HOW DID THE TWO OF YOU MEET, AND HOW DID THAT DEVELOP INTO A FRIENDSHIP AND BUSINESS?
SELINA BARKER: We met back in 2012, through a mutual friend who thought we would get on really well. She was right – it was love at first sight! Vicki really wanted to change her career and wasn’t sure how to go about it. And I was a career-change coach. Vicki told me she wanted to help people with their love lives, and I thought ‘Oh, this is perfect’, because my love life was a disaster. So I suggested Vicki should have a go at coaching me.
VICKI PAVITT: I had attended an introductory workshop about couples counselling and I was thinking about leaving my job in marketing to go and train. I was deliberating over the long-term study involved and it was like a weird twist of fate that Selina and I met around the same time. Selina just said: ‘Why don’t you try being a love coach? And start by coaching me.’
SB: We both needed what the other person was offering, so we just gave it a go. We would meet up and do a session on my love life, and Vicki really inspired me with her coaching. She would make up exercises and ask me questions to unpack the madness that was going on in my head. She challenged my whole understanding of love. Together we started exploring the notions I had of love – this idea that someone perfect would come along and just fill me up with love – and the results were amazing. Within a few months I’d gone through a whole journey and I felt so different. I felt so much happier and more confident that it was going to happen, and because we did so much work on self-love I didn’t feel any urgency anymore.
At the same time, I was challenging Vicki on her assumptions about what it is to create your own business and teaching her how to get out of the employee mind-set. I career coached her and she love coached me. That’s how we began.
WHEN DID YOU DECIDE TO TURN THIS INTO A BUSINESS AND HOW DID YOU DECIDE ON THE NAME PROJECT LOVE?
VP: We didn’t realise that we were starting a business initially. The business evolved out of this process that we were taking each other through. It grew organically into a platform that helps other people create those same changes we’d helped each other to make. We’d called our get-togethers Project Love from the start, because it was Selina’s project love – helping her to turn around her love life and transform that area of her life.
SB: We went step by step. I was feeling like a new person, with this new approach to love, and by practicing self-love the desperation was gone. I was just relaxed and happy and knew it was going to happen, which was life-changing. We didn’t know anyone else out there who was helping women in this way, so we wanted to share what we were doing and decided to run a little course. In 2014 we sent 14 of our female friends a Valentine’s card that said: ‘We would like to take you on a six-week journey to help you get ready for love.’
VP: That was our pilot ‘Get Ready For Love’ course. We wanted to see if we could replicate Selina’s journey, so we took all of those lessons that had worked for her and created a journey that other people could follow, to see if it would work for them too. We created a journey that was audio content, video content and worksheets. It would take them through an exercise and ask questions designed to help them explore their mindset. And we sent out emails that asked people to carry out one act of love each day.
SB: There were practical things too, like looking up and smiling at the world; and writing down your long shopping list of what you want in a person – what they should and shouldn’t have – and then ripping that up, because that’s one of the reasons why people get stuck, because they are looking for a perfection ideal and not being open to surprise. Little exercises like that. And it was amazing for our friends too. So that’s when we realised: ‘Right, there is really something in this’.
IS THAT WHEN YOU LAUNCHED THE PODCAST?
SB: Yes. We were constantly having these fascinating conversations about love, and challenging the narrative of how you find love. I felt that we needed to get these conversations out there, so I said: ‘We should just press record and create a podcast’.
VP: I was a bit resistant at first, because I’d come from a corporate background working with big brands and millions-of-pounds budgets. I wasn’t doing grassroots marketing and building a start-up business. Just giving things a go was very new to me, I had to battle all the self-doubt and fear that comes with trying something new. It took me a few months to get used to that format, but Selina was able to help me adapt and adopt a different approach.
SB: I was running my own business from pretty much the moment I left university, so I had always been about what you can do with no budget, and homemade. I had also taught people how to start their own businesses, and how to embrace imperfection. It is better to just put something out there and get started than to wait until it is all perfect.
WHAT DO YOU THINK MAKES YOU WORK WELL TOGETHER AS BUSINESS PARTNERS?
VP: We have a lot of similar values. I think for any relationship to thrive, having shared values is really the key. You can have differences of course, but if you are approaching life in a very different way it’s going to be difficult.
SB: We actually have very similar personalities. We both really like to collaborate, and we pep each other up and keep each other going, which is absolutely invaluable. Having different personalities and complementary skillsets can also work, but having the same values, and a shared vision, is really important.
WHY DO YOU THINK THE PODCAST HAS BEEN SUCH A SUCCESS?
SB: As soon as we launched the Get Ready for Love online platform, we had press attention immediately. We had features in Glamour, Grazia, Red and Psychologies magazines, which for an online course was really exciting. We had about a thousand people doing the course. The journalists interviewing us were saying: ‘Finally someone has turned up who’s talking how we talk.’ We were always about conversation – bringing guests in and having conversations about interesting topics around love.
VP: The podcast is deep and meaningful conversations on life and love. And we talk about so much. We interview guests on a huge range of topics. We might talk about people pleasing, or career change, or anxiety. We’ll invite an anxiety expert, or a psychologist who specialises in relationship attachment theory. We do one podcast together. And then we each go and interview people separately as well.
SB: Vicki usually has conversations with people about love, dating and relationships. And mine are typically around career and life-design topics. There just wasn’t much out there with two down-to-earth women talking about the realities of dating and being in your thirties. What is interesting is how many of our friends listen to the podcast.
VP: For me a real sign that we’ve hit the sweet spot is when our friends are interested. But also, loneliness is on the rise – particularly with millennials and Gen Z – and people find friendship in podcasts, because there is such an intimacy that can be felt by listening to a conversation. People feel connected through listening to some girlfriends talking about topics that maybe they haven’t touched on with their own friends. Maybe it inspires them to then share more things with their friends too.
DO YOU THINK IT IS IMPORTANT TO SHARE ABOUT YOUR OWN LIVES ON THE PODCAST AS WELL?
SB: Absolutely, because that’s where the connection comes from. We share our own journeys of self-love, and creating a life and a career in relation to the things that we love. And we invite guests on who we know are going to be willing to really speak from the heart. That depth of conversation is so much of what we’re about – being willing to be vulnerable and to share things that maybe you’ve struggled with. Our conversations challenge this need to be perfect, by being honest about the ups and downs of life.
VP: When we started the podcast five years ago, there wasn’t as much awareness and open dialogue about the pressures that people are under. I think having these honest conversations helps people to see that they can actually do something about it. More and more women are feeling empowered, particularly in the workplace – they are actually setting boundaries, and speaking up when something is too much and they feel they are drowning under the stress and the weight, and the anxiety that is caused by their workloads. I think podcasts – especially podcasts hosted by women – play a big part in helping people to realise that they can unsubscribe from this way of living.
SELINA, HOW HAS BECOMING A MOTHER IMPACTED YOUR APPROACH TO LIFE AND WORK?
SB: Becoming a mother, I had to just fly into it. Then, after six months, I developed this arthritic condition where I suddenly couldn’t move very well. I had to really listen to my body and ask: ‘What is my body trying to teach me?’ I realised I was going down the path of the self-sacrificial mother – thinking self-love no longer applied to me. If it wasn’t for Project Love, and what we do, I probably would have continued down that path, but once I realised what was happening I said: ‘No way, it has to stop here, and it has to start with me.’
I had to relearn how to do self-love, because I couldn’t get up in the morning and do journaling and some stretching and yoga and meditation anymore. I was already up before I wanted to be up, looking after a baby. So I had to relearn and keep overcoming that feeling of ‘this isn’t about me anymore’. It has to still be about me; otherwise, I am not going to be a good mother. I’ve noticed that when I am not practising self-love, I get very irritable with my son, and that is not the mother I want to be.
When you start practising self-love, every area of your life starts to transform, but as a parent it can be hard because it is so against what we see parenting to be, which is just like sacrificing yourself. As a parent, if you make self-love a priority, OK you might not be there one or two nights every week because you go and do something lovely for yourself, but when you are with your child, you are really with them, and that is better. You are not resenting them because you are with them every moment outside of work.
VP: I am not a mother, but what I noticed – and Selina has taught me a lot – is that you don’t have to sacrifice everything about you that came before the child. You can rewrite that narrative and instead of motherhood being all about self-sacrifice, you can be someone who is a mother and also many other things. It doesn’t have to define who you are.
SB: I also think there is a really important conversation to be had, which says to people that you don’t need to be a mother. Again, there is such a strong narrative about how there’s a happiness and fulfilment that you will get from being a parent that you can’t get in any other way. And I disagree. I actually think people completely underestimate the physical, mental, and emotional impact of caring for a child. It is really important to recognise that it is another job.
VP: I think having kids is one of those things that, until you have done it, you have no idea how you as an individual will cope and manage. I might respond to motherhood in a totally different way to how I think I am going to.
SB: Motherhood is different for everyone. I’ve definitely found a way of motherhood where I do it in my way and I really enjoy it. I love my work and I love my son. I would not want to be a full-time mum because it wouldn’t suit me and I have no guilt about that. We recently had Tamu Thomas on the podcast and we talked about motherhood without martyrdom. I think making self-care and self-love, happiness and wellbeing, a top priority – particularly now I am a mother – is the absolute key for me.
Vicki Pavitt and Selina Barker are the co-founders of Project Love, a weekly podcast show and online platform that promotes deep and meaningful conversations on life and love, and self-development tools that are designed to help you bring about the changes you want to make in your life. They also offer career and love coaching for individuals, and have created the Goodbye, Hello Journal, an annual workbook that helps you to create a vision for the year ahead; loveprojectlove.com
Vicki and Selina will be on the panel of our ‘Modern Love Is…’ event, taking place at The Royal Exchange soon. The event will bring together a selection of dynamic love and relationship experts to discuss how we perceive love, how to build impactful and lasting relationships and the science behind love. For more information please sign up to our newsletter here.
Conversations in the Courtyard is a monthly series that invites today’s leading minds to discuss current topics, exchange points of view and explore new ideas at The Royal Exchange in the City of London