This week I have been reading a book called Break Point by Ollie Ollerton who is best known as a member of the directing staff on Channel 4’s SAS: Who Dares Wins. This book is all about his voyage of self-discovery during his time as a UK special forces commander. It records his personal development from angry commando, alcoholic contractor, to spiritual humanitarian working in Thailand to rescue children from sex slavery.
I didn’t expect to, but I identified with a lot of elements of his story, bizarre that there can be so much synergy between the journey of an antenatal & baby class teacher and that of a member of the SAS!
Ollie is pretty cool – he describes various points in his life that he considers to be “break-points”. The first was when he was 10 years old and attacked by a chimpanzee at a local travelling circus, he nearly died as a result of his injuries and seeing death at such an early age sent him off the rails.
He went onto join the military looking for a sense of belonging and purpose which evaded him, but he did find security in the chaos of it all. He describes feeling like a pressure cooker, bottling up his emotion and masking his feelings with alcohol. It was only when he left and had negative experiences working as a contractor in war zones that he sought the advice of a spiritual counsellor.
It was this part of the book that really struck a chord with me. I have often read about and discussed how humans are “loss averse”. Due to the way we have evolved we are programmed to look at what could go wrong – this ensures our survival. Therefore, it takes so much effort to be positive, because our evolutionally default is the negative. Ollie hits the nail on the head when he writes “It’s about facing the negative thoughts and fighting them. You’ve got to see every knock-back as a milestone for improvement and growth. It’s about getting used to failure and understanding it as a point for growth.”
So why is this relevant to me? I have spent the last 4 months taking a back seat. I have felt like my life has just stopped as I took the time to heal and recover from an illness that totally dominated my life without me realising it. Before I made the decision to have a hysterectomy my life was a treadmill. I taught classes every day, saw hundreds of babies every week, I knew deep down I loved it but I was exhausted, in constant pain and frustrated that we were not achieving the bigger aims we have in terms of delivering more and more free classes across the whole of Suffolk so every parent has the ability to access our services. I had got so caught up in the goal I forgot how important the present was.
Don’t get me wrong I think that goals are important; lofty ambitions, drive, determination and sheer grit are the things that make the difference, but sometimes that desire to succeed and focus on an end goal can be the thing that blinkers you to the point where you don’t see the world around you anymore. Just as Ollie did, I was functioning on the chaos, it was powered by adrenaline and then it all just stopped and there was a huge void. When I was teaching, I often felt bogged down because paperwork was never done, my to do list of always 3 pages long, there was a massive bottle neck whenever it came to the list of tasks allocated to me and I never did any of them very well. I felt like I was always cutting corners in terms of running the company because I was “too busy” running classes and dealing with clients, and then suddenly the clients and the classes weren’t there anymore. To begin with I loved waking up in the morning and not having to rush to get my yoga mats out, but it didn’t last long and then there was this gaping void, because without the families and the interaction with the people there is no purpose. The moment when I knew it was wrong was when I came to Mel’s Fitmumas class to help with babies and saw how much they had all changed in 3 months, to the point where I didn’t recognise some of the babies.
So, the thing that I’ve realised is this – it’s not about the business awards or the fact that your email inbox is empty or that your accounts are up to date, it’s about the way you feel at the end of the day. I love working with people. I love walking around the car park outside Suffolk Babies rocking an overstimulated, screaming baby to sleep so that a mum can have half an hour to herself in her fitness class. I love being able to create a space where mums can be utterly honest and frank about the way they are feeling without the fear of judgement. I love being a sleeping bunny with a group of 4-year olds I have known since they were bumps and I love coming down the stairs to hear the laughter and gossip from the parents playing with their babies and toddlers in our centre at the end of a class. I love knowing that Katie and I have created something that I never had access to when my babies were little and that it makes people happy. The rest of it is just trivia and niff naff because without people around you the world is a pretty soulless place.
Ollie Ollerton says at the end of one interview “Through my military career I wasn’t happy. I felt I hadn’t found that niche, that purpose and it wasn’t until I went away to Thailand and I worked on rescuing children from sex slavery that I really found my purpose. For me, helping people is massive therapy. I don’t need a war zone or need to be in that chaos anymore”
For me it wasn’t until I was cocooned in my house for months that I realised how important it is to me to be able to open our doors and sing the “Hello” song every morning. Sometimes you need to step back and see how good your reality really is, forget the fear of missing out on things and just enjoy the here and now. The final paragraphs of Ollies book tell us “I now deal in mental wealth, not mental health, which involves investing in yourself and creating silver-lining situations. It’s not about where I have been or what I have done. It’s about what I can do moving forward. I am a true believer that our lives are the product of our imagination.” I now accept that my email inbox will always be full but the silver lining is that I get to share such important years of so many people’s lives, it’s a privileged position to be in and I can’t wait to return to my niche.
*Jo will be returning to teach classes in Kesgrave on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursday and Fridays from June 3rd.