Mindfulness changed my life.

In the last 18 months I’ve spent a life-defining amount of time abroad. I’ve gone from being an advertising professional who loves clothes shopping and lives in a shared-ownership flat in zone 2; to one of the co-founders of a social entrepreneurship training business, creating the next generation of social entrepreneurs. With no regular abode.

In 6 months we’ve ran a pilot in Kenya alongside two volunteer consultants; to collaborating with over 45 volunteers from 10 different countries — in four different emerging economies. I’ve spent more time shuffling through checkpoints than I have in Tesco Metro searching for discounted wine.

Over the last two years I’ve had a fairly good stab at disrupting my life’s status quo, and you could argue that maybe now I’ve gotten it the right way around.

Looking back, I remember how the future always seemed like this thing I was striving to get to. I was often planning ahead, fantasising, wistfully longing for this thing called ‘The Dream’. John Green writes in his novel Looking for Alaska,

“You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking about how you’ll escape one day, and how awesome it will be — and imagining that future keeps you going, but you never do it. You just use the future to escape the present.”

If that doesn’t kick you in the gut, I suspect these words from John Lennon will:

“Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans”.

For many years it would be fair to say that great things were happening around me (loving family, awesome friends, adventures and romance), but I felt like I was caught in a stop motion film. I think it’s plausible that until we discover our true selves, we’ll always be chasing something — never quite satisfied with our lot. That was me, until last year when I started _SocialStarters. I now feel like I’m playing the starring role in my own life. And how did I get there? Well, it’s was very simple.

I found my own way back to myself.

Seemingly, I’d gotten a little lost somewhere along the way.

Thanks to a brilliant boss (they do exist!) I went to a Mindfulness meditation course targeting people with busy lives. By that point I had a permanent twitch in my eye and kept crying at my desk.

But why? This quote from mental health advocate du jour Ruby Wax offers one perspective:

“We are not equipped for this century, it’s too hard, too fast, and too full of fear; we just don’t have the bandwidth. Our brains can’t take so much information in a world where we’re bombarded by bad news and force-fed information. I can just about take in the weather then i’m exhausted. You open a newspaper, everyone’s dead.”

I think the situation is worse though — we’re responding to emails on our phone at the same time as opening that newspaper, whilst trying not to get knocked out the train. We’re tweeting between whatsapps and instagrams, juggling multiple conversations across different platforms (and not always with people we know!) — whilst eating & catching fragments of TV.

Big statement alert. Mindfulness changed my life. Without wanting to belittle anyone’s head pains, I think whoever we are, we could all do with a ‘defrag’ every now and again. And Meditation taught me that we can put our mind clutter and anxieties to one side. I was in control of my thoughts, actually in control of them — and not the other way around — which was a profound realisation for me. My mind started to quieten. And a new, more confidant, authentic voice came through.

Inspired by Ruby Wax, who’s book Sane New World charts her career change from comedy to brain chemistry, I learned about depression and the positive impact that mindfulness has on the mind. It’s not a cure for depression but a coping mechanism that helps you find your own answers. Through additional support from a coach and a specialist therapist, I realised that my core values and the things I was truly passionate about, weren’t the starring role in my life, causing internal conflict. Over time I had manifested enough distractions to avoid a fear-based mis-truth that I wasn’t good enough. Only my lifestyle was letting it get louder. I’d become my own worst enemy.

Keeping a blog about this journey of self discovery was extremely cathartic and validated my passion for experiential sharing. It also felt as much a part of the process as the experiences I was having. I’d always wanted to write; but ended up in sales. Although now I see how those two things are closely entwined. Marketing, isn’t good marketing without brilliant storytelling, right?

So how did I make that career change? Volunteering connected me to causes that mattered to me. I found www.do-it.org and Escape the City. I started mentoring short term offenders, young entrepreneurs and creatives. I got a job at a social enterprise opening me up to a whole new world.

The start of my relationship with my business partner Anna Moran came when I went to a talk by Escape on ‘How to launch a social enterprise overseas’. This set in motion a chain of serendipitous events resulting in us both volunteering in Kenya, passionate about solving the same problem. It’s really amazing what can happen when you say yes to a new opportunity!

So the biggest piece of advice I could give to someone feeling a bit lost, uninspired, curious or unchallenged (and it’s by no means exhaustive); is grab every suggestion, recommendation or invitation that comes your way. From books to networking events to Ted Talks. Take some time out. Connect the dots with your past. Make amends. With each experience you learn something new that can only widen your network of opportunity. Then design a life for yourself that works for you.

As our third cohort of trainee Social Enterprise Consultants prepare to collaborate in Hyderabad, with app developers, teachers, environmentalists and social entrepreneurs, there is still a lot still to do — but we’re getting messages every week from former classmates, colleagues and old friends asking ‘can I join you?’. So our strapline has become a simple invitation to #JoinUs.

Everyone’s journey is different but I do believe the universe has a magical way of presenting you with answers, you just have to be able to see them (and act on them) when they come your way.

And don’t be afraid to think differently. Reminding me of Malcolm Gladwell and Tim Ferris here’s some inspiring words from one of my favourite ad campaigns by apple from back in 1997:

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

Watch it HERE.


The 4 Hour Work Week — Tim Ferris

Sane New World — Ruby Wax

Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World — Mark Williams

Outliers — Malcolm Gladwell

Building Social Business — Muhammed Yunus

Homecoming — John Bradshaw

The Luck Factor — Richard Wiseman

Ted Talks:

How to Find and Do Work You Love — Scott Dinsmore

The Happy Secret to Better Work — Shawn Achor

Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Action — Simon Sineck

Reframing The Problem: Seeking Social Innovations — Shawn Smith

About _SocialStarters

We have just set up our third programme for career developers and career breakers. These are skilled professionals who’ve worked for Deloitte, L’Oreal, the UN, KPMG, Innocent Drinks as well as tech entrepreneurs, post-grads and everything in between. We’re bringing together talented people who like us, felt an intense desire to reconnect with their true selves and utilise their skills and experiences to make a positive different to others.

We are seeking likeminded skilled professionals who seek a career change or a sabbatical; perhaps an unusual travel or volunteer experience, or simply just the headspace to help them realise the next career phase in their life (be it social entrepreneurship, start-up or otherwise). Anna, myself and our team of ‘escapees’ provide training in-country that prepares our volunteers for the experience, and we provide a one-stop shop programme fee that means all you have to do is get yourself to the location, and then when you’re there, sort out your own food. And we do the rest. We are talking to leading innovators in this space and setting up partnerships that will mean you get to work with, collaborate and be inspired by some of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs. Our current partners include VSO, UnLtd India and the British Council.

Here’s the list of forthcoming programmes, places are limited but we encourage applications from anyone with a passion for making a difference in the world.

Colombo, Sri Lanka: Sustainable Products Programme — Work on a new government backed 6 week social entrepreneurship training programme to skill up a new wave of social enterprise in Sri Lanka from July 4th. Further programmes September 5th & February 13th 2016. New 2 week option available from September.

Auroville, India: Women’s Empowerment & Social Entrepreneurship Programme — Collaborate, learn and design new solutions for change with those dedicated to tackling women’s and other community issues in Southern India. 22nd August 2015 & 24th October 2015 for 6 weeks. New 2 week option available from October 24th.

Hyderabad, India: Social Entrepreneurship Programme — Work with our client UnLtd Hyderabad to tackle issues such as environment, sustainable transport, livelihoods, health and education. January 30th 2016 & April 2nd 2016 for 6 weeks, with two week Social Innovation Bootcamp option available for those with less time.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Creative Start-Ups Programme— Support and grow creative & cultural start-ups and social impact projects with urban young people from diverse urban communities over 6 weeks (June 20th & October 31st 2015 & February 20th 2016). New 2 week option available from October.

To apply, send your CV with a cover note to info@socialstarters.org, and clearly state which programme/date you want to apply for in the subject heading.

There are more dates due to be published soon on our website www.socialstarters.org and you can express your interest or arrange a chat with myself or one of the team by dropping us your CV by email to info@socialstarters.org

This blog post was originally posted on the Escape The City Blog.