Andrew’s Blog: Become Unbreakable

If you were anything like me when you were at school and saw your ruler describing itself as “shatterproof”, you immediately snapped it in half. This is because I had no time for lies, and I had no regard for school property. Alright, I had some respect for school property, but I did break those rulers.

I think there is something to be said about an item or person claiming it is unbreakable and then wanting to prove it wrong. I’m not saying that the Titanic got what was coming to it, but I think there is a danger in saying “this ship is unsinkable” before setting sail across the ocean.
It’s sort of a more extreme version of having a bad day and then saying, “well, at least it’s not raining”, just as a weather warning is being announced on the news…

As humans, we are striving to make ourselves unbreakable. We are sold the idea that we need to build ourselves up to such a being that we can handle anything. We’re told we need to be ready for any eventualities. So we try and become shatterproof. And we shatter. This week’s newsletter will discuss what it means to be unbreakable and if we need to re-assess those ideas. Are we striving to achieve the impossible to distract ourselves for every day, or is there a way to truly become unbreakable?

When do you feel strong? I mean, really strong. Strong enough that you are incapable of feeling emotional pain or discomfort. Strong enough that sticks and stones won’t break your bones, let alone those words that have never hurt you if the playground chant is to be believed?

In this week’s newsletter, I will share when I feel at my strongest and the journey I’ve been on to get there.

When I was younger, I was competitive. There is something about the world of sport that asks this of you. You have to fight for your place in the team. You have to prove that you are worthy of the logo on the front of your shirt, and the number on the back. You have to train to turn up every day with the mental and physical energy needed to succeed. I have carried that attitude into adulthood. And still, apply today.

The knowledge that victories are hard-won and devastating losses but not the end of the road is the result of my sports-based passions as a young man.

I have found what I needed for team sports matched the mindset that I need to succeed in business. You must have a winning mentality, endurance, an acknowledgement of a team effort, a desire to improve. These qualities made me stronger. I knew, and know, the importance of practice. The strength that you build upon. The growing belief that you, and your team, can come across any challenge, face it head-on, and win.

A victory is a powerful dopamine hit and adrenaline rush. Your body is flooded with reward hormones for overcoming nerves and hitting the puck into the back of the net. Your body rewards you for smashing that presentation and landing your company a huge new contract. When it comes to our father’s fathers before us, they were praised by their bodies for chasing away that sabre tooth tiger and living to fight another day.

The rewards that come after a hard-fought victory are almost unparalleled. Almost.

I will share with you when I feel at my strongest, and I’m going to tell you, with complete honesty, that I feel the strongest I have ever felt today. Right now.

I am standing on the foundations that I worked hard to lay down. I am 45 years old. I am the fittest and healthiest I have ever been. I am not “over the hill” or ‘feeling my age” I am stronger than I have ever been. But how do I know when I haven’t recently completed an Iron Man in the Sahara or done Tough Mudder in Siberia? How could I possibly feel stronger than ever and, dare I say it, unbreakable if there is no medal at the end of it?

Because I take on day to day challenges that put my mental and physical health first, I have cultivated a practice that allows time for my work, exercise, family and friends. I have been able to develop a schedule that works for me. I have managed to find balance in a complex world, and it has enabled me to feel a strength that I’ve never felt before.

I partake in 10 daily habits that allow me to build to my best. Some of them offer daily discomfort and “in the moment” frustrations. This includes starting the day with a cold shower, not because I love a cold shower, but because I love the clarity and focus it offers me.
It means that instead of worrying about the day ahead, the meetings I may have and the chores I have to do, my mind is focused on the fact that the water I am standing under is freezing. It doesn’t have to be a long shower, just enough to bring me into the now.

I’ve also found strength through not drinking alcohol. Now I know this isn’t easy for everyone, but I have found the benefits of waking up the next morning with a clear head far outweighs the temptation of a couple of beers the evening before. This brings me back to the main subject of today’s episode. I feel that the strength it takes to put my future before my present benefits me in both. When I think about being unbreakable, I truly believe the daily practices of slight discomfort, cold showers/prioritising sleepovers at a late-night party means that I am stronger than I’ve ever been.

I’m sure none of you needs reminding about the challenges of the past couple of years. The reality of lockdown and pandemic that would have been unthinkable in 2019 meant that we were tested in ways even fans of disaster films couldn’t have imagined. And yet, through continuing my ten daily habits, I have been able to stay on track with my journey. I was able to get stronger every day, even against the odds. Finding consistency through such an inconsistent time has meant that my work life and family life are better than ever. It is stronger than ever, and so am I.

The other day I had a message from my wife saying that she thought our relationship was the best it had ever been. Is that because I am constantly whisking her off to Paris to romance her on the Seine? No. We are still in a pandemic, and we think Paris is over-rated. Is it because I shower her with jewellery daily? No, I am not a millionaire and choosing expensive gifts tends to leave me sweaty and anxious. Is my marriage the best it has ever been because I recently paid Chris De Burgh to sing “Lady In Red” whilst we dined at The Ritz on our anniversary? Nope. We didn’t go to The Ritz, and Chris De Burgh has not returned my emails. Our marriage is the best it has ever been because we want it to be. We do not take each other for granted. We make quality time for each other, and we remain present. Our marriage is stronger than ever because we are stronger than ever.

Often, when it comes to the best things in life, they are simple. The Beatles once said, “money can’t buy me, love,” but they also said, “We all live in a yellow submarine”, so I think it’s fair to say we should take everything everyone says with a pinch of salt, including me. I haven’t joined the SAS. If you have, and it’s there that you feel your strongest, that’s good for you. But when I hear that it’s “who dares wins”, I think “, who cares?”.

Daily life offers enough of a challenge. Avoid focusing on how many tractor tyres you can flip in under a minute. Instead, pledge to take on the challenges of every day waking up ready to take on the next ones? That’s strength. You don’t have to call yourself shatterproof. You have to be strong enough to know you’re not, but try anyway.

Thanks for reading.

Andrew’s Blog: Fast and Less Furious

When Barack Hussein Obama, the 44th President of the United States, was in office, he wore the same thing every day. Ok, not exactly the same thing like he was a character in The Simpsons, but pretty much the same thing every single day. He wore a white shirt with a blue or grey suit, and he didn’t entertain the idea of switching up this pattern during his 8 years as leader of the free world.

Why?

His reasoning was simple. He had so many decisions to make with massive, real-world consequences that he didn’t need to lose time or valuable headspace thinking about whether pairing a pastel pink shirt and brown brogues would make him more or less popular with the electorate. He had other things to think about. And so do you. You might not be the U.S President, but if you’re reading this blog, chances are you are a person in business, perhaps even a CEO looking to gain a little balance in a world that is constantly asking you “what’s next”. If that’s you and you’re looking for a little advice and support, you’ve come to the right place.

When I was young, I didn’t have dreams to become the President of the United States. Not only because I had a reasonable understanding of the geography, making it an unlikely goal in the first place, but also because I loved hockey and wasn’t willing to sacrifice my time on the rink in the hopes of one day sitting in The Oval Office. Also, The West Wing hadn’t come out yet, so if I’m honest, I didn’t give it as much thought as this intro suggests…

When I was younger, I didn’t spend too much time thinking about what to wear. What I spent a lot of time thinking about was what I was going to eat. I was a chubby child, and children, as we all know, can be cruel since we all were one once. I knew I was a chubby child, and I was reminded of it by my peers.

This resulted in food and cravings becoming an obsession well before I could spell the word obsession. Now, I am pleased and relieved to say food cravings do not control my life anymore. I have found simplicity and balance in a world begging me not to. And in this blog, I’m going to explain how.

Welcome to The Andrew Sillitoe blog. I’ve got a tasty article for you today. Let’s get stuck in.

Most of us are living in a world that our grandparents couldn’t have imagined. I’m 45 years old, and I know that when my Grandpa was 45, he was facing food shortages, rationing and uncertainties that spanned far broader than “should I try the new takeaway down the road or Deliveroo my old favourite straight to the door?”. And yet, if you’re anything like me, you often find yourself in a state of panic when you wander into a supermarket or shop to grab some food on the go…

We are, almost all of us, used to facing a different problem to food shortages. Our food problems nearly all come down to excess. Both too much food and, more pressingly, too much choice. Thousands of food companies suggest that their product offers a more exciting, delicious alternative to the others if their constant advertisements are to be believed.

I have often found myself standing in a supermarket, as I try to comprehend the sheer scale of my mind-melting task, which is…

“what do I want for dinner?”

Recently I made a choice to take the option away. I did an “Obama”. Now do I think that the Nobel Peace Prize-winning President would appreciate me referring to “doing an Obama” as removing choice from my everyday life? Probably not. But he also probably isn’t listening, so I am going to carry on…

A few years ago, I discovered the world of intermittent fasting or IF as it is sometimes called. Since moving to a fasting lifestyle, I am thrilled to say that I am feeling less stressed, less anxious, and less hungry. Mathematically, I didn’t understand how eating less would make me feel fuller, but it did, and it does.

Intermittent fasting may not be for everyone. I am not a medical professional, so I want to clarify that I am sharing my own personal relationship with food. I hope that talking about my journey, will allow you to start thinking about yours.

Here are some facts to start us off.
Since the 1960s, humans have been eating an average of 500 extra calories per person per day in the Western world. This is basically the equivalent of an extra meal every single day. This increase in caloric intake is matched by the rise in food choices. We can get more food faster than ever before. And these meals are often processed and made with more sugar than we would expect. But that’s not the focus of the blog today.

If any of you have ever turned on Netflix with the idea of just “seeing what’s on” and spent between 30 seconds and what seems like 48 hours scanning through endless categories of shows, documentaries and films, you are not alone. The overwhelming choice Netflix, and other streaming services offer, is more paralysing than it is useful in the name of fairness. The same can be said for our food choices.

For me, intermittent fasting allows my mind and body to focus on other aspects of my day. Intermittent fasting allows me to take out the obsession from my food choices. The results have been cleansing for my mind and for my body. I have felt the benefits so keenly that I am sometimes surprised to remember I haven’t always been this way. But I haven’t been. I have been the victim, and I don’t use that word lightly, of the food industry and the diet industry. Those industries that make us buy more and more, increasing our sugar, salt and fat intake to almost unrecognisable levels? Yep, those ones. They made me furious, so now I fast.

Intermittent fasting has been used for spiritual reasons throughout history. Lent in the Christian calendar and Ramadam in the Islamic calendar are periods where food intake is restricted and thought. Time put into meals is saved for other aspects of life, mostly thinking about those who are less fortunate than ourselves and how we can help them.

This fasting period removes the obsession from our food planning and frees up valuable brain space, allowing us to be more present and in the moment. We are not thinking about what we might need later. We can think about what we need now.

Again, I’m about to say next is entirely my own, very personal relationship with food. Still, I’ve found since fasting intermittently that my physical performance in things like sport has improved, my mind is clearer, I am less distracted, and I am a happier, healthier person.

I do not have “choice anxiety”. I know now what my body needs and how it performs best, with one healthy, well-balanced meal towards the end of the day, with snacks from about mid-day onwards. I usually eat within an 8-hour window, which is not uncommon with fellow fasters. Usually, I don’t eat before 12, but I make sure I stay hydrated. I have found clean eating to be one of the most significant changes I have made to my life. I encourage you to take the obsession out of your day and start listening to what your body needs. I have found that through fasting, I have become less obsessive, less distracted and less furious.

Thanks so much for reading my blog.

 

Andrew’s Blog: Leaders Living Vicariously

When I told my Grandad and my Father I would be a professional ice hockey player, they said I wouldn’t be. Just like that. Not in the way that most parents would say “No” to the idea of their child demanding they wanted to eat sweets for breakfast or when they get older, knowing they had to be back home by 9 pm but asking if it could be 11 pm. It was not a reasonable “No.” It was a deflating, infuriating and confidence cracking “No.”

I promised myself that when I became a parent, I wouldn’t be like that. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t let my kids eat flying saucers instead of toast and curfews for my older kids are not up for debate. Still, if my child believes they can do something, if they express a wish to my wife or me that they’d like to try something new, to pursue a new hobby, we would allow them to do so without judgement…

It is often said you follow the same path as your parents or you do the opposite. Children of Conservative voters register with the Green Party. The offspring of academics opt for a career in the arts. The family business is kept ticking over by the next generation, and the legacy continues.

My five-year-old has just started playing ice hockey. I couldn’t be prouder. Or more excited. Or more desperate to show him that he can not only play ice hockey, but he could be the youngest ever winner of the Stanley Cup… I am not like my father. But have I gone to the other end of the scale?

I’m a business leader and a parent. I am proud of my achievements in both and am knacked and energised by these roles equally. Sometimes these positions and the skills needed for success in them go hand in hand. Leadership skills such as patience, determination, ambition, drive, and listening overlap with the skills required to be a good parent.

I try to listen to my children in a way that my father was not listened to. It’s not a criticism. My Dad was pressured by circumstance, the idea that he had to make more money, and the head of the family and the provider.

This blog isn’t about my Dad. This blog is about me being a Dad and how my son’s new hobby has made me question more about parenthood and leadership than I was expecting.

At the time of writing this, my son is five years old. He is the oldest he has ever been because that is how time works, but he is also my youngest child and, because I am a parent, I have the unique position of being able to see him at every single stage of his life when I look at him.

The subconscious parenting doesn’t ever stop; I still reach for my eldest daughter’s (22) hand when she crosses the road, almost unaware that she has been voting, paying taxes and existing as a human without the need for parenting for the last four years.

When my son expressed an interest in ice hockey, one of my true loves, I was overjoyed. I had imagined buying his kit, cheering him on from the sidelines and hugging him at the end of a match defeat with so much passion he felt like he had won. I have also been reminded that living my life through my son is not an option. To quote a famously troubled father in the form of King Lear, “That way madness lies…” and I have no intention of being that kind of father.

I aim to walk that tightrope between being supportive but not pushy and encouraging but not making hockey feel like a chore. Let me tell you; it is a thin line. It is one many have attempted, and many have fallen from. The reason my Dad was so unsupportive was that he had been unsupported. It was a pattern. He knew the taste of defeat and wanted to save his son from the disappointment. I need to be careful not to go the opposite way. I am trying my best to be the father I wish I had without doing my Dad’s memory a dis-service.

One of the many questions I have had to ask myself is “what is our role as a business leader?”. There isn’t just one answer. Maybe there are as many answers to that questions as “what is our role as a parent”. Perhaps if we drew a Venn diagram of these questions, there would be more answers in the cross-section than we realised.

I strive to be a good leader. I work with incredibly talented people, and often, that is all you need to do. Hire and collaborate with talented people and let them do their thing. As a parent, I have found similar joy from allowing my children to lead the way. Sometimes I feel utterly useless because the world I navigated when I was my son’s age seems alien to the high-tech, fast-paced world Harry finds himself in. Recently though, an opportunity presented itself where my son needed me.

It was the first day of ice hockey practice, a day I had been secretly, and not so secretly hoping for. My wife and I had purchased his hockey gear and seen him walk around the house in it as if he was expecting the sky to fall.

It was essential to me that he felt comfortable in his gear. You have to break in hockey gear like you would walking boots or ballet shoes. In the same way, your fingers callus from playing string instruments, your body needs to adapt to the new task you are asking it to do. So my son wore his hockey kit around the house and packed it (well, my wife and I packed it) ready for his first day of training.

I took him into the dressing room, I filled with excitement, and my son, it would soon become apparent, full of dread. He cried and tried to leave.

In the immediacy of this, I was filled with guilt. Had I forced Harry into this? Had I gone the whole other way to my Dad and made my son follow a path I had put him on without his consent? These questions that you need to ask yourself in these moments are challenging.

And so is a crying child.

As a leader, you have to be quick thinking. The same goes for being a parent. I don’t know exactly what Harry was scared of in that moment.

Falling down on the ice? Not getting on with the other children? Have a scary coach? Not being good at something?

Whatever it was, these fears are valid and a standard part of the human experience. Courage, as we know, is not an absence of fear but the acknowledgement of it, and doing it anyway. I have a brave five-year-old. He got out onto the ice. And here’s how it happened.

I crouched down to his level and told him it was going to be ok. Anyone who has experienced anxiety will know that hearing “it will be ok” and feeling “it will be ok” is many worlds apart. But that is the first step. So I told Harry it was going to be ok. Then I told him that he was not on his own and I would be with him the whole time, watching from the side. It is a precise moment when as a parent, you move from literal handholding to symbolic, but that moment was right there. As a business leader, there is often difficulty letting go, stepping aside, and letting others do the work.

After my son had calmed down to the point he could listen to what I was saying, we were able to move on to the next stage—putting on the kit. It was not the first time he had done so, so he was familiar with the order it went on and the feeling it gave. We went from putting his socks on to pulling them up, this time both physically and metaphorically. When he was dressed, he was calmer. Perhaps because it acts like armour or a costume, whatever the reason, it seemed to calm my son; he was ready for his first practice. I was relieved for two reasons. I was confident that the moment we shared in the dressing room was one I will remember for a long time, and two, it was the confirmation that I needed to know that I wasn’t pushing my son too far. I wasn’t making him follow my dreams but supporting him to follow his.

The skills of a parent and a business leader blur once again. With support and kindness, my son got out on the ice.

I have a courageous son.