Natalie Fee is an award-winning founder of City to Sea and 3 times author with a new book out called “Do Good Get Paid”. 

Today, we’re back-peddling all the way to November, 2017. 

Natalie had been going hard.

She’d been running City to Sea — campaigning to stop plastic pollution — for 2 years. Starting out it was a social enterprise. So that meant they were being paid for 2 days a week, and volunteering the rest. There was a lot of pressure to succeed and prove themselves.

She’d just given a TED Talk, which was high profile, and therefore extra pressure.

And on top of that, she was going through a break up which required her to move house ASAP. 

Eventually, the body started showing the classic signs of stress. 

Extreme fatigue, low moods, crying a lot, struggling to get out of bed, and zero motivation to exercise. She also developed a hiatus hernia, but she ignored it to continue working more.

Natalie was putting the need to save the ocean before her well-being. 

In an industry where people are fighting for harmony and balance, this is not uncommon. 

Understanding Ethical Leadership Reflecting, Regenerating and Moving Forward

When Natalie did recognise that she needed to stop — she was met with a compassionate team.

They took over the business for a month, while she took 3 weeks out to move house, reflect, regenerate and move forward. 

Experiencing this helped her come to a big understanding, that this is not how she wants to serve the world. 

Leading in this way is not regenerative or sustainable, which is what her company stands for. 

This was a wake-up call to do things differently, implementing ethical leadership, by first taking care of herself. 

  • Knowing when to switch off
  • Reducing the number of hours
  • Changing the relationship to the cause
  • Knowing that what she is doing is enough
  • Taking time to eat well, rest well, and exercise regularly

The biggest learning for Natalie in this process was acknowledging how much responsibility she felt for saving the ocean. She was so determined, it turned into stress. 

After taking a break, she realised just how much impact she could make — which is still sizeable — but plastic will not disappear in her lifetime. And that was very important to help her learn to slow down.

Progressing in Business and the Way the It Is Run

From that moment, Natalie continued to expand the business. Having secured a partnership, she was able to hire more people, including a CEO. 

This marked a turning point for her, as she was able to rely on someone else to carry some of the weight. She was able to step back and act as a founder. 

For Natalie, this led her to a very unique position.

She had run great campaigns, created partnerships, and had rolling donations coming from different pockets. Since her burnout, she had implemented a 4-day work week to account for the time sustainable living takes, added in mindful practices into the every day office schedules…

But she hadn’t yet become an expert in one thing.

What they were doing was considered new and different. 

But because they were caught up in the action, it was difficult to see how well they were doing. There was too much focus on the next thing, or comparing to others, who were often double the size and much more experienced.

However, what she didn’t think about, is that other businesses might look at her in the same way. 

It wasn’t until people started asking how the business worked, the ethical leadership focuses that they had built in the team and where the idea for the structure came from, that she realised others were admiring her work.

In our conversation on the podcast, Natalie reflects on the progress of the business since her burnout and the dichotomy of being a mindful person in and out of working environments. 

We talk a lot about

  • Different ways you can integrate more present approaches to working
  • Managing workload with life expectations
  • Appreciating your successes

Natalie’s journey is a powerful reflection of just how turbulent founder life can be and a valuable message that you can still be successful, while things are a work in progress!