If you’ve ever struggled with self-esteem, then there’s one person you need to know. Arguably the most positive person on the internet, Sarah Powell’s mission is to get you to celebrate yourself. As a columnist for Red, co-host of Jules and Sarah The Podcast, public speaker, wedding celebrant, and of course, founder of Celebrate Yourself, she’s clearly a multi-faceted woman with tons of wisdom to impart. Read on for a no-bullshit conversation on self-celebration and much, much more.
Olivia: So, I think it’s fair to say you’re one of the most joyous people on social media right now. Have you always been this way, or was it more of a journey?
Sarah: What a lovely thing to say, thank you! It’s really interesting because, yeah, I’ve definitely always been joyful and positive. However, it would be remiss of me to sort of assume that’s just how it is, it’s just a sunny disposition and I’m just a cheerful happy person all the time. Because that is definitely not the case. So, I’ve had anxiety for forever and I overthink and I over worry and things bother me. I’ve worried about people liking me and all this other stuff. It’s definitely a very conscious choice to have to choose to find the funny, that’s what I would say. I always think there is so much more hilarity in day to day life… and that is not to say that I go around saying “OMG, everything is just so funny” and not taking things seriously. It’s not about that, but I feel like there is always a light to be found, a lightness and a softness, and I think if we can bring that in a little bit more that that’ll make a lot of things a little bit easier.
And it’s funny, because I love Instagram stories and I always say that I need it as much as anybody else. That company and that connection and that chat and having that humour between us and making each other laugh is just as important to me as it is to anybody who’s watching following me.
It started because I effectively lost my show on the radio and I was in my house, on my own with no one to talk to Olivia! So I started chatting to Instagram and what’s been lovely is to see it connect and more people, sort of, join in and that kind of stuff – and I love it. I’ve always said with the whole social media thing people always talk about the dark side of social media, which is absolutely as it should be and it does need calling out sometimes. For me I’ve only ever had a really amazing relationship with it, full of connection and finding people and normalising stuff.
Olivia: so you’ve never encountered trolls?
Sarah: No, not really. I’ve never encountered trolls… and I’ve never had any dick pics. I’ve never had any! Olivia, I don’t know what’s going on nobody wants to send me them. Nobody! I never had one. Not a single penis. Ever. Every woman I know on Instagram has had one and I’ve never had a single one. I don’t know what’s going on. And that not inviting them. I don’t want one!
I don’t know if it’s luck or my content isn’t troll worthy or I’m not that important to be trolled. I’ve always had a really supportive community. And I’ve met friends on it, all my friends are on Instagram, that’s where my people are.
Olivia: Tell us how Celebrate Yourself got started?
Sarah: So my job straight out of university and for about 13 years was radio. I was a radio presenter and I started on little local stations and I moved back to my mums up north after University. I had a really amazing time, moving to bigger and bigger stations and then eventually I ended up at a full time job at a national station at DAB. Interviewing lots of celebrities, popstars, TV people, you know, lovely. Through that I started doing TV work, so I did ITV and I did a bit of Big Brother and it was all good… until it just wasn’t anymore. And I got to that stage where I was like, I’ve done everything. I’ve done it and there’s nowhere else I’m really shooting for. I just really lost momentum and my passion if I’m honest. But I was like I can’t leave, you know? What would I do if I left? Oh my god. I can’t give up my job. So that coincided with me losing the full time show, I thought this is fantastic, this is brilliant. I’m going to find my thing I was meant to be doing all this time. What actually happened was I went into what I now refer to as the ‘wilderness’. I didn’t have a clue. I didn’t know what my thing was and what I was meant to be doing. I didn’t know how to turn it into a business and I was really lonely and really anxious. That’s when I started talking to Instagram stories and that was my touchstone and became a real source of connection for me.
Then a few things happened; One, I read you’re a badass by Jen Sincero. Which you know how people say books changed their life…that really did. That got me focused and I refocused on what I want and did that visualisation of how my life looks and the sort of space I’m occupying.
Then I met Lucy who has become my business coach. And I always say if it wasn’t for Lucy I wouldn’t have a business because she took an idea which I had which was speaking. And I loved speaking and I always had this vision of being a room being in front of people and them having a good time. I thought for a minute it was comedy but I sort of never did anything about it because I knew that it wasn’t comedy.
Another thing that happened is that I retrained to be a wedding celebrant. So that’s one part of Celebrate Yourself – ceremonies. So this idea of self celebration and everything I learnt whilst in the ‘wilderness’ would be the thing I’d talk about and pass on and it’s just been the most amazing thing. You know the feeling where you don’t know what you’re doing, then suddenly you do know. And it’s just changed everything and you have somewhere to place your energy and your creativity. I was so ready to just dive in and just go for it and it’s been amazing. Launched last October so it’s been the first year of Celebrate Yourself.
When I was in the wilderness I’d look at those people that were like “works not really work #lovemyjob” and is just be like fuck off *chuckles* now I am that person who’s like “I so lucky” and I love it because it does feel like exactly what I was meant to be doing.
Olivia: Awesome, so let’s talk failure! What advice would you give to other women who are feeling paralysed by the fear of it?
Sarah: I would say it’s completely totally understandable. I think we’ve all had it, I think we all suffer from it at some point. I don’t really believe in ‘imposter syndrome’ because I believe it’s just something we all inherently have and we all experience. And I think the reason why we talk about imposter syndrome so much is because somebody has given it a name and that’s brilliant because it enables us to say “this is how I’m feeling”. So I love that there is that label but I do believe that everybody has it. Everybody feels inferior, everybody feels like they are not good enough or they don’t deserve it or they shouldn’t be doing it or there is somebody better than them – literally everyone feels like that.
I don’t really believe in ‘imposter syndrome’ because I believe it’s just something we all inherently have and we all experience. And I think the reason why we talk about imposter syndrome so much is because somebody has given it a name and that’s brilliant because it enables us to say “this is how I’m feeling”.
So the first thing I would say is know that and identify that. Really be kind to yourself around that because really the fear of failure is just there because it’s like an inbuilt thing we have to stop us from embarrassing ourselves – I think to stop us losing something whatever that is and to just keep us safe. So, I feel like once we know that, we can see it and know that’s what it is. But actually you know… “I really need to do this” or “I’ve really got this sense that I need to do this” and that hopefully will enable that to be a little bit easier. But it’s still scary, doing anything new or for the first time, whatever it is, whether it’s doing a presentation at work or meeting somebody new for a drink. It’s always a bit scary because it’s new and we’ve never done it before and haven’t got any knowledge of this.
Also, I think don’t put pressure on ourselves to do something we THINK we should be doing. Because sometimes the discomfort comes in because we are forcing something. So I think just be really clear. Be really clear when it’s fear of failure that’s just trying to keep us safe and when it’s fear of just going “I don’t really want to do this”.
Olivia: You’ve been really honest about taking time out for your health on social media, why do you think it’s so important to start talking about these issues we all face online?
Sarah: I think it’s really important because everybody has it on some level. And if they don’t have it personally, they know somebody who has it. And I think talking about really works hard to normalise it. It’s very easy to go “oh just talk about it, if you’ve got it talk about it!” And I don’t think it should be underestimated how hard that could be.
And I also think that just because somebody else is talking about it, don’t feel like you have to. Do you know what I mean, there’s no pressure if you’re not in that space quite yet to sort of reveal those things online in a public way. That’s fine, there’s no pressure to do so. That shouldn’t be the goal, “oh one day I have to talk about this on Instagram”. That shouldn’t be how it is. We should all be expressing how we feel in some way but I think doing it online, even if you’ve got no intention of doing it yourself, I think seeing it helps because it’s that relatability, that being able to say “oh yeah me too”.
Olivia: I love that you said that you don’t have to do it to be healthy.
Sarah: Yeah…being able to do a full video on YouTube about it shouldn’t be the benchmark, that should be if you want to and if you’re comfortable. It helped me but that’s not to say it’ll help anybody else. It shouldn’t be you have to get to that point then you’re dealing with it. Plus there are a lot of people that are talking about their mental health and it’s not like they’re finished and fixed and their happy because nobody is.
Olivia: Right, there should be no obligation to be vulnerable. I don’t think vulnerable and authenticity are the same thing.
Sarah: No I don’t. The only reason I would share is so that somebody else can recognise it and say I’m like this too. I think that can be comforting. That’s the other thing that’s really beneficial about talking about it on social media. Just to remind us that we are all kind of similar and even if our lives are wildly different occasionally we all might feel the same.
Olivia: So, you’ve said that your journey to self celebration started with small victories, can you remember your first victory?
Sarah: Ok, so, when I was in that space of the ‘wilderness’ something really strong was my inner critic. My mean voice, that was really intense and it was really loud and I think that in that space there, like, was so much to deal with anyway. With trying to figure out what I was going to do next and what I was going to be and where I was going to place my energy that I think I was like I can’t do both. I can’t have a rampant inner critic and figure this out and that’s when I realised that I needed a bit of kindness. So what I did was I started to focus on the stuff that was going really well and some days that would be that I had milk. I’ve never been correctly hydrated in my life, I’ve never reached peak hydration, so some days just drinking a bit of water. Wow, that’s a big achievement – not easy! And although I can’t specifically remember the first, but it was then and it continues to be little things like that.
Like all our shoes in our shoebox flat are in a huge box and this morning I needed to find my jelly shoes and I opened the box and I found them straight away! And I was like, “Yes! Yes!” because I could’ve easily lost 10 minutes going through that box, taking everything out and making a mess and being late. So it will always be for me, as well as those big amazing achievements, it will always be those day to day small actions that go really well.
Olivia: Do you think that this problem of having such a loud inner critic is a gendered thing?
Sarah: I don’t want to make any big generalisations because I think it’s something that affects everyone. I think in some cases yeah. And in some cases no. Because I have men who come to my classrooms and my workshops and who listen to the podcast and they’re completely at the mercy of their inner critic. So I think it would be wrong to assume that men don’t suffer from it. Maybe theirs is different, maybe they have different criticisms – that’s certainly true. But I do think at some point it affects everyone.
Olivia: For me, sometimes I feel like I don’t deserve to be nice to myself. What would you say to people who are struggling with that kind of thing?
Sarah: I think when you’re coming from that place of “I don’t deserve it,” something in your self worth is off. There is something in you that’s not recognising your worth and it’s not able to sort of reward it because it’s not there. I think it can be a really long journey to get there, to know that you are worth it and that you do deserve it. I think that it’s a choice and that it’s a big choice! It’s not an easy choice to always make and I think we have to choose to say “you know what I am worth it and I do deserve it”! Like I say it’s not always going to be easy but what is the alternative? To carry on going I’m just not worth it and I just don’t deserve it – you know where is that going to end? And where that will end will look different to everyone.
I think when you’re coming from that place of “I don’t deserve it,” something in your self worth is off.
We don’t have to tell anyone. It’s not about going “oh I’m worth this or that” or going on a big spending spree or a big expensive spa break – it can be those things. If that’s where you show your self worth then that’s great. It doesn’t have to be those things. I’d be really keen for people to think about where do you show up for your self worth? What are those day to day tiny actions where you say to yourself I’m worth it? Is it that you eat all of your lunch? Is it that you get your outfit out the night before – I mean there’s no more smug gorgeous feeling that knowing what you’re going to wear the day before. Where are those small things? Is it having a lovely pillow spray? Is it wearing good underwear? Where do you show up for yourself and tell yourself you’re worth it? I’m worth having a nice water bottle. I’m worth having the seat in the restaurant I really want. I’m worth sending the drink back because I’d really like more lemon. They sound like such small tiny things but that’s where we really show up.
Olivia: I love how celebrate yourself is described as self-love and wellbeing without yoga mats and green juice. Do you think that the wellness industry can be too exclusive.
Sarah: Yes and no, I feel like it’s available for everyone if you want it. And it’s really important to say that if those things are important to you and your wellness and your self care – then all power to you. They are really important, helpful, useful things. I wanted to create something that was like an alternate. I wanted to create something ELSE. Because the other risk with wellness and wellbeing is that it can get quite earnest, you know? It can get quite serious and that doesn’t really work for me all of the time. So I feel like it’s nice to have something else that had a sense of humour and a sense of fun. Was kind of about sequins and mirrorballs, if that’s what you wanted for the night but equally is just about having that real moment with yourself to go “I’m alright you know, I’m alright. I’m doing my best”. I always say that. That’s such a big phrase that I use all the time – I’m doing my best! I’m doing my best in this situation, in this scenario, with how tired I am, or how dehydrated, or how worried I am. Or my to do list is really savage today – I am doing my best. Because we all are, you know? Sometimes there can be a push to meditate longer, be more centered – do this, do this, do this, do this and it can get goal orientated. And self celebration is not about that, self celebration is about really honouring who you are right now, like that’s the bit that’s really important to me. All those things, the yoga, the green juice, I think they’ve all got a place but that’s not what wellness always looks like to me. So I wanted to create something that was also wellness but it looked like something else.
Olivia: The concept of body neutrality has emerged recently, do you have any thoughts on this and how it fits in with Celebrating Yourself?
Sarah: Body positivity/neutrality is something I’m really exploring for myself. So I’ve always had a difficult relationship with my body and I’ve had quite a difficult relationship with food. And what I’ve sort of recently started discovering and I’ve started having one-on-one sessions for is intuitive eating. Because I’ve been involved in diet culture my whole life and I have always, always, always been putting on weight and losing weight and nothing in between. If I’m putting it on I’d eat barbed wire and if I’m losing it I’m like eating two green sprouts and that’s how it’s always been. Consequently, my relationship with my body has been quite complicated and quite complex and I’ve spent a lot of time hating my body. Like a really long time wanting it to change and waiting, waiting to lose the weight then I can live my best life. That’s been my story forever.
So body positivity and neutrality, neutrality I’m actually more interested in in some ways. Because I think that body positivity is phenomenal but I think sometimes there can be too much pressure in that you’re meant to love all of your body and everything tiny bit of it and that’s not always realistic. Perhaps neutrality, certainly for somebody like me, is a lot more achievable. It’s something I’m, a lot more, aiming towards to sort of get to that.
Gina Martin came on Wobble and she said something amazing. She said: what’s she’s come to realise is that what she looked like was the least interesting thing about her. And that’s what body neutrality is to me, it’s just not what I’m going to spend all my energy on and it’s not going to be what I’m going to think about all of the time. Which is how it’s been for me. My whole mood can be dictated by whether or not I’ve messed up a diet. So I’m really starting to come out of that, I’m really starting to explore it and find out what it means to me and what it looks like for me. I think a lot of us are, I mean if you’ve been in diet culture your ol woke life I think it’s very hard to know what’s the alternative and I think that’s what I’m trying to investigate at the moment.
Olivia: Cool – great answer! Ok so, I think I know your answer to this already, but I’m going to ask it anyways. Would you say taking time off to have fun is a form of empowerment?
Sarah: Ooo what a good question! Err yes…but it’s hard. Especially if you ask somebody who works for themselves or just anybody who works actually! Or anyone that’s a mother or has a responsibility of any kind. I certainly have found it very, very hard to justify having any sort of time off. And I didn’t know what fun looked like for a long time.
Olivia: Oh my god, that’s how I am right now!
Sarah: Yeah, and I always assumed as well that fun always looked like being the last one at the party, and drinking all the drinks. Being “the fun one” all the time. And that was my 20’s which was horribly exhausting! And very anxiety fuelled, because that’s a lot of pressure! That’s just how you have fun isn’t it? That’s what you have to do, you have to drink everything and snog everyone and look fabulous and BE fabulous…all the time. So, I’ve had to rework my idea of what fun is. But yeah taking time off, I think there’s so much guilt that can get stuck with that. And I think we need to be really clear on what we really do find fun. Plus things get murky as well, for example if your job revolves around social media, even though you might be having just fun, you might feel a pressure to share that – then that becomes work. So it’s a grey area. So having something that is exclusively fun – whatever that is – identifying that and making a little bit of space for that, I think that’s really important. Because it’s only going to enhance the rest of what you’re doing.
Olivia: Absolutely! Ok, cool. You seem very adept at using your voice. Do you have advice for other women who want to start using their voice but don’t really know where to start?
Sarah: Ok, so it’s taken me a long time. A really, really long time to find my voice. Like I’m 35 now and I only feel like I’ve found it in the last year. So I think that’s really important to say. I think that what happened was I spent so long on the radio trying to be something else, trying to fit, trying to emulate what I thought a radio presenter should sound like. And also I worked at certain stations, so I had to be their brand. I did have to occupy a kind of voice and a different kind of space. So I think when I let that go, I was so done with it. I was so ready to start talking and owning stuff that I wanted to talk about and the way I was. And by doing that my voice became naturally stronger and stronger. I was crippled for years, for forever, with people pleasing. I would want to say the right thing and I would want to be the right thing to make everybody like me. And that was a big thing and I said that that’s got to go, so I let that go which was a big moment. But I was so ready for it. I thought if people come and I’m being truly authentically myself and somebody doesn’t like it that’s ok because there’s nothing I can do about it. And that was a very empowering decision to make.
Olivia: Awesome answer again! So, when do you feel most powerful?
Sarah: Good question! Definitely when I’m feeling authentic. When I’m wearing faux fur. When I’ve got my nails done. When I’m communicating something that I feel really strongly about. When I’m communicating a story I feel really desperate to share because I know it will connect, ‘cause I know it will help me and it might help somebody else. That’s really, really empowering. Yeah, what a great question! Does that answer it?
Olivia: Yeah! That was a great interview!