AFTER years of travelling from meeting to meeting at the expense of her own happiness – Angela McCusker, 54, went back to university to study a Masters in Mindfulness.
SHE flew to a different city each day, staying in the best hotels and dining in restaurants every night, but Angela McCusker despaired at what her life had become.
The business high-flyer, who at 40 became international finance director of a major sportswear group, was then based in London and had spent years travelling from meeting to meeting at the expense of her own happiness.
Now 54, Angela, who lives in Edinburgh, recalls her typical schedule: “Normally I’d get picked up on a Monday at about 5.30am or 6am and be taken to Heathrow and then it could be that I flew to Amsterdam and be in meetings all day and then go out for dinner with the local team before going back to the hotel.
“I could be back at the airport at 6am the next morning to fly to Rome, get picked up there and be driven to Perugia where the office was.
“Same thing again, you could be in the office until seven or eight at night, you could eat on your own or be out with the local team. I’d usually be there for two days, possibly go to Rome for meetings on the Thursday and fly back to be in the office on Friday.”
In the first year of her appointment to her international post, Angela was thrilled to be one of the few women working at such a senior level and taking on all the responsibilities and challenges that came with the job.
“There was lots at the beginning that I really enjoyed and it was a really big, challenging job.”
But with no space left for a private life, Angela soon began to question whether the personal sacrifices she was making were worth the rewards.
“It was exhausting and, after a while, it started to take its toll.
“I was walking through Rome airport one day and I realised I was on autopilot and knew every step of the way to the lounge.
“I remember thinking, ‘This isn’t right that I am so used to this path that I do it without thinking. I spend more time in the BA lounge in Rome airport than I do in my own house’.
“And the relationship I had been in had broken down.
“My job defined me. It meant because every week I was somewhere I couldn’t plan my social life.
“I found, after a while, that at the weekends I was just sleeping, washing and turning myself around for the next week rather than having a real life and I became more tired.”
Then, 10 years ago, Angela decided things had to change.
“I’d probably been doing it [the international job] for nearly three years. There were a few moments where I felt it wasn’t right. I was absolutely exhausted, I didn’t have a life. I thought, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore’ and so I agreed an exit strategy.”
Unsure what to do next, Angela, who grew up in Glasgow and studied at Edinburgh University, went to see a specialist in neurolinguistic programming (NLP).
“I told her, ‘I want to change everything about my life’. We came up with all the things important to me.
“Everything got scored and Edinburgh got the top score for where to live, so I moved back here.
“I had a flat in Edinburgh and I’d just finished the session with the NLP lady when the agent called to say my tenants were leaving. One thing I’ve learned is once you’ve made a decision that’s right, things fall into place.”
She took six months out from work, but as she began to relax, she found the years of pushing herself had taken their toll.
During a trip to the Antarctica Angela was furious to be told her problems were ‘all in the mind’During a trip to the Antarctica Angela was furious to be told her problems were ‘all in the mind’
“I was out having a great time and was about to go on holiday but I wasn’t feeling very well. It turned out I had pneumonia, but I didn’t really recover properly. I went back to the doc six months later who told me I had post-viral fatigue, a junior version of ME [chronic fatigue syndrome].
“About a year later, I was slowly recovering and I was on a cruise in Antarctica and during a conversation, the ship’s doctor said, ‘Oh ME, that’s all in the head’.
“I was furious but I came back and bumped into someone I’d met on an executive coaching course and they said, ‘He’s absolutely right. It happens by suppressing and blocking your emotions, so work out what you’re suppressing and you’ll get better.
“It set me off thinking I wanted to find out more and I went on different personal development courses.
“Three years ago, I was at a Buddhist centre in the Borders and again I was thinking, ‘I’m ready for the next thing,’ and I picked up a leaflet that said Aberdeen University is doing a Masters in Mindfulness and I thought that looks good, so I applied.”
Angela is now completing her course in the increasingly popular technique that helps clear your mind of overload and take a more objective look at your life to manage emotions better.
She carried out research among Scottish business leaders with her aim to help others get the most from both their work and personal lives.
She explained: “When we get stressed, our bodies shut down and we have chemical reactions, so just by calming down it takes away that stress and you think more creatively and strategically and look at things more objectively.
“There’s the formal practice [in Mindfulness] – the meditation to help you calm down and give you space. We call it ‘sitting on the river bank’.
“You think of the river as all of your past history and feelings and emotions, you want to get out of that river and be on the river bank so you have space to respond rather than react.”
For women trying to juggle working life with family, the technique can be particularly beneficial.
“Women talk to me about the guilt of actually enjoying a high-powered job versus the guilt of not being at home for their children.
“What you do is have compassion for yourself as well as others. Women beat themselves up all the time. By staying on the riverbank, in Mindfulness, we’ll look at it but won’t beat ourselves up. We give ourselves kindness.”
She concluded: “I feel completely different. Much calmer, much happier. It transforms your relationship with yourself and others.”
Claire Johnston, Daily Record, 5th August 2013