Masters Series Transcripts: Omar de Silva (Founder at The Plato Project) and Debra Longin (Founder at MAW Creative) — Startups, Stress and Mindfulness

Camille Monce —  June 1, 2018 — Leave a comment

For many startups, stress is just one of the energies that keep things moving along. But the high intensity and high pressure can take their toll on the health of founders and employees. This episode is an opportunity to take time out for yourself and to pick up a few healthy habits to incorporate into your day.

Omar de Silva founded the business school The Plato Project to foster entrepreneurship with some good philosophies. He recommends mindfulness in the short term and over longer periods to spot damaging trends.

Debra Longin had a traumatic experience that highlighted the dissatisfaction in her stressful career. Finding the same traits in founders, she established MAW Creative to encourage more mindfulness, art, and wellbeing.

Disclaimer: Transcripts may contain a few typos. Similar sounding words can lead to them being deciphered wrongly and hence transcribed likewise.

Interviewing Public: Most stressful thing probably is the level of uncertainty in the business while it’s, it’s not sustainable, it’s face down uncertainty.

Interviewing Public: The elevator pitch, putting everything into 30 words or less is very stressful to actually come up and to actually execute it.

Interviewing Public: To me is marketing and just practicing my pitch with the local markets, you know sticking to the plan and just trying to do your best to execute your ideas.

Serpil Senelmis: For WeTeachMe, this is the Masters Series where industry professionals share their secrets to business success. I’m Serpil Senelmis from Written and Recorded and a hunk of stress. Working in a startup is easy to forget lunch breaks, start early,finish late work right through the weekend, and then it starts all over again. And if you’re responsible for investors, money, and employees, paypax, there’s constant pressure to perform and grow. Let’s face it, startups are hard work, and a little bit stressful. Debra Longin is the founder of MAW Creative. That stands for mindfulness, art and well being.

Debra Longin: This is going to turn into a cautionary tale, however, about that high intensity, because as you move on in your career, in corporate, I guess, I started working in larger and larger company. I became more and more involved in corporate clients. And what started off is a very genuine interest in design and creativity, sort of really, because actually a lot about stress. I was stressed my clients were stressed. High intensity became high pressure, and it was, you know, quite a challenge.

Serpil Senelmis: We’ll hear from Debra shortly but first, Omar de Silva. Omar has made several attempts at business with a couple of successes. Now his focus is on education in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. And he runs a business school called The Plato Project. After pulling himself up from the brink of bankruptcy, I discovered there’s more to life than just chasing dollars. Omar, who’s named after the famous actor, Omar Sharif says it’s a critical skill to recognize stress. And you need to be self aware about both micro-moments and continual trends.

Omar de Silva: So that’s me there in the middle in fine form, and the day that I realized I was in financial ruin. That was the first point for me where I realized that chasing dollars was not the answer to anything really. I had made too much money early in my life, I did not know how to handle that money, deal with that money and I was doing stupid things, not paying attention to the bigger picture and got myself into some really substantial trouble and found myself very, very close to declaring bankruptcy. And in fact, I’d been recommended that that’s what I do. And that’s what I was gearing myself up to do. But before that, we had a trip to Sri Lanka planned with my family. And one of the things about going bankrupt is that travel becomes quite difficult. So I didn’t do anything before the trip and we went on the trip. Long story short, my dad who grew up there, he told me all these stories about how difficult it was growing up in Sri Lanka in that type of environment and how lucky I was in Australia to have everything that I did have. And I just thought that they were the standard father stories you got given as a child but I went there and I saw it all to be true. And it was it was a really big, important shift in my mindset. And so that made me come back to Australia and choose not to go bankrupt and not to quit. So I got back to work and I started chasing the dollar again to pay off my debts and to get out the other side and accelerate through a number of years, the second time I realized that chasing dollars wasn’t the answer was when there was a situation in my family where one of my family members had a psychotic episode and a bit of a breakdown, which was the sort of catalyst if you like, for me learning that the men in my family had a nasty predisposition to mental health challenges and that I had depression and anxiety and really opened up my eyes to the fact that again, there was more to life than simply working in chasing dollars. So what I really wanted to focus on is some of the practical things that I’ve do still, to this day every day as best I can to try and stay on top of the stress that is inevitable with startups and business and life more generally. And hopefully, there’s some practical things that you can take away with you. When it comes to dealing with stress, your health, your well being, we often hear about your physical and your mental health and well being. But one thing that gets left out of that conversation a lot, in my perspective is your professional well-being. And what I mean by that, when I realize that I was dealing with some mental health challenges, and I started to reflect on the six months leading up to that point, when I thought that I was struggling with the business and work side of things, the answer for me was work harder. So then when I got to the point of realizing that I was actually not in a very good spot, and I was quite unhealthy, a lot of people said, you’ve got to start working. The interesting thing for me in that situation, somebody that was doing something he was passionate about and believed in, is the idea of not working was actually more stressful than the idea of working. I suppose the first thing that I want to share and just challenge you to think about is when you’re trying to get that health and well being balance right, don’t eliminate any element. It’s about getting the right mixture of elements across those three, physical, mental and professional factors that become really important. The way that we talk about this in the courses that we run as part of our business is this idea of personal leadership. And personal leadership to us is this idea that the only way that you can expect to get the most out of other people around you from a leadership perspective is by first getting the most out of yourself on a daily basis. And that’s what we mean by personal leadership. So I just want to share with you some of the practical things that we talked about the practical things that I do, to again, deal with that stress and try and hit peak performance on a sustained daily basis. First of all, is the idea of your current state awareness. It’s really, really important, as frequently as you possibly can to check in with how you are doing in any given moment. And that’s not only from a getting shit done perspective, in your Upon your job or in your life or in your relationship, getting shit done in your relationships for another pairing of phrases, but I think you know what I mean?

Omar de Silva: Understanding how you’re doing in the short term is the easiest and most important step to your self-awareness. It can articulate itself in a few different ways, though your mindset, what’s the mindset that you’ve taken into a particular situation? What’s the body language that you’re giving off? And how is that affecting your mindset? And then ultimately, what is your behavior like? Unfortunately, though, when people start to focus on that they lose track of this idea of the prolonged state awareness. And this is something that I realized that I was falling into the trap of when I ended up with the depression and anxiety where you keep checking in on a micro-moment. I’m a bit stressed at the moment, but I’ll be okay in the afternoon and then the afternoon come, I’m okay. Next, I am stressed now, stressed now I’m stressed out the afternoon, afternoon, okay. That happens day after day, after day,after day, after day. Unless we give ourselves that chance to check in on how we’ve been going over the prolonged period of time, it can be really difficult to notice the trends. So when you go into this piece of self-awareness, it needs to be both short term and long term that you’re constantly checking in on. When you build up your self awareness and you start to join a few of the other dots. If you can start to put the opportunity lens onto all of the things that you have in front of you. It becomes instantly a positive frame in your mind by framing things up with the opportunity and the positive lens. It gives you a better chance at being good at staying self-aware and ensuring that you’re making the most out of each situation. So that’s the first bit around self-awareness. Authenticity. This is another thing that gets thrown around a lot but to me is probably been the single most important thing I’ve recognized in unlocking my professional success. What is your definition of success? And I know this verges on Tony Robbins soft and fluffy stuff, don’t want to be that, don’t like Tony Robbins. What I’m getting at, it’s so easy, particularly in the world of social media, particularly in the world of influences, particularly in the world of fast free information that we see other people. And we try to use their definition of success for our own definition of success. The moment you give yourself that chance to figure out what success means to you, and you give yourself the opportunity to chase that pursuit of success is the moment that you have the chance to get your peak performance on a regular basis. So the way that I’ve looked at this over a little while is number one asking the question, is it worth it? It’s a really simple question. A really profound question, really powerful question and important question to ask yourself, is it worth it? Whatever it is, just check-in. Is this actually worth it? And closely follow to that is, is this me? We’ve all found ourselves in situations where we’re committing to doing something, that if we actually had the chance to really reflect and check it, we’re like, you know what, I don’t actually care about this. This isn’t me, this isn’t worth it to me. And one of the things that made me realize that was when my son was born, and I was trying to do all things at once. And me is somebody that would like to think I’m fairly self-aware and fairly and shoot with these types of things. I’d get home after a day of work. I pick my son up, I’d have him in one arm, and then I’d pull my phone out to you know, catch up on emails, and I got my son looking at me and I’m looking at my phone.

Omar de Silva: Luckily enough, I’ve got a wife that’s not afraid to tell me what I need to hear. And it became very clear to me very quickly that hey, it just wasn’t worth it. Sounds simple, it’s a lot easier said than done, though. Building the discipline the habit, the chance to constantly check in with yourself on these simple questions become really important. When it comes to a successful startup, in my opinion when it comes to a successful life, we must be proactive, we must make decisions, which give us the best chance to see the future we would like to eventuate. You need to give yourself the chance to buy in and believe in the fact that you absolutely have control over your next step. Don’t control the hand that you’re dealt, but you can control the way you play the cards. And it’s a really, really important thing that you need to do whatever you possibly can to believe in and buy into. Because until you do that, then you’re not going to be able to build the business you would like to live the life that you would like to in my opinion. So the way that I go about doing that is reflection. And I don’t do it hourly anymore, but I absolutely do it daily, monthly, quarterly, and annually. And I check in on things on a daily basis. I check in on things that I was grateful for, I check in on things I did really well that day, I check in on things that I want to improve the next day. And that’s what I do every morning because if I don’t, my brain goes bananas and I end up in a not a very healthy place. So that becomes really important to me. And by doing that, by getting a really good understanding of where I am, it gives me the frame of mind that I need to make proactive positive steps to go where I want to go. And that’s really important when it comes to your health and well being and your business success. You need to have a proactive mindset. You can’t fall into the trap of thinking or wait for it to happen. your health, your well being your business success is only ever the result of what you do first, things don’t come to you, unfortunately. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and sometimes things fall in your lap. But you’ve got to be taking the first step, you’ve got to be the one that’s initiating things to happen when it comes to building a successful business and looking after yourself. Lastly, there’s this idea of the productive struggle. This is the idea that as soon as you stop moving forwards then by virtue of everybody else, moving forward your relatives moving backward. That’s the idea of every goal you achieve, set yourself a new one. That doesn’t mean you don’t stop and appreciate what you have done or celebrate your successes, but it’s about always moving forward and using that momentum in a positive way. Be ambitious on things that are meaningful and important to you. And that are also pragmatic and realistic, not saying don’t have big dreams, but make it meaningful first. It’s not about unrealistic ambition. Second thing is that idea of continuous learning. Our businesses called Plato Project, we’ve got a really strong focus on philosophy and self reflection, and there’s some convoluted quote, which if I had to go, I’ll butcher it, but it’s basically the one that as soon as you think you know, everybody, everything, you’re actually an idiot, you know, very clever, right? We’ve got the known knowns, the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns. You’ve all heard that before. We’ve all got unknown unknowns. And the moment you forget that you don’t know what you don’t know, is the moment that you stop. having the chance to move forward, it’s the moment you stop having the chance to look after yourself. It’s the moment you stop having a chance to build a bigger and better business, embrace continuous learning.

Omar de Silva: Triggers, we’ve all got these things called stresses. Stresses are things that build up over time under the surface. Not liking a job, having financial worries, having relationship worries, having health issues, etc., those are the stresses. And then we’ve got our triggers. And the triggers are the little things that happen which bring about bad behavior, so to speak. Road rage, running late for a meeting, getting a last-minute request, burning your mouth on a toasted sandwich, and knowing that your whole weeks ruined. Same with bad coffee, whatever. We’ve all got these triggers as somebody that’s been, I think I’m through the worst of my anxiety, I think and I think it’s as a result of doing things like that. And the way that my anxiety would kick-off is I’d be running late for a meeting. And then from there, my brain will go shit, you’re running late for a meeting, you’re going to lose this client, you’re going to lose your business, you’re gonna lose a dog, you’re gonna lose your house, you’re gonna die, right? That’ll happen in like five seconds. So for me recognizing what those triggers were was the first most important thing I could do to being proactive in dealing with my anxiety. Once I listed all of those triggers off for me, is coming up with the circuit breakers. So when I get an email, which I read, and I take personal offense to because I’m a bit of a hypersensitive sook, like, I cried so much at my wedding, the video went viral and people like it looks like he’s at a funeral. Like, that’s how much of a sook I am, right? When I take emails a bit too personally, the circuit breaker for me is I just need to go close my emails, go back to my eq guy, go back to my vision and reset and realize I hate and so that. When I have a really bad day, if I’ve got a panic attack, something like that, I’ve got to go to the gym, and then there’s sort of everything in between. So recap figure out what your triggers are. Figure out some circuit breakers that you can put in place the moment your triggers get there. So you can stay self-aware, you can stay authentic use, you can stay proactive, and you can embrace that productive struggle which is in front of you at the moment. I think that’s it for me. Thanks, guys.

Serpil Senelmis: So framing things with a positive lens, being authentic, and being proactive in the habits and rituals that work for you are just some of the ways to manage stress in a startup. Thanks, Omar. I’m going to try that. In just a moment on Masters Series, we’re going to dial up the mindfulness and well-being with Debra Longin.

Ad Guy: As Omar de Silva says one of the keys to reducing stress in business is lifelong learning. WeTeachMe is Australia’s biggest school, connecting you with classes that will feel the gaps in your knowledge. With classes in your area WeTeachMe is also a great way to learn more about mindfulness and wellbeing. Invest in yourself at The Masters Series podcast is a stress-free production of Written and Recorded. As journalist for hire, Written and Recorded specialize in identifying the angle in your story that will connect with your audience. Then they crafted into an engaging podcast for internal and external communications. Hear more at And now it’s back to you, Serpil.

Serpil Senelmis: Hey, thanks for that Ad guy. Now it’s time to get mindful. Debra Longin founded MAW Creative to incorporate mindfulness in well being into the spaces we occupy every day. The former corporate interior designer had a wake up call that things needed to change in her work life on the tragic day that six people were killed in front of her office.

Debra Longin: Hello, everyone. I felt that I should give back and I guess this is my story. So it is, I guess a story of my journey, I guess as a kind of a reforming corporate person into small business. So I think hopefully we will relate and I’ll explain some of the stresses that have I’ve certainly experienced and I guess also some of the stresses that have really, actually helped propel me through my career. I’m gonna start at the beginning and tell you a little bit out of myself. So my background, I grew up in Adelaide in the Adelaide Hills. I was the youngest in my family, and in my extended family, I was also the youngest. So interestingly, despite how I ended up I was considered the small one, the quiet one. It was a very noisy European family. So I actually found it very difficult to get a word in. So I found otherwise, I guess so my talent and my interest and I guess my passion was creativity, making things and problem-solving. So that’s how I would sort of find my way and my voice and my expression. So ultimately, I found myself drawn toward interior architecture, sort of made sense. It was something that I really enjoyed. It was something that I was good at. I got my first job in a home office with a woman called Mary Harvin. Who was an amazing inspiration and it was a very high-energy environment like it was creative, it was making it was you know, everything I wanted in a job. I loved it, to be honest. It certainly propelled me in the industry and gave me a lot. This is going to turn into a call cautionary tale, however, about that high intensity, because as you move on in your career, in corporate, I guess I started working in larger and larger companies. I became more and more involved in corporate clients. And what started off is a very genuine interest in design and creativity. So there really became actually a lot about stress. I was stressed my clients were stressed. High intensity became high pressure, and it was, you know, quite a challenge. Everyone has a wake-up call, and I guess mine was kind of late in life, but I guess never too late. So I’ve kind of plodding along stressed working stressed with people, etc. And I hope I don’t offend anybody but my wake up call was the 20th of January when obviously someone drove up, back street and killed six people. And that happened outside of my office. And what happened to me then was, I thought, for the first time, you know, I could have been anything, you know, my family raised me, you could be anything that you want to be, you know, it’s a great ambition. But I got to the point where I had this moment in time, and I thought, you know, I could be anything I want to be an actual fact I’m in a job I’m not very happy with. I’m not excited. I’ve had all these choices and so really, I had a responsibility to do more. Unfortunately, I had got myself into such a position that I was so tired and drained and so corporate that I couldn’t find a way out. So I really had no choice, but to quit my job. So my first message is there’s a lot of opportunities for you to sort of have that weight on moment and think, hang on, how did I get here? How do I feel is this really what I signed up for and I missed a lot of those messages that my body was telling me. But I would suggest that maybe you could take the opportunity today to have a bit of a thing. So I went from quitting my job with no plan, some savings, and really no intention to it whatsoever, just needing that break, which is great. And it gave me an opportunity to do some things. But it was also very, very stressful for me initially, and I don’t know if others maybe have been in that same situation where you’ve had a job and you sort of really associate yourself with that profession, and that organization and to sort of not be from such and such and such and such, actually really freaked me out. And that was so initially I felt good when I quit, and it was quite euphoric. But then I had this quite serious panic attack about what am I, so I thought, okay, I’ve come this far, I’ve upset myself. So I’m just going down this far. So I did what everybody does and turned to Google, of course, and you just start looking stuff up and thinking, you know, what am I going to be now? What am I going to do? And I started going to talks, I started coming to exhibitions, I sort of went to anything and everything. And somehow, I actually found myself at one of these. I came along and I heard Sheree Rubinstein, amazing talk, and she talked about her aha moment how she decided she wanted to set up her business. She was in a meeting, and she was a lawyer and someone was sort of disrespectful and asked her to take notes. Just assume that she was the secretary and I thought to myself, I’ve had so much worse said to me in my career and so many more times. What have I been doing? This is crazy, here’s this young woman who you know, it’s just like, no, that’s not good enough and, you know, started our business, I thought, well, there is something else that I had never really considered. You know, I always associated startups with Mark Zuckerberg, the sort of really techie type of things. And he was, you know, maybe an opportunity to make a job, you know, I don’t have to look for a job, I just have to make a job and I just have to think of one. And that was the first time I really realized that that would be something that I could do.

Debra Longin: So my second advice would be mix it up, I would go along to lectures, and people would sort of say, oh, you know, why are you here? And I’ll be like, I don’t know? You know, but it paid off, and it started getting my brain working in the right direction. From here, I thought, okay, I can have my own career, I can make my own job, which is great. But because I had been in corporate for so long, I actually wasn’t really sure what my passion was anymore. I had lost touch with all of the things that were important to me. So I found that by spending more time with entrepreneurs who talk a lot about their purpose and their passion and all of those aspects, that there was a lot to be gained from talking to other people, hearing their purpose. And it helped me sort of articulate some of my purpose. And so I started doing mindfulness classes, I started doing meditation, I started doing crazy drawing art classes, you name it, I had times where I started doing it and I had fun and I could feel my creativity coming back to me, I was talking to entrepreneurs, I was making new connections with people. And I found that my way of thinking actually was quite helpful to people because I was a design thinker. Wasn’t a designer, my brain was able to contribute in different ways. And so I started to form these ideas about where my business could go. So my recommendation would be when it comes to you, go the feed me menu, take the digger station, do the whole lot, you know, don’t skimp on yourself, you’re complicated. You’re not just a single person, you’re not just interested in one thing, you need to feed all the aspects of yourself, otherwise, they’ll slowly die off and they won’t work anymore. So the more you do, the more you’ll get out of it. So I started seeing some comparisons in the startup group that were very similar to what I saw in corporate, which is high energy, verging on high pressure, verging on unhealthy habits. And I started to see that there were people who understood well being yeah, that’s great. You know, we need to, you know, take time off, or we need to do all these things or whatever. But how are we supposed to do this? We don’t have time, we don’t have opportunity. We’ve got these goals that we’re trying to, you know, hit. And I guess because of my experience doing design work. As an interior designer, I’m used to looking at how people work and creating design solutions for how people work for environments and I started to realize that actually, these things skill was really helpful in the startup community because they don’t need an environment. What they need is a workday. They need all these opportunities to bring mindfulness in. But they don’t have time to organize them. So that began I guess, my new career path in that mindfulness our and well being with my creative thinking sort of come together, and that’s my business. So I had been doing some really interesting things with art making and painting. And I thought, you know what, I get a lot out of it, I get a lot of relaxation. It’s really enjoyable for me. And I would share that with people and they would say, Well, yeah, that’s great, but I don’t have time or, you know, I don’t want to commit or don’t have the materials. So I thought you know, what would be really interesting is, if you could do like instead of 45-minute yoga, you could do 45 minutes worth of art making, you know, not making art pieces but just self-expression and fun. So I set up a what I call the make break, which was terrific an opportunity for me to just let go of my concerns and just do something. One person booked that first class, which was enough to keep me going, which is great. And from there, it’s sort of built up and now it’s a few months on, and I’m doing some really exciting things. And I guess that’s where my business is. So my last little motto would be bringing some mindfulness into the way you appreciate your career. I’m not prepared to spend another 10 or 20 years waiting for something interesting to happen or to get awards, it something now that I assess every day. So, that’s it.

Serpil Senelmis: I really like the way Debra suggests the feed me menu when it comes to nurturing all aspects of ourselves. Thanks, Debra. I’m sorry so we’re gonna go with the whole degustation menu option. Next time on the Masters Series, how to build a community around your business? It costs more to acquire new customers than it does to maintain existing customers. So when you’ve got them, do whatever you can to keep them or explore the best way to convert customers to community in ways that work for you, and then. Until then, I’m Serpil Senelmis from Written and Recorded, and for WeTeachMe, this is the Masters Series.

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