After being brutally assaulted by her former husband, and faced with financial ruin, it’s a wonder businesswoman Jo Gilbert found the strength to carry on. In fact, she transformed her life into the kind of story which would leave any female in absolute awe. Here’s her story for Eloquently Her.
Four suitcases and an unassuming grey pebble.
It’s not much, is it?
It’s certainly not the level of paraphernalia and ‘baggage’ one might assume would encapsulate the life of an accomplished, head-strong mother, grandmother, wife, and award-winning businesswoman.
But every picture tells a deeper story…and there’s certainly some intriguing chapters within this tale of human endeavour and remarkable will.
Jo Gilbert has her life wrapped and packed in readiness for a new life in Lanzarote, which she begins this summer.
She’s not ‘running away’, nor turning her back on the past which has shaped her, but she is absolutely and undeniably seeking out a new phase of ‘purpose’ and of contented positivity, without the countless trappings she had at one time become so accustomed to.
At 47, Jo has very recently released her first ‘from the heart’ story, telling the admirably raw account of triumphing over adversity, achieving a professional life and wealth she never imagined possible – and how she’s discovered her own meaningful road along life’s rugged highway.
It’s that raw honesty and candid humour which radiates in everything this inspirational achiever says.
“There’s nothing like finding your whole life condensed down into four suitcases, and comparing that to your own vulgar habit of wasteful designer excesses,” laughs Jo, as she captures the vision of her pared-down pre-Lanzarote existence.
“This is who Jo really is – it’s simpler, more real, and it’s more about recognising what in life is ultimately more important.
“Turn the clock back a few years ago and I was spending money like crazy, on utterly unnecessary things.
“At one point I bought something like 15 pairs of Louboutin trainers in a month. I ask you….seriously…whether you’ve got the money or not, who NEEDS 15 pairs of Louboutin a month?”
It’s not until you come to learn more of Jo’s story that you truly begin to understand how ‘at odds’ that lifestyle and brand-addiction was, to the earlier years of her traumatic and – at times – terrifying, life.
With her choppy hair, bold body art and witty chatter, you might think today that Jo has indeed always been a confident know-her-own-mind woman of the world.
Far from it.
In fact, she carries with her the battle wounds of two abusive marriages, periods of absolute financial hardship, and a crippling lack of confidence in herself and her abilities.
“If I’m to pick over my journey and analyse how I became this woman who spent lots of money on branded things, and constantly sought the finer clothes, cars and homes, it’s really clear that that was born out of proving I was no longer a down-trodden single mum on benefits,” she suggests.
“I wanted people to know I was more than a woman who had fled domestic violence, that I had actually amounted to something, and that I didn’t need to be ‘provided for’.
“It’s not so much about shame, but certainly about wanting to create an identity for myself that felt far more acceptable. Despite everything I’ve been through, I’ve never wanted to have hand-outs in life or ‘expect’ to be supported. I’m a ‘do-er’, and I have a great deal of pride.”
Originally from Stoke on Trent, Jo left home at the age of just 18 and very quickly found herself entering a marriage which was to feature domestic violence and disrespect from the outset.
On finally fleeing that destructive marital union – with two children – she had aspirations of a far more harmonious relationship and lifestyle for her future years, but in no time at all, it seemed history was set to repeat itself.
“It’s not all that uncommon to hear of a woman going from one domestic violence relationship to another,” Jo admits, sombrely.
“In my case, I think I had such low self esteem that it was almost inevitable I would step out of one bad partnership, right into another.
“The second marriage was immeasurably worse though.
“My then husband was actually living what transpired to be something of a ‘Walter Mitty’ life, where he’d got wives and partners elsewhere in the country. The marriage finally broke down after a terrible violent episode.”
The brutal finale came after a dinner party at the couple’s home, when Jo was punched repeatedly in the face, knocked unconscious and left with a fractured jaw, missing tooth and a broken nose.
It was to be the catalyst which would see her flee that life – but would also grant her a kind of rocket-fuel propulsion to make her own story so much more worthwhile, successful, and awe-inspiring.
“The police weren’t great back then at advising you what to do around domestic violence cases like mine, so it was very much a case of ‘go back to your family’,” Jo recalls.
“I look back now and realise that I came incredibly close to losing my life on the night of that attack, so I thank God that I was sensible enough to know that that road had come to an end and that I needed a new start for myself and my three young children.
“Perhaps it was quite cliché in some ways, but I very quickly went out and had my long hair – which I’d fearfully hidden behind for years – cut extremely short as a way of embracing a new me.
“I can vividly remember standing looking at myself in the mirror shortly after getting that done, and saying ‘you’re going to be okay Jo’.
“I had this overwhelming sense that, no matter what, I was about to begin a new life and that it would be one which would serve me well.”
Call it sixth sense or feminine optimism, but in the years which followed, Jo’s journey would indeed shape up in that way.
Initially, she sought work in a transport office, juggling school hours and parent duties, with gruelling night shifts and periods of intense self-driven study to fully grasp the sector and its nuances.
An unexpected drama disrupted that professional course, when, out of nowhere, her young daughter was rushed to hospital and then subsequently spent three months in intensive treatment for a congenital condition.
It was this which, Jo believes, became the twist of fate which reshaped her life story and her opportunity to attain great success.
“As devastating as that time was, I often think it was a twist of fate which meant I was taken out of my job there, and then ended up some time later finding my way into the energy sector,” she says.
“While I was looking after my daughter, money was extremely tight and I was skipping meals and was making ends meet on something like £104 per week as a mother of three, but there was no way I was ever going back on benefits.
“When it was possible to get back into the professional world, I found a role which looked quite suitable for me, in energy. Somehow it just transpired to be a really good ‘fit’ for my way of thinking, and I completely absorbed everything about the sector.
“I put all the hours God would send into spare self-taught study, doing market research, burying myself in books, and steadily seeing my salary and job titles improve.
“Who knows where I had gained the confidence from, but by 2010, I had the sense that I knew enough to do this myself as a consultant in the industry.
“I made the leap, set my own business up – and ended up going from a £34,000 salary, to sometimes earning as much as £80,000+ a month.”
The move and meteoric success would sound somewhat audacious and unlikely in a film script, but this is the genuine and exceptional reality of Jo’s utterly inspirational story.
Even for her, there are times she struggles to conceive the turnaround.
“I agree,” she says, smiling, “it does sound almost too ridiculous to be true.
“I think a lot of it was down to drive, and determination, and a willingness to put in whatever hours and graft to learn the sector, spot the opportunities, and gain the contacts.
“Some have suggested I also have a kind of ‘photographic brain’ around facts and stats, so I’m good at soaking in information and recalling it – which in a complex field is hugely helpful.
“I quickly stopped seeing myself as the downtrodden abuse-suffering woman, and I was rapidly gaining a presence in that very male dominant arena.
“I was being asked to speak and lead contracts for people around Europe, and was getting a real name for myself in smart metering. I then set up Robin Hood Energy and helped other energy start-ups.
“Every single achievement was like another way of reminding myself I was a strong woman who deserved to both live and love life fully.”
One might quite understandably assume that Jo would today be the very epitome of an ‘I’ve Made It’ wealthy business heroine. Who could blame her if she wanted to dress from head to toe in the best fashion brands, indulge in the best cars, homes and lavish jewellery?
And yet, somewhat ironically, Jo is today turning her back on those kinds of trappings.
It’s exactly that reason that today we find her surrounded by her four suitcases, plane ticket to Lanzarote booked, and her humble ‘gratitude pebble’ in hand.
“It probably sounds crazy to have spent so long chasing the dream of wealth and success, only to want to walk away in favour of a pared down life,” she says, wistfully.
“About a year ago, I decided I was at the top of my mountain and that I wanted to take a step back.
“If anything, I felt the things I was buying and the way I was treating money – after everything I had been through – had something of a vulgar feel about it.”
She goes on: “I decided to sell everything I own for next to nothing, or give it away for free, and then start a new life in the sunshine of Lanzarote.
“I’ve spent recent months writing my book as a cathartic part of the journey, but also learning mindfulness, and preparing myself for assisting others on their quest to achieve their happiest life.
“The biggest shift has been in truly developing gratitude for the life I have, and recognising that, but for a few incidences, I might easily not have been here at the age of 47.
“Every day I choose to be happy and I take my small little ‘gratitude pebble’ – which I picked up from a beach in South Wales – and I thank that pebble for the life, the gifts and opportunities I have had, and continue to have.”
Jo, who is happily married and all set to run development retreats and coaching from her new sunshine home in Europe, says she is thankful that finally, after all her years of being driven professionally by the need to ‘prove’ something to others, she is now able to embrace her unique self.
“I’m just so very glad I’ve had the realisation about who I am and what I’m on this earth to do,” she explains.
“I want to help more women, with whatever past experiences, to recognise that they have qualities which make them ‘worth more’ and capable of being the change in this world.
“I’m a firm believer that it’s impossible to feel negative if you live with positivity and gratitude.
“If I can help more women understand and experience that, then I’ll truly feel like my work has been accomplished.”
For more information about Jo and her book, go to www.jogilbert.co.uk
Jo is offering 20 women to receive a copy of her book for free.
To be in with a chance of securing your copy, please email your details to firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday 3 August 2018 and we will draw the lucky recipients and notify you in due course.