The only person in the Asian-Pacific region to have worked for both Facebook and Twitter, Nick now shares his knowledge generously with others. International keynote speaker and Founder of The Mentor Club, Nick is thirsty for knowledge and eager to share it.
It’s 11am on a Thursday, and Nick fits our chat in amongst a busy schedule. Here’s what he had to say about daring decisions, the importance of relationships and fostering generosity through acknowledging your own needs.
Mariane: Nick, I had the pleasure of hearing you speak about our future workplaces and how we can create new opportunities. I understand that helping start-ups grow is a real passion of yours.
Nick: I do. Like, I love where you’re at. I love that everything is in front of you at the moment. And that’s not having a go, but I only work with businesses when they’re 0 – 6 months. I mean that, some people are 9 years old in their business, but it’s still at the 6-month mark. That’s just where I like (to work). Once a business like yours gets themselves together and is pumping, I can’t really help them as much. It’s not really my skill set, and my thing. I mean, where I can bring good energy to is a business that’s like – “Man, we haven’t really got a clue. We really know what we want to do, we think we’ve got the right people to do it, we’re still trying to build systems and processes, but you know, who knows if we’ve got it right or not”
Mariane: We’re kind of fumbling and feeling our way around..
Nick: Yeah, and you know, we might have it completely wrong.
Mariane: Yep! I think it’s a really exciting space to be in. It speaks to authenticity, storytelling and learning to come from a more transparent place. An honest place. On that note, can you share with us the most daring personal or professional decision you have ever made?
Nick: Yeah, so it would be leaving Facebook. Leaving the relative security of something in which I was successful, and safe, and going. Saying to myself that “this is awesome, and I love it. I really, really love it. But will I love it in a year? Will I love it in 10 years? Is there something that I can do to make my heart sing more. And if there is, what is it? And then realising that really, it was just being with my kids. Spending more time in my house and less time on the train and all of that. That was the main reason for me to chuck it in. I mean the fact that, you know, I had been successful, I was in a safe place, I wasn’t getting the boot (laughs) or whatever. But, was still daring to push (the boundaries). Every single person, except for my wife, advised me against it. Including people within the business. So I was really taking a punt and backing myself there. And I’m really really glad that I did.
Mariane: And I love that your wife was backing you as well. That idea of partnership and teamwork. What do you think that she saw in the possibility that others weren’t seeing?
Nick: I think she really saw the benefit of me being happy. And she knows what makes me happy. And it’s being here and it’s being with my kids. And it’s being near the ocean and all of those things. She just wants…. She just wants to be married to the best version of me. Not to a minimal version of me. She’s very good at regulating when I get that wrong though, too. You know, she’s not just “Oh, well do whatever you like”. She sees the value in some decisions and no value in others and is forthright in that, which is what I need. But, she could just see that this was the way to be married to the best version of me.
Mariane: So it’s sounding to me like relationships have really shaped your professional choices. Or do you feel that that’s just happened organically?
Nick: No, no. I think that… for a long time, I kind of shunned connection. I thought that I could do it all myself, and that actually I was better off doing it myself. I have mental health issues that I live with every day, and those are not fed particularly well when I isolate. So I got it wrong for a long time. And then I relatively recently remembered, I guess, that connection is what keeps me safe and what keeps me relatively sane. And so that’s why I make decisions largely based on relationships and people that I care about more than anything else on Earth. That’s the most important thing in the world to me.
Mariane: And was that realisation part of the motivation behind the latest conference of yours Think Different, Be Better, where you spoke about some of these more raw and personal concepts?
Nick: Yeah definitely. And it’s what put me in and kept me in therapy. Just to try and be the best version of myself for the people who need the best version of me. And who don’t need the really worst version of me. If I can make sure that the circumstances of my life lend better to creating the best version of me, then I’m holding my end of the bargain. And after that, it’s up to them. If I do my very best and if I’m being my very best and that’s not enough for them or anyone, then that’s up to everyone else, that’s not up to me. I’ve done my bit.
Mariane: It’s making sure that environment is really rich and giving you back what you need.
Nick: But also, making sure that it’s safe. And that it’s not challenging me (emotionally) more than it needs to be at any particular time. It’s not opening me to risks. It’s just a safe environment for me to grow.
Mariane: So what tips would you give to young people when they are trying to figure out for themselves what their inner needs are?
Nick: Just be themselves. You know I often say to people: “Just be you. That’s plenty”. And I feel like there’s a whole lot of pressure now. Like when we were kids there was the same sort of pressure, I guess, to be different people, but now there’s a lot of pressure to be Zuck (Mark Zuckerburg) or to be Elon Musk, Barack Obama or to be, you know, whoever. To be Sheryl Sandberg or whoever it might be because there is a real coolness about being successful. And that can force people into the wrong places and into the wrong sort of thinking. It can put at risk their own sort of self-actualisation, to be just the best version of themselves. If I’m talking to young people, I’m saying to them: “Do what you want to do”. There are parts of your life where you have to totally toe the line. And you have to do what society wants you to do. That’s how our society remains society and not just complete anarchy. But there’s a lot of things which you can actually choose to be yourself in. I just think that sometimes younger people, and we’ve always done this, choose the cool version or choose the easy version even, instead of applying themselves to becoming the best version of themselves. If you’re connected to people, and sometimes these might be people you consider good friends, and they want you to be something other than yourself, then the really really hard reality of that is maybe they are not the best people in your life.
Mariane: So was there a time in your life that you felt unsure of how to be your best self?
Nick: Oh totally! And there were totally big sections of my life where I used processes and people to escape who I really was. Because I didn’t think that I was enough. I didn’t think I belonged, or I wasn’t worthy of it, or I didn’t think I was loveable or whatever. I would love to say to my 16 year old self, “stuff them”. You know, back yourself. And I wish that someone had said that to me. Because there was a long time that I knew kind of what I wanted and who I wanted to be, because I knew who I was. But there was all this stuff of having to be something for somebody else. Having to make somebody else happy. You know so much of my “craziness” comes from having to make someone else happy, or having to put someone else before me. The biggest realisation I have made, and this is the thing that I would tell my 16-year old self, is “Put yourself on top of the pyramid”. I mean I haven’t finished publishing my first book yet, and I’m half way through work on the next one, but it’s going to be insight loosely around the idea that actually, it is all about you. Because I know that if I don’t consider myself and my needs first, if I’m not creating an environment where I can be the best version of me, then I certainly can’t be even a good version of myself for you, or for my wife, for the community, or the planet, or whatever. I have to make sure that I can be the best possible “Nick” that I can be. You know, people say, so do you put your kids first, or do think about your wife first, and I think, no. And it sounds really narcissistic, but I say, no actually. I think about myself now first. Every decision I make is for myself. Every day I wake up and think “What can I do for myself today?”. Because otherwise I’m just following everyone else and I’m not able to be who they want me to be anyway. And if they want me to be somebody else then they’re not the right person for me .
Mariane: And it sounds like by putting yourself first, you’ve found a way to
have enormous wealth in your relationships and feed them back again. So it works both ways, doesn’t it.
Putting yourself first ends up having a by-product of really rich relationships.
Nick: But it’s really hard right? Because, that’s not what we’re taught as kids. We’re taught, the best value you can learn is to share. And I kind of feel that the best value you can learn is to acquire, not share. And that is certainly not what we’re taught as kids. And it’s not what I teach my kids! I reward, verbally reward my kids all the time for sharing on the one hand, and yet on the other hand I’m all about “you should have your needs met”. Well, I don’t know that you can do both. So, it’s hard. I don’t know what the answer is, I just know that if I show up for them, then that’s how I help.
Mariane: So, rather than it being enacted with purpose, sharing can also be as a result of self-discovery. That’s what I love about the entrepreneurship space. Entrepreneurs can’t help themselves. They seem to have to share what they’re learning. It’s great!
Nick: Yeah, that’s right. And see sometimes, the real kind of paradox of it all, is that sometimes the best sharing I can do for somebody else in business or for people who ask me questions or whatever, is to be honest with them. Even if that honesty can hurt them. It’s not just sharing like, come and eat with me and I’ll share my meal, I’ll share my toys with you, but also to be able to go, “I think what you’re doing is not the best thing for you”, and you be the only person that says that to that other person. But that might help them. Even if it doesn’t, you’re still sharing the best version of yourself, not just giving them what they wanna hear.
Mariane: So honesty is a real gift.
Nick: Yeah, but it’s fraught with danger too. Because we think that honesty means brutality. You know, means being harsh. You see this all the time, someone says “oh, you’re so honest”, but actually, maybe what that means is, “you’re a bit of a jerk”. But, then the other side of it is, if you’re not telling someone that hard stuff, then you’re not being honest. And sometimes, it’s about being honest with yourself too. Like sometimes, the greatest show of “strength” that I can give my kids, is to sit on the lounge with them and cuddle them and have a tear in my eye when they’re crying about something. And that’s not what we were taught was strength, either. That’s vulnerability. And I (was taught) there’s no strength in vulnerability.
Mariane: It’s great to hear you talk about the importance of human connectivity. It seems like health and well-being is really at the top of everyone’s learning list.
Nick: That’s encouraging. And maybe, as leaders and mentors, our main roles are that we just give people permission. If I get up and speak about my mental health, my shame, or my flaws, or my resilience for that matter, maybe that just gives somebody in that room permission to go there on their own. Not even need to speak it necessarily, but just actually examine their own truth within them.
Mariane: It seems the power of what you’re doing is communicating that huge personal growth can be achieved from change or adversity, if people take the time to reflect and apply meaning and new stories to those experiences.
Nick: It’s funny you say that, I did a TED Talk a few weeks ago about my struggle with mental illness being a gift.
Mariane: Wow, no I haven’t seen it. Thanks for letting me know. Is it ready to be shared?
Nick: Yeah, I’ll send you the link. It speaks to everything you’ve just said. In everything that society thinks is a problem with me, and everything that I used to think was wrong with me, those are actually the things that make me better at this. And for me, that’s worth sharing. …