Startup Survival Podcast

Episode 3.4 - Understanding Anxiety

February 22, 2022 Peter Harrington Season 3 Episode 4
Startup Survival Podcast
Episode 3.4 - Understanding Anxiety
Show Notes Transcript

This episode's special guest, Richard Hughes Jones, has suffered from anxiety for as long as he can remember.

Richard (41) spent several years working in the private and public sector before going it alone and starting his own coaching and consultancy company in 2013.  Like so many entrepreneurs Richard wasn't fully prepared for the angst of the start-up years; but nothing prepared him for the news he received on Friday 13th February 2015.

Listen to this podcast to find out how Richard has battled with and against anxiety to win through in business and his personal life.

Frank and very honest, Richard talks openly about his own experience of managing through stressful, uncertain and dark times. He also shares key lessons from experience and through coaching clients.

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A bit of podcast author background...

UK-based Peter Harrington set up his first business following graduation in York in 1989. He has since started and grown several companies in various sectors including research, marketing, design, print, educational software and consultancy. Over the last 30+ years, Peter has employed over 1,000 people and experienced many highs and a few lows including burglaries, floods, fire and of course the most recent pandemic.

As well as being the CEO with the SimVenture team, Peter is also an Entrepreneur in Residence at London South Bank University.

Big thanks to LSE Generate, the SimVenture Team and Seajam Moths for supporting the Startup Survival Podcast.

Find Guest details and all Reference Sources

The full podcast series together with additional materials, guest details and hyperlinks to all episode reference sources is available on Peter Harrington's Blog 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to Entrepreneurship'

Startup Survival Podcast

Series 3 – Episode 4 - Transcript

Speaker 1 (00:12):

Goodness me. Well, here we are again. Delighted you can join the show. Welcome to the Startup Survival Podcast with me, your host, Peter Harrington in this gripping and fascinating episode, I'm going to be spending time with the courageous Richard Hughes Jones and Richard is going to be sharing honest and Frank thoughts about and experience with anxiety. Trust me, if like Richard, you struggle with anxiety or the startup world makes you feel anxious, or perhaps you work with entrepreneurs who suffer, this episode is for you. But before we meet Richard, did you catch Steve Gwenin in episode three? Did you hear his stories and explanation as to how we develop our self-belief? There is so much about Steve and his worldly adventures that remind me of the person I once dreamt about becoming, but I reckon I just didn't have enough self-belief but as Steve said, to find our own way in life, we must take action. Even though the future is always uncertain, and mistakes are inevitable. It's true for all of us and especially entrepreneurs and by coincidence, but quite fortunately, whilst making breakfast last Saturday morning, Alexa chose Gerry Rafferty, who sang the wonderful and apt “Get it Right Next Time, a song containing the epic verse: “You've gotta grow. You've gotta learn by your mistakes. You've gotta die little every day, just to try to stay awake. When you believe there's no mountain, you can climb and if you get it wrong, you'll get it right next time.” It's all about taking action, focused, hard work and learning from error. Only the fans of fantasy should dream of the fast lanes to startup success. But then startups often fail to act because of the degree of uncertainty and worry associated with necessary decisions and when ignored or not managed these feelings lead to anxiety. The subject of this episode.

Speaker 1 (02:23):

In just a moment, Richard Hughes Jones will be joining me, but before I introduce him, I want to let you in on a book I've been reading to help me prepare for this episode. Unwinding Anxiety by Judson Brewer is a powerful read as it not only explains the subject and the workings of key areas of our mind, but it also sheds clear light as to how we can combat anxiety throughout this podcast. I'll be referring to Dr. Brewer's work and to give you a sense of what's to come his excellent text explains how and why anxiety is a compulsive habitual behaviour. And the fact that when we are unnerved, our ability to think in a rational manner can reduce to zero to handle anxiety. We have to learn how to rewire our brains so that when stress inducing events happen, we are able to change our normal behaviour.

Speaker 1 (03:19):

Dr. Brewer regularly references the value of being conscious of our thinking, the dangers of living on autopilot and the importance of practicing mindfulness. He says people who are curious, people who have a growth mindset are best equipped to have anxiety, which is a nice cue for this episode, because I'm curious to learn about this show's guest and how he handles anxiety. Richard Hughes Jones is an executive coach who helps entrepreneurial leaders navigate business and personal growth in a complex world since setting up his own business in 2013, Richard has had way more than his fair share of stress and worry. And I will be asking him about those issues for the record. Richard and I met in person for this interview in central London. And I should point out a hospital is close by. So, you'll hear the occasional ambulance siren as those vehicles approach, but, but thankfully not for us. Richard let's crack on. And let me start by saying, I'm delighted to welcome you to the Startup Survival Podcast.

Speaker 2 (04:31):

Peter, thank you for having me and in real life as well. It's been a long time. Good to be here.


Speaker 1 (04:40):

Yes, you are. Absolutely right. Richard. Good to be here in person. Now, now to kick us off, would you like to share a bit about your background and how you got into starting and running your own business?

Speaker 2 (04:53):

Sure. the quick version management consultant for about a decade including some time in central government, for various life related reasons that will come onto decided around 2013 that the corporate world wasn't for me anymore, that I wanted to go off and do my own thing. And that took me down the path of working with entrepreneurs, working with startups as a coach, as an executive coach and in leadership.

Speaker 1 (05:36):

So, you went from the safety of a public sector job to the uncertainty and insecurity of running your own business. Can, can you share how that felt and how things stood when you made the jump so to speak?

Speaker 2 (05:50):

Yeah, sure. And it's interesting because I think if you'd have asked me up until 2011, 2012, I'd have told you that there's no way I would've ever left the corporate world and the safety net of a job that monthly, the monthly salary, you know, that paycheck going in at the end of the month. I can't imagine having given that up I actually went off and did a ski season when I finished my central government role and just kind of saw, you know, saw a new way of life, saw a different way of living. And, and I think that, you know, that gave me the idea of setting up my own business. So, I had more agency to do the, to do the things that I wanted to do when I wanted to do them. But yeah, that idea, the idea percolated for about 18 months and just realized that I was something I needed to go off and do.

Speaker 1 (06:56):

And how were things financially for you when deciding to go it alone?

Speaker 2 (07:01):

So it was, it was an interesting one. I actually, I, the catalyst for resigning from the corporate job was actually an insurance pay out of 14,000 pounds. I got knocked off my bike when I was cycling to my old job and broke my leg, entirely the bus driver's fault, took a while for the claim to go through, but I received the princely sum of 14,000 pounds. I'd managed to you. I had, I had, I had a good job, but it was still, you know, living in London and all the rest of it. So, I managed to save up an additional six to eight. I had a pot of about 20,000 pounds.

Speaker 1 (07:48):

So Richard, you have about 20,000 pounds. Can you tell us a bit more about your plans for the business back then?

Speaker 2 (07:56):

So, I start, yeah, I started, no need to get into the details. It started more as a consulting business, it moved into executive coaching. It's a services business, it's a services business. I was, you know, fortunate in that I didn't have huge setup costs laptop and a phone. And I was good to go. I obviously had my cost of living. The main thing for me, you know, I figured with the money I had, I had runway of about a year, a bit longer if I perhaps did a bit of other work on the side. And whilst I might have been eating beans on toast, I'd, you know, I'd, I'd, I'd, I'd been through, I'd done the numbers. I knew what my, my mortgage was. I knew what my bills were. I knew what I needed. And I figured that that gave me enough to give it, give it a, you know, a year, 18 months, it's enough time to give it a, a good shot.

Speaker 1 (08:52):

And, and the startups and entrepreneurs often say nothing really prepares you for the reality, the, the uncertainty, the insecurity of starting and running your own business. Do you think you were prepared?

Speaker 2 (09:06):

In hindsight?  No, no. I think the jumping off, the jumping off the cliff analogy and building your parachute or your plane on the way down is absolutely the right one. No, I wasn't prepared. I, I probably thought I was prepared. One realizes you can write all the business plans in the world, but everyone has a plan until they get smacked in the face. As Mike Tyson once said,

Speaker 1 (09:42):

I must admit Richard, if I was told, right, go and meet Mike Tyson in the ring. I think I'd be a little anxious. Now, anxiety is your chosen subject, and I'm sure there are many entrepreneurs and startups whose professional situation is cause for worry and concern. So why have you chosen to speak to me about anxiety?

Speaker 2 (10:05):

Anxiety has always been part of me. It's, it's always played a role in my life for as, as far back as I can remember, even, you know, even when I was a, a little kid and getting told off and things like that, I remember that that sense of anxiety that anyone who suffers from it will, you know, we'll, we'll recognize it, I took it with me through school, university, but certainly into the corporate world. And I'm sure the, the imposter syndrome concept and the anxiety that comes with that, which you know, that, that feeling, that you're not good enough that those around you are better and sort of battling through that is just always been there and it's there in other, you know, it's there in other personal elements of my life as well.

Speaker 1 (11:03):

And is anxiety is subject. You've also studied Richard to help with your, your client coaching and work.

Speaker 2 (11:09):

It is. I mean, it's something that I've studied in a, a lot in a personal capacity, a huge amount. I’m not a psychologist, I'm not a neurologist but I’ve got good working understanding of it and happy to you know, share, will share thoughts on that. Yeah, it's just something that's always been there. It's something that I, the way my brain works, getting a better understanding of it helps me manage it.

Speaker 1 (11:45):

And would you say that learning how and why you become anxious is a, is a coping mechanism.


Speaker 2 (11:52):

Yes. If I can understand what's going on for me, and why it's going on, that I wanna say, that takes the anxiety away. It doesn't in its entirety. It helps me a little bit, but when I'm really gripped by it, this is a podcast about emotions, you know, and when you're gripped by anxiety, rational, thinking goes out the window.

Speaker 1 (12:22):

Richard, I want to move on to how anxiety has affected you so you can share your experience and thoughts with listeners. But before we go there, can you define what you believe anxiety to be?

Speaker 2 (12:37):

It's a fear of the future. It's not fear itself. Fear itself is an emotion, but that's linked more to the, you know, the present. If I pull a knife on you, now you are going to be fearful and you're going to respond to that threat in specific ways. What's actually going on in your body when you're anxious is, is, is very, very similar, but it's just that rather than it being fear of the present and what's in front of you, it's that, or immediately in front of you, it's that fear of what might be to come. So, it's that slightly longer term anxiety of what may or may not materialize.

Speaker 1 (13:28):

Interestingly, you heard Richard mention one of the points, Judson Brewer highlights in Unwinding Anxiety, the accompanying text for this episode, when we become anxious, our rational brain, which helps us to plan reason and predict shuts down. So why is this? Well, Judson says our rational brain switches off because our thinking defaults to our primitive survival brain, which evolve to protect us from danger. Unfortunately, our survival brain only has three default modes, fight, flight, and freeze, and therefore is ill-equipped to handle complex thinking. A key message is the fact that when given free reign anxiety is controlled by our survival brains. Now I'll, I'll come back to Dr. Brewer. Again, later, you can also listen to Martin Summerfield, talking more depth about fight flight and freeze in episode two in series one. But for now, let, let's get back to Richard. Richard. I know startups out there are keen to hear how the first year in business feels. So, you've left the safety of the public sector. You have some money in the bank, but you know, you suffer from anxiety. What was that that first year? Like?

Speaker 2 (14:46):

So certainly, the first few months, I think there was, you know, the opposite of anxiety, optimism, you know, optimism. And then I think reality starts kicking in, and you start to realize how tough this is and how tough it is going to be.

Speaker 1 (15:08):

And can, how reality presents itself.

Speaker 2 (15:12):

Lack of money in your bank account. 

Speaker 1 (15:15):

Okay. Lack of money. So, what was going on in your business life and what are the triggers for anxiety?

Speaker 2 (15:22):

I mean, I, I can think specifically for me, there was one around actually selling work, you know, putting myself out there. It's interesting. When you come from that corporate environment where actually the work comes to you once you are on your own, if you don't do anything, nothing happens. So, you have to put yourself out there. You have to be clear what your proposition, your value proposition is. You have to articulate that, and then you have to, you have to go out there and sell it. The world is not waiting for you to come to them. The world doesn't know who you are, and frankly, it doesn't care who you are. I think that was a big step for me, moving away from the, the more established organizations that I I'd worked for suddenly, I was actually a nobody.

Speaker 1 (16:25):

Richard, how did you react to the realization you had to get out there? And it wasn't going to be easy.

Speaker 2 (16:34):

I think that's where the anxiety kicks in. And for me, that's where you tend to free or that's where you freeze up. And that's a function of the anxiety.

Speaker 1 (16:46):

And how did freezing up actually play out and influence actual behaviour?

Speaker 2 (16:54):

I mean, panic attacks, not getting out bed, getting outta bed, going back to bed not being able to sleep, just a, you know, a general really horrible feeling of doom and that all this is gonna end very badly. It's it? You know, they call it catastrophizing and that's exactly what it is. It's, it's only being able to see and imagine the worst possible outcome.

Speaker 1 (17:26):

And Richard, what did catastrophe look like in your mind when you sensed failure?

Speaker 2 (17:33):

I mean, it was, it was, it was basically this isn't, this isn't gonna work. I'm gonna look like a failure and I'm gonna look Stupid you know, that's gonna make me look stupid. I'm not gonna be able to pay my mortgage. My house is gonna get Reposessed and very quickly, it just snowballs into this horrible story. You're telling yourself about how the world, or certainly your world is, is going to end.

Speaker 1 (18:02):

It sounds truly awful, Richard, but obviously you made it through, out of interest whilst I'm not expecting you to say you resolved your anxiety problem. Did you discover coping mechanisms and ways to front up to your anxiety?

Speaker 2 (18:17):

Yeah. And I think that's an important point because I'm, I'm not convinced personally you can solve it. I know there's, I know there's plenty out there to say that that sort of suggests that you can, I don't think you can. I think it's something you, you, you develop a relationship with it and you, and it's a changing relationship. So, in terms of how I dealt with it continues to deal with it, understanding it more that's that works for me. I don't think that works for everyone, but it works for me. I think leaning into it, I'm here talking about it. Entrepreneurship is tough and the culture is changing and I think that's great as in people are talking about it more, but it's still, it's still not, you know, it's still a bit taboo, certainly, thankfully in the startup and entrepreneurial space, it's far more acknowledged and that's great. So, I think, you know, talking about it leaning into it, you know, there's a, there's a wonderful quote from someone called Graham Duncan. He's an investor in New York. He says our genius, or our genius is the other side of our dysfunction is function. So, I've come to embrace it as being part of me. And it makes me who I am. And it's not something that I'd have to fi I don't wanna get rid of it in many ways, because from a, I think from a creative perspective you know, I idea generation and all the rest of it, it it's a wonderful thing. Now, I wouldn't say that to you when I'm in the depths of a, of anxiety, despair, but it's part of me.

Speaker 1 (20:15):

Richard. I really appreciate your candid thoughts on this subject, moving on if that's okay. The twins of rejection and resilience are common subjects in the startup world and have featured regularly on this podcast, looking back, how have you dealt with rejection and being resilient in the face of adversity?

Speaker 2 (20:36):

Yeah, it's an interesting one. One can deal with rejection badly, but also be resilient. It's how you deal with that rejection, which I think is your point. I think at the time when really grappling with that anxiety, you probably feel like you are not being very resilient. Very easy to think that at the time, but actually, so I think to answer your question, how did I deal with it at the point in time, often badly, but it's interesting cuz my anxiety actually drove me forward and continued to drive me forward.

Speaker 1 (21:09):

Ah, interesting. So how has anxiety worked for you in a positive way?

Speaker 2 (21:15):

I've sent some of my best, most forward business development, sales type emails when I've been the depth in the depths of anxious, despair, you know, the, the, the sort of, or you know, or people or phone calls I've made or connections I've made on LinkedIn or Twitter and that sort of thing. I think the things that you have held back doing for fear of rejection for, because of your imposter syndrome, because people might think who the hell's this person, you know, why are they emailing me actually, when I'm really anxious, that's the time when it, it makes me act, it forces me to act, cuz I feel like I've got nothing to lose. And you know, you look back on some of the pieces of work that have come from those actions, and you think, I dunno, how, why the hell were you anxious at that point in time? It's so ironic.

Speaker 1 (22:24):

Okay. Richard as a business owner, have you worked out whether there are specific events or situations that make you anxious?

Speaker 2 (22:34):

Ooh, I feel like there's two answers to that question. I feel like there's, there's, there's the specific things which are probably money. I mean, that's probably the, the top one. We all need money. We all have bills to pay. That's the primary PRI primary driver of anxiety. I think below that there's other things like reputation or, you know, what do people think of me? Comparison. I think that's a, that can be a killer for entrepreneurs. Certainly, I see that in the, in the job I do and the conversations I have, you know, comparing ourselves with others, we always pick out the, the person that's being successful or at least giving the potentially the illusion of being successful. So those, so yeah. Money, comparison, fear of rejection. I'm sure there's a few more.

Speaker 1 (23:33):

Richard before we move on to a very challenging and difficult part of your life. Can I ask how frequently issues that have made you anxious about your business? You know, how, how often have they become reality?

Speaker 2 (23:47):

Almost all, all of the things you are worried about. Don't materialize some of, some of them do some of them do. I can think of a training course that I delivered, that I was anxious about. That it wouldn't go well, and it didn't actually go that well. But I learned a lot. I learned a lot from it, changed it around. So, you know, it's, it's not all, it's not everything we worry about. Doesn't come true. What worries? I just make a point on that cuz you know, worrying and being anxious, it, it's not an entirely negative emotion. It, it keeps, there's a reason human beings worry. It's kept us alive for hundreds of thousands of years.

Speaker 1 (24:37):

And it's kept your business alive. Yeah.

Speaker 2 (24:39):

And that's the paradox of anxiety for me is that whilst it's the most horrible, horrible feeling at the time, it is what has driven me forward to create, to, to create success.

Speaker 1 (24:58):

Back to Richard in a moment. But another salient point Judson Brewer makes in his book, unwinding anxiety is the fact that worry and anxiety are addictive. We worry to escape the anxiety. And we are often seduced because we believe wrongly that worrying helps us work towards a solution. That's why people talk about being kept awake by worry because they are constantly turning things over in their mind. Unchecked. It's easy for this process to become a compulsive habit. Fortunately, Judson does have solutions and are becoming back to these later, but we've reached a critical point in this episode where Richard talks about news. He was given that none of us ever wants to hear.

Speaker 2 (25:48):

Friday, the 13th of February was I think 2015, I was diagnosed with stage three rectal cancer.

Speaker 1 (26:02):

And what did that, what does that mean?

Speaker 2 (26:06):

That means that you are really, well, you're in the zone of things could really go against you. Hopefully you're gonna be okay, but you need a bit of luck and a following wind.


Speaker 1 (26:30):

And what was your prognosis?

Speaker 2 (26:33):

The first doctor gave one in 10 chance of dying. Not entirely sure where that statistic came up from to honest, but yeah, it was, it was, it, it depends how you frame this. You know, in on the optimistic side there was a lot of reason to be hopeful on the anxious side, there was a lot of things to be fearful of and worried about. But it was certainly, it was certainly, it was certainly in that zone and, and 34 years of age, which is what I was then. And as someone who suffered from anxiety, I mean, I can remember those moments. I can remember that first week waiting for the results from the MRI scan. And that was just a, you know, a rolling panic attack for that whole week. I mean, I just dosed myself up, the GP dosed me up on Valium. That, that was, you know, that was probably the worst anxiety I've ever experienced. Totally debilitating.

Speaker 1 (27:39):

Okay. And for people listening, can you share the details of the situation?

Speaker 2 (27:44):

Yeah. And, and just, you know, a bit more context, sorry, stage three it's a locally advanced tumour. So, it was a four-centimetre tumour. It was stage three, means it's, it's, there's the potential that it could spread around the body. I didn't know that during that first week, I just knew that I had a tumour because the surgeon had seen it. I'd actually seen it on the screen when they were, when they were doing the investigation. But I didn't know that at that point. So, all I knew at that point is Richard, you've got, you've got cancer. So that, that first week whilst you are waiting to even get the appointment for the MRI scan, let alone the results from it is, is all you know, is you've got cancer and you, and you dunno anything about cancer. Cause why would you, you're 34 years of age

Speaker 1 (28:43):

How Richard, I can't imagine how you felt, but obviously you've just been thrown into a whole new uncertain and very threatening world. So, what happened next?

Speaker 2 (28:55):

There's ups and downs through the story. So, without going to the detail, but my, my treatment took me about two, two and half years. I would say the first year to 18 months of that was pronounced anxiety. The first week or two was the absolute worst. Got the MRI results. We knew where we were at. We knew it was stage three. We knew what the treatment path was going to be. I then had radiotherapy for a month, then waited for 12 weeks. There was a lot of anxiety during that period.

Speaker 1 (29:42):

And can I ask what was happening to the business whilst all of this was going on?

Speaker 2 (29:47):

I did bits. Yeah. It, it was an up and down journey. So, there were times when you actually felt really quite good once the radiotherapy started doing its thing, it was, it was very strange cuz actually all the symptoms went, but it didn't mean the tumour had gone, but I felt good. So yeah, I, I was, I had some, you know, I'd started to build a network. I'd started to get some good clients and I was able to keep those alive. Then I went and then I had to have an operation and that's when that could, you know, yeah. That's, there was a lot of anxiety around that. It turned in up being a six-and-a-half-hour operation instead of a four-hour operation. There were some complications with whether they'd got the margin on the tumour. It, it, it all got very headstrong. I had some some of this is coming back. As I, as I think about it, there was a, there was a big question around the first operation. They hadn't technically got the margin needed on the tumor and there was a concern that there was still cancer in my body and that I would need another operation, but actually the oncologist and the surgeon disagreed. So, there was ambiguity around whether I needed another operation or not. And that decision fell to me on whether to have that operation I chose not to, but there was a huge amount of anxiety and uncertainty and ambiguity around, around all that. It was, really quite a mentally bizarre period.

Speaker 1 (31:31):

Okay. Richard, you talk about the people who worked on your body throughout this time. Did you seek any counselling or therapy?

Speaker 2 (31:39):

I didn't get therapy or, or counselling. The reason I didn't is because so much of it is set up for older people. You know, it's just not common. There are more charities out there and organizations to support younger people, but that's one of the main reasons I didn't do it. I did look into it and like, you know, people around me were pushing me towards it, but I didn't, I didn't actually did do it at that point in life. I worked with a therapist since, and it's been incredibly valuable, but at that point in time, no I didn't.

Speaker 1 (32:16):

Richard, thank you for being so open about your situation, moving things back to your business for a moment and your relationship with anxiety. Can I ask whether you shared your diagnosis with clients and if you did, whether this helped?

Speaker 2 (32:31):

Yeah, no, I was, I was open with people honest, I think it, I think it had, I think having an illness like that profoundly changes who you are and how you, you, how you navigate life and present yourself to the world from a, from a coaching perspective, it massively increased, I think. And I hope my, sort of the empathy that I bring to working with clients and, you know, in this, in this entrepreneurial context.

Speaker 1 (33:07):

Okay. How people react to your news.

Speaker 2 (33:11):

It was incredible. Yeah. Really supportive and you know, and clients were really, really supportive, and willing to help to, to work with it as well. I think could tell that wanted to, to keep working.

Speaker 1 (33:27):

So, by being with people about your situation, how did it help you and your, your business?


Speaker 2 (33:34):

It's fascinating, how much more open people are with you when you are open with them? Something funny happens when you've got cancer and you tell people that slightly jokingly, it's amazing how much people start telling you prob probably a reflection of how emotional we all are and the fact that actually, we, we just want someone to talk to about these things. So, I, I say that slightly flippantly, but it, but it was, it was definitely something I observed.

Speaker 1 (34:05):

Ah-Huh. And, and did you find client relationships strengthened as a result of being open?

Speaker 2 (34:09):

Yeah. I think people, people trust you more when you're being open with them because they know you're being honest and authentic and not trying to hide stuff. And, you know, especially in its entrepreneurial space, there's so much hustle. There's so much, so much of it is about giving the, you know, the, the illusion of everything's going great and we're killing it and all the rest of it. And that's not, you know, that's not reality. That's not entrepreneurship. There's, it's, it's way too easy to just focus on all the, on all the successes, but behind the scenes, there's, there's a whole lot of work going on. There's a whole lot of emotions, a whole lot of emotions. And I think when you are with people about yours, they'll be with you about theirs.

Speaker 1 (34:59):

Looking back, did the openness help you in any way with your anxiety at work.

Speaker 2 (35:07):

Yes, definitely. And I think, or at least I hope it's made me a better coach for it. I'm very fortunate doing, or, you know, it's very humbling doing the job I do because of the things that people will and do share with you. You know, and that's the essence of a coaching combination conversation. It's a, it's a connected conversation, but it's a, it's a safe space for people to talk openly and honestly about what's going on for them in, in a way that is very unlikely that they will do so with other people around them. And, and, and that the, the humbling part is first just that people are, are, are happy to, to have that conversation, to talk to you about those things. But in terms of you asked the question about managing my own anxiety, you know, I'm, again, I'm very lucky. I'm very fortunate to hear over the course of, you know, several conversations today, sometimes about the things that are going on for other people and the, the, you know, the emotional hardship and challenges that they're going through. And in that sense, it helps me manage my own, manage my own anxieties.

Speaker 1 (36:28):

For one last time, let's go back to Judson Brewer and share what he says about dealing with anxiety in his book, Dr. Brewer talks about habit loops and the importance of mapping our habitual behaviour. An example of a habit loop may be drinking too much when we become anxious to tackle destructive habit loops, Jud some highlights research that says our brains work in a default autopilot mode for almost 50% of the time. As a result, we lose awareness of thought processes, making it difficult, if not impossible to interrupt destructive habit loops. The answer he says is to spend less time on autopilot mode and more time in control and paying attention to our conscious thoughts, becoming mindful of what we are doing is one way to do this. And another is simply to become more curious about the world around us. I could say more but must get back to Richard. And to be honest, a good book should be a friend for life, not just a podcast. So, Richard, you came through you beat cancer. What did you do and how did you feel at this point in your life?

Speaker 2 (37:47):

I actually went to see a therapist after that and they, they, they told me that I had a known it's a condition, but it's called posttraumatic growth. And it's effectively the opposite of posttraumatic stress. When, you know, you, you go into this period of, well, this is the opposite of anxiety. Doesn't last forever. Unfortunately.

Speaker 1 (38:14):

In essence, you are on a massive high.

Speaker 2 (38:17):

You're on a high. Yeah. I mean, it's the opposite of anxiety in that sense. You, you know, you're seeing the absolute best in everything you're making the most of every opportunity. It's, you know, it's optimism, personified.

Speaker 1 (38:30):

And is this all to do with dopamine and brain chemical releases?

Speaker 2 (38:34):

Yeah. Do you know what, I dunno, the full, the full science behind it, but yeah, you're certainly shifting from that, you know, in, from adrenaline and cortisol on the one hand to dopamine and serotonin on the, on the other hand.

Speaker 1 (38:50):

Okay. And for context, when did you hear you had all clear,

Speaker 2 (38:56):

So, we're about 2017, 2018. You never actually get the all clear, that's a slight misnomer because there's no way of, you cannot do a test to tell someone whether they have cancer in their system or not. So, there's the, so this is why the, you know, the anxiety it's, it's a kind of gradual uptick in, I think I'm getting to a better place.

Speaker 1 (39:23):

Richard you've kindly shared your story from leaving the safety of the public sector, starting out and sustaining a new business. And of course, having to deal with cancer, you've carried the bags of anxiety throughout this journey. And I sense they may be a little lighter now compared to back in 2013, thinking through startup life, what have you learned about anxiety and, and what would you like to share?

Speaker 2 (39:52):

I've learned that it's probably never going to go away because I think there's a genetic component to it. It's a spectrum I've learned that whilst it would be, or it would, it sounds ridiculous to say I'm glad I've had cancer. Cause who would say that I did have it. I navigated it. I'm still here. It's changed me as a person in some incredible and kind of glorious ways. So, in that sense, I should be grateful for it. Has it got rid of my anxiety? No. I still suffer from anxiety. Think it comes back to some of the things we were talking about earlier in terms of how you, how you, how you embrace it, how you lean into it. Almost impossible to do at the time,

Speaker 1 (41:05):

Apologies Richard, but in business, is it still the issue of money that makes you anxious?

Speaker 2 (41:11):

Things have changed because the, because I, you know, I, I I've navigated the, the I've navigated those early days. The, the businesses, I, I have a great business. The business is doing well. it's growing at a, at a, at a lovely, at a lovely pace.

Speaker 1 (41:29):

So the business is successful, but do you notice it making you anxious in any way?

Speaker 2 (41:35):

Not so much makes me anxious about the business now,

Speaker 1 (41:39):


Speaker 2 (41:39):

Because I've been through that process, I've navigated that part of the journey. I think those, those early days of setting a business up are, they're just tough and yeah, sure. There's people out there who are not of an anxious disposition and it, from, from that perspective, it's probably not as tough for them. They've probably got other things that hold them back. And I, and I say that in a professional capacity, because people tell me about the other things that hold them back personally yeah, the, the, the business is doing well. It's great. I love my job. I, I have a fantastic business. So the anxious parts of my personality is still there. They tend to relate more to my personal life.

Speaker 1 (42:30):

And moving on my final questions. Now, Richard, if you had a room full of people seeking to start in business, but anxious about the process and the unknown, what would be your main message,

Speaker 2 (42:43):

Main messages to talk to people about it? I would see a therapist. I would work with a coach. That's not a plug. You know, the simple act of talking helps.

Speaker 1 (43:00):

And who would you say are the best people to talk to?

Speaker 2 (43:04):

Objective outsiders meant, or men or mentor, you know, and mentors not family, friends, those close to you. They, they, it's not that that's unhelpful. It's that they're there to be supportive. Thinking about this through the lens of helping you build your business. I think objective outsiders who don't have the emotional attachment, let's not say they're unemotional, but they don't have the emotional attachment to you as a, as a loved one or a close friend is actually more constructive in terms of helping you build the business.

Speaker 1 (43:47):

And do you have any final advice for listeners.

Speaker 2 (43:52):

In an entrepreneurial context, recognize that be anxiety or other strong emotions are inevitable. Let’s be realistic. The, the chances of entrepreneurial success are stacked against you. It's not supposed to be easy, if it was easy, everyone would do it. I think going into these things with the realistically on the basis that this is going to be tough, there are going to be big hurdles, and that it is it's, it's it, that it is a journey that you might not end up with a successful business at the end of it, but you will learn a heck of a lot along the way that will give you all sorts of transferable skills and, and lessons in life that will help you. You can tell I'm not anxious today. You know, it is that it, it is that optimistic framing.

Speaker 1 (44:56):

Lessons in life. Well, that leads me perfectly onto my very last question, Richard, as you know, I always ask guests whether they have a, a resource or book or top tip to share or recommend, do you have anything for us?

Speaker 2 (45:13):

Am I allowed to do too? If I make them quick.

Speaker 1 (45:16):

For you, Richard, anything.

Speaker 2 (45:18):

You talked about in the last podcast, the end of history, illusion is something that fascinates me. So, we we're rooted in the present. And we, we find it very difficult to conceptualize how we might change in the future. We, we can look at the past and see how we've changed, but we think we'll remain fixed into the future. I bring it up here because you will change on this entrepreneurial journey in ways that you cannot imagine right here and now, but you will change for the better. That's the first one, the second book, I loved a bit of a deep read. It's by someone called a neurologist called Antonio Damacio it's called Descartes Error. And in closing, I think picks up on a couple of really important points that we, that we've covered today. One anxiety is not, it's not a bad emotion, no emotions are bad. They're only bad when they become debilitating emotions are there for a reason, we should pay attention to them. We should not try and cut them out. And that's what the Descartes Error book is about. This notion that I think therefore I am, which was Descartes, his famous quote, this idea that we are entirely rational actors. We're not we're human beings. We are, we are bags of chemicals. We are, you know, which manifest as emotions. We are not anywhere near as rational as we think we are.



Speaker 1 (46:58):

Well, I would like to think the original decision to invite you onto the Startup Survival Podcast was a sound rational one, but that rational thinking is all but forgotten as it has been replaced with a permanent and joyful memory. Richard, thank you for inviting us in and allowing us to listen to your relationship with anxiety. It's been a real pleasure to chat with you.

Speaker 2 (47:25):

Peter's been my absolute pleasure. Thank you.

Speaker 1 (47:32):

What a delight to be able to talk with Richard and tune into his entrepreneurial story. And of course, his experience with anxiety, hopefully his shared insight will help to inform and develop your understanding of the subject. Of course, if you think you have valuable insight to share on a specific emotion and you are listening to this podcast in the early months of 2022, then you may be just the person we are looking for to feature on this show. We have one guest slot left in series three, and to find out more about being a guest, simply visit guest. In the next episode, I'm going to be joined by upbeat entrepreneur, Elena Hoge, Elena has a startup tech business, and she will be sharing her thoughts on the subject of entrepreneurial happiness, born in Germany, and now living in Edinburgh, I've discovered Elena has every right to be positive and optimistic.

Speaker 1 (48:40):

And if you want to hear how and why you can weave real happiness into your startup life tune into episode five, which will be published on Thursday, the 10th of March. So, all of this just leaves me to bring this fourth episode to a close. Thank you, Duncan, thank you Cilla. Your invaluable production and editorial support is so much appreciated. And of course, thank you to our special guest Richard Hughes Jones for sharing your story and allowing us into your world and your relationship with anxiety. And before we close, always remember your podcast. Feedback is not just welcomed. It's needed, share what you really like and let me know what needs to be improved and whatever your listening channel of preference. Don't forget to rate, review and scribe until next time. My name's Peter Harrington, and this has been your Simventure sponsored Startup Survival Podcast go well, stay safe. And thank you.