Andrew’s Blog: Go Through, Not Around

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.

Download the ten daily habits HERE

Andrew’s Blog: Do The Work

Rome wasn’t built in a day. It took time and hard work. 

Nothing of importance is achieved by chance. If I think back over my life so far, every success I have had has indeed been hard earnt. It’s been achieved not by chance or by luck but by hard work. That’s true of my business, sporting and personal life. If anything is down to luck, you dramatically increase your chances of being lucky through working hard, not through excuses or stumbling towards your goal with the ill-prepared nature of a hungover striker. If you want to achieve your vision, you must work for it. 

Rome wasn’t built in a day…

But when Rome was built they almost immediately started feeding slaves to lions and called it a spectator sport, so maybe Rome shouldn’t be seen as the pinnacle of achievement that it so often is.

In this week’s blog, I will be talking about doing the work you need to do to achieve your vision. Doing the work is the first foundation on which you can start to build a successful business and a successful and happy life. It requires you to take action. Words and thoughts are meaningless unless you act on them once you know what you want to achieve and the reason you want to achieve it, in other words, once you have your “what” and once you know your “why”, the next important question you need to answer has to be “how”.

Before we talk about “how”, let’s focus on “how not to”.

If you, like many families, start the new year surrounded by half-empty tins of Quality Street, the remnants of a Christmas pudding that you know you only purchased for the sake of tradition because no one in the house likes it. Your fridge is full of the cling-film-wrapped remains of a beige buffet; this may push you towards a new years resolution.  

January 1st. A day where most of us start the year with a new goal, aim or resolution. We tell ourselves, “this year, I’m going to do it, I’m going to lose weight or stop drinking or climb that actual or metaphorical mountain”. We buy a skipping rope online, load up Yoga with Adrienne on Youtube and put the kettle on to make a decaf-super-food-macha-skinny-tea-juice-fusion which you convince yourself you will love. We have a goal; we have a plan, we finish the tin of Quality Streets because it is a shame to waste them, and then we take the first steps of our 365-day adventure. 

This journey to “New You Town” lasts, on average… 30 days. 80% of us will have fallen off the proverbial wagon by February. We need to set ourselves up for greatness and do the work to achieve it.

This blog is going out to people worldwide, so I want to take a moment to stress that in doing the work to achieve your vision, however personal that vision is, you are not alone. You are more likely to succeed if you are a part of a team, so I want to stress that you are all part of something bigger than yourselves when you tune in and do the work. 

It’s also essential that you know that it takes hard work and energy. I know this because I am on this journey with you, too. 

“Nobody said it was easy” is not only a line in a Coldplay song that cleverly and perfectly captures the struggle one faces when listening to a song by Coldplay but also what you need to remember when you are struggling. Put another way, “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you”. This journey is about meeting your edge and its work to get there. 

This challenge of achieving your vision takes work that is not just physical. It’s got to be a transformation of your inner and outer self. Although that sounds like double the work, I find that it makes things easier in some ways. 

I’ve spoken before about the ten daily habits, but I’ll give you a little bit of background as a reminder. The ten daily habits are exactly what they sound like. 

A dozen exercises that you do once a month, they are not!

They are a daily routine that I invite you to take part in. The habits are made up of drinking 2 litres of water each day, a morning recharge of 5-10 minutes to warm up your body and mind and get the blood pumping and then setting an intention for the day, among other things. 

All of these activities benefit your body and mind, but only if you do them, and only if you do it right.

I’m going to share my struggle with doing the work with you. I want to clarify that I have tried and failed when working. I have worked hard at working hard, and only by looking over my failures have I found myself in a position where I can talk to you and offer my advice.

I use hockey in the way Homer Simpson uses beer. Initially as a social, relaxing, rewarding escape from work. I look forward to it. I often change other plans or move them to allow me to play. I make hockey a priority, I enjoy the healthy competition. It is, for me, the perfect outlet. 

Like Homer Simpson’s relationship with beer, though, my relationship with hockey can be unhealthy. This is the last time I will compare myself to Homer Simpson because I am sadly not as popular as him despite my best efforts. 

Anyway, I got injured during a hockey match last week. Not one of those injuries you often see in football where a player runs past another, and they dramatically fall and roll on the ground like an extra in Mission Impossible. I was injured. I was in pain, but I didn’t stop, and sometimes I can’t stop. Like The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, I am addicted to the shindig. 

When it comes to doing the work, one of the foundations on which I build my success, and I hope you make your success, it is just as easy to overexert yourself as it is not to show up at all. One of the ten daily habits that I encourage you to make a part of your everyday life for 21 days is to sweat. It raises your heart rate, gets the blood pumping, and gets the mind focused. It is not to run 26.2 miles or enter a triathlon in the first three weeks of this journey. It is to gently introduce your body and mind to doing the needed work to succeed. 

When I was injured, I pushed through in an unhealthy way. I went through, ignoring the messages my body sent to my brain to stop doing what I was doing. I pushed through, and I am, in all honesty, still trying to work out why. 

I love hockey, but it can become an obsession or an addiction when love becomes dangerous. I believe I am addicted, in some ways, to hockey. Addiction is something I have seen ruin many people’s lives, including my Father’s, who I have sure ignored the signs his body was giving him about overexerting himself.

It is, at times, too easy to compare the state of the world at the moment to Orwell’s dystopian Animal Farm. Still, if we look at his literature as a warning, my Father was Boxer, the horse whose answer to everything was “Work Harder” and enjoyed a beer, my Dad’s case way too many, the perceived antidote to a stressful life. That was my Dad’s answer to everything, and, like Boxer, it had a devastating effect on my family. 

Overexerting myself is a bad habit of mine. I sometimes find myself falling into old negative patterns of behaviour, which I’m going to keep coming back to in these episodes. I tell you that you have to do the work, but that work includes resting. You need to schedule in time to rebuild and reset. It is just as important. Rest is where the work is absorbed into your body and your mind. It means you can attack the next day with the energy you need. Make sure there is fuel in the tank. 

The reality of the lessons I aim to share with you on this podcast is that I am learning from. I am here to tell you there will be hurdles, and to carry on the sporting metaphor if you’ll indulge me, sometimes you can injure yourself jumping over them. Take your time. It’s yours to take. 

Inner and outer work takes time and energy, but nothing worth having comes easy. Do the work, do it with care and do it with purpose. And stop comparing your achievements to Rome because of the aforementioned “feeding people to lions” thing. 

This has been the Andrew Sillitoe blog. Thanks for joining me. Now let’s get to work. 

Download the ten daily habits HERE

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.