If I could go back in time and give my younger self a message, I’d tell myself to not be too afraid of feelings of self-doubt and to stay open to stepping into the unknown, even when it feels uncomfortable. A willingness to learn and receptiveness to feelings of instability will help propel you forward and unlock your potential.
I began my career as a doctor – working for the NHS on an Accident and Emergency ward. While clinicians receive years of dedicated training, nothing can truly prepare you for the high pressure environments you step into as a qualified medic. However, over time, you grow more confident in your ability to handle the intensities of everyday life as a frontline clinician.
After many years in medicine, I decided to take a step back from full-time clinical work. Having witnessed so many of my talented clinical colleagues pushed to the brink of burnout due to poor work-life balance, I launched Patchwork Health alongside my friend from medical school, Jing. Our aim was to make flexible working a possibility for all healthcare workers in the NHS while ensuring organisations could maintain safe staffing levels in a sustainable and cost-effective way.
Even with years of experience on the NHS frontline and having managed intense life or death situations on the hospital wards, I still felt an intense sense of imposter syndrome moving into this new world.
In the early days of our startup journey, I felt a lot of self-doubt and uncertainty. I often questioned whether I was the right person to lead the team, whether we were designing the exact right product to support the NHS, and whether I knew enough about software and business to execute on this vision and turn it into a reality.
Working as a doctor, you have your training and hospital processes and guidelines to call on when making a decision. This safety blanket doesn’t translate to the startup world. Suddenly, I found myself in the unfamiliar territory of pitch decks, hiring, navigating regulated environments, and business development, and felt uncertain if every call I was making was the right one. Once I got used to one thing, such as pitching to investors, taking a decision on a new hire, or making a call on a critical product development, I was faced with new challenges as our company grew. Each new chapter would unlock fresh waves of self-doubt.
My initial way of managing these emotions was to push them away and carry on with faux confidence. But it didn’t work. The imposter syndrome was still there, bubbling away under the surface.
Only by leaning into these feelings of uncertainty did it begin to get any better. I embraced feeling out my depth, rather than refusing to let the imposter syndrome take hold. I let myself ask colleagues and mentors for advice and support. I acknowledged what was making me feel insecure; enabling me to embrace plans to overcome them.
Diving into new challenges headfirst, whilst acknowledging uncertainty, can be freeing. Gone is the absolute need to nail every detail of any action, first time. It’s replaced by a curiosity and compassion for yourself and those around you which, ultimately, leads to better long-term outcomes.
When it came to raising our Series B round last year, for example, I felt the weight of responsibility on my shoulders. But instead of allowing that to paralyse me, I approached the fundraise as a fresh challenge and a chance to learn new things. My co-founder and I spoke at length about our previous fundraising experiences, what had gone well, what we’d change this time, and what was causing anxieties for us both. This shared, practical assessment of what might be to come – including what would remain unknown for now – was only possible because I felt comfortable admitting that I didn’t immediately have all the answers.
Likewise, making critical decisions about who to bring into the team could also spark feelings of uncertainty. With each new hire came questions about whether it was the right choice, as well as queries about how I could simultaneously delegate to and empower a senior new colleague. Again, I found that honest conversations early on with new hires created the foundations for success; by flagging where I thought their strengths could complement my weaknesses and creating an atmosphere of trust, we could work together to figure things out. It meant both sides could drop any pretence and roll up our sleeves to get the job done.
If I had the opportunity to talk to my younger self, I’d tell him to ditch the ‘fake it until you make it’ approach. There’s nothing wrong with admitting that there are still things to learn and new skills to acquire as a first-time founder. I’m proud that at Patchwork Health, we’re now working with over 50 NHS organisations to make flexible staffing an option for their workforce, powered by a team of over 100 amazing colleagues. And we successfully closed over £20m in our Series B round. I’m so grateful to my co-founder, Jing, and the wider Patchwork team in helping achieve this. You don’t need to know all the answers; you just need to be up for the challenge of figuring them out.