My Story: From dying of kidney failure and losing it all to living my finding real happiness (with kidney failure!)  and running my own creative business.

I’ve died a bunch of times now but it’s always been worth it in the end.

Maybe you can relate?

For me – as terribly dramatic as it sounds – for the first twenty or thirty decades of my life it just seemed like I was in constant ‘survival’ mode and was dealing with one horrible situation after another.

Like the rest of us, it all started for me in childhood:

My parents got divorced which is such a clichéd 80s kid thing to say but – hey – it’s what I dealt with and it formed my early life.

It wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t ended up in a completely dysfunctional and physically and emotionally abusive family unit:

-Constantly getting battered.

-Being called all kind of names.

-Being made to eat alone (when I was allowed food).

-Being watched in the shower or on the toilet (yeah, weird, I know).

-Being isolated from friends and family that were ‘bad influences’ (i.e. aware that some messed up stuff was taking place).

Let’s just say for the sake of ‘brevity’ that it didn’t exactly give me much faith in humanity and ‘authority’ figures (which explains a lot, looking back).

Despite all this chaos and emotional turbulence, there was always some REAL spirit in me that knew I would eventually leave that situation and that there was nothing ‘wrong’ with me – these people clearly just had issues (which I realise years later were probably personality disorders).

This whole wonderful period came crashing to an end when I was about fifteen or sixteen years old and one of my abusers tried to hit me for whatever reason.

I grabbed her arm and stopped her – the first time I’d done that in over a decade of it going on.

“That’s the last time you ever hit me”, I said.

It actually was because after that I got kicked out of the house for standing up and refusing to take it.

At least I was right about it being the last time (I went to go live with my actual Mum after that).

Growing up in a household like that where every little move you make is scrutinised and judged helped – in retrospect – to make me hyperaware of the subtext between people and their true motivations (I suppose that was the start of me starting to decipher the difference between when people are being REAL or unreal which is what all my work is about these days).

It also showed me how quickly the masks people wear can change form when they need to (it was amazing, for example, how my abusers would be the nicest people in the world as soon as friends and family came around. Gross.).

It started pretty well (though I was still making trouble)…

Unfortunately, though my spirit was still strong, the things that I experienced did have the side-effect of making me feel incredibly anxious sometimes and not necessarily being able to trust people or build meaningful relationships.

To be honest, back then, I just wanted to be left alone – I retreated into writing and focusing on my creativity (though in those days I wanted to write screenplays more than novels or books about self-help/philosophy ‘stuff’).

In fact, I remember the only compliments I ever got in my childhood were about things I’d written (I remember a teacher incredulously telling me something I wrote was “good enough to be published”) – that was all I needed to hear to keep going).

I think because I grew up in such a controlling household, I also became a bit naïve when it came to making friendships.

Back at ‘home’, my abusers were always telling me to dump certain friends I’d made or to stop hanging out with certain people (which I realise now was just a way of controlling me) and so I became pretty sheltered and distanced from people which just caused me to end up living in my own introverted little world.

That just served to contribute to my social anxiety later down the line and also to make me seem a bit ‘weird’ (probably an understatement) to the more normal kids that were out partying all the time and doing whatever else.

That all changed when I went to university and was finally able to find some freedom.

Unfortunately, because I wasn’t exactly used to freedom and didn’t know who I was (because I’d spent most of my life being judged, told who I was supposed to be, and given an inordinate amount of grief when my real self did shine through), I just ended up going completely off the rails and partying every night.

Partying like a crazy person allowed me to mask my social anxiety and drinking allowed me to lose my inhibitions.

In retrospect, this was just the start of the ‘real’ me starting to emerge again from behind the mask I’d been forced to wear and from all of the BS I’d been conditioned to believe about myself.

It was also completely self-destructive but I’ve realised that you have to destroy yourself if you’re unreal so that the real stuff can rise again. In many ways that’s the story of my life.

Honestly, during this period of my life I acted like a complete idiot – I was essentially chaos personified and I probably pissed off a lot of people or at least embarrassed them (and myself).

I didn’t want to face myself and what I’d been through and so I just used my ‘antics’ as a kind of coping device or mechanism to use as a replacement for a real personality.  I suppose you could say I confused ‘attention’ with the ‘love’ I sought because of my unresolved childhood ‘stuff’ at the time (another cliché but…hey, it’s how we’re wired).

Anyway, because I didn’t really know myself or how people worked I started hanging about with a pretty bad crowd.  I avoided a lot of the ‘bad’ stuff because I was still quite innocent/naïve (a good thing in retrospect) but it didn’t really serve my mental health or social standing.

In my last year of university, I started to wake up:

I got a job one summer in a pub/restaurant not too far from London and I finally felt like the real me. I was funny. All of a sudden I felt like part of the community.

I remember going into a shop during this period of my life – a completely innocuous thing like buying a pack of chewing gum (or probably cigarettes back then, tbh). I remember speaking to the cashier without any of the anxiety or pretence – I know that doesn’t sound like much at all but it was like a fog had lifted and I noticed a shift.  It was one of the first times I felt myself not really ‘thinking’ or being overly ‘aware’ of myself.

Looking back, I think it’s because that summer – working in that restaurant – was the first time ever that I actually felt like part of a group where I belonged.

It seems stupid as I type that out but it showed me the value of community and how that can make us more real.

I nearly quit university and was gonna just stay working in that pub but I went back when summer was over to finish my last year.

In that last year, I was really starting to assess my life and what I’d been through so far. I still have a journal from that period and it reads like the rantings of a mad man but I think that’s when I really started to face life for the first time and look at what was going on inside me(instead of just acting out an ‘idea’ of myself).

I became really antisocial again, dumped my high school girlfriend (doing her a favour, tbh), and basically spent that year in my dorm room.

I had so much emotional ‘stuff’ going on inside me that I needed to start dealing with:

-I was so ANGRY with all the abuse I’d gone through growing up.

-I had so much SHAME about myself and how useless I thought I was (because that’s what I’d been TOLD).

-I  had so much existential teenage stuff going on about what to do with my life as a whole and how fake things were in the world (that was the summer of the “Weapons of Mass Destruction” and it was all so depressing).

-I was so DISAPPOINTED with myself and had an endless stream of internal JUDGEMENTS that I’d picked up over the years (against myself) that I needed to find a way to let go of.

-I felt so GUILTY about all of the stupid things I’d done and that I hadn’t focused on my studies as much as I should (even though I was starting to realise in the final year I’d just wasted my time anyway).

I decided that I was going to focus on HEALING myself and getting back on track with my life. I decided that I was going to take CONTROL instead of just being a SLAVE to my emotions and what I now see was just trauma guiding my life.

The short-version of what that meant is that I started going to the  university library and getting every book out I could about psychology, philosophy, writing and whatever else I thought would help me (I was obsessed with the Beat Generation at the time too so read about a billion different poetry books or novels from that time).

That final year was supposed to be about writing my dissertation which was originally supposed to be about myth and narrative (I was doing ‘Media  and Culture’) – instead, I just wrote a massive stream of consciousness sprawl about whatever was going on inside me. Needless to say I didn’t get very good grades but it helped me to bring up what needed to resurface (wish I still had that dissertation, though).

I finished up that three years at university with a worthless piece of paper and the realisation that I wanted to do something that was completely unrelated to what that paper represented (though I learned how to make websites and stuff which was useful).

Spot the future existential type…

After university, I didn’t know where to head next so I bummed around in restaurants, got fired from a petrol station for having an attitude problem, and then went to Japan (thanks to that “worthless piece of paper” that allowed me to get a visa to teach English).

By this time I was only 20/21 but I landed in Japan and finally felt FREE.

I was surrounded by people from all over the world – Japanese people (obviously) but other English teachers of all nationalities (including my Australian girlfriend) and could finally just be ‘myself’ without the restrictions of the past or even the cultural expectations that I’d found repressive back home in the UK (which said I was ‘supposed’ to go get a job in London or whatever and sign up for a mortgage, get married, have kids, then drop dead).

I was still fairly crazy and chaotic at this time but not so much because I was being propelled by my emotional ‘stuff’ but because I really didn’t give an ‘F’ and just wanted to start again and have a good time.

I felt like I was FINALLY on the path towards my destiny – though really I didn’t realise that destiny is chosen and if you’re passive you’re only going to meet your FATE:

I climbed mountains, went skiing, made friends, drank sake, got chased by bears, swam in the ocean, stayed out all night in Tokyo. It was amazing.  I was there for four years (with a few incredible trips to Thailand and Korea – North and South).

About a year in, I had a friend who downloaded an e-book online called “How to be a model in Japan” or something like that – he read it and it actually got him somewhere so he told me I should do the same thing.

That led to another (crazy) couple of years where I’d be doing catwalk shows, magazine shoots, and even a bit of movie extra work etc. (if you’ve seen Tokyo Drift then we’ve already met for about three seconds).

This was when I started to get confirmation of my belief that life really doesn’t just have to be about the ‘standard’ path that we’re all ‘supposed’ to walk on – yeah, that path is a safe bet and there’s nothing wrong with it if that’s what you want to do but – actually – the bar to doing something different isn’t really as high as our conditioning might make us believe.

That whole period of my life was filled with so many opportunities and interesting, creative people. It showed me, really, that it all just comes down to having the right ‘tribe’ around you – the only caveat is that before you can do that, you need to “Know thyself” a little. If you don’t then you don’t have at tribe, you have a prison.

Eventually, though, I started to get bored of the ‘modelling’ stuff and slipped into another angsty existential crisis – honestly, I’m just a creative person and just standing there or walking with an angry look on my face really didn’t do anything to get my creative juices flowing.

Oh, dear.

It was ‘fun’ at first because of the novelty and obviously it was an ego boost to be able to see myself on billboards or shop fronts in one of the busiest cities in the world but, really, it was just kinda…empty.

I started to think about leaving Tokyo and was planning to go to Los Angeles with some friends (which probably would’ve killed me in retrospect).  Luckily (also in retrospect), reality had other plans for me and that’s when I got ‘sick’.

It was bad timing because I’d just met a new girl I liked and things were going pretty amazingly between us (broke up with the Australian one first, of course).

At first, I thought I just had flu or something but, actually, that was just fear causing me to deny whatever was going on in my life.

For a few weeks before the shit really hit the fan,  I’d been having all kinds of ‘weird’ symptoms:

-I’d been getting absolutely killer headaches on one side of my head (known in the business as ‘unilateral headaches’) which I abated by guzzling paracetamol and ibuprofen (which probably made things worse).

-My vision kept going really weird and things would get blurred or get distorted (which I later found out was because I got fluid behind my eyes).

-I kept getting really short of breath and would struggle to climb stairs or to walk around (because of the fluid in my lungs).

-My face would change shape every time I looked in the mirror (again, that bloody fluid).

For whatever reason, I would just keep pushing on as though everything was okay – telling myself that it was just a bug or things would work themselves out. Never underestimate the power of denial: I was wrong.

Eventually, things culminated with me being basically unable to move.

I remember lying on my futon one day (on the tatami floor like a living stereotype) and basically just starting to ‘fade away’ (literally, it just felt like I was fading into complete blackness).

I put ‘Fight Club’ on my laptop to try and keep myself awake and – if it wasn’t for my girlfriend breaking through the door – it might’ve been the last thing I ever saw.

Because I hadn’t answered my phone or something, she’d decided to come and see what the hell was going on.  Essentially, she saved my life.

She also decided to bring a friend with a van and they somehow carried me into it (or, at least, I ended up in it but not sure how I got there).

That was basically the end of my ‘Japan’ chapter.

Doing the whole “Lost in Translation” thing…

They took me to a GP who took a look at me, did my blood pressure, and told me that I needed to get to a hospital straight away.

When I got to the hospital, they did some tests, and told me that I needed to have dialysis right away or I wouldn’t survive the weekend because I had kidney failure.

That was that. I never saw my apartment again. I was in the hospital for a month – people came to visit me in throngs like ghosts from my past in the present but I couldn’t leave the building. I could climb on the roof or look out the window and dream of Tokyo from within reaching distance but it was over.

My Mum – who worked overseas a lot – came over from Hong Kong or wherever she was after about a month and I left the hospital for the airport and returned to the UK.

That was fifteen years ago (at time of writing this) and I’ve grown more real than I ever imagined possible and the whole thing turned out to be a blessing even though it originally SUCKED.

Here’s how it happened:

The initial stages of this period of my life were pretty difficult but my ego was bolstered by remembering who I had been only a few months before (which was in inflated, unreal image anyway, tbh).

I thought that I was somebody ‘special’ because I’d travelled the world and I’d had few pictures taken of myself here and there but – actually – this was just a false pride that was allowing me to cling to my ideals about life and to avoid facing the reality of my situation.

The worst thing about this time was that I felt completely powerless:

My parents were amazing but they really didn’t want me living with them (which was fair enough) – they just wanted a normal life and I couldn’t blame them for that.

Even worse, we had completely different values and standards about what life was and how it worked. I’d seen and done things on my travels that they could never understand because of the conventional way they’d been living their lives (which worked for them so no worries).

When I first came back from Japan, I had long, flowing hair that had allowed me to swan around like a model and feel glamorous and important.

I remember a few days after coming back from Tokyo, my parents gave me an ultimatum:  cut my hair so I could find a job or get out.

I caved in like a kidney-less Samson and that’s when I realised I was officially back in the UK and had become a passive and weak-willed version of myself.

I know it sounds stupid maybe – it’s just flippin’ hair, after all – but that was a real low point. If I had known what direction to turn in and if I wasn’t overwhelmed with all the crap I was experiencing emotionally about my health and everything else then I would’ve probably just told them to sod off.

They had me in a corner and I didn’t have the energy to fight it and so I just went and chopped my hair off – a pathetic symbol that my travelling days were over and I was back in the ‘real’ world.

After all that, the first job I found and snatched up (because I didn’t have an ABUNDANCE mindset back then) was in a shop that sold second hand DVDs and video games.  Ironically, most of the guys that worked there had long hair.

On the first shift that I worked there was a massive argument between the current staff and some guy that worked as an area manager.  At the end of the shift he absolutely FLIPPED because the till was down by 37p or whatever it was – it turns out a lot of the staff had left a few days before and so there was a lot of tension.

I should’ve left as soon as he started shouting but I was still desperate for a job and overwhelmed with everything I was going through and the massive changes to my identity I was riding out (and resisting!).

It’s amazing what you’ll tolerate when your confidence has been knocked sideways. If you find somebody relying on that then watch out – you’re naturally confident when you’re REAL.

Anyway, long story short, that job was an absolute nightmare and I didn’t do myself any favours because I thought I was above it all and couldn’t really be arsed with anybody.

The manager was on coke or something and constantly spent his time shouting at the staff and the customers.

I managed to move out into an apartment in the centre of Bradford (with a small loan of a million dollars from my parents) and so my life essentially revolved around walking to the dialysis unit, working in the shop and being yelled at by the general public and the manager, and spending time in this apartment wondering what the hell had happened to my life.

As I write this now I can laugh about it but back then I was completely broken (at least it gave me some fuel to start writing my novel: Synchronesia: A Depressing Existential Novel).

What goes up must come down I guess: I’d been completely ‘up’ when I was travelling and in Tokyo and now I’d hit rock bottom again.

Such is life and I’m happy about it all in retrospect but there were some dark moments.  Honestly, I even thought about just topping myself in some of the darkest ones but I guess I’ve always been too stubborn and curious about what I’d miss out if I did (you’re gonna die anyway so might as well hold on).

During this whole period I was still involved in a long-distance relationship with my girlfriend at the time who lived in Japan. She’d come over in six month blocks as often as she could and we’d have a semi-normal life – at the time, we thought that I’d get a kidney transplant and then everything would go back to ‘normal’ and we could move back to Japan or whatever.

Unfortunately, life has other plans and things ended up working out in a completely different way.

About a year and a half of being on the kidney transplant list, I got ‘the call’.

Actually, I missed the call because me and my girlfriend were in bed watching ‘The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly’ – because my parents were my emergency contact, they did get the call and came bursting through the door to let me know that we had to go to St James’s hospital in Leeds for the surgery.

When we got there I strolled in nonchalantly and announced my arrival:

“Hi. I’ve come to have a kidney transplant”, I said (I remember one of the nurses laughing about this entrance afterwards).

I did have one but it didn’t last very long:

The short-version (again) is that a few days after the operation whilst I was still recovering in the hospital bed, the transplanted kidney decided to burst free of the artery that it had been connected to…

The way that I learned this was about to happen was because the ‘drain’ in my  side (standard procedure after a transplant – they stick it in your side so all kinds of delicious leakage can seep into a bag instead of your insides) suddenly started to pour out a fountain of blood.

I tried getting the attention of one of the nurses (lovely guy called Fred) but he was having none of it and waved his hands to tell me that “I’m dealing with the patients that are really sick.”

A few seconds later I started feeling really sicker and really hotter than I’ve ever felt in my life.

In a panic, I stood up out of the bed but that was it… I felt myself crashing to the floor but everything went black before I hit it (though I heard another nurse scream out my name in slow motion).


Next thing I know it’s a week later and I’ve just woken up from a coma. The kidney has been whipped out, my stomach is still kinda open, and my whole lower body is completely black, shrivelled, and desiccated.

During my week long nap, I’d been rushed into surgery, lost 90% of my blood, had nearly 40 blood transfusions to make up for it,  and generally had a bad time (without realising at least).

To make matters even more exciting, my Mum and my GF had both been waiting by my bedside (one of those moving ICU beds to stop my muscles atrophying) to see if I still had my wits about me when I woke up – they’d been told I’d probably have brain damage and so when I woke up and started spouting gibberish about whatever I’d been dreaming about it probably didn’t help matters very much.

Luckily, I didn’t have (that much lol) brain damage but that was the start of a darker spiral into depression and having to rebuild my life.

This ‘story’ is already way longer than it probably should’ve been but the long and short is that this was a turning point in my life except it just led to me turning life down for a while.

Essentially, I became really isolated. I wasn’t working because I was too weak, my GF went back to Japan because she couldn’t stand that I’d become such a weak version of myself (can’t blame her, tbh), and over the course of a year or so I basically found myself being disconnected from everything: I was either at home or the dialysis unit. That was it.

During this period was when I started to really understand the power of discipline and consistency to drag  me out of a hole. My body – when I came out of the hospital after the transplant – was completely messed up. All of my muscle mass had withered away, I could hardly walk, my breathing was screwed up. It was a nightmare.

Even though I could hardly walk or hold myself up, I decided to try and stick to my yoga routine (a year or so before the transplant I’d gotten into yoga and did Bryan Kest’s Power Yoga Series every day) –   I couldn’t even hold myself in a simple plank, let alone any of the more complicated poses. I told myself that the OUTCOME didn’t matter, though – it was just showing up that mattered at that time (you have to start somewhere).

Despite this, I crawled (literally in some cases, as dramatic as that sounds) onto my yoga mat every day and tried my best to get through the workout. The first few dozen times I just flopped around on the floor but eventually my strength started to come back and I could hold a plank for a few seconds, then a few more, and so on until it kept building (today I’m probably stronger than ever before which is a testament to how amazing our bodies – and MINDS, tbh – are because mine was pretty close to disappearing completely).

That was the start of me beginning to understand how life builds in INCREMENTS and as long as you dedicate yourself to the right process then eventually you’ll get where you need to be. I honestly think if I hadn’t forced myself to push through my edge and get those good habits back then then I wouldn’t be as healthy as I am now (and despite still needing that kidney transplant I can give most people a run for their money – if you don’t believe me, let’s go for a hike).

As the world crumbled around me and my relationship didn’t look like it was coming back I started to find a sense of PURPOSE in working out. I kept doing yoga but when that got easy I ‘graduated’ to P90X (an intense 90 Day workout routine if you haven’t heard of it).

After that got too easy, I tried Insanity (an intense cardio workout) which I legitimately thought was gonna kill me but thought “F it” and tried anyway (with the surprising result of being able to do it and not dying). I can still do these workouts now all these years later and I’m so grateful I found the strength to push myself (at time of writing I’m nearly at the end of a round of P90X2 which is probably my favourite workout series).

Eventually, I decided that I should start building my mind as well. When I’d been recovering from the ‘aftermath’ of the coma, I’d decided I’d go back to university and study philosophy so that’s what I did.  I managed to finish with a 1st (top marks) which helped me to overcome some of the shame of screwing around and screwing up uni the first time round but it also showed me that the education system wasn’t for me and that I could ‘educate’ myself in a more tailored way by reading books and DOING THINGS that I was actually interested in.

That’s when I started reading the greats that I was expecting to read at university: the Stoics, Arthur Schopenhauer (my favourite philosopher), etc.  Then I started to read about business and entrepreneurship, systems thinking, leadership, whatever took my fancy. I started to see the ‘Big Picture’ between things and how things ‘worked’ – more than that, I started to understand how reality works and to get out the ‘Victim’ mindset that had been holding me back because this knowledge increased my AWARENESS and made me want to take more ACTION.

It was around that time that I went to a conference about ‘Patient Leadership’ in London. That’s where I started to realise that a lot of the ideas I was picking up and the experiences I’d had could be turned into something useful that could help others live real lives – no matter what they’d been through – as well as shape the way that systems are designed and form the world around us (in retrospect, this is when I started to wake up as a DESIGNER).

I went to LOADS of meetings and was on all kinds of boards and panels after that but I always felt that something was missing…REALITY.

It seemed that everybody in the NHS had some kind of an agenda: the Docs wanted to keep their positions of power whilst talking about changing the system, a large cohort of patients wanted to create jobs for themselves in the NHS (fair enough but seemed like vultures to me the way they went about it), and somewhere in between were all the middle managers and everybody else that just wanted to keep things the same and do the least amount of work for the most amount of money (which is kinda rational if you think about it).

I didn’t want to just label myself as a ‘patient’ and play the ‘victim’ that went with it (or be wheeled out as a shining example of what a ‘good’ patient might look like) and so I stepped back from it all. It taught me a great deal about the public sector and I got to work on some pretty high-level projects so it was a good learning experience but it wasn’t for me.

Somewhere around this time two really important things in my life started happening: 1) I started to get out into the world and test my ideas about realness by starting a ‘Dialogue Circle’ in Leeds (called the Yorkshire Dialogue Circle) – this was basically an experimental discussion group where the rule was that people could share any opinions they had but in return others could be completely honest with them about those opinions. The main idea was to step back from EGO and attachment to the points of view we create to support it.

This brought together a lot of the facilitation skills I’d picked up in the NHS but it also served as a testing ground for all of the things I’d learned over the years from my journey of letting go of my ‘old’ ideas and building something more REAL.

It was at this time that the second thing happened: 2) I decided that my next book (my novel was completed by this time) would be a book about helping people to work with reality and to grow through their own stuff. I was pretty happy at this time because I’d started to take a more ACTIVE approach to life, stopped being a VICTIM, and was moving towards WHOLENESS (the dialogue circle was an experiment in wholeness as the group as a whole was supposed to be one system).

Another long story short (not that short now – sorry!), was that I wanted to take all of the things I’d learned about myself and finding equanimity and putting them into a framework… That’s when I started writing ‘Personal Revolutions: A Short Course in Realness’ (though originally it was a lot smaller and called ‘The Fulfilment Framework’ because I like alliteration).

There was also a third thing happening here (now I think about it) which is that I started to do my coaching diploma and started learning how to coach properly.  Learning about coaching cemented a lot of the ‘reality’ stuff I was focusing on in the book (in my opinion, coaching is ultimately just about helping people to have a better relationship with reality so they can get better RESULTS).

All of these things came together in a kind of creative synthesis at the same time and showed me that the main issue people were facing that held them back in their lives was an IDENTITY PROBLEM that kept them from REALITY… In other words, they had an unhealthy relationship with themselves that held them back from their real lives (see the rest of this site for more articles about that kind of thing).

By the time I’d finished writing the book I was doing all these things (dialogue, coaching, etc.) but also started to work in the mental health sector for a charity.  I started out on a suicide helpline (which is where I got a certificate in counselling skills) and would spend my days (and evenings) talking to people that were thoroughly depressed (to state the obvious).

The first call I ever answered after I’d finished my training was a woman who literally just screamed and cried down the phone for the duration of the call. I’ll never forget how distressed she was and it really helped put my own life in perspective.

Working those calls and listening to the problems people had and how  they got there really helped me to understand the human condition a little more. I started looking for patterns and it really solidified my thinking that the only real solution is always REALITY (though we often think reality is the problem it’s our interpretations that screw us up).

During the downtime between calls I would write or edit my books, read whatever I wanted, etc. – it was a pretty ‘nice’ job in that sense and I have some good memories of being there in that office (and the conversations with some of my colleagues during quiet periods).

Eventually, I worked my way up in that organisation until I ended up in charge of the Service Design and delivery (with a temporary stint as CEO for a week or something after the previous one quit and they waited to find an interim replacement that wasn’t me).

Overall, I liked working there and I learned a ton about mental health from actually working directly with service users (and helping them escape from mental institutions on one occasion) but the job became too corporate and boring for me as it mutated into a series of spread sheets and pointless meetings that were more about funding than helping people.

Because I’d still been working on my coaching stuff and following the thread that Personal Revolutions had started to unravel I eventually quit to go and work in Italy on a Service Design project. The idea was to combine the ‘realness’ stuff with design research and philosophy (which made sense as Personal Revolutions is basically about design and philosophy applied to human beings).

This was a pretty ‘big’ moment for me and involved making a pretty big decision. The only reason that I’d really ended up stuck in the WAGE CAGE of the job at the charity was because I hadn’t yet built up the courage to take a RISK on myself and dedicate myself to my coaching business (I suppose I still had some work to do when it came to realising that if you TRUST and BELIEVE in yourself then there is NO risk because you’ll figure out a plan for whatever happens).

I took my first trip to Italy in 2018 to give a presentation at the University of Trento and to spend some time with my two business partners (at the time) figuring out the ins-and-outs of the project and how the ‘realness’ ideas in Personal Revolutions could be applied to Service Design.

That first trip was the first time in years that I felt like I was back in the real world instead of just being in ‘survival’ mode. It was a reminder that – even if you do have challenges in life – amazing things can happen if you find a way to put yourself out there and share your ideas with people in a real way.

I came back from Italy, went back to ‘work’ and those horrible spread sheets, and handed in my notice the same day. My last day of working there was my birthday and it was probably one of the best presents I could have ever given myself.

For the next year or so I was going back-and-forth between Italy and the UK, staying there for months at a time (and having dialysis, obviously), and generally having an amazing time working on design philosophy and research, travelling around the mountains (the Dolomites, wow!), and experiencing a side of life that I would never have experienced if I hadn’t taken that gamble on myself.  I’d coach clients remotely and still get them results. It was incredible.

Yeah, Italy is pretty great…

Unfortunately, that project eventually came to an end and I decided to go my own way completely. It was an incredibly valuable experience that woke me up to possibility once again and showed me an amazing side of life – and confirmed that REAL ALWAYS WORKS – but the lesson that kept repeating itself over the years (not that I’d listened) was that no business partner or anybody else was going to take me where I wanted to be. That was something that I had to do myself and – more importantly – I already had enough knowledge (AWARENESS of myself and ACCEPTANCE of reality) about how to do (I just needed to ACT on it).

That was when I had another decision to make: With the Italian project being done and dusted I could either go back to a 9-5 Job working somewhere that I wasn’t really that passionate about and sell my soul for money or I could step up, show up, and start doing the things I actually WANTED to do and knew that I could do well.

The thought of going back to an office, wasting my precious life, and having a boss breathe down my neck and all of the office politics and other BULLSHIT that comes with the wage cage was too much for me to even think about – I started reaching out to businesses in my local area and finding entrepreneurs and creatives to start working with.

I’d already had a lot of management experience and combined with all the marketing and brand stuff in my own work I started to realise that there was a lot of work that could be done with the design ‘stuff’ as well.  Long story short, I started to realise themes in a lot of the problems my clients had that allowed me to come up with a ‘holistic’ approach to brand design that became the Truth Bomb project (short-version: creative performance coaching and design for business).

Despite the focus on the business stuff (which I felt had the best potential for long-term growth as the business grows into more of an agency), I didn’t want to give up the ‘life’ coaching side of things because of all the lessons I’d learned on my own journey and from codifying and breaking things down with Personal Revolutions (it probably sounds arrogant but I must be in the ‘Top 100’ for the list of human beings that have spent hours thinking and writing about reality over the years – that gave me a really solid foundation for working with clients and getting results).

A lot of the time, I also found that – when working with clients – there would be an overlap between the ‘life’ and business stuff. This is simply because when we haven’t done the ‘work’ on ourselves to be real then we’re usually held back from our potential because of self-limiting beliefs, ego stuff, and so on and we don’t get the results we could be getting because of it.

Things started to go really well and the gamble that I took on myself with not getting sucked back into a more ‘traditional’ wage cage job was paying off.

One thing that started to bother me, though, was that I realised that by writing a book like Personal Revolutions I could give the impression that I had everything figured out or that I thought I was ‘perfect’ or whatever (though if you read the book you realise that’s definitely not true and the whole point of it is to listen to YOURSELF first and foremost and to accept that being REAL means being a work in progress).

At around this time, I started using social media way more as a way of marketing my coaching stuff (and books) but I didn’t just want to come across as one of these sleazy, plastic life coaches that have just decided they want to make a quick buck and are more about the marketing than anything else (and who usually sell UNREALITY and wishful thinking to get there).

This is when I decided to write ‘Shadow Life: Freedom from BS in an Unreal World’ – I started writing during lockdown during the height of the pandemic so myself and the world at large were in a state of cynicism anyway. It seemed like a good match.

I wanted to show that even people in the ‘helping professions’ like coaches and so on were still human and had a ‘dark’ side and so I decided to write a book that would allow me to explore some of the darker sides of my own psychological makeup.  It was also a good excuse to revisit some of the themes and ideas in Personal Revolutions but to give an abridged version (because, tbh, Personal Revolutions is way too long for most people and that turns them off even thought can help them which is a shame).

Despite a death threat or two from people that were offended by it,  Shadow Life helped me to get a lot more structural clarity on the ‘mechanics’ of the average human being and the way that we create a relationship with ourselves that can affect the course of our whole lives. It made me better understand myself and also better understand my clients and REALITY because it helped me see the ‘dance’ between the Ego and the Shadow.

There’s always another book on the way but – for the time being – my main focus is on sharing content that will help new clients find me (hence this website and the social media and YouTube stuff I’m doing) and to keep building and refining the process and becoming a better coach.

I’m also constantly looking for new ways to be connected to the ‘wider’ world in general despite being strapped to the dialysis machine in Bradford every week (like interviewing people for podcasts or having ‘virtual coffees’ etc.).

Scafell Pike in the Lake District

Right now, I feel like I can still go a long way if I keep working on the things that I’m working on and doing the things I’m doing, but, overall, my life is pretty amazing and I feel really lucky to be able to do the things I do.  When I look back at all of the obstacles and failures that I experienced along the way and then wake up every morning and get to do something I love then I really just feel blessed.

There was a time after the transplant where I thought that I’d never live to the age that I am now (just turned 40 at time of writing this). I didn’t really make any long-term plans for myself or stick too rigidly to a concrete vision – instead I’d just tell myself things like “Well…I’ll just write this novel and then I can die” (lol in retrospect), and then when I kept living I’d replace “novel” with the next thing and then the next thing.

Now I see myself as being limited edition just like the rest of us, but with a constant awareness of how precious and fragile life is and a commitment to myself to make the most of it.  I’ve learned so much about life and what it means to truly live it by being pushed to the EDGE of it so many times and I feel privileged to have been able to refine and VALIDATE that knowledge in both my career and personal life.

I’ve seen how this journey that we’re ALL on can ask us to destroy and rebuild ourselves time-and-time again and – if you’re not aware of the VALUE of REALITY – that we can miss out on a lot of amazing and beautiful experiences if we try and stop this process from unfolding.

These days I’m full of energy, constantly building momentum, and living a life I want despite nearly giving it up all those years ago.

It’s all because I learned to RIDE those reality waves instead of going against them and if you want me to help you learn to help yourself too then get in touch.

Thanks for reading this long ass story,

Sign-up for my mailing list if you want to stay in touch (you’ll get access to the 7-Day Personality Transplant for uncovering your life purpose):

I shared some of my story on the Mandala Effect Podcast with Roseanna Croft:

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