What was it? Was it sort of a slow burner? Was it a trigger point that made you take the leap? Tell us about that path to the decision that you made.
Moira Newiss: So I think when I look back how I got to this point in life, it’s quite interesting, really. My parents were both employed at local authority jobs. One was a teacher and one was a town planner and moved into tourism. I probably always had the expectation that I would go to a normal job in local authority in some kind of role, a nurse, a doctor, a teacher, or something like that. But I actually had a passion at school for geology, so I went off and did a geology degree at Durham University. When I was in my final few years I met my fiance, Andy, who I’m still with today.
Anna: Oh, amazing.
Moira Newiss: I kind of decided at that point in time that being an exploration geologist and working out in Sumatra or Java was kind of my dream, but probably wasn’t going to happen now I had a fiance, so I decided- Well, I was lucky actually, I went to a careers fair and I met a chap called Ned Greenwood, who I still remember to this day, because he was really instrumental in my life. He was recruiting for the management training scheme, the graduate training scheme for the NHS at the time. So I applied for that and got onto it, studied for a master’s degree in strategic healthcare and went on to work in the NHS for the next 20 years. I did start off working in a more public health arena in Bootle in Merseyside with the poorest postcode in the UK. And absolutely loved that with a passion. I worked for chap called Ian Williamson, who was an amazing inspiration to me and he is still leading healthcare in Manchester today.
Then I wanted to move to Scotland, an opportunity came up to get into operational management and we moved to Argyle 20 years ago. I was really fortunate because I’ve had of the best jobs in health care. I managed community district services under an acute hospital and one of the most beautiful areas of Scotland. It was a fantastic job. I got to travel to the island and see the sunsets and have worked with the most amazing professionals as well. Then I went on to work in business transformation and in human resources, as well. That was kind of what I did for a long time.
Anna: I love that already, the journey of the geology initially, that sounds amazing. It’s a shame about the fiance, but at least you met him thanks to that choice. It’s always good when there’s something good that comes out of it, albeit not the international geology career. And then it sounds like a fortuitous meeting there at the careers fair, as well. So 20 years there, beautiful working environment, what changed?
Moira Newiss: I eventually burnt myself out, is what happened to me. So I had a spell when my kids were young, I’d been working full time at a pretty difficult job, quite high stress. When I had my children, I had three years out and I went back on a part-time basis. I think to be honest, before that I’d been struggling a bit with the stress, but it never really affected me too greatly. I think once you’ve got young family and you’re trying to do a job that’s quite difficult. I eventually had to go back full time, one stage as well. I had two years where I also worked as a managing partner in my local GP practise and occupational health consultancy, as well. I did go back into the NHS after that in a more senior role in HR.
I probably should’ve left to be honest, I could kind of see things weren’t quite right. My energy levels have dropped a lot. I wasn’t really feeling that my values any longer fitted totally with the organisation. I think anyone who’s worked in a senior level in the NHS knows that there’s a huge amount of pressure to meet targets and deliver things. I very strongly believed in delivering high quality services, doing it alongside your staff and working with them to be innovative in the way that you can deliver services, so that you can make the savings and deliver good services. It was getting more and more difficult to achieve both those things. I think it affected my values a bit as well. I felt a bit compromised. I wanted to do something different and I wanted to get some of the passion back for life and do some adventurous things again. As a teenager, as well as the agility, I was actually quite adventurous. I went on an expedition to South America, mountain biking and things like that. I definitely was into the outdoors and the adventure world too.
Anna: Was that something that you hadn’t had a chance to do through those 20 years? And through having a young family?
Moira Newiss: A bit to begin with, when we moved to Argyle I did a lot of sea kayaking, it’s the most amazing place to sea kayak. I used to do a lot of running and cycling, I used to go running with friends on a Friday night. Then as time went on, I struggled to do that run on a Friday night because I was just so mentally and physically exhausted that I couldn’t complete it any longer. I think looking back now, there were probably signs that I was kind of struggling to cope a little bit, but I just kept going as we all do. Put a smile on my face during the day but I would eventually come home and I’d be on the sofa; I couldn’t make the dinner and I couldn’t look after my children properly, rarely. It was a bit of a shock to the system eventually to realise actually what a physical effect that stress can have on the body, as well as mentally.
I just wanted to live life again to the full, I suppose, and felt there was a different way to do things that would also help people still and do some of the things that perhaps you couldn’t do in the NHS for people’s health. So I began to think about retraining as a nutritional therapist, I’ve always loved food, that has been a big thing for me. I’ve always felt there’s been better way to help people with their nutrition and lifestyle health issues that can’t be delivered in a 10 minute GP appointment, for example. As I left the NHS and I took time out, I got myself well again, I spent three years studying nutrition and eventually got back to what I felt was my teenage energy levels again. I didn’t really expect to get quite back that far, but I did, which is fantastic.
Moira Newiss: At the same time, I also started another company. I run another company called Skirr Skin, which is a sustainable sports skincare brand. That comes from my love of sports, outdoor sports, adventure sports. I did that as a hobby to begin with, making skincare products for running, cycling, and swimming. Eventually that’s become a business too.
Anna: Amazingly two businesses and following your passion in both areas. That’s incredible. So talk us through the timeline, you said it took you three years to study. Were you doing that alongside the work with the NHS or did you take a complete break?
Moira Newiss: No, I had the complete break, certainly a few months off in between. The last two years of the work I was doing, I’d already kind of begun to realise I have to change things and started to make changes. So I’d started to think something needs to change. So I had to begin to make changes and then I had took time out and I just focused on getting better; understanding how to manage my stress levels, getting out, getting exercise, eating well. I’m a big fan of the biohacking idea, which is that you use science to improve your health by making small adjustments. Everything from getting enough sunlight using red lights to make sure that you’re eating the right times of day, everything really. I used a combination of all those things, as well as feeding myself well and for all the right nutrients. So I spent three years studying and I’ve also done a bit of extra studying around sports nutrition and chronic fatigue as well.
Anna: It’s interesting because as you say, we do tend to just keep going until we can’t, unfortunately. Even though, as you said, you perhaps should have recognised earlier, could have recognised earlier, we don’t. We want to keep doing a good job. It sounds also like you have this sort of push out of that environment because of the disconnect with your values, because of the burnout, but also then the pull towards living the life that you used to lead when you were younger and having both the adventure, but also as you said, making an impact in people’s lives. What were some of the challenges you came across in negotiating that transition out of what you had been doing for a couple of decades into working for yourself in particular, and to launching two businesses, which sounds amazing.
Moira Newiss: That’s a good question. I think I probably never thought about it quite in that way, but when I think back to why I was doing the job I was doing, I think a lot goes back to expectations in life when you’re younger. I remember a conversation with my father at one point where I said, “oh, well, I’m not going to go to university. I’ve decided not to go. I’m going to stay at home.” And he basically said, “Well, if you can’t get a job in the next two weeks, then that’s it.”
Anna: Tough love.
Moira Newiss: You need to find your own way in the world kind of thing. Not quite like that, but it was, you know. I suppose I was slightly rebelling against expectations at that stage, but I got carried along with the flow in the end, I went off to university. I had a great time, so I don’t regret that in any shape or form. I met a lot of friends who are still really good friends today and I still love my geology, so that’s all fantastic. And I did a lot of mountaineering and climbing and things at university too, which was also quite fundamental probably in who I am today. I probably forgot what the question was.
Anna: The challenges about making that transition.
Moira Newiss: First of all, I gave up a good career and good salary, so that was financial hit but I do have a husband who is an accountant. So we knew we had enough money to do that, and he has been very, very supportive through everything. I also spent a lot of money retraining because I wasn’t eligible for any grants or anything like that for it. So not only did I give up the salary but I then had to pay for several years, several thousand pounds to retrain as well. I had to think about, I suppose it’s perceptions partly, from other people. Some people were quite surprised. I think that they didn’t really realise that I’d been ill because I hid it quite well.
And I think that’s one of the difficulties with burnout as a condition, is that people can still turn up at work, they can still smile and you don’t really know what’s going on behind the scenes unless you ask them. I think a lot of people didn’t realise that I was struggling that much, to be honest, I was able to hide it quite well. It was quite difficult perhaps at that time explaining to people what was happening. I don’t have that problem at all now, I speak out about it, I share my story because I think it’s important for people to understand that this is really common actually. And a lot of people struggle with fatigue at one level or another, because it is a spectrum. You know, you’ve got the energy spectrum is really big. You’ve got almost a sports performance on the one end of it and then the opposite end is almost like the chronic fatigue and everybody’s on that spectrum somewhere.
So there were challenges, there was also huge challenges about how I was going to convert my learning into actually being a business and actually being able to sell my services as a nutritional therapist and sell my products through the skincare side of things. So that’s been a massive learning curve, absolutely. I’m still on it as we speak.
Anna: Aren’t we all?
Moira Newiss: I had no background in it at all. I’ve had a lot of support from the local enterprise company and from other things that I found myself, like the Youpreneur support and that’s all been really, really helpful.
Anna: So of course there was the retraining. You have the supportive accounts accountant husband, which sounds very handy. And as you said you started looking for other programmes and mentors, was that something you did right away? Did you realise immediately, “No, I need help with this. It’s such a change from working as a senior professional in the NHS to running your own business”?
Moira Newiss: Yes. I think I did realise early on that was going to need some kind of support. I read a lot of books, I read ‘Rise of the Youpreneur’ is one of them, for example. So early on, I went out of my way to try to understand what running a business is all about. Marketing and sales funnels and all that kind of thing, it was all new language to me completely. So I followed through with some support on the nutritional therapy sites and specialist and support people starting out new businesses in that field as well. So I worked with a lady called Gwen Warren who runs us support hub there for nutritionists and nutritional therapists. And that has been really, really helpful too.
Anna: And you sent it some beautiful photos, which I’ll be sharing on the blog and in the show notes of your lifestyle now and it looks pretty good to me, but why don’t you paint us a picture of what is the the plus side now on the changes you’ve made, not just in terms of your career, but in terms of the lifestyle that it affords you?
Moira Newiss: Yeah. I don’t have a nine to five job at all. I do work quite a lot between nine to five, but it is very flexible. So as an example, yesterday, I saw a client yesterday afternoon, which was a Sunday afternoon and it’s my choice to do that but that also means I can take time off during the week when the sun shines and climb a mountain or get out on my bike. So quite flexible, I go wild swimming on a Friday afternoon sometimes, or climb a local hill then I get out at lunchtime for a walk along the shore with the loch here, and I caught you in the garden. You know, there’s a chance and things like that.
I’m definitely not rigid within my hours of work, I’m quite flexible. So sometimes I work evenings, sometimes I work a little bit. I try not to work much of the weekend, to be honest, it’s more unusual, but it does have benefits because you can spend more time with children during the holidays and that kind of thing too. So I try and fit it all in but I am very, very careful to not overdo it and make sure that I have a balance because I think once you’ve been down that road, you are very conscious of not going down that road, and it is easy to do it because you’re at risk of doing it again.
Anna: How do you balance that? How do you make those businesses sustainable? Both from having the financial stability and that being enough, both the viability, the profitability but also as you said, especially given your background, how can you make sure? It sounds like you’re doing a great job, being able to have that flexibility. Any tricks you use or how do you really hold yourself accountable to make sure that you are achieving what you want to achieve, but at the same time, being very careful not to go too far.
Moira Newiss: I think for me, it’s two things. One is I reprioritize what I do all the time. So I have a little notebook that sits at the side of my desk and I have a list of things in there that need to do, but they are split up between longer term needs, things that have to be done today, and things that I need to to find time for this week. I try and I reprioritize every day, so I look at and think, “Well, actually, what’s the most important thing today? What doesn’t need to get done today?” But the other thing I also do is I take time out if I’m feeling stressed, I stop for 10 minutes and I meditate or I go outside and I take my coffee and sit on the step in the sunshine. I’m really careful that if I notice any signs that I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed or stressed about something that I make an effort to do something about it. And I think you do notice the signs much easier, so I’ve been nowhere down that road, fortunately.
Anna: Okay. And you’ve already shared some insights I think that would be really useful for people in a similar situation, for someone like you who perhaps is not there yet or has burned out and has that disconnect in the organisation they’re in and is dreaming of this different, more flexible lifestyle, escaping that nine to five. What advice would you give them at this stage?
Moira Newiss: Well, I think it depends where on the spectrum you are, I think if you are fearing that you’re burning out then the priority is to look after your health at that point in time. And certain people are more likely to be at risk, you know, there are personality types, for example, type A are driven personalities are kind of at risk. Also people who have very strong, caring personality types who tend to be over-givers. They’re also at risk of burnout, which is what you see sometimes in the caring professionals as well.
So I think it is thinking about how are you going to rebalance your life. There are lifestyle things you can do about that. Just from thinking about how you split your time, do you actually give yourself any recovery time? Do you do things that bring joy to you? Do you look after yourself in terms of are you eating well? Are you sleeping well? Are you getting outside in the fresh air? Are you getting gentle exercise? All those things are really important to do to begin with. And then I think you need to begin to think, once you’ve begun the basics of looking after yourself, you need to think, “What do I want to do with my life?” And that’s a bigger discussion about pace of life, your values, where, where you’d like to see yourself in the future, how you’d you’d like to be. And I guess that’s your ballpark really? Isn’t that your area of expertise.
Anna: You make an important point that if you’re really in that dark place of the actual burnout that you need to take care of yourself first. There’s no point in trying to put pressure on yourself to reimagine what your career, what your lifestyle is going to look like if you are struggling to get out of bed in the morning and so on, right? So I love what you said there, really, you need to take care of yourself first and foremost. And then, hopefully, you can begin to read some books, listen to some podcasts, start exploring without too much pressure because of course that’s counterproductive as well. I think when you’ve had that experience as well, you’ve found a really good way to have that self-awareness and to make sure you don’t get there. But I suppose, especially as you said, in the caring type of roles, particular personality types, when we’ve started a business, the last thing we want to do is create that same stressful environment, ironically because we are our own bosses and yet we’re pushing ourselves, we’re still just as driven.
And I think I see that, especially with those of us who are helping others, we care so much. We are these Youpreneurs who put our hearts and souls into these things, and we’re really trying to make a difference in people’s lives. That can get quite dangerous because that can sort of overflow too much. It can integrate too much into our life as well. So I think the boundaries there are really important, not just when we’re leaving that nine to five for the first step, but also when we have succeeded in escaping there and are beginning to shape and build our business, of course, to be mindful of those things as well.
Moira Newiss: Absolutely. Cause it takes time. I mean, you can’t transition perfectly overnight into a new business. It takes time to build the foundations. Sometimes, especially if you need to go out and get trained to do a new skill or something like that, then it’s going to take you considerable time just to put the basics in place. I think it always is if you’ve been to a burnout position yourself, then it is really important to always put yourself first in thinking, “You know, is what I do good for me in the long run or can I make this work? Is it going to provide the balance that I need in life?” And it’s not say you can’t be busy, because it’s perfectly possible to be busy and have a balanced life, and then to enjoy what you’re doing.
The problem comes if you’re not enjoying what you’re doing and it’s not balanced, then that’s perhaps where things start to go a little bit wrong. And I think that over the last year it’s had its own particular challenges. I’m actually in the lounge, I’ve got a standing desk in the lounge this year because my husband’s been into my office and we’re building an office in the garden for him, you know. I speak to a lot of women in particular, I’m not saying men aren’t in this position too, but it was probably more women who’ve had to homeschool children this year. And so they’ve been trying to do their work full time around the kitchen table with a child or two in tow and constant interruptions and that kind of thing. That can be really quite difficult to manage all of that and I certainly had to say to myself whilst I was homeschooling as well, you know, be kind to yourself and just accept you can’t do everything that you [crosstalk 00:22:29] take a bit longer. And we just have to accept what you can’t control to some extent, you know, you have to just accept and work around [foreign language 00:22:40].
Anna: Yeah. And the last year, of course we’re speaking early 2021 has been quite an exceptionally challenging year. And as you said, with the homeschooling and so on, I love what you said about being kind to yourself, I have two little ones and I’m hearing them crying downstairs now so it’s always that challenge of getting the balance right. I think my ambitions tend to sort of, not get the better of me, but they tend to drive me forwards. Which is fantastic, I love what I do, but always sort of taking that moment to think of what’s really important. And today maybe is not the day you’re going to change the world, maybe tomorrow you’ll take another step. It’s sort of the, “You’re in it for the long haul, aren’t you?” So it’s not to worry about it a bad day, a bad week here and there. And what is a bad day, bad week, anyway? I think it depends how you measure, measure life, I suppose.
Moira Newiss: It does because I look back and I have no regrets with what I’ve done. It’s made me who I am today. I’ve learned a lot along the way. I absolutely love for the passion work I did in the NHS and the teams that I worked with who were all fantastic. But having experienced burnout, it gives you a very different and understanding of life, I suppose, on how the body works and mental health and how you relate to other people with similar situations and concerns really. I think it brings a whole different meaning to life itself, I suppose, and also makes you really value your energy when you have it and your health, because it can support [crosstalk 00:24:11]
Anna: Absolutely and I like what you said there, it doesn’t mean that you in any way regret, if that was even a useful sentiment, which it’s not because there’s nothing we can to change it. But I think that’s been important to sort of value the experiences we’ve had, the people we’ve met, the incredible impact you’ve been able to make in this case, but there is now a different phase of your life. For your own sake and for others, you’re making an impact in a different way. So what’s coming up for you this year then, what are you focusing on this year?
Moira Newiss: So I am still learning as I go about my nutritional therapy business in terms of marketing. So marketing is my biggest thing this year in terms of doing things like that.
Anna: Perfect, you’re very aligned to your strategy this year.
Moira Newiss: [inaudible 00:24:59] Get out in the big wide world, not be scared about doing things like interviews and podcasts and I’ve been able to share more of my knowledge with people so that people know that there’s a resource there that they can go to if they’re looking for that kind of help as well. So that’s on the nutrition side, on the skincare side I’m also looking at developing some new products though, which is quite exciting, and building collaborations as well on that front and looking forward to when sporting events get back because [crosstalk 00:25:37].
Anna: Well, speaking of resources, I know you mentioned an ebook. And if you could tell us where we can find you, if we do want to read more about the work that you do and how you might be able to help, if you could share where we can find you online.
Moira Newiss: Certainly, so my website is my name really, it’s www.moiranewiss.co.uk. I can give you a link to the ebook itself, but anyone who signs up to my newsletter, there’s a little bit of other information on there too. And you can find out about [crosstalk 00:26:12]
Anna: Moira, thank you so much for sharing your experience. I had so many insights there, it’s always interesting to hear the things that we share from very different backgrounds and also the things that might be unique to your experience. So I think that was a really powerful story to tell and I hope you’ll tell it much more, as you said, as you continue on your journey as well. Thank you so much for your time.
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