Creating space for people, listening to yourself and going into the wilderness.

In this interview, Marcus Pibworth and I got round my kitchen table to talk about everything that’s changed for him in the last year, including the rise and rise of his project Ministry of Change, and how it came about. Fans of honest mental health discussion and the elusive ‘aha’ moment, this one’s for you…

What do you do?

I have a project called Ministry of Change, where I create spaces for people to talk about mental health. The main way I do that is through a podcast in the van I travel around in. I have done some of them in the van but not always, I sometimes feel, especially with people I haven’t met, a bit awkward saying ‘Do you want to get into the back of my van and record a podcast talking about our feelings?’ Generally when I’m meeting people for the first time we do it somewhere else.

How do you think you define success for the project?

When people tell me they’ve heard something and it’s helped them, for me that’s success. I mean, I would like to make it more financially sustainable, and I’m exploring that at the moment, but it just feels like a success every time somebody approaches me and wants to talk, every time someone shares their story. It feels like enough that I’ve created the space for that to happen.

What led you to this point? How did you decide this was what you wanted to do?

I mean, it wasn’t easy: it was through my own experiences with mental health, with depression and anxiety and the crippling nature of that, how isolated and alone I felt. I needed to create some kind of space for people to talk, mainly because I wanted that space for myself. Then I found that other people seemed to appreciate having that space as well.

I got to it through lived experience, and just knowing that I needed to do something.

Last summer I went on this trip called Unibus, where me and my friend Nana took about 15 young adults around the UK in a minibus. We went to all these different projects around the UK, all these different ‘intentional communities’. Leading up to that were probably the moments I found the most difficult and felt the most trapped in where I was living, what I was doing, but mainly trapped inside my own head. I just couldn’t see what my next step was at all.

Then I got this opportunity to be one of the leaders of this project, and I went and did it. I was quite anxious about it, but I just knew it was something that I had to go and do. It wasn’t all easy, it was actually quite stressful and quite intense, holding that together, but I didn’t feel scared of it, or anxious about it, and I didn’t feel depressed…I just felt, for the first time in ages, really alive.

I realised that a lot of these things that had been holding me back, they were just things. Things that I could change. It was hard to make a lot of those changes, but I think real change is painful, because it requires letting go of stuff, and I had to let go of a lot of stuff.

I know it’s only been a year…but I feel like a completely different person. That trip was something that opened my eyes, by seeing other people doing things, and seeing that actually I can do stuff, I just needed to overcome the fear. Feel the fear, but overcome it. A lot of it is about recognising the chatter in your mind, well in my mind anyway, and that a lot of it just isn’t true.

So that moment, coming back from the trip, was that when you realised the real potential here, for you?

I think so. I mean I had already been writing and talking a bit about my mental health stuff. I remember having this feeling that like I’m doing a lot of the things that I thought would help me, but a large part of what I was doing was waiting for someone to come and save, and show me the right way to go. And no one’s ever going to come and tell you that ‘this is the right thing for you to do’, so I actually needed to take back some of that agency for myself, and just go out into the wilderness a bit, and work it all out.

That’s what I’m doing. And a lot of what I’d been doing in those last couple of years was trying to work out in my mind what the best thing is to do, or make more money, or what will look better…and I think that might work for some people but it’s not what works for me. A lot of this year has been learning to listen to myself, and follow my instincts.

It’s not always easy to do. It can be hard to work out what ‘the thing’ is that’s calling you. Not society, or your parents, or your friends, or coworkers…so I think it’s difficult to do. I’m still working it out.

What’s been your greatest reward so far?

It’s that feeling that I am good enough. Which is probably the prevailing thing that I always had in my mind before, that I wasn’t. I think the people I’ve met, every single one of them, I feel have added something to my life, and that’s probably the biggest reward. To spend time with them, talk to them, get to know them better.

What’s been your greatest challenge?

Myself, probably. Being able to listen to my fears, not repress them, but also work out a way of doing things anyway. About a month ago that I started thinking about planning it better, and I ended up overthinking everything, over-structuring it. Actually that made it feel really restrictive.

Whenever I start to get lost in thoughts and processing and planning, I try to just step back and do nothing, and that always leads to the right thing coming up.

But that’s really different thinking to what I’ve been used to, I’m still constantly learning that. Stopping, doing nothing, going for a walk. I go for a lot of walks.

That’s another thing I guess, from a rewards side is that I’ve been able to go to lots of nice places around the UK. Spent lots of time in Wales, Devon and Cornwall, I stayed with a friend in canal boat near Manchester. All of these things have given me a lot more time to spend outside in nature, being more grounded in that. Something I struggled to do when I was in a city. If I do go back to a city I’ll try and keep stuff like that.

Early bird or night owl?

Definitely definitely an early bird. I love the mornings. My dream would be if I was allowed to go to bed at 9 o clock at night. Especially if I’m around other people I really like the 6am time, before everyone’s woken up. It’s just time for yourself before everyone else gets up. Then it’s like ‘Ha! You missed it.’ Which is obviously what it’s all about.

Do you have a morning ritual?

Usually, but these last two weeks it’s completely dropped away. I find it hard when I’m going all over the place, but what I’ll usually try and do is meditate in the morning and the evening, and try and go running. Journaling, I was doing every morning but now I just do it whenever and not necessarily in the morning. I got to the point, though, where I was filling up my morning ritual and it was becoming stressful in itself. I’d be like OK I need to get up, meditate, go for a run, do some journaling and have a shower and…I needed about two and half hours and it was defeating the purpose! So I try to hold it lightly and not beat myself up when I don’t.

What do you want to gain from the Happy Startup School?

I always want to meet the new people who are coming through it, and learn about them. That for me is one of the reasons I love the Happy Startup School. The community is just so amazing, how they manage to attract so many fabulous people. I just want to continue to learn all from the people here.