After a difficult childhood and adolescence, Jemma’s self-belief hit rock bottom. But a passion for travel ignited her confidence, and led her to go all-in when it came to creating the life and career she wanted
At the age of 18, I decided I’d had enough. Sitting alone in tears in my flat, I was done. It didn’t matter how many people told me it would get better, I didn’t believe them. Fast forward six years and here I am (still alive) with a business predicted to make six figures next year. It’s been one hell of a journey!
People often look back on school fondly, remembering the good times and the carefree days. It wasn’t like that for me. I had my first counsellor when I was 13. When I told her about my life, she started crying and I thought: “Bloody hell, if she’s crying it must be bad!”
Over the next few years, it felt like setback after setback, with me gradually losing my enthusiasm for life. From the age of 14 to 16, I ended up spending my time in a room at school called the “pupil referral unit”, run by two women who weren’t teachers.
There was a lot of drama in the unit because it was full of the students that my school didn’t know how to handle, such as pregnant girls and kids with a criminal history. Believe it or not, I quite enjoyed my few years there because suddenly I wasn’t the odd one out. We all had things going on, and so our ‘issues’ weren’t even talking points. We left our crap at the door, and spoke to each other like ‘normal’ kids – whatever they are!
I might have been OK-ish in the unit, but I definitely wasn’t OK. So when a man five years older than me came along when I was 16 and swept me off my feet, I thought: “Great, I’m loved, everything is OK now!” But I was wrong. He wasn’t a very nice man, to put it politely. He threatened to take his own life if I left him, and cut me off from everyone. After two years of that relationship, I was more reliant on him than I ever had been on anyone (which was his plan, of course).
Then he started to act strangely. He bought new aftershave, started doing his hair, and changed the password on his phone. Turns out that the man who didn’t let me out of his sight in case I cheated, had a second girlfriend.
I was living alone at university at this point, which gave me way too much time to think, and too much freedom to walk to the corner shop late at night to buy a bottle of wine (or two). I didn’t realise I was drinking a lot, but when I look back it was daily, and mostly by myself.
Alcohol gave me the confidence I thought I needed in order to be liked, and I became known as the girl who loved being around people, and was happy to make a fool of herself. Little did they know it was a sham. In reality, I was surrounding myself with people because I couldn’t be alone – I feared what I was capable of. I was drinking daily, and making risky decisions. One night, I even tried to take an overdose.
That summer, things started to change. I got a job at a summer camp and worked with a wonderful bunch of kids who made me feel like I had a purpose. I was meant to support them, but I feel like they changed my life. The small bit of confidence they gave me led to me booking a trip around Europe by myself. I was ready to start living.
Not only did I have the best month of my life, but I met people from all over the world who I created amazing memories with. After three years of travelling, and 16 countries explored, I figured I should probably ‘settle down’ and get a ‘proper’ job, so I moved to London and started working with ex-offenders, and children with various difficulties.
I loved what I did, but I was still constantly being put down. One manager observed me for a day, and then told me the reason for this was because they were confused at how I’d been doing so well in the job. I wanted to grow with the company and work my way up, but it became clear that this wasn’t going to happen. I was tired of being underestimated, and tired of not being able to do what I loved: travelling.
"My journey has taught me that when times get hard, something amazing could be around the corner"
I thought back to when I made and sold handmade gifts when I was younger to earn some pocket money. If I could make money from home at 16, surely I could do it now? I began using a freelancing site to write some articles for some extra income. It wasn’t a lot of money, but it showed me that I was right, it was possible.
When I was made redundant in 2019, it was the nudge I needed to start my own business. My boyfriend told me: “You can’t put 50% into looking for a job and 50% into starting a business, because then neither is getting your full effort.
You need to pick one, give it 100%, and forget the other is an option.” So that’s exactly what I did.
After doing some research, I decided that being a virtual assistant would be a good fit for me. Over the next six months (and lots of hard work), I built up my client base and reached full capacity. I even took on my first member of staff so I could continue expanding.
When I started being asked what my “secret” was to securing so many clients and keeping them happy, I created an Instagram account to share my tips. I use my account to be open, honest, and vulnerable. I regularly talk about my mental health journey, and receive messages from people thanking me for sharing a story similar to the one they’re not ready to share yet.
Now, we’re a team of four, I run courses and 1:1 mentoring with those on their virtual assistant journey, alongside the business itself. I’m even a finalist for two business awards, and our second year in business is set to reach six figures!
Every day, I receive messages from clients whose lives I make easier, and people who appreciate my advice. I’m a far cry from the girl who thought she would never be ‘enough’. My journey has taught me that when times get hard, something amazing could be around the corner.
I now have a wonderful relationship, a business I love getting out of bed for every morning, and I’m able to travel and work from wherever I want. If I’d have ended it all that day in my flat, I would never have experienced the level of happiness I now feel on a daily basis.
Unfortunately, mental health problems don’t just disappear, but whenever I have a bad day, I try to remember how far I’ve come, and if all these amazing adventures can happen in the space of the past year, imagine the incredible adventures I still have to experience!
Rachel Coffey | BA MA NLP Mstr, says:
For Jemma confidence is about having a sense of purpose, and making a difference in the lives of those she works with. It’s doing her own thing in her own way, being brave enough to go out there and get it.
As a coach, ‘more confidence’ is almost always top of the list for new clients. Identifying what that actually means for you, and how you’ll know when you have it, makes it so much easier to achieve. Then you can get a plan together and, like Jemma, start to become that happy, confident you!
You can also connect with therapists online or in-person on Counselling Directory.