There are many, many things I would tell my younger self.
The most obvious place for me to start is ‘put yourself first’ and ‘learn to be comfortable in your own skin’.
Why? Before you know it, you’re 25 years down the line with a lorry load of commitments, your body doesn’t work in the same way, and you’re asking yourself, ‘how do I break this habit?’ – while working out how to juggle the commitments of adult life.
By the same token, that 100mph approach to my career in the early days, meant I missed out of a lot of moments with family and friends. But it’s easy, when you’re ‘on the up’ to overwork and overcommit to the social side of being in business.
What I’ve come to learn is, you can say ‘no’ to that last drink, or another shot. I’m a much happier person now that I realise being sociable, respected, and being in bed at a decent time can all exist in tandem!
Just as it’s important to be comfortable in your own skin, you can’t wear someone else’s clothes. But it shouldn’t take being hooked up to an ECG in a hospital to remind us of that.
I’ve collapsed twice because of stress. I wasn’t listening to my body and my mind, and I didn’t take a step back – and I’ve been very close to reaching that point again recently, following a challenging period at work, but also the passing of my father.
While losing a parent can be profoundly life-changing in its own right – and reiterates the point that nothing is as important as family – it’s also forced me to listen to my body. After all, there’s one thing trying to be resilient, and it’s another to recognise when you need to stop and reset.
Naturally, taking heed of the things I mentioned earlier – spending time with people who truly care about you, getting a decent night’s sleep, not trying to impress everyone you meet – should go some way towards mitigating that feeling of being burned out, but I still need to take my own advice on that one.
What I’ve come to realise is, I commit to everything 100% – whether it’s work, or the junior football team I coach. And, when you commit to something unequivocally it means other people don’t have to commit to it fully. That’s when you begin taking on too much and things start to escalate.
People would probably be surprised to hear that I feel guilty, all the time, over what might be seen as trivial things. I wish I didn’t have to carry all that remorse – for what I have or haven’t done, things I may or may not have said, friends I’ve not contacted in a while – but it’s something I can’t seem to shake.
It’s also completely okay to say you’re not okay.
There’s still a stigma attached to men around mental health, asking for help, and ‘keeping it together’. My generation sometimes find it hard to open up, and were taught to maintain that ‘stiff upper lip’ rather than being vulnerable, which isn’t strictly the best way.
On the other side of the coin, I’ve been told many times that I’m weak because of my empathy towards others – particularly in the boardroom. As a business leader, I wouldn’t be where I am without being able to make difficult decisions, but I’ve learned to at least try to solve a problem before making a rash decision.
It all begs the question, ‘who am I trying to impress?’ A big house, top of the range car, great watch – what is it all for? These material things don’t bring you happiness in the truest sense. In some ways, they add extra stress, because you’re constantly feeling under pressure to ‘keep up with the Joneses’.
But what you really need, is somewhere where you can leave the office behind and feel safe – away from the pressure of others’ expectations.
We recently moved to a smaller house and have more economical vehicles on our driveway – not because we needed to, but because we wanted to. Home feels like a safe space where I can indulge my inner geek without any judgement.
Despite the emotional challenges I’m under, I like my life right now, and I don’t think that prevents me being ambitious. I want to help others succeed in their career, fulfil my own role to the best of my ability, and above all take the time to celebrate all the good things that happen – large or small.