Reflections on inspiring stories of change and personal growth

December 21, 2021

Today, I want to start with some words from the incredible Paulo Coelho which always reminds me how important it is to be open to the signposts or challenges that life sends us.

“When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not yet ready. The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back. A week is more than enough time for us to decide whether or not to accept our destiny.”

What I have learned from my guests extraordinary stories

As I’ve discovered in the last couple of months, from speaking to all of my extraordinary guests, sometimes it takes a week to decide our destiny. Sometimes it happens in a moment. And sometimes it’s an ongoing journey of discovery.

For Emma Slade, held at gunpoint in Jakarta, a week was a luxury she didn’t have. As epiphanies go, this was an incredibly intense one, and one that shook everything she believed. “Is this what I want my life to have been?” she asked herself. A deeply searching question which reminds us that being alive is an incredible privilege.

Cassius Rayner also faced certain fear and crisis when he was stabbed on the street in South London. For him, the moment was shocking, terrifying, but it wasn’t when the change came. That was after. “Two kids, stabbed me and completely changed the course of life. I was a victim of that particular crime, but then I started to realise they were victims as well.” It was in the months and years after the attack that Cassius found the meaning in this moment, which led him exploring this world of violent gang and drug-related crime through film. Instead of turning away, he leaned into the experience – seeking to understand this better.

Throwing ourselves into these big moments – these ‘monster epiphanies’ as author and life-coach Jill Sherer Murray calls them – only happens though, when we’re truly ready to listen. “Change happens for most people when we can no longer look away from the truth. I was ready for it. I was ready to see it,” Jill told me in her interview.
And this self-reflection, this honesty is something I have seen in all of my guests. Listening to our instinct and intuition is such a key part of that journey. I loved the way that Jill explained how we have to practise listening, that our intuition is that voice inside begging for attention.
We train ourselves out of listening to ourselves, but learning to listen to our inner voice is so important.

Rugby player Zainab Alema echoed these thoughts too when we met. Explaining how admitting your goal to yourself – and being truly honest about your dreams is a huge thing. It takes courage, because when you’re brave enough to dream big you also then have to hold yourself to account. For Zee, it was admitting to herself that she wants to one day pay for England. “I’ve got a long way to go,” she told me. “But I think the biggest part for me was actually admitting to myself.”
I really get that. Change often makes us uncomfortable, it asks an enormous amount of us, and it requires enormous courage too.
But what often drives us on, is that desire to make things better, either for yourself, or for those around you. Or both.
Part of Zee’s drive comes from wanting to be an inspiration, so other Muslim girls can see her on the rugby pitch and believe that it is possible for them too. She has a real consciousness about paving the way for those who come after her.

Christine Handy, whose battle with cancer and other health issues ended up defining her life and giving her the courage to show up for others, felt the same. Talking to me last month, she said that, in the midst of her cancer battle, she realised that all the people around her, were looking to her. And that, in that moment, she could model fear, or model courage. She chose courage, because it gave her story a purpose. “You can’t go through all this pain for nothing,” she said. We can focus on helplessness, and hopelessness – but doing so is a choice and we could choose differently.
For Christine, the journey is ongoing, and today she focuses less on outcomes and more on living a life that feels fulfilled and purposeful.

Importance of finding the life purpose

The life purpose is something which came up in almost every conversation I had.
For Cassius is was a simple as wanting to open the world of film out to everybody, and doing that through showing how easy it is to make films on smartphones. Taking technology we all have in our hands, and using it to tell our stories.
For Andrew Forman, the founder of Givz, it was about wanting to help people donate a billion dollars to charity, but in so doing this, to create a better world for his daughters to grow up in. It is a purpose that keeps him going every day.
For Anne de Mamiel, who also battled a horrendous cancer diagnosis, her purpose lies in really, truly helping people – sharing what she knows about the body in balance – and the idea of routine to ritual, ritual to results.

What we offer to the world, doesn’t have to be big or grand, it can be simply what we have to give. In this festive season I am reminded of those wonderful worlds from the carol In the Bleak Midwinter. “What can I give him? Poor as I am. If I were a shepherd, I would give a lamb. If I were a wise man, I would do my part. But what I can I give him? Give him my heart.”

Heartful living is a real focus for Emma Slade, who spoke to me about Buddhist idea of ‘Ahimsa’ – which means not to harm. “It means to live rightly in this world – if you’re doing something that supports yourself and is helping others, then you are living in a right way,” she explained. And we can have that balance, we should take care of our own selves, while also doing what we can to help others. “If you can get to the end of the day and say, Yeah, I gently took care of myself today. I didn’t harm myself with my anger or my speech towards others.” For Emma, that is purpose, there is no other purpose. And it’s an inspiring one.

Final thoughts and conclusion

And the final message from my guests that really stuck with me, was about how we are all holding onto things. So many of their experiences have reminded them that life is not endless, that time is not endless. The time to act, to make a change is now.

Annee talked to me about stillness and stagnation – and how moving forward is still really important. We can live more gently, with intention and mindfulness, but we must hold onto that purpose that drives us forward. We must use what we have to design a life that will can live with our whole hearts, and which can offer something incredible to the people and the community around us.
“Who doesn’t want a voice?” said Christine Handy. “We all want a voice. We all have a voice, but we have to have the courage to use it.”

As, we come to the close of another year, this is such a valuable message for us to remember. There is so much possibility ahead of us, if we can only listen to our instincts, trust the process, lean into challenge and change, and not be afraid of our power.

So my invitation to you today, is to take my guests as your inspiration. To ask what is stopping you, to listen, truly listen to the answer, and then go forth into a new year ready for change.

I want to finish with these wonderful words from the late Steve Jobs, who reminds us that change is such a powerful force for good, and our unique viewpoint always has value.

“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.”

Thank you, happy new year, and I look forward to sharing more incredible stories with you in 2022.