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.
Hi, everyone. I think it's important that I give you a heads up on this week's conversation. My guest and I we do discuss, albeit briefly, some suicidal thoughts and ideation, particularly at the six and seven minute mark. So if this is not the sort of thing that you want to be listening to right now, then please feel free to skip this week's or join us wherever in the conversation feels most comfortable for you. I've left some help resources, if it triggers anything for you, in the showcase notes for anyone that might be struggling at the moment. And as you'll hear us talk about, whilst it can be difficult, it's important and absolutely a sign of strength to seek help when you need it. Both something Graham and I have done over the years. And just to acknowledge the vulnerability and the willingness that Graham has shown in sharing his journey.
Welcome to this week's edition of the Freedom Fridays podcast. This week, I've got a chap on who I don't know that well, actually. And we've only kind of worked two or three times but there must be something in it because we've connected pretty quickly. And I think I'm going to say I enjoy his company, I'm hoping he enjoys mine. And so I'm gonna welcome to the conversation, Graham. Hey, Graham.
Hey Pete, how you doing?
I'm doing good thank you. Now Graham you're based in the UK. I'm obviously based in Australia. Where about in the UK are you based?
So I'm just outside of London, a place called Bishop's Stortford near Stansted Airport. But I'm not from the south, I'm definitely a northerner.
I can pick that up with the accent. So Graham, thank you for your time. The premise of Freedom Fridays is ordinary people doing extraordinary things, you know, making that shift from the half due to I choose to and all of the things that happen along that journey. And I believe you've got a pretty interesting story. So could you start by sharing with us, what's the big change that you made?
Yeah, so the big change I made, I would summarise as being able to take control of me every day, to sort of enjoy what this world has to offer. If I start the story a little bit earlier, you know, I'm very fortunate that I was born in the 80s and born to parents of the North, where hard work pays off, and you have to graft for every quid, you can earn. And that transpired into you know, getting the degree looking at the career post degree. I finished my degree, took a bit of time, and then I fell into a career in pharmaceuticals in the pharmaceutical industry. I did carry the bag.
Yep. I've carried the bag too and it's only those that have carried the bag knows what carrying the bag means.
Carrying the bag, yeah we were drug dealers but licensed. So I came about that career because I enjoyed connecting with people and I had a degree in chemistry, but I didn't want to be a scientist and this was recommended to me and so I ended up working for an organisation for 10 years. And I remember three months into that role into that company, career plan was set - a sales rep for a bit and then it'd be really good if you went and did a business analyst job. And then good if you were a sales trainer, does this route sounds familiar Pete?
Yep. GP rep, hospital rep, trainer, regional manager, you know, the usual.
So yeah, so that was it. And sales manager, first line sales manager managing the sales team. And I'm a pretty goal driven guy, right. I like to set myself goals and targets and I went after my goals. And kind of passively on the side, I'd noticed that in the organisational history, no one had ever done it before they were 30. No sales manager, no one had gone through that path and been there before they were 30 and with six weeks to spare, I did it. Got the job, and that was about the time that also those goals of my childhood, I'd started to make real. Wanting to visit two places in the world, Hong Kong and New York, wanted to meet the girl of my dreams, met her married her, went to those two places with her, buy a nice house. I've only ever owned one house it's the one I'm in right now and it was bigger than anything anyone in my family's ever lived in. Get half decent at a sport. Unfortunately, it's to say that golf is not a good walk spoiled for me. And start family, and so at this age to set the scene for the listeners, I'm 30. And I suddenly started to stand over an abyss.
Okay, how did you know?
I was lost. Because all those goals that I've been working to for my entire life were achieved. And I hadn't got anything else in front of me.
So can I just pause you there for a second? Because I think you have described, I think a lot of people either are or will have felt that. But they might not know, that's what it is. Could you just describe for a second? How did you know you were lost?
I was getting very rapidly frustrated at everyone outside of me.
Okay, so they weren't working as hard as you weren't as good as you weren't as demanding or ambitious, as you know/
No they just they weren't helping me. I needed help, but I couldn't voice that I needed help. So I was just getting frustrated at the world around me. My wife would do something that I didn't understand, Why are you doing that? You know, family aremaking decisions that I didn't agree with or didn't consider me, I'd shout at them. And it was very much that inner child, you know, just screaming, Help me! but not knowing how to ask for help. Over a period of nine months, that state just got worse, and worse and worse. And at that point, I couldn't find a way out.
Did you try?
No, I didn't try to find a way out. I was trying to do things. The best way I can describe the feeling is you're you're falling down a rock face. And every so often, you'd grab hold of a rock thinking this one's gonna keep me stable. And it was fall away and you'd fall further. And, you know, although I didn't do anything about it, I very much remember thinking, Right that's it I'm off, see you later. And nearly took the choice not to be around.
I mean, serious question. This is a pretty sensitive topic. You had those thoughts?
Wow. First of all, thank you for sharing that. Thank you, I feel really humbled that you've taken... because I didn't know that. And I feel really humbled that you've come so far that you can say those and admit that and seemingly being okay with that.
Yeah, I'm not gonna lie it's taken some time. But what I've realised over the years is we all, people talk about going on a journey. There's no other word to describe a journey than a journey, by the way, I've tried to find it - timeline, adventure. Journey is the only word we can ever use for it. And rather than falling into what was previously society's approach to not talk about the bad stuff, move more to a place if it's happened, what were the reasons why it happened? And we just explored some of them there, we can talk a little bit more about it. But then, accept it's part of the journey. And that's why I talked about the goals. Because in the absence of having something to focus on, I lost my sense of purpose. And I'll credit them on the podcast, because I think they deserve all the credit in the world. There's a charity in the UK called Mind, they are brilliant, and I went to talk to someone there and for about six or seven weeks, just every week, they just helped me make more sense about it all. Acknowledge what was going on was the conditions that created this feeling state. And then apologies to listeners if we just used some really technical behaviour language there, but the feeling state that I was feeling so that's, acknowledge what that is and understand what I can do now, going forward. Just before we came on here, we were talking about a book, Leadership: Plain and Simple, talks about future-engage-deliver. And in that process, it looks at the why and some people might notice, Simon Sinek spoke about find your why and start with why and very much I'd had the chance to really immerse myself in that process. And my personal shift, moved from fulfilling all of my goals, to enabling people to realise their full potential. Because that's something that's energised me more my entire life. And I include myself in that. But it's where I like to commit my energy. So to people who've been really struggling through lockdown, can I be there in a way that can support them? People who've been in my shoes, where they followed the Jack Welsh move your career every three years book, which is wonderful, up until you're about 30 you wear all those operational roles where you learn everything and it's great, but then you start getting to strategic leadership position. And the timeline by which you can move to the next one is very rarely at your dictation. And that termoil that that can create for people, so that's a bit of my journey.
There's plenty strands to pick up there isn't there?
You wanted some juice Pete, so I thought I'd give you some.
Thank you. I'm going to start with this. I've been exploring with myself and with the clients I've been speaking to recently. Whilst acknowledging we've all heard Simon Sinek start with Why, I've been encouraging people to actually start with Who. Who is the future you that you want to be and then pick up the why for that future person? The extent to which Mind helped you, did it help you with a Who as well as a Why? And did one come before the other?
Yeah, so I noticed I have a behavioral trend to adapt to the circumstances I'm in. I'm a nightmare when it comes to psychometrics because I can do one an hour apart with a different person sending me the psychometric and I get a very different result, you know. So for me, the idea of Who came alongside Why because the who helped me recognise who I need to be.
Which was beyond or different to who you were being in that moment.
Yes. So I need to be authentic is why I can talk around the story. I can't talk about the story, am I being authentic to my truth, no. Operate with integrity. I've noticed my attenuation for ethical practice is more sensitive than ever now. So be that person, model that person part of the thing that Mind helped me, the work with mind helped me recognise that I'm a father. Because shortly after all of those events I actually left that organisation I'd worked with 10 years.
Right? Where you a father at the time?
Yes. So when all this is going on, it's in the first 18 months of fatherhood. So I've done work with new dads, to help them through those first two years, because it is huge and they very rarely get to talk about it. And I have some friends who've actually shined because we've had the conversations we've had. Not only using my own experience, but using my experience to ask questions to understand their experience. Never saying my experience is yours, it's this leads me to ask a question that makes me want to be curious. But Mind help me realise that I'm a father. And the one thing no matter how I feel any day, it's how can I be? How am I showing up for him? Who am I being for him as he grows up? Which is great, because my wife and I, at the time with me leaving the organisation decided what we're going to do. I live, my parents live 150 miles away, hers live 5,500. We don't have childcare on. So I pivoted my career, in order to support what we do as a family. And in pivoting, I got to find doing the thing I know and love today, which is supporting others, through whether it's coaching, facilitation or whatnot. So, you know, it's starting to me the who thing is alongside the why, cuz that's the model that people experience when they meet me.
Can I ask you about the father thing? I'm a father of two. And I think I understand the distinction. But I'd be interested if you could, again, plain and simple explain, what's the difference? How do you make the change from I'm a father, to identify with the role versus how I interpret what you said as, I'm a father, which for me, then goes more external, in the responsibility that that role has, that's my interpretation of it. How can you help people understand if there's a difference? Because the minute you have, the minute your partner's pregnant, you could argue you're a father and once they're born? Well, of course, you're a father. How did you have to come up with that conclusion? What was the distinction that they were able to help you with? Because I think that I'm a - fill in the blank - is so relevant to so many of the roles that we play out?
Yeah. So there's a really great exercise I did and I still recall it today. Six hats?
Yep. De Bono's six hats?
Yeah. De Bono's six hats. And what that exercise does is it says what are the hats that you wear? And hats is a pseudonym for responsibilities. This is my interpretation of the exercise anyway. But when you go through identifying each you hats - father, partner, friend, professional. Me. Everyone always forgets me when they do that exercise for the first time, it's like, right. Can we just yeah, that's the critical one. But then, because there's no rulebook for being a father is there, right? So going down the route of saying, What do I value when I wear that hat?
And so can I ask a really specific question, when you're - and this might be just because you and I are interested in this - the 'I' in that question, is that you or the role of father?
I think it's important to recognise both when you do it because one's an internally facing and one's an externally facing. But it's a great distinction to make when you do it. Because you can identify when the external view, whether you're limiting yourself. I want to be seen as an upstanding member of society, who cares about everything in the world, when I'm a father. Okay, that's great. But are you doing that because you don't understand the world, and you're scared of it. And you haven't dedicated the time to make sense. So I like to sort of favour right in that authentic position of what do I want it to be? So in the role of a father, I want to be someone who's there to support I want to be there as someone who provides opportunity for expansion and growth and provide a space that he can come to someone, no matter how testing the world might feel. That's my hat as a father.
Has that changed over the years?
Yes. Because at first, it's like anyone who's been a dad will know. You're suddenly handed this thing and I'm kind of half responsible for it's life. Fortunately, everyone, for the first three months, they only need to do three things, eat, sleep and go to the toilet. So you're pretty good up til then. But you have this huge responsibility. But yeah, so at the time it's the tangible things, the things you can grasp hold of. And I think what for me, what I found was as I started to grow as a father, I started to then appreciate that wider scope that you say. And it moved from I'm a Father? To I'm a Father. What does this bring me? I don't know if that answered your question or not Pete but that felt like where I wanted to go.
No, that's cool. And again, did they have you do it with all the other roles?
Yeah. So recognising what it means to be a partner. And as we evolve as a three in the family, how does that partnership grow and evolve? I'd like to always think that I've never stifled my wife's growth. She's the most amazing person in the world to me and let her go and follow her dreams.
A thought just occurred to me. And I'm going to explore it with you. So when, because I think this is partly, you know, we're complicit in creating this in the work we do. And it's only just struck me when you are asked father, a partner or colleague, whoever, you know, we're often asked, and I'm going to guess this was the same, who's the best version of the partner you'd want to be? There's always that aspirational aspect of the question. Or at least I think we answer it in that way. But you could argue, not everyone ever makes that and they end up being a little bit better than average, or maybe a little bit below average, or, top quartile if there's a comparison. And so what am I trying to see here? I'm wondering if there's any reconciliation that needs to go on between the best version of yourself and the version of yourself that you end up being in this moment? And can you be at peace with that?
The thought that emerges for me as you say that is to explore the role relativity plays in all of our perceptions. Unfortunately, I work with athletes, I know you have too. And you see it in running races, if an athlete in second place loses contact with the person in first on a long race, it's very rare, they catch them back up again. Because they start to play into that relativity piece of How am I performing relative to the field, rather than How am I performing in myself? And the connection I made with what you've just talked about there is the idea of the best father, partner. And I wonder how often we get hijacked by the best version that we've seen in the world or being role modeled somewhere else? Or is the anti model for the parent we had growing up? You know, I'm going to do it the other way because I didn't like the way they did it, or an amalgam of all of those things. And I wonder if we could spend more time appreciating where we actually are and what we're doing as a parent, rather than how we're doing versus everyone else. And what difference that could make for people.
Yeah, look, I would say this is particularly relevant for me, not not necessarily in the father or only in the father space because I on a regular basis, suffer from comparison. And so what I was thinking of when you said that was, I wonder how often we are not only hijacked because of the comparison to others, because we can see what's happening around the world in the flick of a switch. But how often we get hijacked because of the comparison we have of who we'd like to be, or who we imagine we could be, versus who we're showing up as now. And so that got me thinking, I wonder how, in our world, we're trying to help people be the best versions of themselves, imagine what that is, blah, blah, blah, blah. That's creating some angst because we've had them imagine a best version of themselves that they'll never live up to. And that's creating the hijack.
So we talk about presence sometimes and being present in the moment. I wonder if, if people recognise that ideal state that best state that future state they aspire to? Then immerse themselves more thoroughly in now? What are the values I'm being driven by? What is creating stifle within me that is being demonstrated by uncharacteristic behavior? Where am I placing everything, all the problem outside of me, rather than owning it inside of me and exploring that stuff that's allowing you to be present right now so you can release yourself and grow? And does that give you a better chance to be that best version of yourself? Part of my research, the theory that comes to me is, what gets number one to number one? Why was Michael Jordan the best basketball player ever? Why has Lindsey Vonn comeback from more injuries than should be possible and still win titles on skis? And why did Tiger Woods be so driven? I use a few golf references every now and then. But these are people that are universally recognised as the best in their sport. Yeah. And so far, I've only found one common denominator amongst all of them. Drum roll, Drum roll, Drum roll, we can do that there. They have a relentless pursuit of making the reality they want a reality, but they never, ever compromise on the journey that they've taken so far, all the bumps in the road that have got them there. But also, they also they keep driving to fulfill what they see as a vision for themselves in the world. So they've got the humbleness to stay in the moment. They've got the aspiration, and the appreciation they're learning on the way. And can we apply that in all of our lives? So we actually do become the best version of ourselves? That's what I always wonder.
Which again, ties the thinking I've had about you saying that, it ties us back to the journey. Often I'm asked, how long does it take to change a habit? And I say, Well look, here's the interesting thing is if you stop doing it, it's no longer a habit. Oh, yeah, of course. So it's not necessarily a finish line to cross, it's a lifestyle to be lived. So this relentless pursuit of being the best version of whatever hat you're wearing, will never end. Because the minute you stop doing it, that's as good as it gets. Whereas you might never ever be the best imagined version of yourself, because you don't have that much time. You don't live forever, but you might live another 20 years, and you can extend and progress in whichever realm you choose. But that's, for me that's what in fatherhood or partnerhood or you know, consultant, wherever it was, that would be my version of the relentless pursuit of creating the reality I want. And so, one of the reasons I started these podcasts was to try and offer insights to normal people like you and I. What are the extraordinary things that happen? And I think anyone could apply that relentless pursuit of creating the reality that they want. If that's the case and you and I would believe it is, for the skeptic, are there any conditions precedent?
Say more about that question.
So if everyone was relentless in their pursuit of creating the reality that they want, we'd all be happy. We'd all be super human beings, we'd have this, that and the other, everything would be glorious. We'd be living a life of joy, etc, etc, etc. And, we know we're not right, we're right in the middle of something pretty heavy. So are there any conditions precedent? Is it a gender thing? Is it our DNA thing? Is it you're lucky because you were born there? Is it a physical thing? Do you have to have experienced something like you've experienced to come back from it? I read for example, that years, or I can't what the research was something like a really high percentage of successful entrepreneurs/millionaires/billionaires, not that it's about money, but a really high percentage of them had some significant childhood trauma, like losing a parent. Now, you'd never wish that on anyone. I lost my dad when I was really young. And I'd have him back for all this perceived success I have. You'd never wish it on someone but having had it happen, it seems to be one of the conditions precedent that drives some people forward. And so I'm wondering if you know, in the research you've done, you've noticed any conditions precedent that make it easier or more likely that someone can relentlessly pursue the reality they want?
The one that stands out, for me the most is tolerability for other people's values. Tolerability for other people's values. Because if you relentlessly pursuing what you think is best, there's a tendency to say, well, yours is not as good as I view it. So therefore, I'm going to ignore you, or denounced you or lower you. Which is only going to create conflict and all this stuff that we've talked about. So I would say that it's the tolerability for what other people value is critical in that, because it can allow you to hear different viewpoints, keep you open to avenues of growth that you've not seen or experienced before. And also, openness to the idea of imperfection in yourself. Because best kind of somehow marries itself with perfect for some people. That's the definition they give, which is just, when's the last time anyone was perfect. So I think that's for me a critical one.
Do you think that's what's meant by the expression holding your values lightly?
So it's not holding yours lightly as in being flaky with them, you're still standing for something, what it means is you're willing to hear and appreciate and acknowledge others who have the same or different or a little bit less or a little bit more?
Yeah and get under the skin of it. Try and build a relationship with that person and understand why. Why is that so critical to you? What's the story that you've had an experience that's got you to believe that to be true, and critical to your thriving in life, Ah right now I see. And then maybe hold the mirror up to yourself and look at it and go, Ah, so that value needs to change from trying to make that happen to believing it can happen, because if I believe it can happen, it sets me off on a different path than trying to make it happen. And you can tweak and grow your own as a result.
And so do you think in you know I come back to the hats exercise that you did with Mind in having you explore and get I'm gonna guess more certainty around what you valued with those hats. You were then able to hold them a bit more loosely. That's an interesting, almost an interesting dichotomy.
Yeah, massively but so helpful. You know, you've had the blessed ability to grow up in the UK for a little bit, you know the value of a cup of tea. I've been, lockdown has meant that this space that if you have seen the video, you'd see where I'm in, I spend a lot of time in. And I can be wearing the professional hat right here, and within 20 seconds, be in parent mode or partner mode or putting the kettle on, and just going, So where am I leaving the hat as a professional? What hat am I now going to go and take into that other room where my son is and my wife is and how am I going to, you know, it allows me to make transition and appreciate each of those roles that make me thrive.
That's prompted a question about, and I'm not suggesting either you and or I or maybe we are in this scenario, but I'm wondering if people listening sometimes find themselves in situations where the environment that they're in, almost forces them or wants them to wear a particular hat that no longer fits, they're uncomfortable with, they no longer like the logo. Whatever that means.
Going through that right now Pete, going through that right now. So yeah.
And they want to change. And they want to wear a different hat and have a different value. But the environment they're in constantly is drawing them back, which might be their history, which might be their community, which might be the environment they're in, which might be beliefs others hold about them. Can you offer any advice or tip, the 10 second tip scenario about what someone might do to, I guess, reconcile that because you may never lose that.
Firstly, simple thing number one, acknowledge that what is, is.
So rather than arguing against it, acknowledge it, I've got a conflict. I've got conflict in wearing two hats. Whoever the day is, they want me to wear this harp, I want to wear a different one, just acknowledging that.
The likelihood is that they've been denying it. Yeah, so for me, tease what you'd like to keep true in that situation, and what you'd like to change. And if you identify what you want to change, start to plot a path to a different direction. Whether that's the outlook that you wait, the outlook that you start each day with, or each one of those moments where you go into those complex situations, whether it's how you have a conversation that is critical. I'm a big sense maker outside of me. So speaking to the people that I trust, to just go, I've got this bowl of spaghetti going on in my head, can you help me straighten it? That helps me move forwards because I start to get out of my own way, acknowledge what is and start to plot a path.
Graham you mentioned right at the top, when I asked you about the change that you were making, or have made, and you talked about control of me. What did you have to surrender in order to control you?
The idea that I can unconsciously let it just be. So meaning if I go with where I just naturally want to go each day I fill my day up with time for everyone else. Oh, I'll just say go to the toilet for 10 minutes because they want that which leads to uncomfort on where you want to go right? Or, yeah, I can do that extra job that needs to be done. Or, yes, I can fit in a coaching call because that's where she wants to be. And if I do that, naturally, that's where I lean towards, because that's what my purpose energises me by but if I do it too much, I forget about me. So what I always have is some personal things for me that keep me stretching and I make time for them. My chosen avenue is exercise and I start my day every day with a one hour dog walk followed by usually an hour to 90 minutes of exercise. And I've trained my body to do that before the family wake up. So it's all, my bit is done before they're asking time of me.
Yeah, and can ask when you were going through your darkest periods, what ideas did you have to surrender?
That I'm okay, when I wasn't.
Okay, so you had this little narrative going on, I'm okay. But there was another part of you going, no you're not.
So I shut the one up that was telling me I was alright and I wasn't okay. Brains are great at lying to ourselves, right? They try and protect us as their first reaction. But sometimes that protection creates more pain.
And so do you work with people who've been where you've been?
Yes. So in my explorations, the idea of boundary is explored. You will know it from the work you've done. And I'm more comfortable when someone says to me, I've had suicidal thoughts, I'm lost and don't know where to go, I'm facing a personal struggle, but I can't tell anyone about it. Those kinds of moments I know some coaches, mentors, whatever you want to call them, step away. You know, they clearly recognise that area and take that to a professional. I'm more comfortable starting to explore the conversation with them. It not necessarily means I'm the person to help them. I had a client recently I've done work with for a number of years, hadn't spoken to him for about six months. It came back to me and first conversation, two minutes in groundbreaking tears, like, literally a mess. And we got to the bottom of what was going on, and I said, it's not me, you need to go and seek professional psychological help.
Which, if anyone is listening to this, and it's triggering any of those things then please seek the professional help that is required.
Big time I would recommend it more than anything.
Graham I'm really conscious of one your time and two just how vulnerable and comfortably vulnerable you've been so I really want to acknowledge and thank you for that. I will finish by lightening it a little bit if I may, and give you a couple of questions to answer, you don't know what's coming.
I just want to say by the way, thank you for letting me share it Pete.
Oh, you're welcome. I feel really touched because I didn't know you were going to do that. And I feel really touched that one, you have and two, you chose to share it with me. So I'm very humbled by that.
And the listeners Pete let's not forget them.
Well, it's me and my mum, let's be fair. She just listens to be kind. So mind or body?
Body and Mind. In that question just spot the guy who is a scientist at heart but has learned about the feeling side too.
Yeah. Nike or Asics.
Sunset or sunrise.
Jack Nicklaus or Tom Watson.
Oh, Watson for what he did at the Open.
What's your favorite golf shot?
A four I hit on the Seventh Hole at the Chart Hills Golf Club. That was possibly the most beautifully designed golf shot I've ever hit.
And what's the golf shot you hate the most?
Don't hate any of them.
Hang on, are you right handed? You mean you don't hate a left to right downhill put?
Left handed? It's about tolerability for other people's value Pete, if they're left handed, that's the way they've got to play the game.
Final question, a book that's changed your life.
Leadership: Plain and Simple by Steve Radcliffe.
Graham, thank you so much for the conversation. Cheers.
Thank you for having me on.