Welcome to this week's episode of The Freedom Fridays podcast. I have a really interesting guest. And all my guests are interesting, of course, but my guest today, a lady called Helena Clayton, who lives in the UK. Is, I'm hoping I can ask the right questions to get to talk about something that really is rarely talked about, certainly in our our corporate world. But let's see if we can get there. So, Helena, welcome to the Freedom Fridays podcast. Nice to have you on the show.
Thank you so much. It is very, very good to be here.
Helena, I start with the same question. In the line of work that you do, what does 'freedom' mean?
And I do, I do love this question. Because it's got me thinking about it for myself as well. So I work in I work in organisations as a coach. And I also work in leadership development, so designing and running leadership development programmes for all sectors. So I think freedom is two things in that work. I think in my coaching it, well perhaps across the piece, I think it's about helping people see that they that they have choices and options, more than they know or more than they think or feel they do. So I think it's the freedom comes from just inviting people to see a much wider range of options and possibilities. And that also includes not just options to act, but new ways of seeing things, seeing the world, seeing their belief seeing themselves. So I think freedom from stuck ways or limited ways, narrow. And also, and this is becoming increasingly important to me, and I'm not entirely sure I have the words for it. But something about I have a sense that many of us, not all, have ended up living rather dry lives, perhaps small, or shades of grey. And clearly this isn't true for everybody. And I think that there is something about - and that is a stuckness. And I think freedom is also about helping people live lives, construct/live lives, that are full of richness that are technicolour, not shades of grey. That are multi-stranded, multi-coloured. And that includes having a life that nourishes us, that we feel fully alive in. And where you know, feelings or emotions like aliveness or joy or love. These are really front and centre. I have a colleague, who is from the corporate world and she she said recently, she has chosen to put joy at the centre of her life. And things are completely different as a result. And you know that I do some work exploring love. And so there is something for me about if we put love at the centre of our life, then what? Well, for this podcast, what kind of freedoms might that be? What might be possible? What are the other choices? So a bit of a long, waffley answer, but that's where it takes me.
We chat, we chatted a little bit about where we started. And, and what what continues to fascinate me and inspire me is when I have a guest, like you. And I've done about 50 odd of these. And I tell them my style, which is I'm just going to ask one question - and we'll take it from there. And I've never ever been disappointed or left with what am I going to talk about now? Because how you've answered that, there's probably five or six conversations, we could have just in some of the things that you mentioned. I'm going to have to think carefully because there's many things I want to pick up on. And I'm going to have to think carefully about where we start. But thank you, that's a that's a great introduction to freedom from all of those previously held constraints, and I love the freedom from shades of grey.
Well, what's come up for me hearing you talk there is is a really strong image when I coach people and hear for example, if I make an amalgam of many, many of my coaching clients who start work at seven in the morning, they finish at seven at night, they spend two hours with their kids, then they go back online to finish off their work. And when I say something like, how do you feel about that? They kind of say, Oh, that's not okay. And when I gently sort of explore, so what might you want to be different? The sense of fear or terror of actually changing anything in those structures feels to me like such a prison. You know, so I just have this sense as we're talking more about. We put ourselves in cages of our own making sometimes. So there's something about freedom is like, how do we help people find a key to, I don't know, open the door?
I think the irony is the door is probably already unlocked. But we just don't know it. And you know, your example I, I resonate with actually, because I'm probably in a camp. And like you talked about before, we've all certainly you and I, in this conversation, have done things over the years to look into why we do things and our belief systems and patterns. And I certainly have a pattern where if I'm not doing something, or if I'm not busy, or if I'm not seeming to do something that's important, it strikes a fear. And I would even go as far as to say, a terror in well, I start to panic a little bit. And part of me knows that that's what's driven me. But the other side of it is well, and yeah, it's terrifying. That's not okay. And toggling between them is a real, it's a real mental challenge, certainly for me.
Yeah. Yes, I wrote a blog not too long ago, about tight and loose. You know, I live my life in quite a tight way. And part of my own development really, is to learn to live in a more loose way. In a more kind of free flowing. Yeah, and it's a challenge, I find it hard to let go and to allow in more space and to. Yes, it's hard for me pushing,
I think you'll find this quite intriguing Helena. I did a little bit of research on your background, and I looked at some of your blogs. And you can guess which blog I was drawn to.
Was it the tight and loose one?
Tight and Loose. Which I'll put in the show notes for people that are interested, but I just thought it was it just drew me and I thought that's a fascinating way to look at it. So your star got me thinking about? I wonder what I'm putting up the centre of my life? Because I'd love to hear you first, maybe tell - if we can - the story of your client that put joy at the centre? What did they do? How did they go about it? How long before they recognised results? And then maybe we can dive into the, what if we love that the centre of something?
Lovely. So it wasn't a client. She's a colleague. And yes, and, and, and I don't know what she did. Although I do know that over the last 18 months, her life has had lots and lots of change in it. You know. I mean, there was lockdown, she developed this amazing new online programme, she decided to stop doing her PhD. She separated from her husband, you know, so there was so much big, big upheaval. So I think there's something to about and you know, your 21 whispers name is so right. You know, I think life shouted at her very, very loudly. And it is interesting to me what it is that allows us to have freedom sometimes it is a huge disturb, you know, a kind of a catalyst or a there's a word I'm reaching for, I can't find it. But sometimes it takes a big piece of upheaval sometimes things that happen to us from the outside to really enable us to connect with what matters most to us. So I think life happened to her in some ways. And when the you know when stuff cleared I don't know if she found joy in the middle of it or decided to put it in there. But you're right some you know what if we decided to put love at the centre of our of our life what might be possible?
Well, I'm I don't know, I'm reflecting I wonder if I don't think it's not love because, like, you know, certainly the people that I you know, go around with my friends, my family sadly probably more as they come to the end of their days they go, you know, it's all about love. But I don't think it's front and centre. It's in it's in the mix. But I wouldn't say it's front and centre. I wonder if I'm reflecting off the top of my head. You haven't rehearsed this at all, and wondering if it's something about. So what shows up for me is busyness doing rather than necessarily just being busyness and I wonder if there's something that sits beneath that around significance or worth. And literally, on the top of my tongue here thinking, I wonder if it's got something to do with self love? In a holistic sense, obviously, not in a narcissistic sense. And so I wonder if you can share with us your understanding and the research that you've done about love? I'm going guess it probably hits a few raw nerves at times. What, if any, place does love have at work?
Yeah, that really is the question at the heart of my inquiry, really. So if I pick up on a couple of things you've said there. So one thing that comes up through the research is just how love is such a provocative, problematic difficult word to use in, in, in a working organisational context. And the bit of research I've done and the ongoing conversations I have with people, when I run workshops, is really mixed. There's a, there's a sense of this came through the research, there's a sense of, like, the love is such a core human need. We are hardwired for love, how can it not also be I don't know relevant or there in the workplace, right? It just is such a it's the river that runs through all of us. That's that's one take. And other people though, a fewer but but others also just have a very strong categorical no that love does not have a place in the workplace. Love is private. It's personal. And quotes from the research have been things like love requires that I am vulnerable. Vulnerability is a weakness and weakness does not belong. So there's a link between you know, vulnerable/weakness and that's okay at work. So it's really tricky to bring into the workplace and but yet though, when I speak to groups, about love in organisations, many many people sit forward on their seats. More people than not are wanting to move towards that conversation rather than away from it. So I definitely think there is an interest and then there's the kind of yeah, but how do we do this? How do we bring or talk about love in the workplace? and I intentionally use the word love. When I first started doing this research and said to people, colleagues and friends, colleagues surprise me particularly, I am going to look at love at work. It was an oh, sure - but you don't mean love right? You will be looking at compassion or empathy? I said no, no, I'm definitely going to look at love. And somebody else okay, but you will end up talking about engagement. I definitely won't. Even you know, that we're okay - well we're starting to get okay in using words like compassion or empathy. But I'm I'm kind of holding fast to love because it is much more bold. I get a real mixed response actually from folks. And understandably, right, because it's, we are so guarded and armoured in work that it is understandably really tricky to then bring in some of the softer emotions and love isn't always soft. So yeah, I understand the difficulty.
And so how would you explain to someone, if indeed there is, and if indeed there is in the workplace, the difference between love and say empathy?
Yeah. So, in the research I did, I said to people, what do you mean by love at work or loving? What do you mean by love, especially as it relates to the workplace? And I ended up with six kind of buckets of responses. Also five, but I'll work it out in a tick. So the first one was a bucket called care. Understandably, right, so probably I am sure that makes sense. So that was empathy, compassion, nurture all the kinds of soft, soft words associated with with love. So that was care. Second came listening. So people felt that being fully present and really being listened to fully was an act of love. So that came out as the second kind of biggest bucket to be really present to somebody to give them your full attention felt deeply loving.
That's fascinating. And the reason I say it's fascinating is my own take. Obviously, I'm recording this from Australia, you're in the UK. I deal mainly with clients and people in Australia. The biggest need that I'm seeing, that's not really spoken about, and it's my own assumption, in almost everyone I'm working with, is they're not seen. They're not heard, and they're not held. So there's there's a loss in desperation, but there's this need that's unmet about being seen, being heard and being held. And maybe that's just my interpretation of there's a need to be loved.
I love what you've just said there. And it resonates for me very much so - to be seen, to be heard, to be held - yes. And I think if we can do that for somebody, I think that's loving. And I often use the word loving because there's a lovely academic, Stephan Cantori, here in the UK, and he will often use an 'ing' you know, a verb, so he will talk rather than love, he'll talk about loving, and I'll sometimes talk about acts of love. I think that is loving. I think that's an act of love to really see, hear and hold somebody. Definitely, I love that.
You've settled with six buckets, can refer to the other four.
Yeah, so listening was the second one. The third one, I think there were five actually, the third one was some version of generosity, or, and this isn't the best word to use, but sacrifice. So something about putting your needs second, putting somebody else first, putting aside your own stuff to attend to somebody, else really putting them first. And that is tricky because many folks already do too much of that. You know, they abandon themselves in service of somebody else. So that's a tricky one. But nevertheless, that's what came up in the research.
The fourth one, and this is where love is not soft stuff comes up is that, again, it was so clear. That love is also about having a very strong 'no'. Setting boundaries. Saying that's not okay. Protecting yourself, protecting others. Giving difficult feedback or tough messages. So, so that was I don't like the phrase tough love at all but it's sort of in that territory. It's, it's, it's, it's boundaries. It's it's very strong no.
And then the fifth one, there were just five, I'm pretty sure the fifth one was acceptance of the warts and all-ness of us. Recognising we are flawed, we have a shadow side we do things we don't like, other people do things we don't like. Yeah, that we are flawed and broken and damaged people. And we mess up. So there's something about really accepting everything that we are, and everything that the other person is. So care and empathy and compassion was just one part of it.
And I think there are, you know, there are other elements, too, that didn't come up in the research, but I thought about a lot since. Which is you know, there's also forgiveness, that's a form of love. It's an act of love, I think, creating hope and offering hope to people or to yourself. That's an act of love. So I think there are other dimensions too, but yeah.
Did your exploration touch or how did it touch on a concept of self love?
Right, it didn't. But what is interesting is whenever I run so I have tried to set up some workshops exploring love in the workplace. And I've run several and many. But what keeps coming up time and time again, is that people are less interested. That's not quite true. But then when we say it anyway, then perhaps less interested in talking about organisational love, because what keeps coming up is self love. So, you know, of course, there's the adage that we can only love the world or others to the extent that we love ourselves. But people recognise that, for example, radical acceptance. You know, that final one. It's so self acceptance is perhaps the hardest part of that, you know, having compassion for self - talk about having care and empathy and compassion for others, actually, how do we have compassion for ourselves? How do we soften the voice of are often, in my case, anyway - vicious inner critic. So how do we put in practices or time to be kind to ourselves? So that's very often where the conversation goes.
I can imagine many people, me included, putting 'self' in front of all of the buckets that you suggested self care, self listening, self sacrifice, self setting boundaries, self acceptance, self forgiveness. And I wonder, I wonder, in a practical sense, is your explanation offered any I know this is, you know, covering it in such a minimalist way. But any hints, tips, practical things one can do if one was interested in exploring how to love oneself better?
Yeah, that's really nice. Well, this often comes up in coaching, and I bet it does in yours too, which is to start to work with somebody's inner critic. Two things are coming to me. One is inner critic work. So it's to recognise and acknowledge that we probably, I would probably say, we do all have one. But that may not be true, of course, but to recognise that it's really normal. I can remember being on a workshop many years ago, and talking to a group about how mean, my inner critic was, and a woman was in tears, because she thought she was the literally the only person who had a voice in her head. That was, that was critical, demeaning and diminishing. And she was deeply deeply moved to recognise that most people did, she wasn't weird. So I think there's something about acknowledging our inner critic, and then trying to understand his messages as not true. And then finding a way to build up another voice voice that is more coaching or encouraging or nurturing or softer. I know, that that's helped me enormously. And the other is another one about recognition, which is, which comes from no shadow, it's recognising that each of us has parts of ourselves that are kind, compassionate. If I speak for me, you know, I have a part of me that is kind and compassionate, and is a great listener, and is generous. But I also have parts of me that are jealous, vindictive, cold and withholding. So there's something about recognising that again, that's just human and welcoming, welcoming everything. So I think that is often where self love can start. It's big work mind.
It is. Has it been your experience that once you begin the walk, you've just got to keep going?
Kind of, although that might imply that, that I just have to keep working on myself forever, because I'll never be right or perfect or fixed. But I think that journey is often so interesting. Yeah, I think as long as we do self development work in the spirit of oh, this is interesting - what can that show me about myself? As opposed to I'm so broken and damaged I have to keep doing this to learn better, then, yes.
I'm going to paraphrase a little bit Helena because it's, it's reminded me of something I've just literally read it was because I was going through a bit of a challenge with my own inner critic, and I was telling and reinforcing a narrative about loneliness and being alone. And I don't know if you've come across Michael Singer's work?
Oh, do you know I have his first book and know it, and that one Living Untethered is on my to buy list and I'll get it the minute we're off this call actually
Because I just read the first chapter. And it was so helpful and enlightening and I'm going to try and paraphrase as best I can. So we have this inner critic. The fact that we can hear the inner critic means we're not the inner critic. And I'm paraphrasing massively, and he explains it really well. He gives some really good examples. And it just helped me step back from - Yeah, that's not me. It obviously it's in my head. And it's a narrative inside my head somewhere. And it's there for a reason. And I'll try and welcome everything. But it's not me. And it was able to, it was really helpful in terms of me stepping back to. And it leads to the question, well, who are you? Which is an impossible question to answer. And I'm choosing not to answer that at the moment. But what I am answering is, well, the inner critic is not me. Which I think is actually for me, it's been really helpful to just detach a little bit and put the critic in the passenger seat, not the driver seat.
Very nice. Yeah. Yeah. And you're reminding me of Michael Singer, actually, because in in his first book, The Untethered Soul, I think it's called he talks about the inner critic like a really irritating flatmate. That you've got this lodger, and it turns out to be the biggest pain in the backside, because it is so kind of mean, and you know, but it just will leave. And I love that like, yeah, yeah, this other person in my head. I love that picture. Yeah,
Yeah. Helena, you've mentioned many times, and we'll put it in the show notes about the research that you've done on love in the workplace. Would you maybe give us some of the headlines that you've discovered?
Yeah. And through and through other other conversations. So the first I think, is that when I asked people does love matter in the workplace, sort of 90% plus said, yes, it does. Yeah, I recognise that's a slightly self-selecting group. Because they chose to answer my questionnaire, I tend to the survey, if I did that randomly, I'm guessing it would be lower, but that's all right. Many people, though, said it was very difficult to talk about it though, of course. We've talked about what the research showed people defined love as. But the other thing I asked about was, what gets in the way of love being more present or talked about in the workplace? And I ran an event the other week called blocks to love. So this is also some of the interesting stuff for me in organisations. So one block is the pace we work at. You know, you talked about busyness. One is the pace we work about, we work at. And I sometimes quote a US Pastor who said, you can't be a hurried person and a loving person. And that is true for me.
There's a mic drop moment Helena.
You can't be a hurried person and a loving person. Yeah, so that Yeah. So there's something about the pace we work at. There just isn't enough room for connection for them for contact for seeing and hearing people to come back to what you said. So there's something about that. Also, love is unhelpfully associated with sex, with romance, with religion. So again, understandably, folks might think well doesn't belong in work, because none of those things belong. A third block was trauma. So this research from the UK, I think it's from the UK. No may or may not only be. Into childhood trauma, which they called adverse childhood experiences, and they can be as ordinary or a common as your parents divorcing when you're young through to, you know, being the victim of violence or sexual abuse, or emotional abuse. And the research says that between 40 and 60% of us experience something like that. And what happens, what happens when we're a child is that we do whatever we can to keep safe and that usually means cutting off from emotions that that we find difficult or that scare us. So we shut down parts of ourselves. I'm no expert in this. And there'll be people listening who will be thinking that I could definitely explain it better, but we shut down parts of ourselves. And we don't naturally bring them online again, as we grow older. So for many of us, it's really difficult to connect with love, when actually, we had to do some fairly strong things to protect ourselves when we were little. So there's trauma and how that shows up. And that kind of just gets in the way of us connecting deeply often. So the blocks are really interesting. And also, love is gendered. So love is seen as women's work.
Is that right? In what sense? Did the women say that, and the men say that?
Yep. So a couple of things. There's a, because love is usually associated with care, you know, that first package of the research, care is seen as stuff women do. So that's through the ages, where men have traditionally taken on more of the caring work at home, children, obviously, but parents or mental load, emotional load in a relationship. So love goes into into into the same kind of thing. Well, that's kind of that's women's work. And of course, the workplace is not a woman's world. It's predominantly a man's world. So it means that love is not especially welcomed. I mean, this isn't explicit. Because it's women's stuff, and women are not especially and this is perhaps dating at a bit too strong, not especially welcomed equally in the workplace. So yeah, it's by far and away when I run workshops, it's women who sign up. It's women who come along and interested in exploring love in the workplace. So yeah, I think it is, it is gendered. I mean, it isn't in terms of our natural innate hardwiring. Of course not - love isn't gendered at all. But in the workplace, you know, being a blocker to why it isn't spoken about or that it's gendered in that sense.
Which is, which again, staggers me. Sadly, doesn't surprise me. So what do you think's going on? Because if I reflect on most of my male relationships, you know, sometimes jokey, sometimes not. Sometimes after a couple of beers, sometimes not, we would say, pretty regularly - Hey, love you, mate. And so we use the words. I don't know. I'm assuming that's what we mean. Certainly what I mean. But it will be at its fundamental core with the same love, care listening, generosity, boundaries, acceptance, forgiveness, hope that I love my mates with that I'd love my family with. It may express itself differently because of the society we live in. But it feels like the same, and perhaps would maybe express it less to my mates than I would do to my wife, Chris. So what do you think prevents men from going beyond that - Hey mate, love you. Love you, bro. We seem to just touch the surface, and that's it.
Yeah, I mean, it's perhaps more of a question for you, Pete. But I'm guessing it's something about, and I'm really making a huge generalisation here, that the expectations that are put on boys to be strong and brave, and to be strong and brave, so and not to show weakness and not to cry. So I'm guessing that must be a big part of the root system. Yeah, what what sense do you make of that? What do you think might get in the way?
I think that's definitely part of it. My sense is that men more so because obviously there's there's a spectrum going on here. There's a continuum, men more so because of that root system have had it shut down, and yet still carry it. And as we carry it in our later years, it becomes heavier and heavier and heavier and heavier until something - so life happens - which causes it to, you know, open up. And hopefully in many circumstances, but I know it's not, it's not it. It opens up in a way that's containable in the sense of people can recover from, and start to express and feel, love and loved, and be loving. But sadly, I think many people wait too late. Until a mate commit suicide or a family member dies, or there's a traumatic accident at work, and we wait for those moments for us to kind of go hang on, we've got a short life here. I better get really express in what's going on.
Yeah, right. And it's often said that the patriarchy and the way we've set things up doesn't serve men either. It doesn't serve women, but it really does not serve men well either.
That's the that's the Yeah. It's staggers me. Helena it absolutely staggers me that we, we continue to allow those things to happen. And that's a really, that's a very powerful thing for me to take on board ctually, that the patriarchy doesn't suit me either. It doesn't help anyone really. So it makes me wonder, well, who specifically is is feeding that, that it continues?
Yeah. Yeah. Right. And, and bringing it back to freedom. It's like, how are we? Like, when I think of freedom, I think of, you know, stuck and trapped. And, how are we all, you know, stuck or we not all clearly. But how might we be stuck or trapped in a way of doing things, which we are that we know where I tend to think quite darkly around the way the world is going, I don't think it's going to end well. And we've we we seem to be very stuck in ways that keep us on that track. So just in daily life, you know, it's like, how do we just gently help ourselves off a track that is not helping us?
And there'll be huge aspects of self awareness to know that what we're doing is not helping us. I wrote a bit of a blog post recently, where I, you know, it's borrowed from different aspects of what we've all read. That every decision we make consciously or unconsciously, is a vote for short term or long term, current self or future self, the future or the past. And you can see that playing out in all aspects of our lives.
Yeah. Yeah. And love it. I forget the link. But there's, there's a, you know, a really lovely thread, which is about love is a choice. You know, it's like, what if we have a bazillion choice points through the day, you know, we can definitely think what's the loving thing to do? And that's where Stephen's loving is, is really helpful. What's the more loving thing to do in this moment? Which can be a really lovely guiding principle. And that's coming back to your question, what if we put love at the centre of our life? You know, that's not a bad question to filter things.
Yeah. I remember an old I think it was a Stephen Covey quote, but he may have got it from somewhere else and actually changed. Certainly with my intimate relationships, the way I view my contribution to the success of a relationship, and it was love as a verb. Because, you know, a young man growing up the way I grew up, love was something you can have felt in thought, but you never expressed that you never did anything to show an act of love. And when I came across that a relatively young age, it completely changed, I think for people that I was loving, their felt expression of what being loved by Pete was about.
Beautiful, beautiful. And you're absolutely right there. There's something about, we're talking about now, but actually, what we really are talking about is expressions of love. You know what? We know what does that because I can have all the love I like in my heart, but if it doesn't show itself in the world, in our relationship or in simply then what is the point? So there's something about expressions of love or acts of love, that really is what matters? Yeah, thanks for bringing that. It's lovely.
Helena, I'm conscious of time and thank you for your time. I like to try and finish in a relatively light way if I can. So I've got just a few questions. Maybe just to close us off a little bit. And feel free to ponder or give us your first choice. Just picking up on your last comment, actually, do you have a favourite expression of love that you like to give?
Hmm. I think appreciation. Very often when I say to somebody, a friend, my husband, a coaching client, I really like this in you or I appreciate that or thank you for something. It is those expressions of appreciation are so rare. Besides that, it it's often kind of takes people off kilter. Yeah, expressions of gratitude and appreciation.
And if we flip the question, do you have a favourite expression of love you like to receive?
Will it would probably be the same. Because when people spot something in me and then appreciate me for that, I feel seen and heard right. I feel seen. Coming back to your point. So probably, probably that.
Is there a maxim you like to live your life by?
No, not really. Although that, although for me, also, what comes up is do no harm. So it's and that's it. That's not right, either. But there's something about, I don't know if I can contribute anything meaningful to the good of the world, but I can definitely try and not make it worse.
Is there a movie that you love so much you've watched it over and over?
No. No, there isn't. I don't think I've ever seen a film twice. Actually. I'll think on that, but I don't think there is.
Okay. And then. Is there a book that's changed your life?
Oh, also, oh. I am a voracious reader. So I yeah, I'm in now I'm looking at our joint bookshelves. Lovely, yeah. No, not one I don't think. I mean, somebody asked me the other day about. I read a lot of fiction, too. And there are a couple of books that I've read a couple of times, and that's rare. And one is The Bone People by Keri Hulme, an Australian writer. just extraordinary. I think it won the Booker many, many years ago. And that's so beautiful. So yeah, the bone people is the book. It may not have changed my life, but it definitely was, yeah, a beautiful book.
Helena, thank you so much for your time, and probably more importantly for our humanity, thank you for giving some air and oxygen to the wonderfully important and such significant topic of love. Thank you.
Oh, it's been a real pleasure. And I've loved this conversation. I really have and, and what I'm taking away to myself is a reminder of the kind of be seen, be heard, be held. And also this notion of freedom from. That is going to incubate for me. Thank you so much. It's been a real joy.
Thank you, too.