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.
So welcome to this week's edition of the Freedom Fridays podcast where my guest this week is, it's a new friend, it's somebody that I've only met very recently only in 2D and we kind of operate in the same field, we're in the same game. But perhaps we have a slightly different take on it and I'm very grateful, because I could be seen as competition, very grateful to have Karen on the show. Hi, Karen.
Hello, thank you for having me. I'm equally excited. I think when you're open minded, you meet some great people doing very similar work. So I agree, I think we're more on the same mission as opposed to actually competitors.
Great, let's explore that offline. Karen, I always start with the same question. Freedom Fridays is about ordinary people doing extraordinary things, moving from I have to, to I choose to, the big changes that ordinary people have made. What's the big change that you would like to share with us?
I think the journey for me has really been around, like for many of us my mental strength and well being. I've always in my working life worked hard and been really passionate about what I do, I've always have a pretty clear view of what I want to be, in the next phase, I've always had something that I'm really clearly working toward. But when I look back on the highs and the lows, the actual journey from launching my business to where I am now, I'd say that what all of that was typically about was my own mental makeup. So the baggage I was carrying, traumas that were unresolved and my relationship to myself and to the world around me meant that the way in which I was going about doing my job wasn't always sustainable. So whether that be around emotional responses to situations, or whether that be around my working habits and my working patterns, so getting to a place of burnout all the time. I really needed to learn to understand more about me, and how my psychology works, so that I can actually move some stuff on be a better version of myself, and live this life of being a business owner and entrepreneur in a healthier way. So, I've been in business for 15 years. So I'd say along that journey, there's been a lot of change, I wouldn't say there was one big event. It's just this evolution, transformational change, if you like, over that long period.
One of the, I've done about 30 odd episodes now, one of the benefits I get in doing these is I get to just have a conversation with like minded people about this sort of stuff. So it's a little bit indulgent and self indulgent. But I really can't wait to explore some of the things that you said, there's already many questions popping in my head. Maybe I could start with something you said and you almost skipped it and it's question that I feel with the work that I do people struggle with it. And you said, you already knew what you wanted to be. You already had this image of a future Karen, and you're working towards that every time. Can you just maybe share with the listeners how and how sure were you and how did you do that? Because when we ask people, imagine your ideal self, a lot of people seem to struggle with that.
I think the key there is people think too far ahead. So I always had an overall sense of what the long term me looked like, but I always knew what I wanted next. So and what that meant was that what came after that could still be a mystery, could still be something that I would discover along the way but what was always constant is I want to be good at what I am now. I want to be successful and obviously, we can talk about various definitions of success, but I wanted to consider myself to be successful. And I wanted to evolve, I wanted to move forward, I wanted to move forward in my career. And that, for me, was very much about being respected, having influence the ability to have impact. So then along the way, it's been about what is the best way to do that. So right now, where I am, what is the best way to learn more? What is the best way to step into more seniority and always having a focus on, What am I bringing with me? So in other words, building on the building blocks, so could I have possibly known what I'd do when I was 20? No, I mean, I hardly knew that HR existed, right, let alone, if fact I didn't know it existed, let alone understanding what a brilliant career you can make from that in terms of that whole space around influencing other people's success, through their mindsets, through their behaviors, through their talents, who knows that when you're in high school, for example, that that even exists? So what I have always known is that fundamentals like I'm a people person and I love leadership and I want to be good at it. And so every career choice has been about fulfilling those things. So in the moment, I could say, Yeah, I love my job. I love what I'm doing and I know where I'm going next. So going all the way back to the start of your question, if the problem is, is that we say, we'll stand where we are now and say, What am I going to be in five years in 10 years and 15 years? And the reality is we may not yet know.
Yes very true. I'm going to ask you a question about success. But I want to couch it in maybe for the listeners, could you give us a headline on the journey that you've taken? Because my question about success is linked to that, and people wouldn't know what you do yet. So maybe give us 30 seconds on the headline of the journey and then I'm going to ask you a question about success.
So headline around the journey.
Yes, left school, became a tradie, then became a farmer and then did corporate.
Yes okay so finished school, did a physical education degree realised that there weren't any teaching jobs at that time? Why did I do PE because I was an athlete, a martial artist. And of course, if you're an athlete, you became a PE teacher, that was just how things worked back then. And got into the business world in the interim, because I couldn't teach. And one of the first jobs I noticed was an HR manager. And I'm like, what is that I actually thought it was hilarious that people get paid to be an HR manager, I thought, well, as someone who had grown up in the martial arts, and that was, the bigger part of the backstory if you like, and I was already an experienced leader by that point. And I was already an experienced coach of other people having coached state and national teams. And so going into the work world, as a young adult has that this is super cool. These people are thinking about the mindsets and the performance of people in the business world. So, took a potted journey down customer service, administration management kind of path to become a leader. And I wanted to be a great leader. I wanted to be sensei at work, in hindsight I can see that. And so I studied a Master's in HR to become a better people manager, I was by that point managing a call centre. So I went through a few admin roles into a call centre role, manager of that then stepped in straight from there, in fact, into an HR role, because the boss that who had hired me, in the call centre moved on to Vanguard, which is a funds management business, brilliant organisation. So I actually joined Vanguard on a temporary basis just to do setting up some training for their launch of their retail funds and their call centre, using that experience in my HR studies, and then stayed for eight years, became the head of HR for Vanguard in the Asia Pacific region, and then started my own outsourced HR consulting business really 15 years ago. So, that's the journey and then decided, in recent years to really strongly marry my martial arts background, with my HR experience, and to say to the world, this is what I've learned in the dojo, and what I've seen equally applied in the world of business as being relevant to human beings and their potential and their performance.
Well, I'm going to pick up on the martial arts thing a bit later. And I don't know if we shared this, but my background started as a PE teacher, too. I don't think we knew that actually, that's quite ironic. So here's my question about success through all of those stages you said earlier on that you always knew what success was and it was defined by various things. To what extent was your definition of success your definition, versus the definition bestowed upon you by society, family, the role, the organisation? And how did you balance any inequity in that?
Yes well I think that's fascinating, because it's a big part of the journey that I was talking about earlier, is I had had childhood experiences that, like all of us had shaped some aspects of me and my psychology. So what I've discovered in recent years is, I've had programming in my mind around unrelenting standards, and self sacrifice have been two that have been really quite significant. So, we talk about success, well I never felt at certain points in my business journey, I never felt good enough. I felt like there's another thing we have to develop, there's something I should have done quicker, I should have been faster to market on that, why have all these people got all these big teams I only have a small team? What does that mean about me and my success? And so all of this internal dialogue around what should I be and am I enough, was an incredibly powerful driving force between working too much and getting to a place of burnout. So I would say the more mature version of me, because I started the business when I was 35. And I'm now 50, I have to really think about that, as to whether or not I was 51, COVID has really messed with my perception of time and reality. So I would say, the version of me now says that success is a sense of fulfillment, and a sense of peace and calm on an emotional basis that I'm more able to respond to life's challenges without being sideswiped, or I don't carry as much anxiety around, pushing forward and chasing the next goal. So I'm still driven and ambitious to have an impact to share as much as I possibly can, with people about what I have learned and what I see can help them to be their best selves and to thrive. But very much want to optimise that impact but to do it in a really planned, considered, well executed, balanced, happy way.
What was the, because I think there's that question of, Am I enough? It's such a relentless question. It's exhausting and I resonate with it for the journey I've gone on, and I think many people do. And I think whatever event has caused us to pick that up, there's hopefully an event that makes us to reframe that and you've obviously gone through that. How do you navigate that messy middle bit? Or how did you navigate that from the No, I've just got unrelenting standards, to the point where you are now a bit calmer, a bit more centred and fulfill that messy bit in the middle, when you've kind of got both things playing in both ears. Can you share how you navigated that perhaps?
Oh, totally. Because I think that that is the whole story, right? It's that process of discovery and this is really building our self awareness on a practical level. So it's building that level of awareness around, how do I operate? So where do these emotions come from? So I remember really clearly, my husband, for example, saying, well just choose how you feel about that. And I just thought that that was I remember saying to him, I can't choose my emotion, it's just, it is right, that's how I feel about it. And obviously fast forward 30 years because that was when I was very young, been with him for a long time. And I just think it's really funny that that's now at the heart of what I teach is we do have the power to choose our emotion. And so how do you manage that journey from being this one state to being on the other side of it? First of all, I would say the most important part is anchoring your focus to wanting to evolve. So Self Mastery has been something that's always been important to me, I want to be my best self, I want to know that I can be proud of myself. So having integrity and taking ownership, for everything that you are, everything you do, your impacts, to me really matters. So I don't want to fool myself, I don't want to kid myself, sometimes I'm completely blinded, like any of us are, and can't necessarily see myself in a particular moment. But as soon as I'm aware, I want to take ownership for it. So and I've always been, I think, whether its nature, or nurture through the martial arts training, I've had this really strong desire not to want to give up. So I've been all the way down the bottom of the ditch, where giving up on life itself has been one of the options being contemplated. And what I've discovered in that moment, is there's still another voice, and the other voice is going get your ass out of this danger zone, get yourself back home, what are you doing? So, and it's that aspect of me that has kept me battling through. And so it is, and then it's about getting help, getting guidance. So depending on what your your journey is, it's about who am I mentors, who are my friends, who are my supporters, who are my fans, and who's my psychologist. I think one of the great shortages that we have in terms of professional access to professional people in this world are great psychologists who have done some of the work themselves. I think that's an important part of being brilliant at it versus good at it. And, are able to work with more of us around understanding ourselves unpacking our challenges. But obviously, we're living in a world where there's still a great deal of stigma and fear around asking for help. But I would say that's been absolutely fundamental for me is, is then able to actually face things, unpack them, understand them, move it forward. And in order to understand some things when you're really super close to it, you need some perspective and a psychologist perspective, observing your thought patterns can be really powerful.
Karen, first of all, thank you for sharing that. That's quite raw and authentic so thank you for that. I hear many stories of people who've been in the ditch, as you've said, and that's caused them to whatever language however they've gotten out, there's obviously situations where that doesn't happen. Do you believe, has it been your experience in others that you have to get in the ditch to get out? Or can you peer over and get out? Can you see it in the distance and get out? Or is it so unique that there's no way of saying?
I think it's a really interesting question, right? Because one of the things that I think is super challenging for human beings is to learn without experience. So we can learn theories but real wisdom comes from application, and walking down paths and being super challenged. So we can create challenge for ourselves, we can invest in something like the martial arts, for example, where it puts you in a space where you're really pushing yourself. So some of the mental strengths and capabilities that come from that training, don't necessarily have to have come because of being in a dark place, but you kind of semi go there that said, your black belt grading when you can't breathe or stand up anymore, and someone's still screaming at you is a pretty dark place on some levels. So, and I think people can go into dark places without learning anything from them. So I think it's what we actually do with our experiences. So some people may be able to see it from afar and take great lesson from it and build their own awareness, really bank that understanding, because again, just because we become aware of something doesn't mean it becomes part of our DNA it doesn't then stay with us for the long term, that happens when we actually do the practice and actually apply what it is that we've discovered,
Because it seems like the lessons are all around us. Everywhere from far from close. But again, so many people I speak to, they almost have to have to get into the dark, experience the shadow, go to a place that's really uncomfortable, whether it's on the dojo, in your black belt grading and you get smashed again, if it's a physical aspect or a mental aspect. And I wonder if, in this discovery, what happens when you discover something you don't like about yourself?
Well, that's again, part of the inner courage, right and that commitment. So again, that self mastery piece. For me, there have been plenty of things I haven't liked about myself, but what's been able to help me to move it forward, is understanding it. And part of understanding it is actually getting more respectful of it, as well. So there are things that I used to say to myself, that was just flat out unacceptable conduct. The way you talk to yourself relative to how you talk to others it's shocking. So, it might go something like this, I would get triggered by a certain event and I get upset right, and my emotions would start to build and I would get to a place where I felt like I just wanted to pop, it's like, I can't be heard, I can't remove this emotion, this is beyond frustrating. And I'd be in that place and the other voice, one of the voices, because there's a number of them would be saying, What is wrong with you get it together? You know better than this, like, just take a breath. No wonder people think you're ridiculous, no wonder people listen to your point of view, you give them validation of the fact that you're just emotional, and therefore your point doesn't count. And another voice that I learned to actually make louder, and to allow to dominate in that situation, was actually a far more empathetic and compassionate voice. So and this is something my psychologist helped me to work through is, how would you parent your own child in that moment, so if my child was angry about something and really upset, not feeling heard, and feeling diminished or dismissed, what I would say to that child is, you're okay mate, just take a breath, I understand how frustrating this is. Obviously, being angry is not going to change anything, let's just calm and then we'll think through, okay, what's the best way that we can deal with this? When I started actually having that conversation with myself, it had this immediate calming influence and this calming impact. So I would go from being in a state of rage to hearing another voice going, you're okay it's fine, just breathe through it just to step back. And it just created this space for me to be able to let that emotion go. So I think actually, being nicer to yourself, and being more constructive in the way you think about the things that you don't like, is an important starting point. Because one of the things I didn't like was losing my shit emotionally and just getting really upset with people. I have been the queen of that, right. I have had moments where I've just gone, how dare you? And there's nothing composed or mature about it. It's just utter rage for a sense of injustice, or don't betray me, I don't do betrayal very well, apparently, at all. And I mean, that's not entirely true, because I now understand it so I'm far less likely to feel betrayed, far less likely and if I do, I'm more forgiving. And I'm more pragmatic around my reaction to it.
So are you that person in the restaurant, on the train?
What do you mean, like being a Karen? No, so could I have looked like that in years gone by? In certain moments, absolutely. If I felt like there was something that was really unfair, or unjust in a situation. But the other thing that's always sort of tempered me on some level on many levels is I love people. And one of the things I hate more than anything else in life is the look of someone, a look of embarrassment on someone's face. I really can't, I really don't like that at all. So I'm entirely unlikely to try and embarrass somebody I'm more likely to contemplate actually, this might be embarrassing for you if I lose my shit at you, so I'm more likely to crack it about circumstances, I'm more likely to be the two year old that's thrashing around on the floor going, It's not fair that life's so hard. That's more likely to be me than complaining and having a go at people, I like people to like and accept who I am. So again, it's not a place I want to go. So going back to your original point around, there are absolutely things about ourselves that we discover that we don't like, what do we do with that? Do we get depressed and start to beat ourselves up? Or do we actually go well, why am I like that and what do I need to own? And the answer is never just because I'm a shitty person. There's a different reason, typically as to why we are certain ways. And then it's about owning it and having courage and forgiveness that I'm allowed to not be perfect. I just need to own it.
I'm going to pause there, Karen and I got into a number of meaty topics, and I'm going to chunk them down to make them more digestible for you. So even in part one, we've talked about ideas like having future self, balancing the definition of success, whether it's internal or external. And this interesting idea about being enough. When is the am that I am enough? Or can I aspire to more or is who I am now all I'll ever be. And then whatever that answer is the owning of it some really simple but profound questions and thought provokers in there, so I'm going to pause it for the moment. Please join us again on Episode Two. But for now, that's the end of Episode One.