“Thriving is not a destination. It’s a way of being,” said John Cunningham, president of the Rise Initiative.
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Speaking to attendees of the Rise Thrive Conference, he continued: “It’s a series of micro-moments that help you to feel good about yourself and perform at your best.”
And the Rise Thrive Conference – attended by more than 600 people in Melbourne – delivered hundreds of micro-moments and even the occasional punch in the guts.
The stellar line-up of speakers all articulated insights to help us recognise that we are never alone in our feelings of overwhelm and anxiety, that good habits can help manage our mindset and that we need to look inside ourselves for answers rather than avoid our emotions and chase external escapes.
Here are 13 lessons revealed across the day from the speakers:
1. Undo your conditioning and stop worrying about what people think.
“We are all born emotionally connected and expressive,” AFL footballer Wayne Schwass told the audience. “We get conditioned as we get older that we have to suppress how we really feel and live in constant fear of what people think.”
Schwass confessed that he spent most of his football career in a state of mental crisis having a breakdown at 23. He hid it from everyone, including his family, because he was terrified he would be judged as weak.
“I compromised my health to protect others,” he said. “It takes courage and guts to stay emotionally expressive and connective in a society that says men need to harden the f*&% up. It’s taken me a long time to learn how to be comfortable in vulnerable spaces. But I’m not afraid of what people think of me anymore. I’m emotional, vulnerable and speak from the heart.”
2. Look inwards, not outwards, for answers.
Barkindji Warrior woman and world jiu-jitsu champion Shantelle Thompson challenged the audience to get real about their own story – and expect the occasional faceplant!
“Purpose in Western culture is always a north star – it’s something outside ourselves,” she said.
“But in First Nations culture, purpose is something we are born with. The world takes us away from it, so our journey in life is to come back to ourselves by learning our purpose.”
But she admitted that honest self-examination could be terrifying.
“Have the courage to face yourself,” she said. “Deal with your own shit and see your shit as manure in which you can grow seeds. Because when you are connected to purpose and meaning, you don’t need batteries. It is its own energy source and it can save your life. Because it’s not a case of ‘if’, it’s a case of when you faceplant.”
Mental health expert and Heart On My Sleeve founder Mitch Wallis shared that he had personally been “determined to avoid looking inwards”.
“You don’t have to wait until rock bottom to finally admit you are not okay. But it is not until you do that things become better,” he said.
3. We all have an obligation to look after our own mental health.
“Talking about mental health should not be brave or courageous. It should be normal,” Mr Schwass said. “The obligation to talk about mental health is on all of us. Give yourself permission to talk about it.”
Mr Schwass pointed out that the reasons why we focus on our physical health are equally applicable to caring for our mental health.
“All the reasons we focus on physical health is the same reason we invest in mental health,” he said. “The value of you looking after yourself permeates to everyone around you. They get a better version of you, so it’s not selfish.”
He also strongly encouraged preventative maintenance.
“You don't have to wait until the shit hits the fan before you do something about your health,” Mr Schwass said.
“We invest in servicing our cars so they perform consistently – to prevent breakdown and death. No one wants to break down, get sick or die sooner than we have to. So investing in your mental health is about preventative maintenance, and when life gets bumpy – which it will – you have more tools to deal with it.”
4. You can’t avoid your emotions.
The Streets’ Barber Nasir Sobhani shared how he tried to avoid his emotions and sense of failure by becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol.
“I felt what I thought was peace when I was high. But it wasn’t really peace – it was an utter numbness and when I sobered up, I felt immense amounts of guilt and shame which became a toxic cycle,” Mr Sobhani said.
It took a soul-crushing conflict with his mum for him to realise he was at rock bottom and needed help.
Mr Wallis said we often worry about facing our fears in case they will consume us.
“Courage requires you to go beyond what is familiar,” he said. “Look under the hood and feel it to heal it – not so you get stuck in it, but so you can let it go. You cannot outrun your pain forever.”
5. Psychological safety builds trust and performance.
Dean Firth from Macquarie Bank talked about the role of psychological safety in maximising performance, defining it as team members being comfortable to say what they wanted to say in group environments without fear and by being vulnerable with each other.
“Google did two to three years of study to understand the differences between their most effective teams and average teams, and discovered that by far the biggest impact was psychological safety leading to a 30 per cent difference in performance,” he said.
The Google study found the key characteristics of high-performing teams are dependability, the ability to make an impact, meaning, structure and clarity, and psychological safety and shared vulnerability.
Justin Miller from RE/MAX identified that psychological safety could easily be damaged by careless language.
After attending the Rise Leadership Conference earlier this year and hearing sexual consent activist Chanel Contos speak, he realised that what he thought was banter in his office, was in fact damaging team performance, and his acceptance of it was making some within his team feel unsafe. It was a powerful wake-up call.
“Words have weight. Every comment and joke contributes to the fabric of our environment, strengthening it with respect or tearing it down with insensitivity. Language shapes perceptions and normalises behaviours,” Mr Miller said.
“Our words and comments, whether passing or hurtful, shape the culture and environment around us. We must be aware of their impact. For me, the lesson was that knowledge in leadership and in life isn’t merely about empowerment, it’s about accountability.”
6. You’re not alone. Humans have felt these feelings for centuries.
The value of reading – books not devices – was highlighted by many speakers as a valuable way to take yourself out of your own head and increase your sense of wellbeing.
Author Thomas Keneally said that writers had been exploring the idea of what it means to be human and how to deal with the challenges of life for centuries. It could be a comfort, he argued, to realise that even the ancient Greeks and Romans agonised over what made life fulfilling.
“Reading poetry is a great way to deal with the idea that you’re not alone, in whatever alienation you’re feeling,” he said. “All the poets are a little bit strange because they write about death and fragility, the vividness of joy and its passing nature. In between life and death, there is a sea of doubt that has to be traversed, and realising you’re not the only one struggling to work it out can be helpful.”
7. High performance is not about activity.
“We come from an industry where work is seen as a pinnacle and activity is seen as a badge of honour,” said Domain CEO Jason Pellegrino.
“But high performance is not about activity. Racehorses will keep running until they keel over and die. Good trainers know that time-off and downtime is more important to performance than the activity itself. It’s okay to stand back sometimes, and it’s okay to not be at 120 per cent all the time.”
Mr Pellegrino shared that in his experience, people stepped up when leaders took time-off. To encourage their team to recharge, Domain gives its staff five extra days a year of leave time – but only if they take their legislated 20 days.
“We get better performance because people take the time they need. You get 56 weeks of work when they only work 46 weeks,” he said.
“It’s about discretionary effort. They do that not because they’ve given you 100 per cent but because you’ve given them time to ebb and flow so that they are ready to deliver.”
Mr Pellegrino’s comments were backed by Marshall White agent Drew Ginn, who said part of his training as an Olympic rower was to realise you could not perform at your best if you were burned out.
“There was nothing worse than seeing a crew at the Olympic Games at the starting line already burned out,” he said. “It’s not just the work you do – it’s the recovery.”
8. Tell people – especially loved ones – what you need.
“Mind reading is not an obligation of love,” Laura Shooter from SJ Shooter told the audience, adding that asking for what we need is often hard, but it’s something we all need to lean into.
“When something happens, you have to be ready to talk about it, but also be ready to hear it,” Laura said. “It’s absolutely okay to say ‘I’m not ready to talk about this yet’.”
Her husband Sam identified that it is about “keeping short accounts”.
“If you have an issue and it goes for weeks and weeks, that’s not okay. So we sit down and have the difficult conversations. They’re never fun, but it helps to realise it’s short-term pain.”
Madeline Kennedy said it is easy to damage relationships by staying silent on issues that make you upset or angry.
“There is nothing worse than the silent treatment,” she said. “I was subject to that as a kid. My mum would go silent and I made a commitment that I would never do that to the kids or to James because it’s just a shit strategy.”
Strategies that do help communication and relationship health include: taking each other out to lunch once a week; having weekly ‘sorting meetings’ to go through family obligations and help plan the family-work juggle; and creating quarterly rewards in the shape of special breaks to reconnect.
9. Ask what story you’re telling yourself.
When mindset coach Tanja Lee was a small child, her parents gave her the keys to the house and told her that she would now need to let herself in after school as they had to work.
“What I made it mean was that I wasn’t good enough to be loved, that I was being abandoned,” she confessed, identifying that we all have limiting beliefs that hold us back and create armour that prevent us getting close to people.
She explained: “Every single human being makes the same decision of not being good enough, and that decision creates an armour that keeps us safe and comfortable but separate from the gold that lies within our heart and soul.
“But we are not what happens to us. We are what we decide as a result of what happens to us. So we need to stop turning a failure into meaning ‘I’m a failure’, and a No into ‘I’m not good enough’.”
10. Release the shame.
“Almost every problem is solvable – it is the story that ends us and the shame that we put around the problem, that is the issue,” said Mr Wallis.
“Much of life is about band-aiding. The brain is a risk-mitigation device. It will do anything to avoid pain and keep you safe, but our brains define ‘safe’ as familiar, not healthy.”
“We are not actually healing unless you are feeling and going towards the pain. It is just coping and you are just putting band-aids around the inflammation of shame.”
He recommended that releasing the shame and leaning into the pain is the only way to truly heal.
“We need to drop the brave face and really be brave,” he said. “Your mind requires tension to grow, but we’re hardwired to avoid that work and it’s easy to avoid because it’s invisible.
“Courage requires you to go beyond what is familiar, look under the hood and feel it to heal it. And you want to do that not so you get stuck in it, but so you can let it go because you cannot outrun yourself forever.”
11. Ask yourself, how much is enough?
Why do we work hard? For most of us, it’s about providing for family to give those we love the lifestyle they deserve. But what exactly does that look like and how much do you need to do to obtain it?
Andrew Liddell from BresicWhitney identified that too many of us are chasing an external golden ring without a clear idea of what ‘enough’ looks like.
“Creating a life in congruence is about coming back to your centre and asking yourself daily, ‘How much is enough?’ And ‘At what cost am I prepared to do this?’,” he said.
Having a clear definition of ‘enough’ allows you to prioritise.
“If you could do 90 sales a year, have a wonderful life, a couple of holidays and time with your wife and family – wouldn’t that be enough?” Andrew asked. “But what if stretching to 110 sales a year earned you more but pushed you away from those things that are important?”
“The real estate industry has focused too long on who earns the most money, who drives the best car? But the real benchmark should be who does this with the most composure and balance?
And if you can surround yourself with the right people, balance becomes important.”
12. Fall in love with the process, not the result.
Olympic rowing champion and now a real estate agent at Marshall White Drew Ginn shared the secret to winning is to love the entire process and its work, not the result. Taking such an approach often means being prepared to get out of your comfort zone.
“The 240 strokes of an Olympic race become easy when you love doing the 240 strokes,” he said.
He admitted that when he started, he hated rowing until he came to appreciate the beauty of a perfectly executed stroke upon the water.
“What I experienced with the Oarsome Foursome was to love the equipment, love the competition and the events. All the things that you have to do every day, come to love them and appreciate the artform.”
13. Be of service.
“When you tap into something bigger than yourself, you give yourself perspective,” Mr Wallis told the audience, neatly bookending the theme set by Mr Cunningham in the morning.
“Service is purpose. Help others to help yourself,” he said.
Nasir Sobhani shared his mother always told him that regardless of his career choice, “As long as you do something in the spirit of service, we will be proud.”
It took him a long time to realise that his decision to cut hair was not about the haircut but the connection it gave him to people.
“Cutting hair was just an avenue to making people feel better,” he said.
Over time, he realised it was this service that was the purpose of his life.
“It’s in two parts – to recognise what your gift is, what is your talent and your skill is hugely powerful. Everyone has one,” Mr Sobhani noted.
“The second you realise that, use that gift to benefit mankind. It doesn’t matter if it is one person or 8 million people. If you do that, your life has purpose, and if you turn that around, it’s the purpose of your life.”
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