Welcome to the Freedom Fridays Project podcast. I'm Pete Clark, your host, the Whispers Guy. It appears that work expands to the time that we give it and I started to explore how I was investing my time and effort, particularly on Fridays. It's evolved to an exploration and experiment with time, energy, attention and identity. And a mindset shift from I have to, to I choose to. So if you're interested in exploring some changes to the way that you invest your time and energy, if you'd like some tips on the way as you make some changes, perhaps to your identity, if you would like the freedom of I choose to, away from I have to, then this is the podcast for you. So welcome to the Freedom Fridays Project podcast.
Welcome to this week's episode of Freedom Fridays, and I've got a really special guest. Not because we have the same name, but because this chap and I grew to like and maybe even, I'm going to say love each other because of our connection to so many things. And this is one of my best buddies in the world, not because of what we do, but what we stand for. And so, Clark Perry, welcome to the conversation.
G'day mate. How are you?
Very good thanks sir. Now for those that are listening, Clark and I worked together for a long time. Clark now lives in the US. And Clark's background is fascinating. And so maybe just to introduce, because here's, there's a reason I want to talk to you about something. Can you just give us 30 seconds on your background, Clark?
Sure. So I get this really weird accent of where I'm actually an Australian American born and raised here in the US did all my, my undergraduate and graduate work here and then moved to Australia back in 1990, with my wife for six months, and we stayed for 22 years had two wonderful boys took out Australian citizenship. I was the head psychologist for the Australian Olympic team went to four Olympics, 92 Olympics in Barcelona to 2004 in Athens and concurrently always worked in organisational high performance, started my own business, sold that business to a company called RogenSi, which is where I had the pleasure of meeting Pete, we were partners at RogenSi. Sold that business, my boys decided to come to uni here in the US and we followed them and here we are. Now I worked for a company called Alixpartners, where I'm a Director there and still doing the same work as I've been doing for the better part of 20-30 years.
Thanks, mate. Now, what I'd love to chat to you about because the concept of Freedom Fridays, they're about making a change. And as I've observed and spoken and written and read about people that make changes, there seems to be some sort of either forced or unconscious identity shift. And so can you just talk to me a little bit about the shifts that you've seen? What's the big change that you see in people when they make a shift?
Yeah, I'll speak a little bit about mine as well. But I think the big thing is when your paradigm, your view of the world, all of a sudden, is not the view of the world. It's no longer what is accepted internally by what you always thought to be true. So when your truth gets challenged, all of a sudden you start to reframe, Okay, well, what is truth? And I think for, you know, for most people, that idea of dissonance, we're not really happy with dissonance, we don't like to be disturbed. You know, we like to, and this is, you know, as a psychologist, one of the things that I always found interesting as a therapist was, when you know, someone comes to see you because they want to stop smoking. Well just stop smoking, like, give me $100 and I'll tell you stop smoking. That's it. But the reality is, it's like, if my truth is, I'm a cigarette smoker, and that's who I am, it's really hard for me to stop smoking cigarettes, because that's who I am. Like, if I see myself as an overweight person, it's really hard for me to lose weight because I'm an overweight person. And so challenging, those paradigms are often the things I think that get people into a different space, when they start to realise that that's not the truth, you know, the truth is something else and then I can change. So I'm just gonna say so for me, and part of this is how I got involved in the field that I did in high performance is I grew up as an athlete, I grew up admiring athletes, you know, American athletes, and you know, and seeing them as being something extraordinary special people, elite, you know, the whole definition of elite seeing them as something other than me other than, you know, people that I knew. These are people that they're the gods are up on Mount Olympus, these aren't the people that I see every day until you get around them and you realise, wow, they're ordinary people, they have the same issues that we have. You know, later on when I started working, you know, Olympic Committee at the Institute of Sport, you know, they have psychiatric disorders, we had athletes that had schizophrenia, we had athletes attempt suicide. So, you know, the kinds of things that you see in the real world, our elite athletes suffer from the same things. So, to your point, I love the topic, which is, you know, ordinary people doing extraordinary things. And sometimes they're in the public spotlight, sometimes they're working in a charity somewhere that nobody even knows about.
And so that working in the spotlight, does that change things for people, you know, as you said, ordinary people doing extraordinary things, the people that you've been exposed to, and the people that we see on the TV, you know, right now with the Paralympics going on, they are doing extraordinary things in the minds of most people. But what I've just heard you say they're normal people in the sense that they have same hang ups and stuff that they're carrying that the we all do. What difference does it make that they're in the spotlight?
Yeah, that's a great question, Pete, I think it makes it a couple of different things. One is it makes a difference for people that watch it. Because we see that as extraordinary without really having a complete picture of everything that goes behind the scenes that goes on behind the scenes. Social media is opening up a lot more these days, you know, we saw some of the things you know, at the Olympics. I don't know if the Simone Biles things made it made it over there.
I'm gonna chat to you about that.
Yeah, I have an interesting take on that, too, you know, but Osaka. I mean with social media now, there's a lot more publicity around people struggling. And so I think that from the external, but from the internal side, being in the spotlight like that, it can take on a lot more pressure. I mean I worked with, remain nameless, a couple of swimmers in particular, back in the early 90s, who were great athletes until they became famous. And once they became famous, it was this obligation that they had to be great for everybody, I gotta be great for my family, I gotta be great for my sponsors, I gotta be great for the media, you know, the greatness that I had, when no one knew who I was, all of a sudden, there's this public profile. So the pressure that goes with having to try to please everyone can be really difficult and can exacerbate any of the anxieties or, you know, emotional issues that you may already have.
And so that is, I find that fascinating that at some point, it switches, it switches from I'm being great for the benefit of me or the sport, or just because I've grew up loving it. Now I'm doing it for others, but in a different way. Is that triggered at different points for different athletes that you've experienced?
Yeah, I think so. I think you know, some don't buy into that. Some, I've heard athletes say, Look, I'm not a role model. Don't ask me to be a role model. I'm just an athlete. So for some people, I don't think they ever actually feel that sense of pressure, because they've always done it for themselves. Ian Thorpe was an athlete, I spent a lot of time with, you know, in the early days, Ian was always that athlete, Ian never really changed from the time he was 16 years old until he was 27-28 years old. So certain athletes can sort of reject that, I need to do it for others. I know, you know, other athletes that as soon as they won their first medal, it was all downhill after that, they found it really difficult to be able to perform at the level that they had before. So their personal best happened when they were 18-19 years old. They competed for another 10 years and never got close to that personal best. So yeah, so it's a long continuum along that spectrum. And, you know, it's different for different people.
And do you have any sense of the elements that make it different? Is there any psychological makeup that someone would, like a Thorpey, reject it? Whereas others would pick it up and go downhill from the personal bests?
Yeah. Yeah. Again, great question, Pete. So I'll talk about Ian for a second. Because, you know, this is a real story about Ian. And you may or may not remember going back to, you know, the late 90s, early 2000 Sydney Olympics and things when Ian was really thrust upon the scene. And won an Olympic gold medal broke the world record. And of course, you know, they stick the microphone in his mouth into his face and ask him so, you know, now what, you know, you're Olympic gold medalist, you're a world record holder, what do you do now? And Ian gave him a confused look, and basically said, I really don't understand the question. I just go faster. So, you know, genuinely for him, his quest was always to see, How fast can I go? It's not about winning. It's not about beating the person in the lane next to me. It's about how fast can I go. And if my body allows me to go faster than anybody else, I guess that makes me an Olympic champion, that makes me a world record holder. So for him, his focus had always been on Ian Thorpe and how good Ian Thorpe could be. So everyday he went to training everyday he competed, it was about, Can I do it better than the last time, that makes it a lot easier, because you're totally in control of that. I'm not in control of whether I win or not. But I'm in control of how fast I swim. If we're talking about sport, like swimming. So that is one thing. The second thing I would say, and this is also the case for Ian, but for a lot of other athletes, when you have that social support, when you have people that you know, no matter what I do, I'm still going to be loved. I know that, you know, when I go home, at the end of the day, I could have had, and this doesn't have to be sport, this could be you know, the CEO of an organization or, you know, anybody that works in a company that, you know, when I go home at the end of the day, my family doesn't change their opinion of me based on what I just did today. That love that support is always going to be there. And so you find that with athletes as well, as long as they have a strong support structure beneath them, it's a lot easier to take chances because in their eyes, I can't fail. And that's always the thing is, you know, you will know Pete is fear of failure is the thing that undermines most of people's success in whatever endeavor they're in, the being afraid to fail is often the limiting factor of success.
There's so many strands there that I want to pick up on. I'm going to pick up on this one first. Do you think therefore then someone like an Ian Thorpe or others that we see in the public domain, they have different identities, a pool based identity an Olympic based identity, a hometown based identity, do you think that's, is that what they have and psychologically how feasible is that?
Yes, mate it is such a good question. So we had a great swim coach and some on the line may have heard of him before, Gennadi Turetsky. Gennadi Turetsky Russian coach came coached Michael Klim, Ian Thorpe for a while coached Alex Popov who was you know, Russian swimmer that swim with us here in Australia. But he had a whole you know, Sarah Ryan, he had a whole group of swimmers that he worked with. And Gennadi was of all the coaches I've ever worked with, outside of Don Talbot who I love and adore, was the whole picture. Like he was able to think about the psychological impact of swimming, not just the biomechanics of swimming, he had the whole picture. And, but being a Russian, that spoke very little English, his stories that he would tell often didn't land well, the translation wasn't always right. Like he would tell a joke, and it would just fall flat, and he would be hysterically laughing, and no one else would get it. Well, he had one. So this is at the Institute of Sport. And this gets to the point where you're just asking about Pete, is Alex Popov again, arguably one of the greatest swimmers in history 100 metre 50 metre freestyler. And Alex was the kind of swimmer that if you put him up at the beginning of a workout set, he could swim a world record for you, or you put him in the Olympic finals he could swim, he could swim as fast as you needed him to swim whenever you needed him to swim. So we were actually at a meet in Melbourne, and Gennadi stood up in front of all the Australian Institute of Sport swim team. And there was a picture on the wall that had a face looking at you and a face looking to the left and a face looking to the right. And Gennadi in his Russian accent said, This is an interesting picture. I think it has three faces one face looking at you one face one one face, other. I don't think you need three faces, I think you need one face. Everybody looked at like, what the hell does that mean? And I just went that is brilliant. Because that was how he coached. So to your point, the way he coached and very successfully coach was you can't have different faces. You can't have one face that's as swimming face and you have another face you put somewhere else. If you want consistency and competition, you have to have one face, you have to have one way of sort of going about doing things. Now that doesn't mean that you can't moderate the intensity of that face. But you can't pretend to be somebody you're not. That's who you are. And so you have to bring yourself to whatever it is that you do. And I thought, I'm glad you asked that question because that just stands out for me. So well, Gennadi unfortunately has since passed away. But that is one way to think about you know, if you try to be too many people, for other people, you get lost in who you are and you become schizophrenic. And the more we can sort of think about who we are, what we stand for, what are our values, what are the things our principles, our guiding ways of doing things, the more we can just align around that. Take that to work, take that to home, take that it's a whole lot easier. Pardon my Russian accent.
That whole topic fascinates me because in normal life for normal people like you and I I'd say, you know we are, I'm a son, I'm a husband. I'm a father. I'm a mate. I'm a consultant. I'm a colleague, so that I have different roles. But what I think I'm hearing you say, is if those roles are so disparate and so far apart, that the Pete that I show up, as a consultant is just miles apart from the Pete that I show up as a father. That's gonna cause me some problems. Is that was that what is that what you're saying?
Yeah, no, I agree. Pete, I think once again, how I show up, what I hold important to me has got to be consistent. So for example, I can't be an extreme extrovert in one situation, and carry out that extraversion in a way that doesn't sap me of energy, if I'm an extreme introvert. So I can do it, I can play that role if I have to play that role. But I can only do that for so long. And it's not really me. So again, that's a role I may have to play. But at the end of the day, you have to be true to who you are. And that's the challenge.
It reminds me of the you know, the hackneyed phrase fake it till you make it. Which, what I'm hearing you say is, that's possible, but not for long. Unless you do the work inside. And you settle on, or you get clarity on who you are. Which is such a big, such an easy, simple question, but perhaps a lifetime of answers.
Yeah. Well, I know you well enough, Pete, obviously. And, you know, I know me well enough to know that people have said that we're really good up on stage. So we can stand in front of an audience and have done it as you know, both of us have done it 1000s of people and deliver a really high impactful presentation. And they walk away thinking, Wow, you're such an extrovert. You and I both not extrovert. But we can do that. Like if we had to do that. But I wouldn't do it every day all day. I couldn't do it every day all day. Yeah, that's the challenge.
Yeah, that's right. But when people meet me over coffee, you know, on my own, they're quite surprised sometimes about how quiet I can be and how reflective and you know, boring, because they see the stage persona and they go, Wow, that must be exhausting to live with you. And yet, you know, here I am in my little studio, me and my books. So I mean, from a psychological perspective, somebody making a change, who wants to see themselves as different, going from working in corporate to an entrepreneur, you know, this identity to that identity, they understand the concept that they need to shift. What comes first.
So help me understand, which comes first in terms of?
Let's say, I'm working in corporate, a little bit like you and I have done and I've got a role, I've got salary, I've got a team, I've got clients, I've got responsibilities, and I want to become an entrepreneur. Do I have to do it first and the identity catches me up? Does it catch me up? Or do I have to shift my identity in my current role and can I play two roles and then that forces me to make the shift?
Yeah, good question. And this is me not having really thought about that in the past. But if I had to give an educated, semi educated guess, I think it depends on my own emotional flexibility. We all have different levels of emotional flexibility, as you well know whether it's being involved in business, or family or being around mates. People are not all the same. They're not that all carved out of the same piece of wood. So, if I am highly flexible and adaptable, then my position would be, You know what, breakaway breakaway, give it a shot, see how you go, because you're gonna get knocked down and when you get knocked down, are you resilient, are you hardy? Can you can you get yourself back up again? And if you are, if you're that kind of person, then yeah, it makes sense to take the chance. There's a lot of other people that already, you know, the fixed and growth mindset, obviously, Carol Dweck, there's a lot of people that have a fixed mindset, you know, this is just who I am. And I'm always going to be like this. So if you're going to ask me to go from a safe corporate structure, where they know who I am, they know what I got and now I'm going to go to another place and expose myself, No I can't do that. Where a person has got a growth mindset would welcome that opportunity would challenge it say, Yeah, let me fail. I love failing because I learned so much when I fail. So my best educated guess would be it probably depends more on the flexibility and the inherent qualities of that person. And again, whether they're growth or fixed mindset. Does that makes sense for you because I'm just punting.
It does and I ask the question, because I continue to ponder and you know, the usual consultant's answer, It depends. Because often it does. I don't see it as a black and white binary scenario, it depends, you know, depends your upbringing, your parents, your situation, you know. If I think about my background, you know, my dad died when I was really young. So I was left on my own and I'm pretty comfortable being on my own, which means, you know, I don't exude warmth. I'm not the warmest person in the world because I don't, I've never needed the kind of external validation as often as some others that have for other reasons. And so when I think about that, if someone's trying to make a change, and you know, there might not be any answers here. But I'd be interested in your thoughts, if they were willing to look at who they are, how would they do that?
Yeah, years of therapy. Um, yeah. So the way I would always start with that is to take some time, to be alone, to be introspective. We do here we do a lot with Alixpartners within the practice that I'm part of, which is transformative leadership, we do leadership assessment. So we do companies want to hire new CEO, new chairman of the board. And then we do a really, really in depth assessment of that person, which includes things like 360 psychometrics, and part of that is what we call a behavioural event interview, which is a three hour conversation of, you know, so Pete Clark, where were you born? Tell me a little bit about your parents. Tell me a little bit about your first friend, who was your first friend, do you remember their name? If I was to contact Jim right now, what would Jim say about you when you were five years old? So really digging into how did you become who you are today? It's amazing how often when we finished that three hour conversation, people say, I'd never looked at my life like that before. I'd never done never took the whole, for me 65 years of my life, and put it down into a three hour block, and try to understand that, I think that's a really powerful exercise, you can even do it yourself to just sit down and say, How did I get here? Like, how did it turn out that these are my values? I could have had different values? Why did I pick these values or why did someone force these values upon me? I think that's a great place to start. And then after that, Pete I'd be saying, you know, go talk to people that know you that really know you that really are around you. If you remember, we worked with Ian Narev who was former CEO of CBA. If you remember that you and I were both there, when we had the conversation, we're talking about mentorship. And he was saying that, you know, I have a number of mentors that I use. I have people in banking, I have people in industry, he said, but the best one that I have, the best mentor was a girl I went to kindergarten with. And she says, Ian, I know you don't BS me, like you're not some big corporate magnate you are Ian Narev, I went to kindergarten with you so I know you. Those are the kind of people you need to talk to you don't need to talk to people to think you're fantastic, tell you all the wonderful things about you. You need the people that have just stripped you away and just say, you know, this is what I see when I'm around you. These are your assets. These are potential liabilities. That's what I would suggest is that if you really want to try to understand, do some soul searching, and then talk to people that know you that truly know you and are prepared to talk to you openly.
That's great counsel. Of course I know, in the world that we live, there will be people that are looking for the Snapchat version of that. Can I do that in 30 seconds? No, don't bother, don't even bother. Go and read your horoscopes or something that will give you as much information. Clark, I really would like to touch on the, you know, the Olympic stuff and the Simone Biles conundrum, right, because when it all came out, my own personal perspective is I felt uncomfortable even having an opinion. Because I've never been involved in anything at the .10% best in the world. So how can I possibly even know what it's like to be... I can make a comment as a father, I can make a comment as a son because I am one. But I've never been involved in a world, I don't know what that world's like. What did strike me and I've written about it was when she came out and said, I'm more than the sum of my accomplishments. Which I thought that really resonated because I see People totally absorbed in the sum of their accomplishments and can't see beyond it. And so you said you had an interesting view on the Simone Biles scenario, what is your view?
So, one is I think it's fantastic that she and Osaka have raised the idea of mental health and elite sport, I think it's great. Like that should have always been part of the conversation. So I think it's wonderful that, it's wonderful that it's out there now. It's wonderful that people are talking about it. Having said that, and I'm going to come back to Simone Biles as well about the other side of this. When I look at what she was going through from the outside and having worked with athletes that have gone through this as well, I think we have to be really careful about calling performance anxiety mental health. Because I think it's great that we're talking about mental health, but we're not talking about schizophrenia, we're not talking about clinical depression, we're not talking about suicide. We're talking about someone that in the normal day to day life functions well, apparently, by her own admission, she functions well, on a day to day. You put her in a high performance environment, that's where she struggles. So my take on that is I think it's great that it was raised, I think we have to be careful that we don't overly generalise performance anxiety and call that mental health, because then you're just going to negate the really important mental health issues that we face in our society. Where I feel bad is that and I don't know people that work with Simone Biles, and again, I don't work with the US Olympic team. But I feel bad that it appears that she was not prepared well enough for that competition. That people did not do anything to say you're now going into Olympics where you are the highly favoured person, do you realise what pressure you might feel as a result of that. It was, You were great before you'll be great again, get out there girl and go do it. And so I feel bad that the organisation let her down. I find no fault at all for Simone Biles, but I have fault in the organisation not preparing her for that moment.
Yeah in my limited experience that was my observation too it felt like she was fronting up on her own. Where was her support network, her social network her media network to kind of protect her a little bit from having to do that, I was staggered that she was doing it all on her own.
Yep. Agree, at least that's the way it appeared on the surface?
That's they way it appeared. Yeah, you're right, who knows what was going on behind the scenes?
And if it was happening behind the scenes, it wasn't effective.
Yeah. And I think, you know, you've made a really interesting distinction between mental health that you've been exposed to, and performance anxiety, and mental health versus other anxieties that we have. And obviously, we know it's a spectrum. As humans, we like to shortcut we like to conceptualise and make it, Oh it's just mental health, isn't it? And there's so much to that. Do you think people on that, do you think people in your fields in the field of mental health who are dealing with those more extreme cases? Do you think they worry about it being kind of socialised as something everyone suffers from? So we can't make the distinction anymore?
Yeah, I think it's a great point, I think, when we think about how we fund a lot of these disorders, like if we talk about, you know, Diagnostic Statistical Manual for psychology, if we talk about these as disorders, we have to be selective, I say this very carefully, we have to be selective in that there's only so much budget to go around. And we need to be thinking about people that struggle, every day with everyday life, really need to be a priority for us, people that can't leave the house for agoraphobia, people that have have dissociative identity disorders, DID. These are people that just can't function on a day to day basis, we have to be careful that we don't take people that Oh, goodness, I can't win my gold medal, therefore, I have a mental health issue. We need to be thinking about the spectrum as you said Pete, which is we have people that have real severe mental disorders, real mental health issues, and we need to do what we can to help these people as best we possibly can. While at the same time, we should have ways of helping people that are elite performers, and make sure that we help them to be able to perform at their best, but it's a very, very different thing from someone that's got dissociative identity disorder, or schizophrenia, and someone that can't compete for a gold medal.
I mean, just that would be an hour's conversation, right. Just the distinction there and how, yeah there would be and that's what fascinates me and kind of saddens me a little bit that the debate happening online isn't really a debate. It's a projection of views and opinions and there's no dialogue. There's no, Oh, I hear what you're saying in that situation so I wonder if this is the case and I'm curious about... there's none of that. It's just judgment after judgment after statement after more judgment, and it just separates. So, Clark, I'm conscious of time. I'm so grateful for your time. I know it's a little bit late in the US, I'm going to finish as I normally do with some quickfire questions that you're not aware of. So I'd ask you to just give us your first and best thought as we go through this and then we'll close the conversation. So Clark with an E or without an E?
What's your favorite Olympic event?
What do you miss most about Australia?
Pete Clark, friends, everything about it. Yeah, we're Australian Americans, even though we were born in America.
What do you miss least about Australia?
Pete Clark, oh, no sorry! Miss least wow. I'm really struggling to think of something that I miss. Probably family here. So when we're there, you know, the family that we have here.
Ian Thorpe or Keiren Perkins?
Oh, Keiren Perkins.
And what's a book that's changed your life?
Ah, that's changed my life. Believe it or not, I'm going to give a really silly answer. Not silly, I guess maybe a simple answer, which is Intro to Psychology. Undergraduate first exposure to psychology, the Intro to Psychology textbook, is what set me down this path.
Right and I have to say, Clark, you know, beyond being a friend and a colleague and a man and who's family love very dearly, what a wonderful path it's been for you.
Yeah, it's been, it's funny, you know, without taking too much time here. Everybody talks about how important is to set goals and I know how important is to set goals. I've been one of those people that's just, Do great stuff, like think great stuff anyway, just do my best every single day and things will happen. I never sat down and said one day I want to be the head psychologist at the Australian Institute of Sport. I never said I want to go the Olympics. Or said I want to start my own company. These things just sort of happened. So it's been great.
Mate it's been lovely to chat with you. And I know you and I over the years have connected and we have this you know inherent belief this hope that you know occasionally the good guys do win and I would count you as one of the top good guys that I know. So thank you so much for the insights. Thank you so much for the conversation. And love to the family.
Thanks, love you mate, see ya.