I have often reflected on how an ambitious and energetic founder of a successful recruitment agency could go between the commerciality and outcome-focused world of recruitment to finding myself wanting to support leaders and individuals, with the tools and strategies to stress well? Through a blend of lived experience and building a deeper understanding of what happens to people, the intense interest is as much about reflecting and helping people in performance as it is about health.

My early days in the profession of recruitment were exciting, productive, nerve-wracking and fair to say manic! It was long hours, lots of phone calls (no LinkedIn InMail’s back in those days), loads of juggling (attention switching), and as a young “whipper snapper”, extremely rewarding. I was learning a lot. Relationships were gold and you looked after people like they were just that, gold. With success came confidence and ambition. In January of 2000, I and two mates set out to start our own company.

It was the start of a long and winding road of ups and some big downs. In our formative years, we had the normal struggle of small business. We had amazing people we worked with and overall the big wins we enjoyed as well as enduring the losses. Nothing unusual really.

The reality though, for me was that the experience was unraveling and it was doing so over many years. You must be self-aware, healthy, and able to navigate plenty of hurdles and changes to keep moving forward. Ultimately at a personal level, this didn’t pan out as I’d imagined. The consequences of this, on reflection, certainly opened my eyes to just how precious our health and well-being is. Moving through multiple and consistent stressful events and environments, with little or no recovery, took its toll. Especially when it came to the mind.

This has driven me to help others mitigate their own risks of being swept up in work and life, and avoid mindlessly moving towards what could be anxiety, depression, or exhaustion through chronic stress. The ability to stay balanced and engaged, with sound, flexible and purposeful decision making goes further than well-being. It can help you realise higher professional goals or simply maintain an optimal state, to enjoy life.

I have done a lot of thinking about what contributed to this, and the lessons I’ve taken from it. Before jumping into some of these elements, I’m just one of the millions that have had a similar experience, and we all have our own stories. Like some of these people, I have a strong intrinsic purpose to help others minimise these negative experiences and allow people to focus on high performance in their life and work.


Some Lessons I’ve Learnt

Success can be dangerous, primarily as it can be akin to putting on a pair of blinkers. As a friend of mine mentioned, “profit can be like snow – you can lose your way”. You fall into the cadence of your own world and keep going down a road oblivious to change you can’t see. That success can make you more vulnerable to challenges when they arise, which require change and adjustment. If you, the individual, start to change through unmonitored stress, so will part of the business. It’s all well and good, until the clarity of what you thought was fine, isn’t.

The chain reactions and layers of high tension in my thinking were leading to deep physiological changes in the body. This then fed back into renewed negative thinking resulting in a vicious circle. Accumulating thoughts, “burning the candle” and focusing on work caused my mind to become heavy, clouded, and lacking energy but with loads of tension. In scientific terms, the allostatic load and mechanisms were working overtime. This will happen to all of us, from time to time. To navigate it we need to recognise and respect it. Unfortunately, I didn’t recognise nor respect this all the time. Recovery is key and sleep is the primary pillar of that. As is breathing. More on both of these another time.

Events matter, even if you think you are taking them in your stride. Navigating how to manage and be a leader in a growing company, the GFC of 2008, a failed business investment, and major back surgery was all layered in amongst everyday stressors, over the years. There was minimal recovery. Given how our stress response system works, beware of “brushing off” an event and ploughing on. You will need to rest or down-regulate if you want any form of longevity with optimal performance.

Self-awareness is critical for our own well-being, and for those of you are leading – be it a parent, a CEO or a new manager. Unfortunately, stress accumulation has the effect of lowering our self-awareness and it can create a subtle “creeper” effect. From the highs to some deep lows, it can leave you trying to work out what happened. Losing self-awareness is like losing Google Maps halfway through a drive across the city into an unfamiliar area. You’ll feel a bit lost and uncertain once the directions are gone.  I certainly lost my way in this department.

Getting too comfortable with maladaptive habits is a trap for all of us. For those fortunate enough, many people don’t want for many things in this modern life. We can get most things at the click of a button. We can scroll our phones and forget about thinking. When you need a hit of “GABA” like downregulation, as in a few beers or a glass of wine, it can quickly become more than is optimal! None of this helps. It’s an easy trap to walk into, and one I certainly give more thought to now.

Optimal Performance Over Peak Performance

Subsequently, what was once healthy and mostly stronger performance-related behaviours began to recede with my energy levels, at the time. I became a little flatter, less interested, and not processing how I should respond. Instead, you start reacting. These are all characteristics you don’t want as a leader, partner, parent or friend!

Most of us are not working to a peak performance event as athletes do. Optimal performance is optimising our performance at any given moment. It is today, tomorrow and into the weeks, months, and years ahead. To continue to function well, day in and day out requires self-awareness, discipline, compassion, adaptation, stress and rest. Without these elements all working together, it is very easy to lose your way with regard to health and well-being.

You can’t just have high self-awareness and then lack the discipline to not look after yourself! We can’t be compassionate to others unless we are kind to ourselves. Adaptation requires risk, problem solving and healthy reflection. Rest optimises this.

I see well-being and outstanding leadership outcomes closely aligned. Personal development and responsibility can be stressful for many people. It takes energy and focus. In many cases, people can doubt their decision-making, feel the tension of delivering unpopular news or struggle with challenging complex problems. These scenarios we find ourselves in can influence our well-being, and equally, our well-being can affect how well we perform as a leader.

If any of this feels familiar, reach out to a friend or someone you can chat with and do some honest reflection. If that doesn’t work for you, then there are people like me that are here to listen and try to help you make sense of that. It’s worth keeping in mind that prevention is a better place to be, than seeking “treatment” or a cure. Prevention aligns with the foundations of better outcomes in professional development. Therein lies why mental fitness, which can help improve our resilience through improved problem-solving, is one pillar I help others with.

Stress Well folks and look after yourself. Get uncomfortable and then recover. Life is a great ride if you can stay on the bike. And if you can’t – no judgement. You can get back on.




If you would like to discuss wellbeing in light of health or high performance, you can find me on LinkedIn or we can chat over a call.