Andrew’s Blog: Are You Really Winning?

How many X factor winners can you name? I’m going to give you 10 seconds to think. How many have you got?

If you’re new to my blog, you might have spent the 10 seconds frantically and confusedly wondering what you subscribed to. If you’ve read my blog before, you might be confused by the change in direction I’ve taken. Maybe you were expecting a blog about balanced living in a complex world.

Perhaps you are seeking advice and support from a fellow business person who is looking to achieve results but striving to avoid burning out.

Instead, you got asked to name X factor winners… And I bet you were rubbish at it.

Ok. Another question. What if I asked you to name artists whose careers have spanned more than 20 years. The musical greats if you will. Go one; I’ll give you another 10 seconds.

Who have you got? Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Springsteen, Bowie, Madonna?…And how many? Whatever your number is, I am sure it is higher for my second question than my first.

We will not dwell on musicians because they are not the entire subject of this blog. In this week blog we are going to be asking a big, complex question. Even bigger than “how many X factor contestants can you name?”

My name is Andrew Sillitoe, this is my blog and today I am going to be asking “Are you really winning?”

“It’s not about the winning; it’s the taking part that counts.” This phrase is repeated by every compassionate supporter of someone who uses an unfair turn of phrase, a loser. Now listen, if you, like me, have ever been on the receiving end of such a comment, you will know that it tends to be as soothing as a handful of salt to the wound you’ve just been left with. The only thing left to do is rub it in…

But even the winners, the people who come in first, the presidential candidate who wins the popular vote, still might not have won the whole race. So what does winning look like, and how willing are we to challenge our preconceived ideas? In this blog, I’m interested in exploring what winning means to us, and what it really should mean.. Winning in business is often an unachievable, impossible goal. This ever-moving target is asking us to hit the bull’s eye, then as soon as we do, do it again, and if you don’t, you have to put down your bow and arrow and to conclude this archer based metaphor, hang up your Robin Hood hat and vow never to return to Sherwood Forest again.

The feeling that “everyone else is doing better than me” is a common and understandable one. I felt it often. I still feel it. I feel it when I turn on the tv and see actors that look like angels have handcrafted them. When I engage with social media, I see people celebrating their achievements that range from buying their dream home to mastering a full English breakfast. I feel it in business when I see the end of year figures that make my eyes water. If you, like me, feel like you are not winning, you are not alone, but I think it is time we talk about what winning looks like and more importantly, what it feels like.

I’m going to tell you a quick story about a time that I felt I had lost.

A few years ago my sister and I lost our inheritance. I was removed from the legal document that allowed the money I would receive to come to me. I was written out of the will. I don’t need to tell you that I was not thrilled about it. The person who managed to get me out of the inheritance, however, was…

As a passionate sports person, I know the importance of training and persistence. I know that strength and stamina have to be earned and they are only maintained with practice. If you take shortcuts, you might get a quick win, but it is not long-lasting. There are shortcuts we can all take, and I am sure there are shortcuts we’ve all taken to get where we want to be. But is that winning? Is the victory that you borrowed better than the one you earnt? Probably not. But when I was disinherited, I felt that I had not only “not won”, but I had lost.

There is sometimes a feeling that the world is against you. Now I am aware that I am cushioned by extreme societal privilege as a white, heterosexual, middle-class, able-bodied man. I know that I am very rarely discriminated against, yet sometimes I feel that the world is against me.

So I suppose what I am saying is that everyone must be, if I’m feeling like that, right?

Sometimes when I am playing hockey with my team, decisions the referee makes go against us and we end up losing the match. Teams cheat and because the ref’s eyes can’t be everywhere, they give the advantage to the other team, the teams that cheat. I am proud to say that once we lose those games to foul play, we bury our frustrations in training and come back stronger next time. We earn our victories and when we are cheated out of them, we wear them like a badge of honour. That is what really winning feels like.

There are some days, weeks, and even years where you feel like you would take it if there was a quick fix. If you could skip out the middle steps and just get to the victory you’re craving, you’d do that. You’d cheat, you’d tamper with figures, you’d use up all the three wishes from the genie within the first three minutes to give yourself an easy ride. We’ve all done it. But when I was working on today’s episode, I realised that that is not a win.

An olympic gold medal weighs approximately half a kilo. An Oscar is a hefty 8 and a half pounds. The Victoria Cross, awarded to the best and the bravest, is only 27 grams in weight. So it can’t just be about the winning, can it? We are striving for more. We are striving for the satisfaction that comes only through hard work, a little bit of luck and kindness.

I wouldn’t change being written out of the family inheritance. How graciouse do I sound?! Don’t get me wrong, at the time I was blood-boiling, pacing up-and-down-rooms, unable-to-think-of-anything-else furious. But time is healing. And like I say, when I was thinking about this episode, I discovered I really wouldn’t change that part of my past. I wouldn’t change the motivation it gave me to provide for myself and my family. I wouldn’t change the hard but deeply satisfying work that has put me firmly on the path I am on.

The same can be said for mental health. Now I know that particularly men find this difficult to talk about because we are not used to discussing our feelings. We reply, “I’m fine” in such a knee-jerk way that we cheat ourselves out of our truth. The famous phrase of “It’s ok not to be ok” is vital for me. Winning in our mental health is not just telling people “I’m fine” it is about having the strength to say “I’m not fine” that puts you on the path to victory. If you say “I’m fine” and you’re not, you are not winning. It is as simple as that. There are no shortcuts to winning with mental health. Like the journey to happy relationships, work-life balance, and other aspects, winning is the long game. It is an investment in yourself and those you care about. And you owe it to yourself to try.

There were no shortcuts that I could take to get to where I wanted to be. I couldn’t enter The Apprentice and become the business person I wanted to be. Just in the same way, I don’t think X-Factor winners have careers that in any way rival the legacy artists you thought of earlier. It’s the journey where the soul-searching takes place.

Winning for me is no longer target driven. It’s not about how much money I make. It is about looking after myself and my family and my team. It is about striving to achieve balance in a complex world. I am in it for the long game. And I hope you’ll join me.

I’m going to finish with some wise words from a wise man.

“Try not to become a man of success. Rather become a man of value.”

That was Albert Einstein, I’m Andrew Sillitoe.

Thanks for reading my blog

You can also listen to my podcast HERE

Andrew’s Blog: 16kg’s That Changed My Life

My entire life has changed because of 16kg. This weight I am referring to is maybe not what you’d expect. It is not the weight I lost giving me the body I had always dreamed of (this aim is problematic for many reasons, but we will get to that later). It is not the combined weight of my children at certain ages. 16kg is not the amount of steak you have to eat to have your photo taken and placed on the “mega meat challenge” at my local eatery. It is the weight of my kettlebell, and that kettlebell has entirely changed my personal and business life. You can’t buy happiness. But you can buy a kettlebell, and for me, it is the same thing. 

Welcome to my blog!.

I’m an active person. Sometimes too active. I have pushed my body to its limits and asked it to do more than it is able. I have set myself unrealistic goals, given myself too little recovery time and done myself severe damage. When we think of being unhealthy, we often think of 3 of the seven deadly sins; gluttony, sloth, and greed. 

This seems to feed into this idea that the worst thing we can do is sit down and consume, and that’s sometimes true. However, it is important to acknowledge that putting yourself through too much is equally damaging. It is all harmful. I have managed to find a way to set myself regular, achievable goals, and it has dramatically changed my life. I want to share with you the secret. 

As business leaders, we are naturally target driven. We feel in competition with everyone, sometimes even the people in our team. I have certainly stayed later than everyone else, got in earlier than everyone else and asked more of myself than I would of anyone in my team. I told myself it was because I was the leader, the example, the person in charge. However, over time, I realised it was because I was trying to push myself too far. This realisation, combined with my family history of working to an early grave, felt like I had been struck by lightning. The way I was behaving was not long term. I couldn’t keep it up, and so I had to make changes to improve my life. The thing that improved my life was the kettlebell. And the kettlebell is not the tiny mechanism my wife rings when she wants a coffee, but the 16kg weight that has changed my life. 

I started to use the kettlebell in 2012, but with minimal strategy until I met StrongFirst Master Instructor Pavel Macek. Pavel uses the kettlebell daily. He used it to improve his flexibility, strength and stamina and said I could do the same. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “This will change you.”

First off, I didn’t believe him…I have grown up, as you have surrounded by the messages from companies that tell you you need to buy and keep buying things to make you happy, so the thought that I could get everything I needed from one purchase and hard work didn’t ring true. How could I get everything I need from the kettlebell?.. 

The truth is businesses rely on you feeling “ you are not good enough”. And have created multi-billion pound industries that produce pills, clothing, equipment, dietary supplements, shakes, retreats and gyms to keep you buying things that will not give you what you need. What I needed was a kettlebell and a lot of patience. 

Once I bought a kettlebell and started using it, I did not look back. I did not need to spend time away from my family because I had to work out for an hour at the gym. During the lockdown, I swung it every day, and I didn’t spend my time desperately trying to navigate work, homelife and exercise in an attempt to “have it all”. I discovered that you could “have it all”. You just have to readjust what that looks like for you.

This blog aims to share with you how to live a balanced life in a complex world. And the world is only getting more difficult and challenging to navigate, which doesn’t mean we should stop trying to gain balance, but we might have to try harder. That’s another reason why I love the kettlebell. I have been training to become a kettlebell instructor—more on this in the next episode. I love the simplicity. I love that all you need is a 16kg kettlebell to start, and you can engage in physical and mental work that will benefit your every day, every day.

There is a phenomenon called the “what the hell” effect. The “what the hell” is not, for anyone doubting the inflexion, an aggressive “hey, I’m walking here!” type of thing you might hear from a character from a film set in New York. Nor is it a “ahhhh, it’s just another bottle of wine, you only live once what the hell”. It is called the “what the hell” effect because it comes from working on something that you are surprised to find benefits something else. Like when you watch The Great British Bake Off, and you suddenly start asking questions at weddings like “is this Swiss or Italian meringue?” and everyone is very impressed with you, like that.

With the kettlebell, my “what the hell” effect came when I realised that doing my kettlebell practise regularly, because I had made it a part of my daily routine, had dramatically improved many other aspects of my life. The mental and physical differences were almost endless. I had better posture, I had more energy, I was able to dedicate proper, quality time to my family. I slept better, I had improved focus and was more motivated, I was better at hockey. But all that had changed was I stopped going to the gym and started working out, at home, with the kettlebell. What. The. Hell?

Who would have thought that simplifying things could improve your life? It is surprising, because like I’ve said before, it goes against the story we are told every day, that we need more to be happier, not less. You need more stuff, more experience, and as soon as you get it, you need the next thing to make you even better. So I stripped things back. I went from an avid gymmer to an at-home kettlebell practice-type person. Using the kettlebell daily has allowed me to gain perspective, taught me patience increased my energy and, most importantly, given me time back. 

As a business leader, I am sure you are struggling with finding balance. The truth is, we all are. The only thing more common than feeling like it is too much you have to do is believe that you are the only one struggling to cope. We need to start acknowledging the challenges and struggles we are facing and look to make things simpler. 

At the risk of sounding older than I am, none of us is getting any younger. Exercise is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle, but it doesn’t mean stretching yourself as thin as you can and then eventually snapping. Exercise should mean having something that you enjoy, that builds strength, not just muscle, and that allows you time to be you. 

I am inviting you to think about letting go of your ego. Let go of the high pressures that surround you in daily life and simplify. 

I was reluctant to give something new a go, so I know how you might be feeling. But I am asking you to give it a try, to let go of ego and competition and find something that will benefit your body, mind, work and soul. I have found the 16kg does that. 

Give it a go. What the hell? 

P.s. Check out my Ten Daily Habits Here