“This guy is living on the streets telling me to cheer up”
Nick began his working life selling computers in London. In the midst of this successful career, he found himself sitting on a beach in Antigua asking “is it worth it?”.
In this first of a two-part interview, Nick talks about his “A-ha!” moment and the steps he took to begin changing his career.
Read on to find Nick’s thoughts on:
1. How to start a change while working
2. How to face internal resistance to change
3. How to be an entrepreneur without being a jerk
Read the full interview:
Avocationist: Tell me what you do for a living.
“I would call myself a renaissance soul”
Nick: I suppose I would call myself a renaissance soul because there is not just one thing I do. I coach people, give talks, run workshops, and do broadcasting. I’m a writer and I create information products about helping people find what they really love to do. I have created a whole little business around it. That seems to be my area of specialty.
Avocationist: Could you tell me a little bit about how you got to where you are right now?
“On the surface I was reasonably successful, but in a deeper emotional and spiritual level, I was very unhappy”
Nick: In the UK I followed a fairly conventional educational and career path. I did all my exams and then I completed a degree at University in business studies. It was my way of delaying the decision of what to do with the rest of my life. So in my early 20’s I went into sales and marketing for a few years and had 3 different jobs doing varying aspects of sales and marketing. The last one was working for a big company called Digital selling computers to Japanese banks in the city of London. By my late 20’s I started to realize that although I had enjoyed it, I did not enjoy it anymore. On the surface I was reasonably successful, but in a deeper emotional and spiritual level, I was very unhappy. It just led me to question a lot of things in my own life. Often we find out what we want to do by being unhappy in what we are doing. So that was my route, experiencing frustration and unhappiness.
Avocationist: Was there any particular event or one time when you realized “Wow; I have to make a change…” or did that occur over time?
“I was in paradise, but in my own mind, I wasn’t in paradise at all”
Nick: I had two “Road to Damascus” moments. The first was in my second job. I had actually done very well and had very high sales, so they sent me to Antigua for a week. It was wonderful. I was on the beach in Antigua drinking a Red Stripe beer. I was in paradise, but in my own mind, I wasn’t in paradise at all. I was in hell because I was thinking, “I don’t really want to go back there. If this is what success is about, it is lovely but… I had to pay such a high price for it all. Is it worth it?” So that was one time that I thought, “I know I can’t carry on with this for too much longer.” However, it was probably about three to four years before I actually did leave.
“This guy is living on the streets and he is telling me to cheer up”
Then when I was back in London I had moved to another job in sales and marketing and I specifically remember the place in London. If you ever get to London there is a place called The Embankment which is down by the River Thames. My office wasn’t too far away from there. I took some time there one day because at that moment I was just so fed up with being in the office. I had to get out of there and decided that I needed to go for a walk. So I went down for a walk on the Embankment and I suddenly heard this voice call out to me. Somebody said to me, “Cheer up, mate.” I was obviously looking miserable and unhappy, but when I turned around, it was a homeless guy telling me to cheer up. I thought, “This guy is living on the streets telling me to cheer up. I’m a guy with a great job, a BMW, and a nice flat and he is telling me to cheer up. There is something not right here.” That was the other time when I thought, “Hang on. Something is not right with me and my life here.”
Avocationist: So how did you go about making a change at that point?
“Even in the days of selling computers, I realized that there was a part of me that loved helping other people”
Nick: My first venture was into my own kind of counseling and a bit of therapy for myself. That was my inroad to personal change. I suppose many people, once they go to counseling or therapy, they think, “Maybe I will become a counselor or become a therapist.” I suppose I went down that route a bit. I thought I would love to share with other people what I had learned and what had been helpful to me, but I don’t think I really wanted to be a counselor or a therapist. I knew I wanted to become somebody who could help other people. Even in the days of selling computers, I realized that there was a part of me that loved helping other people. I never grew out of that desire to help others and so found a way of curving that into my living. I paid for it myself.
Avocationist: What did you do first once you realized that? How did you get started helping people?
“She would help me find a day or two of work”
Nick: The first area I became immersed in, which I found most helpful, was an area called transactional analysis; TA. There was a woman I found out about called Julie Hay. She helped people to use transactional analysis in an organizational context. So I did some training with her, and she would help me find a day or two of work. I would disappear from my job one day and reappear at the London Bureau of Bromley running a day of time-management training using TA. The next day I would jump back to my job as a computer salesman.
“I realized that when I was doing these presentations, I really loved it”
But I realized that when I was doing these presentations, I really loved it and it really gave me an experience of what it was like to present and share ideas, and I thought, “Yes; I really love doing this. If I could put this at the center of my life, I would like to do this.” So I got a taste of it, but I didn’t really have a plan. All I knew is that I needed to follow my heart because it was getting too painful not to.
“Looking back on it, I am probably embarrassed by how many mistakes I made, but luckily I didn’t dwell on it at the time”
Eventually I quit my job and followed my heart. I have probably made so many mistakes, but gradually became clearer about how to do it. I do not come from any kind of entrepreneurial background and I had no idea how to run my own business, let alone run a business that had deep meaning to me. So looking back on it, I am probably embarrassed by how many mistakes I made, but luckily I didn’t dwell on it at the time and I learned to swim. I have done quite well since then, in the long, long journey.
Avocationist: Did you just quit your job and start your own business, or did you kind of work into it?
“I didn’t really have a business plan”
Nick: A little bit. I had done a few tasters while I was still employed, but I didn’t really have a business plan. The concept that I know of now is the called “The Shadow Artist”. I don’t know if you have heard of, have you?
Avocationist: No I have not.
“I wanted to be the one with my own voice and my own message – not just promoting the voice and the message of other people”
Nick: It is in one of Julia Cameron’s books. She wrote a book called The Artist’s Way, and it is a concept in her book. One of the things I did when I left my job was to start promoting other people who were more advanced in the world of personal development than I was. It was a good thing because it helped me to get a bit of profile and to make connections. Looking back on it, I realize it was also a great way of hiding out and doing what Julia Cameron calls being “A Shadow Artist.” This is someone who has not gained the courage to put their own creativity at the center of their lives and is more interested in supporting other people. It is a double-edged situation; on the one hand it was helpful, and on the other hand it was a great way of hiding out. It took me a number of years to realize that I wanted to be the one with my own voice and my own message - not just promoting the voice and the message of other people.
Avocationist: What was the first time you got to present your own voice or your own message?
“There was a part of me hiding out and I needed to be the one speaking and writing and coaching”
Nick: I did a little bit of it for years, but after that I got involved in an organization called “Alternatives.” They are a mind/body/spirit personal development organization that provides lectures in this area. Alternatives has been around in London for about 26 years now and I have been involved for about 21 years. Because I had a passionate interest in the world of personal growth and personal development, it was a great way of immersing myself in that area. But once again, it was the realization that I wanted to be the one giving the talks with my own voice rather than promoting other people and their voices and their messages. It was probably about 12 years ago that I grasped the idea of being a Shadow Artist. There was a part of me hiding out and I needed to be the one speaking and writing and coaching. It was then that I started writing seriously for the first time - I realized that I had my own voice that I wanted to find and then give expression to it.
Avocationist: You have published a number of books; is that when you started writing your first book?
“Doors open and connections get made”
Nick: Yes. My first book came out 9 years ago, but I started to engage in writing seriously about 12 years ago now when I realized it felt wonderful to give a platform to the voices of other people. I realized that I had my own voice, which I was a bit in touch with, but not deeply in touch with. My first book was called The Work We Were Born To Do. One of the things that I talk about a lot is that when we follow our heart I believe two things happen. One, amazing things happen: doors open and connections get made. I also think that when we follow our heart a “resistance” kicks in. Resistance is all of those inner voices who are our own betrayers who say, “Well, who do you think you are to do anything like this? Get back in your box. No one will want to listen to you.”
“The resistance for me was thinking, ‘Oh yeah; I am going to write a book and people are going to read it and get something from it’”
So my personal journey of following my heart for almost 18 years has been following a sense of inspiration, but also having to learn to deal with massive resistance. The resistance for me was thinking, “Oh yeah; I am going to write a book and people are going to read it and get something from it.” It seemed like the ultimate act of arrogance. “Who would ever want to listen to me? What have I got to say that hasn’t been said better by tons of other people?” So to anybody listening to this or reading this here is my advice: I don’t recommend that you trust your own sense of resistance to your calling that seems arrogant and crazy. It is perhaps your own calling that you need to bring into existence.
“I have been utterly thrilled and probably shocked myself on just how much it has touched people and how many people have related to what I had to write about”
I did go through all my own resistance and then I started writing. I showed my work to a few publishers and then one said, “Yes; I would like to publish your book.” I am thrilled to bits to say that it is still in print 9 years later, which is pretty amazing for a personal development book that usually goes out of print in a year or two. I have been utterly thrilled and probably shocked myself on just how much it has touched people and how many people have related to what I had to write about. I am a great believer that all of us have great talents and great gifts to share, but most of them never get to see the light of day because our own resistance gets the better of us.
Avocationist: It’s interesting that it is almost directly proportional to how close you get to something real that the strength of the resistance is much stronger, isn’t it?
“Many people think that they are crazy when they experience that”
Nick: Yes, and many people think that they are crazy when they experience that. I find it helpful that just as you say, the closer you get to your calling, the bigger the resistance you are likely to feel, but that doesn’t mean you are off track. It actually means you are on track. I don’t know if you have heard of it, but a book that I recommend to anybody who is interested and can resonate with what we are talking about here, is a book called The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.
Avocationist: It is all about creativity and what artists go through. People who are not formal artists don’t understand that your life and what you do is a work of art and you go through those same things that people struggle with.
So now you have been in the business for awhile and you have had several books published…
Nick: Yes, I have 5 books out now.
Avocationist: You said you have a mix of things you do right now with coaching, speaking, and writing; which of those are your favorites or what do you think you are called to do the most?
“I think the truth is that I am called to be a communicator”
Nick: I think the truth is that I am called to be a communicator. I am called to get messages out and to some extent, there is no one way of doing it that I prefer. People often think that they are supposed to find one thing and stick with it. I think for many of us we are what I would call renaissance souls. One of the things that I talk about when I help other people make changes is that this is not the case. I have one big passion, which is communicating, and inspiring and educating people, but I have a number of different ways that I have of doing that. None of them is something I want to do every day. What I like about my life is the variety. I like that one day I am giving a talk and then the next day I am at home writing, and the next day I am running a workshop for 100 people. I like that I am on the radio talking to other people, but I wouldn’t want to do any of them full time, but I love doing all of them some of the time.
Avocationist: Have you had any challenges on juggling that or explaining that to people?
“What I do is a bit more strategic than it used to be”
Nick: Not so much in terms of juggling. I don’t have children. I have a long-term partner, and so in terms of time-management I probably work less than I have ever worked. What I do is a bit more strategic than it used to be. I used to run around like a headless chicken and I don’t do that quite so much now.
“I am a great believer that you can build a business around your own lifestyle”
Sometimes I travel to give workshops and I do a lot of coaching by phone so I don’t have to commute. I am a great believer that you can build a business around your own lifestyle, and I certainly have chosen to build a business around the lifestyle I want. I don’t work as hard as I used to; I probably touch more people and help more people than I ever have done, but with the internet these days, you can reach a lot of people much more easily than actually going out and meeting them one-on-one like you had to do in the past.
“One of the things that I do is talk about is other ways of being entrepreneurial and call it a heart-felt or inspired entrepreneur”
What I am doing now, and I just literally launched it in the last week or two, is that I believe it is so important that people get on-going support for their dreams. What I have realized is that when people discover the work that they were born to do, not always, but often it does lead them to starting their own business. Yet many of the role models that we have for entrepreneurial development are very competitive more in the line of the 1980’s Gordon Gekko, like Donald Trump. Many people that are doing something that they love just don’t relate to those ideas of being entrepreneurial. One of the things that I do is talk about is other ways of being entrepreneurial and call it a heart-felt or inspired entrepreneur. So now we are launching a community. We just launched a free level of it and now we are launching a premium level of it called the “Inspired Entrepreneur’s Community” or “Inspired Entrepreneur’s Club.” It creates ongoing support, encouragement, and dialog for people to discover what they really want to do and then turn that into their own little business. If you link to “Inspiredentrepreneur.com” people can join up for free and get that ongoing support from myself and other people in the process of building a business around a passion.
Avocationist: I think that is great. I also think it is a great way to have people help you with the resistance because they can see it.
Nick: Yes, because we can usually get away with resistance on our own, but we wouldn’t get away with it in the presence of peers.