Interview with entrepreneur and social campaigner Gee Elliott

screen-shot-2017-01-09-at-16-14-14-1Meet Gee Elliott!

Gee quit her private equity job and London life to move to Uganda where she ran a charity and co-founded the social enterprise Grass Roots Café and Deli. In July last year, however, she was forced to return to the UK after being hit by a motorbike, which fractured her back. She has recently launched a new platform – Above Water – to empower women amid the pressures of the 21st Century.

Here, she talks about the ‘cult of perfectionism’, going against social expectations, and the desire to enable women to meet their full potential.

What was the impetus behind a) quitting your city job and b) setting up Above Water?

In regards to quitting my city job, I’d got to the point where I was totally fed up, sick and bored with life. I think it was the monotony, the lack of purpose – every day was the same: wake up, commute, work, gym / tinder date / dinner, commute, bed. I didn’t know what I wanted but I knew that it wasn’t the life I was living. I didn’t want to look back in 30 years and think ‘I wish I’d done…’

When I ran the Uganda marathon in 2015 it made me realise a) that life is too short not to be doing something that you’re passionate about, and b) with enough self-belief, determination and hard work anything is possible. With that I decided to leave my job in private equity, sell all my belongings and move out to Uganda where I ran a charity and cofounded my own business, Grass Roots Cafe and Deli.

In regards to launching Above Water, well that came about when I realised that removing yourself from your normal surroundings and immersing yourself in a different culture changes your perspective on the world. When I came back to the UK, I was shocked and saddened by the total disconnect across society, the cult of perfectionism that exists, and the increasing pressure on women to ‘have it all’. It’s in response to this that I launched Above Water, which is a platform to enable women to realise their full potential and empower the future generation together.

Before making these life changes what were your doubts/fears/concerns and how did you overcome these? 

‘What if I fail and it doesn’t work out’ was the main fear. I overcame this by asking myself ‘What is the worst that can happen?’…. ‘Move to Uganda, hate it and come home with a tail between my legs’. I then thought no, the worst thing that could happen would be to not have the guts to go at all and be sat behind the same computer in a year’s time thinking ‘I wonder what if…’ or ‘I wish I’d gone…’.  Once I realised that, my mind was made up.

The other main concern / doubt was going against other people’s advice and sticking with my gut. When I told friends and family of the decision to move to Uganda alone, I wish I’d had a pound for every ‘but you can’t do that?’, ‘what about your flat?’, ‘what about your job you’ve worked so hard at?’, ‘you’ll be so lonely’. My favourite was ‘you’re 28 you should be settling down; how will you ever find a husband if you move to Uganda?’ – my response of: ‘Oh I’ll just wait around on Tinder, watching my life pass by then should I?’ didn’t go down too well.

I’ve learnt that usually the only reason we doubt ourselves is because of the scepticism of others. It’s a fact of life that you’ll come across sceptics. It’s how you deal with those challenges and your ability to keep focused on your goals that matters.

 

“The worst thing that could happen would be to not have the guts to go at all and be sat behind the same computer in a year’s time thinking ‘I wonder what if…’ or ‘I wish I’d gone…’”

 

What is the main thing you have learnt (about life or yourself) from these experiences? 

I’ve learnt so so much and far more than I ever anticipated. I’ve learn that time is our most valuable asset. I’ve learnt that we are capable of far more as individuals than we realise. I’ve learnt that life is short and that life is uncertain. Too often we act as if tomorrow is promised. It isn’t. Live life the way that you want to and on your own terms – you only get one shot at life, but if you do it right, once is enough.

What would be your dream adventure or goal and why – and why haven’t you done it yet? 

The dream – to bring up a family in East Africa. Why haven’t I done it yet? As wonderful as life is in Uganda, life is unpredictable and so I want to build a secure form of income in the UK before moving out there. Plus, I still have a lot I want to do before I have the responsibility of children. When the time is right though I can’t think of anywhere better in the world to bring up children.

What is the best advice you have ever been given? 

In the end, you only regret the chances you didn’t take, not the ones you did.

If you were stuck on a desert island, what three things would you have with you and why? 

Three other humans – where’s the fun if you can’t share it with other people?!

 

Above Water is a platform aimed at building a community and sharing stories about ‘ordinary’ women doing extraordinary things, empowering women and giving them the confidence to meet their full potential. Besides the website, check it out here, Above Water also organises pop-up events aimed at addressing 21st Century challenges. You can also join the community on social media via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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