In 2016 following some life-changing decisions, my former classmate Marion Kiely became an entrepreneur when she established her innovative company Upstream.
Upstream is a Health and Safety consultancy with a difference, because it also focuses on employee well-being and on how to bring about positive changes to the way work is carried out within an organisation.
“Recently while in Amsterdam at a Health and Safety conference I was asked ‘I see you have well-being in your tagline, how do you incorporate that into your business?’.
“Ultimately, the goal of any health and safety management system should be to protect, and even promote, health in employees and others engaged with the business. This adds great value to the overall businesses we serve, and sparks innovation and engagement when embraced and supported by leadership teams within organisations,” said Marion.
Just four years ago, Marion had to take five months off work as she became sick, exhausted and burnt out due to working in excess of 60 hour weeks.
“I hit a right low in my life. I had to stop in order to recover. As someone who is usually very independent and doesn’t like to ask others for help, it forced me to reach out to family and friends, and seek their support to get through that very difficult time. I’m lucky to be here today if I’m to be totally honest, it really was a tough time.
“The whole episode led me to question everything about life. Why was I living where I was living? Why was I working where I was working? Why was I investing time in relationships that didn’t yield a good return? So many why’s. In hindsight, I’m thankful that I went through that difficult time, I see it as a wakeup call. As the saying goes, ‘the darkest night brings the brightest stars’,” added Marion.
Attending the Pendulum Summit in 2015 changed Marion’s life. “During a short meditation Dr Chopra asked us to tap into what our life purpose was, a resounding ‘to bring about positive change’ was what jumped out at me.”
Following on from this Marion took part in an online course with Pat Divilly called ‘Be Your Own Hero’, “that really brought my dreams into reality. It dawned on me at this time that were I to reach the end of my days, if I didn’t take the leap afforded to me now, I may well end up bitter and resentful for not having taken this opportunity. It became clear to me that I was more afraid of staying in my job of fifteen years and ending up that way than leaving and taking a gamble on the unknown.”
Prior to this Marion was a Behavioural Based Safety (BBS) facilitator at Pfizer pharmaceuticals. The seed of an idea for her business was planted when she was invited to present at conference for the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO).
“After the conference I received many enquiries from occupational health nurses wanting to know where they could avail of services to help them roll out a programme like ours. There was no service provider in Ireland that could deliver our approach. This got me to thinking that there was a market for such a service.
“It was something I felt I had to do. While I was half afraid to take the leap, leaving the security that came with having a permanent job, I knew deep down inside I wanted to make the move from corporate life to working for myself,” said Marion.
Since embarking on her new career Marion travels to clients, schools and universities delivering mental health and well-being talks, she also lectures in Middlesex University has been a guest lecturer in University College Cork (UCC).
Though she has a very busy lifestyle, she has learned from past experience and ensures she takes time out for meditation, walks, social events and she consciously prioritises meeting people daily.
“That was a steep learning curve I can tell you. The fact that I had burnout in the past is now standing to me. When I feel pressure coming on and the inclination to park the walks and meditations, that’s my trigger to refocus. It isn’t always easy, and sometimes I need to pick up the phone and get out and meet a friend and air whatever it is that is adding to my pressure. When you love what you do, it is hard to park it for a while and prioritise social events when busy. I have had to ban myself from reading scientific research and articles outside of my work time, as I found I was constantly at it and I was getting no down time.
“Letting go of perfectionism is something I have had to get comfortable with as well. I’m the type that can spend oodles of time perfecting something, when sometimes good enough has to do,” added Marion.
Marion has an MSc in Occupational Health from UCC, among many other qualifications and regularly travels to Holland and the UK for Master classes.
“Education is one of my core values, and I am constantly looking to learn from the latest research and trends that are out there. It is my belief that I’ll be learning until the day I leave this planet, there is so much to learn we can surely never know enough?”
On building her brand Marion took inspiration from her favourite quote, “‘Even dead fish go with the flow’. My brand shows resilience, going against the current, not just going with the flow for the sake of it. The thinking is that by tackling problems at source (upstream) we prevent them becoming even bigger problems downstream. It is very much in line with the upstream analogy in public health, which is centered on primary intervention.
“In my logo the fish symbolises the ‘Salmon of Knowledge’, a story from Irish mythology, and that represents my core value of education. The salmon also represents resilience by going upstream to spawn. The heart represents health, and it is at the centre of it all. Without health the rest falls asunder, and the colour and vibrancy goes. The ripple of water represents well-being and for me symbolises mindfulness. The logo in itself is about nature, an ever-evolving complex adaptive system, and that represents the view I believe we need to take of our organisations,” said Marion.
As for the future, Marion would like to make a real difference to the health and well-being of the nation, “ I foresee this happening by influencing those in a position of power to do what is ethically right, and prioritise the enforcement of legislation in the area of identifying psychosocial hazards within workplaces and putting preventative measures in place to limit the harm that may arise from them.
“I also envision Upstream being recognised as the go-to experts in the area of improving work efficiency by means of providing a top notch safety service based on the latest scientific theories and research, and practical implementation of same. Business leaders serious about becoming the best in their field, who want their employees to be innovative and engaged, will seek out our services and if they are willing to be challenged and have potential to flourish. To meet this demand I foresee the Upstream workforce expanding,” added Marion.