The secret to telling a lie is keeping it simple.

Don’t get specific with details; keep it vague, non-descript, easy to remember. It’s the details where we fall down. If you were asked how you spent your weekend and you want to cover up the fact that you rewatched the entirety of Breaking Bad, you may wish to reply with:

“I caught up with some old friends”. You are far less likely to be believed if you say, “Ohhh yeah. I…I wanted to expand my horizons, so I took myself out for breakfast at an artisan bakery and then to the Museum of Modern Art. On Sunday, I saw the sunrise as I hiked up the local hills before hunting my own supper.”

In the best-case scenario, the person you’re talking to won’t know that the Museum of Modern Art is in New York, and you don’t live there. Or that there are no hills near you. Or that you couldn’t catch a fish in a barrel with a net, so your weekend excursions are at best unlikely, at worst, impossible.

It is best to keep the details to a minimum when you lie. That’s probably why when we are asked, “how are you?” The best thing we can think of to cover up our problems and hide our true feelings is to say, “I’m fine.”

It is difficult to challenge, argue with and even doubt that answer… Indeed everyone is having a good time if social media and end of year reports are believed. If you answered “I’m fine” the last time you were asked how you were, and it’s a lie, this blog is for you.

We are going to talk about rebuilding and transforming. Throwing yourself into the hard stuff, knowing that it might hurt, but coming back stronger.

This is my blog. My name’s Andrew Sillitoe, and I’m not always fine.

So how are you?

Ok, so maybe the tail end of 2021 isn’t the best time to be asking how you are. It’s been an unusual couple of years with challenges that none of us expected to face. But if you are reading this blog, chances are, you got through it. The problems you faced and the changes you had to make had to be tackled head-on, and you did it. That’s something to be proud of.

You were tested but not destroyed.

An ancient Japanese practice called “kintsugi” roughly translates,
if Wikipedia is to be believed, as golden repair. If a pot, plate or bowl is cracked or broken, it is repaired by mixing gold dust with an adhesive. The cracks are therefore mended but extremely visible. This art form acknowledges the history of the breakage and the beauty of its repair. I think there is something we can all learn from this.

The past two years have been immensely challenging, but if you’re a business leader, the chances are that a challenge is not something you’re a stranger to. If you’re anything like me, you get a rush when you’re faced with one.

Of course, I am not suggesting that business leaders cope better with a global pandemic than most. Still, it has left me wondering if I was equipped with tools that most of the population were not. In some ways, this goes without saying. I had my health and access to health care, clean water, a safe place to live and hundreds of other things. But I have also cultivated a mental strength that I would like to talk about over the past few years and can be quite easily summed up.

Sometimes, I am not ok. And I say so.

There have been several problems I have had to overcome before the pandemic in my personal and professional life. Many of you will know that the loss of my father when I was young has hugely affected my outlook on life and still affects me to this day.

When it happened, I tried to bury it; (by that, I mean my feelings, not my father). But pretending things didn’t happen when they did is a one-way ticket to a destination no one wants to head with you. Denial is exhausting. Lying is exhausting. So I urge you to accept challenging things but do them anyway.

Suppose you have children or grandchildren, or indeed have ever been around children for a prolonged period. In that case, chances are you are aware of the Micheal Rosen and Helen Oxenbury modern classic that goes by the name “We’re going on a bear hunt”. Here is a short summary of the 1989 smash if you haven’t. A family set off to find a bear and face many geographical challenges: mud, long, wavy grass, a
river, etc. When faced with these obstacles, they realise that they can’t go over it, they can’t go under it, they have to go through it…

Micheal Rosen is teaching young people, all over the world, right from the off, that their desires can only be achieved by tackling their problems head-on.

Is this a message that we try to reject as we get older? I know I have. But if you want to find the bear. You’ve got to put the work in.

As a CEO, I know that those three letters come with an almost unimaginable amount of stress and responsibilities. Victories are shared, but failures must be worn by the leader. It’s the same reason that a football club on a losing streak replaces its manager with
such regularity. The buck stops with CEOs, and if you’re a CEO reading this blog, there is a high chance the stresses and pressures you face have led you here.

Maybe you are here because you are close to breaking point. If you are, know that you are not alone.

The challenges you’ve faced and the ones still to come will undoubtedly add pressure to your everyday life. It is time, I suggest, we see the funny side of it. As business leaders, sometimes it feels like we are being asked to be unbreakable, bullet-proof even. But I’m going to suggest you don’t have to be unbreakable, but you do have to be willing to
meet your breaking point… and then laugh about it.

Ten years before Micheal Rosen wrote about the highs and lows of hunting bears, Monty Python wrote and performed a song that would become a sing-a-long staple. When “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” came out, it was worldwide. Like many brilliant songs, it latches onto a universal feeling. The song encourages us to find the positives in an often terrible set of circumstances.

I have managed to find the funny side of most of my biggest disappointments. I am not saying I did it at the time. Still, my ability to take a step back and look at the humour and beauty on the broader picture has made me feel less brittle and more unbreakable.

A friend and inspiration of mine is a former member of the SAS. Having to face physical and mental challenges habitually through work that are beyond comprehension as a member of the SAS, you are pushed to your limits. Inevitably it will take its toll. You are made to continually stare your fears in the face, fighting them in order to be able to continue to deliver, surviving the experiences and being able to live beyond them.

He is, for all the challenges presented and the terrible things he has been made to face, seemingly
unscathed. Jon didn’t do what most of us do when we experience something challenging. He didn’t bury his feelings, pretend it didn’t happen or tell himself he wasn’t responsible. Facing challenges is an active process where it is necessary to acknowledge, address and accept it’s hard and imperfect.

He spoke to a professional. He constantly reviewed where he was and talked about it when he had to. He showed humility and bravery and shared his thoughts with someone who acknowledged them. Address your experiences and how they make you feel is key to being able to move on. Hearing yourself say, “I’m feeling vulnerable.” or “fragile” or “breakable” isn’t the problem we’ve been led to believe it is” It’s fundamental to the ability to build yourself back up each and every time

Like the Japanese art form I mentioned earlier, the one that covers the breaks in gold, we can become more brilliant than we were before we cracked.

Your edge is not to be feared. As I have quoted before, bravery is not an absence of fear but knowledge and doing it anyway.

There is no way around it. You can’t go over it. You can’t go under it.

You’ve got to go through it.

And if you are, know you are not alone, and you’ll be the better for it.

I’m Andrew Sillitoe.

I’m not always ok. But I’m better for talking to you.

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