How I discovered my self-worth and built a meaningful business

Sophie Turton is director and co-founder of The Joyful, a digital marketing and brand-building agency working with conscious businesses.

Sophie Turton on meaningful business

I lost my ‘when I grow up I want to be…’ kind of dreams around the age of 12. Before then it was the triple-A – astronaut, author or actress – and I’d flit between, sometimes imagining myself as all three, standing on a cosmic stage, playing out a story of my own creation.

Post 13, I just wanted to survive.

I’d fallen into a deep well of depression, and I didn’t believe I was worth anything. I lost myself entirely during that time, and couldn’t see the future from the past. I was suicidal, and I didn’t care about the career path I should tread.

But in this society where what we do for our job is often considered more important than who we want to be as a person, a decision had to be made. So, at 17 I chose to do a degree in English with creative writing.

Who do you want to be?

It’s damaging, the way we talk to children. We say ‘what do you want to be, what do you want to do’, rather than ‘who do you want to be, what kind of experiences do you want to have, what will be your legacy?’

Like many of my generation, I thought that to be successful I had to get good grades, work my way up the career ladder, have a job title my parents would be proud to mention to the hairdresser. At some point, I’d buy a house, get married, have a cat.

I thought I had to be ‘acceptably successful’, otherwise I wouldn’t be worth anything. So much of our worth is tied up in the material, we don’t teach children how to harness the magic they already have within them. We don’t tell them they are already incredible.

Searching for meaning in all the wrong places

I certainly didn’t realise the value of my internal light. If anything, I did everything in my power to put it out.

The first couple of years at university went by in a kaleidoscope of mad behaviour fuelled by alcohol, drugs and poor decisions. Because I was naturally good at writing and analysis, I sailed through without doing much work. But there are so many things I missed out on because I was in self destruct mode.

I didn’t join any societies, slept through far too many lectures, and missed out on the whole academic experience in the first couple of years. I thought university was about freedom, bars and cheap wine. And so long as I got a 2:1, I’d be fine.

Searching for meaning

Between the second and third year of university, I went to Sri Lanka and worked at a school for children with special needs. I lived in the children’s home attached to the school and spent every waking hour with the kids there, playing with them and communicating on a level far beyond language.

It was one of the most profound experiences and gave me a sense of real value. It showed me I could use my time and energy to make an impact on other people’s lives. It was also my first experience of the ‘real’ world. Up there, in the remote mountain town of Nuwara Eliya, people had very little of the material, but an abundance of love, community support and connection to spirit.

I returned to the UK a changed person. The experience of being in service to others had shaken me out of my habitual self-destruction.

The world of work

I graduated from university into a recession. There were no jobs, the media said, times were bleak, and many of my friends were in a state of panic.

I took it as an opportunity. I’d been to Prague on holiday the year before and found a well-regarded TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) qualification at a school over there. After an intensive six weeks, I got a job teaching English to Czech business people.

I was in the Czech Republic for two and a half years and by the time I left, I’d once again misplaced my purpose. When I talk about purpose, I don’t mean what it says on my LinkedIn profile or how many likes I have on Instagram. I mean my driving, burning, ‘get me out of bed’ reason for being here. I had it for a minute and then it was gone.

I realised I needed to get out of Prague. Home of the Bohemian, it’s a beautiful city built on the ethos of hedonism. I needed to do something to shock me out of that state of mind. So, I decided to go to the place that scared me the most. At 23, I packed my bags and boarded a plane to Shanghai.

Returning to writing

China was another fundamental turning point for me. I knew I didn’t want to be a teacher. I loved the experience of engaging with people, but I wasn’t passionate about teaching and you really do need to bring some fire into a profession that is that all-consuming. I wanted to be a writer.

So, I looked for as many opportunities to write as I could. My intention was to build my portfolio and I was happy to do so for free in the early stages, so I started volunteering with two of the biggest expat publications in Shanghai. I also pestered my way into becoming a columnist for Shanghai Daily.

My time in Shanghai led me into a career in journalism, which I then took further when I returned to the UK to do a Masters degree in multimedia journalism alongside the National Council for the Training of Journalists diploma at the University of Sussex.

Journalism is the obvious choice for someone who loves to write. The only issue was, I hated the British media and all it stood for. I couldn’t be a hack.

Discovering content marketing

I had no idea what content marketing was when I joined an accountancy firm as their assistant editor. As was the theme of my whole career, I kind of blagged my way through the interview with a vague understanding of concepts such as SEO. I did know one thing for sure, I wanted to get paid to write.

I had a brilliant editor and he really helped me hone my skills. The value of having a good boss can never be unestimated. I worked my way up there but after two years, I needed a new challenge. In-house is a great place to start your career in marketing, but I started to crave diversity. So, I applied to work in a creative agency.

I started as a marketing assistant, segwayed into content and then worked my way up to be the head of content and PR. Then, in 2017, the seed of my life cracked open in a painful and drastic way. Everything I had been building fell away, and it turned out to be the biggest gift of my life. From the rubble of that year, I was able to build the experience of living I have today.

Joyful new beginnings

I met Alice (co-founder of The Joyful) shortly after the shitfall of 2017. We bonded over how much we hated the marketing industry. We found it manipulative, transactional, and too often about getting people to believe there’s something wrong with them. This kind of marketing says, “hey, you broken thing, buy this, it’ll fix you.” You don’t need fixing.

At the end of our first meeting, I’d decided I would quit my job and we’d start a challenger agency together. The Joyful Web, changing the way the world does marketing. Boy did we have some moxy!

Changing the world

The Joyful is now three years old and has evolved into a brand-building consultancy for conscious businesses. We specialise in holistic business growth and have departments across marketing, sales and service, with a focus on building brands with purpose.

We’re on a mission to change the world through business.

We strongly believe that all the issues we’re seeing right now – inequality, poverty, the pandemic, climate change, how people are completely switched off from the collective consciousness – all come from a capitalist structure that is completely out of control.

The governments aren’t going to be the ones to change this while huge corporations continue to line their pockets. It’s up to businesses to put a stake in the ground and say ‘enough’. We need to prioritise people and the planet. It’s also up to consumers to think hard before they buy. Every time we spend our money, we’re voting with our pound.

Through The Joyful, I’ve found a path that is completely of my own design. I get to work with amazing people and the realms of what’s possible for the business lies completely in our hands. For me, that’s been the most powerful experience of all. To be a contribution and to live on my own terms. Joy!

Follow YOUR joy

There will always be someone telling you what you should do, and most of the time they’re coming from a place of love and concern. But they aren’t you, they can’t hear the quiet whisperings of your heart. 

Listen to that inner guidance system carefully, and watch the thoughts and beliefs you have. Thoughts become feelings, and feelings become actions that will form your reality. And we can change our reality by changing our thoughts. For instance, if you believe there’s a recession and there are no jobs and you’re doomed, then you’re right. Whatever you believe you can and cannot do, you’re right.

One of the most valuable questions I ask myself regularly is, am I limiting myself in the way I see the world? Is this current mindset holding me back or helping me to expand? Am I choosing to have an expansive view of what’s possible, even when all of the information around me is telling me the contrary?

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what you do for a living, how much money you make, where you live or the letters after your name, it matters how you show up in every moment of your life and how you choose to grow and develop as a result of the experiences you have. And then it’s how you use those experiences to make a contribution.

Follow your joy, know you are WORTHY of that joy, and you’ll be just fine.

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