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.