Exit Strategy

Our Happy Ending, Photopoli by Karen Bentley

Do we ever get things done without an exit strategy: an end goal?

Over a Starbs coffee on a wet and cold November Sunday morning, Denzil asked me “what is your happy ending?”. We agreed on the same without hesitation: “… to live by the sea, to be able to see it and hear it. Little desire for possessions, but to experience living this life, together. To heal and repair our bodies”. So we planned our London exit strategy. 

Six months later we live in a small, (I prefer ‘bijoux’) white and clean flat that simply could not be any closer to the sea and a view of seven miles of beautiful beach. We don’t lay on the beach, we absorbits beauty from our balcony at any given time of day (or night). The area is close to the Uni where I am due to start in September having been offered two unconditional offers, one here and one in UAL – top choices for anyone wanting to study photography. 

This blessed life for each of us had been on hold awaiting release from difficult divorces and property sales, where others had made it expensive, painful and protracted, both of us kept small and now finally finding ourselves utterly free to be the architects of our own destiny. 

And Our Story continues. 

Far from developing frazzled nerves and stress, Lockdown has given us immense closeness and friendship. Priceless. 

Lockdown has only altered how we might achieve the end goal – as it has for many people as businesses and industries evolve or disappear from our lives. In terms of our business and achievements we have remained busy orchestrating the path to achieve it. 

Nobody knows how long our life may be, so I will ask you this: have you thought about what you really want to do and when you want to do it. Have you planned your exit strategy – from a bad relationship, a bad career, or home that doesn’t suit you?

Job 22:28 King James Version (KJV)

28 Thou shalt also decree a thing, and it shall be established unto thee: and the light shall shine upon thy ways.

This bible quote is translated in many modern ways, but it fact. You have to declare intention, plan the path to achieve it and it all becomes so clear.

Frozen Shoulder

In July I was teaching between 9 -13 sessions a week, feeling fit and alive, despite struggling with a recurring bout of vertigo. 

In the months preceding I had started noticing that my right arm had a dull pain when I reached into the cupboards for things and was starting to ache a lot. My overhead lifts were weak and the range did not allow me to place them over my centre of gravity; they remained slightly forward, my body seemingly incapable of the mechanics. I can now identify this as the early signs of Frozen Shoulder. Literally overnight, the range of movement diminished to the point where my shoulder seems wooden and I can no longer raise my arm above shoulder height at the front (even without weights) nor do up my bra behind me!

I am now in constant pain. There is permanent tension across the back of my neck and pain and heat in my right shoulder which is incapable of separate movements: the ball and socket now move as if fused to my clavicle and scapula. It has meant cancelling PT sessions with clients and a completely new job role within a store to make ends meet. It has meant walking away from my own training which was gaining significant traction. I was enjoying the world of Bodybuilding, having become a CrossFit qualified trainer and training this way for nearly a year and needing more. 

Looking at photos of my once strong back and shoulders I am reminded of my achievements. But my once strong and toned arms now fight me every step of the way. My mojo has been broken by the brain fog of pain induced insomnia and frustration of my body rebelling against me. 

As a 52 year old woman I am in the 5% of the population most likely to develop Frozen Shoulder; perimenopausal and female. I have become an expert in my own condition of which there are three stages. This first stage (the freezing) can last anything from 9 months to 12 where the pain and locked nature cannot be ignored and progressively becomes worse. I look forward to the thawing which itself can take a further 12 months and eventually a return to normal function thereafter. Hmmm, I will be in my mid 50s by then – without training my shoulders what exactly will be normal function at that stage?

Until now I have completely festered in my own pity party for the past two months but am now emerging. I have had sessions with an amazing osteopath yet it did not improve the range of movement, despite my wanting it to desperately. A session with an acupuncture Dr left me severely bruised and nearly made me vomit trying to manipulate the joint back into the capsule. There have been many tears and anger.

But there are, of course, worse things that can happen. I can still train my legs and just about every other muscle group carefully around the condition and this is what I am doing, daily. Following the mobility is hard because it is painful, but without it I can’t say I have tried. I can’t do free weights and lifts so I have reverted to machines that guide my range – and am whooping it, nearly able to do the whole stack on leg press. There are days when I can do biceps and triceps, and others where the pain prevents me from even trying.

My education into studies and solutions on this condition continues in the hope of discovering a magical method to significantly speed up the process – hot and cold treatment, mobility, TENS, talking nicely to my body and positivity mantras. Hopefully by the end of trying it all the hot piercing pain shooting down the whole length of my arm into my wrist will have ebbed away. In the meantime if I do find the cure I will absolutely be sharing it …


Is there a destiny within you unfulfilled and an opportunity you are still waiting for? I cannot imagine anyone will honestly answer ‘no, I have achieved everything and am completely content’. 

We absolutely should have aspirations and goals. But often these are ‘shackled’ by people and environments that keep us small.

A person can be in an environment where they are hoping for an opportunity to prove they ARE the right person to invest in. That they have the knowledge, expertise and experience to make ‘pure gold’. Months become years, years becomes years and years and nothing happens.

If the people that you pitch to (metaphorically or physically) constantly overlook you, fail to nominate and cheerlead you, and are simply nodding in all the right places, there comes the time when you must acknowledge that if they truly believed in you, as much as you believe in you, they would have promoted you by now.

We have to be our own biggest cheerleaders. We are the masters of our own destiny. Life teaches you it is not always in the interests of those around you for you to rise and grow. That the safe and predictable small version of you is actually what suits their narrative. And this is where you stay until you realise it. 

In the movie Forrest Gump, the child character starts to walk then run with his leg braces: as his confidence grows he gathers momentum, the braces break off and he begins to run faster and further, he runs, and runs, and runs. He achieves recognition. He has control of his destiny. It is a succinct and beautiful movie metaphor. 

Say or write positive goals and aspirations daily – don’t refer to them as dreams as this implies they aren’t real and merely ‘may’ come true. Read writings from professional role models in your field. And importantly, let go of the people or institutions keeping you small and allow yourself to grow. Believe in yourself and build your life plan, for without a plan nothing comes to fruition. 

You have to be the biggest investor in you.

What you want vs. What you need.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life”: Steve Jobs

When asked what I value most in the world (loved ones aside) I always answer “my time”. My time is so valuable to me that I refuse to waste it. I refuse to sit through tv time if it brings nothing new to my life. I hate sitting in traffic to get somewhere, I’m not someone who can listen to an audio book and concentrate on driving – I am sure the local population would appreciate this acknowledgement of my lack of skills. I don’t like people arriving late – because they have put zero value on my time.

I have learnt to schedule my day into segments and I will always devote some time to just learning about something. It may be relevant to a client, or to a skill I am trying to improve. This time is valuable to me.

Personal Training is similar : my clients will often tell me what they do and don’t want. But I know what they need to achieve this. What follows is a collaboration and success in goal achievement, and a really great experience along the way for me and for them.

Steve Jobs was right, when he gave the world this quote; he didn’t realise he had not beaten his cancer, our time is indeed limited. Is someone wasting your time? Is there something you are not giving time to that you really want to? Is there a passion bubbling under the surface that needs to be given time to grow? … Make time.

I am making time in areas of life that give me pleasure and keep me happy : my relationship with my partner; my grown up children; self-development; new skills; business and career planning; bodybuilding; writing and photography. I have recognised what I want in life and what I need to get there. And because of this revelation nothing recently has been a waste of my time and it feels simply awesome.

Numbers Game

I have long been a believer that I did not need to know maths as I did not want to be a pharmacist nor scientist, and I had a calculator. Maths is not in my DNA. HOWEVER having recently started my bodybuilding, I have realised I had got this completely wrong. Macros, Micros, TDEE and % – yes I can use a calculator but to have an understanding of my numbers and percentages on the run is so hard!

My weight is, give or take 1Kg, near enough the same every day despite the volume of classes I teach or weights I lift myself. Which leaves me with one conclusion. Based on the caloric deficit and straight-speaking-honest fact that calories-in need to be in deficit to lose weight, either Myfitnesspal can’t do the maths … or I am kidding myself and have serious snacknesia, I suspect the latter.

Trainers need to practise what they preach: there is no authenticity being a PT and not having a strong, physically capable and lean body – after all, how can we possibly train you and give you good advice, if we cant train ourselves. My body fat remains around 25%, my weight 61kg. I’m a UK size 8. But I want to be a seriously stronger version of me than this. After two weeks of giving it my best I have realised that I need to approach this in a better way. I am already sick to death of eggs with extra egg white for breakfast and I am gagging at the mere thought of brocoli.

There is a wealth of information on Pinterest You Tube etc to take advice from, unless it is from a revered professional with years of experience I will take it at face value; there is truth in there, but not always. So no more weight guessing, food will be weighed and accounted for on MFP. I have calculated my daily macros using an online TDEE calculator and am feeding for the training I am undertaking. I am expecting results. FACT.

Tomorrow will be Day 1 because as the UK basks in the hottest temperature on record, my gyms aircon is not going to cut it for me today. Tomorrow I will have a plan and it will start. Because as I keep saying – without a plan, I am lost in the woods.

Trying not to do ugly face!

High Performance Planning

It seems that the more I try to plan action, the more I become distracted by all the other things I need to get done. To be vital rather than functional is my ultimate goal, but the functional things sit all around me screaming for attention.

I am a girl that became the woman of the house when my mother left my father when I was just short of 16. I was suddenly made the housekeeper and cook. I have spent 35 years of my life planning meals, laundry and housework around full time careers, motherhood, part time and self employment. It is a hard habit to break. I watch my partner take control of his dreams and aspirations; he is supporting me massively so in turn I am supporting his endeavours by ‘taking care of business’ in terms of the running of our home.

So why is it taking total control of me? I wake and think of what meals to eat and what washing I can put on, all the time taking note of the dirt and grime around me and what I need to do about it. I recently attended an Entrepreneurs afternoon hosted by Daniel Priestley and there was a moment when I felt an utter fraud in the room. “Who in this room does their own housework?”, no one owned up to it because of the indignation hinted at in the questioning. Ashamed and realising at this moment that I was not like everyone in the room, I said nothing. Daniel illustrated that this values my time at less than £10 an hour, roughly what it would cost for a cleaner; that my hour is worth less than I am willing to pay someone else to do it for me. I had never looked at it that way. But then I am not in a position to pay someone to do this for me either!

On the face of it, I can agree with his statement. But I truly believe this does not fully represent the situation. In that hour a woman’s brain calculates what food needs to be replaced in the shopping, when the best time to put the washing on and hang it out is (weather forecasting). What food is needed for tonight. When I should clean the bathroom/ bedroom/ kitchen. What time I need to collect the children, what will they eat, where will they need to be driven, oh, and finally how happy and sexy I should look when my partner comes home. We are awesome at multi tasking, we have learnt to do it from an early age.

I believe women particularly of Generation X, born 1965-1979, have had it the hardest. Our education was critical and often personally insulting. “Terrible!” “No, no, no, see me!” In angry red writing on homework. We started working in the seriously sexist and misogynistic 80s. We endured London riots and bombings while carrying on the silent non complaining commute and reading about it all in the 20p London Evening Standard (obviously I am speaking as a Londoner). Our parenting was not papered with “I love yous”, nor “I am proud you tried your best” where our millenial children has been. We were not built our own bedroom suites within our parents homes; we were expected to leave at 16. No aspirations for university for us born in anything less than upper classes. It was often also physically brutal.

We became the first generation of young ownership rather than experience. I had my first mortgage at 19 and owned my car. The Thatcher years were all about how much you earned and what you owned. In complete opposition to today where we definitely have a generation of non ownership: experience is all now. If I was in the car industry I would be concerned – I don’t know a single young person who owns their car outright, if they even decided to do driving lessons. All the houses that currently have moved up into their lofts to accommodate the returning uni children will one day be turned into flats as they will have out priced themselves – akin to the Victorian grand houses that are now are many apartments. Young people have very little hope of even getting onto the housing ladder without inheritance. And given the Baby Boomers longevity and the cost of private nursing, I think we can all say goodbye to that one.

I never had a plan for me. A plan that would give me financial freedom: it was once that the property I owned would be my pension, but three divorces have seen that disappear. My current divorce had my ex actually lay claim to the inheritance of my parents’ houses. A distasteful and audacious claim by a greedy man for a 3 year unhappy marriage and where my parents are only 69 and 72, younger than his. Where my father’s house will be sold to pay for the private nursing home he is now in, with their own hand stuck firmly out awaiting sale proceeds. Where my mother and stepfather halves are their own business.

I made a list of my daily tasks, which are mainly functional. My life on paper seems so utterly boring – no different to anyone else that lives functionally mind you.

Find my dream, what am I really good at? In answer to that question I can hand on heart say at this point in my life … surviving.

Survival Books

Back in my day …

I was thinking about how times have changed in my lifetime and laughed at a few of the things that our children would raise eyebrows at. So here are the things I have thought of, feel free to add more in the comments 👍

3 television channels and a television that you had to get up to change channel by pressing a button (or in my family’s case, my sister or I would get called downstairs from our bedrooms to do it for my Dad who could not be bothered

Waiting for the tv programmes to actually begin in the summer holidays – the Thames TV St Pauls logo and BBC clown and girl

Waiting for the TV to warm up when you switched it on

Not being told you are loved every time you left the house or went to bed (🙁)

Banana flavour Toffos and Mike Reid “triffic” bars (runaround, NOW!)

White Sunblest squidgy bread

Vosene and Lifebuoy in the bathroom

The Nit Nurse at school

School shiny scratchy toilet paper and outside block toilets

The ice-cream van at lunchtime in the school playground, the man holding your hand as you gave him your dinner money for a double (yeah, I know right 😳😳😳😳

Teachers putting their arm around your waist as you read to them at their desk

Teachers in high school SHOUTING and throwing the blackboard rubber (a hard wooden and rubber item) … at your head

“SEE ME!!!” expressed large and loud in red biro on submitted homework

Waiting nervously for your parents to come back from parents evening, as you weren’t welcome and hoping the teachers had been kind

Getting a wallop after parents evening for disappointing Mum

Getting a wallop after parents evening for disappointing Dad

Library cards and books for homework research

Hand me down clothes and shoes

Writing and sending letters and cards

NOT having any home home phone or any form of communication with friends

And Wedge haircuts and flicks … (oh how 1983!)

Fathers Day

Yesterday was such a difficult day. I could no longer avoid the truth. Dad has dementia. Dad has made a miraculous recovery from where we could not understand a random word he was saying, and where he was unable to do anything for himself following a series of strokes.

He now sits before me in a nursing home chair, as a nicely dressed and clean man, with a lovely smile. Half the skeletal frame he once was and the oldest 72 year old you will ever see. A lifetime of ‘who wants to live forever’ and bluster against healthy eating and exercise have seriously taken their toll.

Dad resigned himself to a widowed life a decade ago and despite being prime suspect No.1 in his wife’s murder, before the ex-lover killer was apprehended and convicted, he never once felt sorry for himself. He just got on with his solitary life. I will always admire this quality in him.

A difficult man who never wanted friendship, Dad has always been better in his own company. Proud of ‘speaking as he finds’, his racist and homophobic rants have been hard for my gay sister and I to bare over the years and caused many a heated exchange.

Life was not easy with him; an often violent younger man with a terrible and quick temper, a cutting and vicious tongue. A father whose method to control his teenage daughters was to convince them they had no value to anyone therefore completely eroding self-esteem. When our Mother left him, and us, halfway through our teens he literally broke down. His mental health and dependence on prescription sleeping tablets exacerbated his anger and confusion. My sister and I were left picking up the pieces whilst coming to terms with our own abandonment.

Years of estrangement from him followed during which my Sister turned to drugs and alcohol for her solace and me to a long stream of misplaced love and marriages. We were replaced by his new Wife and her young girls. Both our parents have proved us easy to replace many times in their lives. Our scars run deep but are covered well enough.

But at the end of last year Dad needed us. My Sister, despite years of verbal abuse and contempt from him, has been utterly selfless in her efforts to move him from hospital to the Nursing Home near her home. Anyone who has yet to go through this with their parent, PLEASE get POA while you can, as Deputyship (in absence of mental capacity) is so much harder and expensive. She has borrowed money to enable this to happen and is stressed by the burden.

I continue to struggle with my feelings for him. Where my Sister had years of counselling and therapy to become the amazing woman she has and can be an awesome carer, I buried my feelings: life after my teenage-escape continued to deal me severely hard knocks. I find it almost impossible to confront my thoughts, except through writing, afraid of opening the box. My Father is now fragile and tiny, not the mean, vicious ogre he once was. He was ill and afraid during the early part of the year but a further stroke has left him in a happy but dementiad state.

He did not recognise me yesterday. Not one bit of recognition in his eyes. He thinks he is my age and I in my 30s. Being only 50 allows Dad total licence to flirt nauseously with his young Carers, one in particular he felt compelled to talk about during the whole visit .

“I am so lucky to have my girls” he told me yesterday, “they are so so good to me”. My heart melted, I smiled and said my sister and my name. Confused he replied with his carer’s, “they are so lovely”. He then proceeded to tell me Karen was after his money, I am Karen I reminded him, hurt and disappointment within me at his confused and ungrateful state. “I’m so lucky with my girls” he smiled, a beautiful and real smile.

Dad and his real girls.


I am a list writer. Things I need in my wardrobe, food we need in the cupboards, to-do lists every day. I must have read that if you write it down you will make it happen. Plan the life you want and how you aim to get it and it will happen. But this is not happening for me. I know that this doesn’t happen for a lot of people.

While clearing through mounds of books and papers recently I discovered that my partner has been literally planning, through writing, scattegrams and mindmaps, a better life and relationships for years, not just once but over and over – years worth of plans. All the things we discuss now together with honesty and full hearted excitement, I realised with sadness he has planned and dreamed of all of this before in his former life. He is an articulate, imaginative, clever and hardworking person. So what stopped him actually just doing it?

I can honestly say I don’t know for sure what stops the dreams and schemes we all have from becoming just repeated words on pages. It’s sad to realise that unless we all do something extra-ordinary, and take an uncomfortable chance, life really is just Groundhog Day.

If I think about how I used to dream of better relationships, a better lifestyle, and better work it becomes visible to me. It is not fear. It is not bad luck nor errors of judgement. It is the people we surround ourselves with. The ones that unintentionally keep us small and take, and take again, because it suits them.

In the UK if you have a big idealistic mind and you tell people about it, it is rarely cultivated and admired, one becomes a dreamer or a boaster. Totally in opposition to Americans who seem to love and embrace people with big dreams; the bigger the better. They love dare-to-do’ers and winners. Here we love to lose; it allows us the self pity that we had ‘prepared earlier’.

One of my parents would always say ‘oh you don’t want to do that’ ‘why would you risk that?’ ‘It’s too soon’ ‘Its too late’. Then, as I got older, subsequent partners who liked life as it was (usually at my expense in one way or another) did exactly the same.

I am not historically blaming the people around me. No I am blaming myself for listening to them. I have recently broken off from associates, and fallen out with older members of my family because I have learned to claim my space, literally. I cant deal with their problems for them and trying to do so has been holding me back from moving forward. So I have become selfish. I will own that one because I don’t feel guilty: I need space from the nay-sayers and I don’t need the toxicity of my past in my present.

Resisting the urge to proclaim over and over that my life is brilliant is hard. I have so little in terms of finances and wealth. But my goodness, I am physically more healthy than ever, mentally getting stronger everyday, and I am putting myself out of my comfort zone to achieve greater things.

Procrastination does not work for anyone. Claiming your space to allow you to get on with whatever IT is, does.

NOT procrastinating!