Penny Mallory’s career is a reminder to follow your dreams no matter what boundaries crop up along the way. Despite her troubled home life and lack of support network, Penny pushed on through the darkest time in her life to achieve her dream of becoming a successful rally car driver. In this post, Penny shares her inspirational story.
What’s a typical day and why did you choose this job?
There just isn’t a ‘typical’ day in my life - thankfully! Every day is different - Some days I might be speaking at an event, others I might be writing or coaching clients.None of these things I chose to do - I fell into them through my driving and TV work.I grew up in a weirdly dysfunctional middle-class house in Kent. My mum was a severe manic depressive and alcoholic. Most of my childhood was spent visiting her in a ‘mental hospital’ as they were called then. I became the parent at about 7 and cared for her, I resented it and anger started to build in me.
All I wanted was a normal family like everyone else. I didn’t get on with my brother and my dad was scary - the three of us hardly spoke when my mum was in hospital….so I started to disengage from school, and the world generally. I shut down emotionally and thought about how I would leave home as early as I could - so I could be in charge of my life and do whatever I wanted. In fact, I left at 14 and never returned. This resulted in a complete communication breakdown between me and my father for 18 years.
After staying with various families until I had taken my O’levels, I moved to London, but ended up sofa surfing and staying in homeless hostels for 3 years. Life was not quite going to plan as I ended up angry, lonely and desperate. I decided to end it all. But just before I did anything stupid I decided to try and do the one thing I had dreamed of since I was 6…..
I had seen something on TV back then - and I had stuck it in my mind. I remembered the feeling of sheer excitement when watching the rally cars sliding through forests and thought to myself “I want to be a rally driver when I grow up!”
I borrowed some money and went to a rally school for a day. I didn’t know that this day was to change the course of my life. Twelve years later I became the first woman in the world to compete in a World Rally Car for Ford in the World Rally Championship! I had done it - against all the odds, I made my dream come true.
Have you ever experienced any setbacks?
There were a few! Before I started I had no money, was considered too old and had no contacts in motorsport. These reasons combined with the fact that I am female meant that my chances of getting anywhere were zero. But I wanted to be a rally driver more than anything so I set about getting a sponsorship, a car and a team….and did that relentlessly for 12 years. The only thing that drove me through the toughest of times was my laser focus on getting to the World Championship. The focus I had made my mission so much easier because I developed high resilience and commitment.
What's your biggest achievement?
I think the moment I decided to not give up and to follow my dream. When I was so desperate in London it would have been very easy to give up but I chose the hard fight and won.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
To be crystal clear about what you want - and why you want it. Finding your cause/belief/purpose is the secret to developing your mental toughness!
3 tips for professional women just starting out?
Don’t take no for an answer. Don’t believe what anyone says about your ability as you probably have 40% of your ability yet to find in yourself. Just remember to never give up.
What are your key motivators?
I just love to prove I can do something I didn’t think I could do. I have climbed two of the worlds highest summits, fought in two boxing fights, run loads of marathons, and done all sorts of things to try and see what I am capable of.
Have you ever experienced a gender imbalance in your career?
I have never experienced an imbalance in motorsport, every rally is open to men and women so it is completely equal.
What’s your thoughts on women in leadership?
Women make amazing leaders and anyone interested in being a great leader should definitely go for it - but remember leaders are found at every level of a company!
What would you say to your 16-year-old self? Hold on kid, it's going to a rough ride but it's going to be amazing and you’ll be FINE in the end!
Check out Penny Malory's website here!