Jem Fuller led a colorful, nomadic life for much of his 20s and 30s until it was time to grow up, settle down, and get a job so he could take care of his family. But the longer he was in corporate life and the higher he climbed on the ladder, the further he moved away from his core values, which led him to a pretty classic midlife crisis. The midlife crisis, however, led him to uncover some long-held subconscious beliefs that were holding him back. This is the story of how he got there, got through it and built the life that suits him perfectly.
Jem Fuller has lived a colourful, global life. From barefoot backpacker to corporate leader, fire-dancer and traditional tattooist, a kindergarten teacher to motorcycle courier, masseuse and reflexology to labourer and travel consultant. Now his time is as a leadership coach and international retreat leader, dedicated partner and father. He is the author of the award-winning book, The Art of Conscious Communication for Thoughtful Men, and can be seen delivering his TEDx talk on YouTube.
Turning 40 and Brainwashing Yourself into Positive Thinking
Jem Fuller says he had a pretty standard upbringing in a middle-class suburb in Melbourne Australia. In his last year of high school, his closest friend died, which shook Jem. When he finished high school, he wanted to get as far away from everything he knew as possible. He fell in love with travel and felt called to travel to far and wild places and to get off the beaten track. He spent his 20s and early 30s either traveling to strange and wonderful places or working somewhere to earn enough money to keep traveling.
When he fell in love with his wife, he told her he wasn’t done traveling. They ended up having a two and a half year working honeymoon before they moved back to Australia, settled down, had kids and tried to find a way to support a family. He was in his early 30s and he had no career, no qualifications other than traveling the world “bumming around.”
Because of all his travel experience, he got a job with a travel company and learned how to be a travel consultant. He put on a suit and tie every day, despite having always been much more alternative (even anti establishment at some points). But he took to it and spent the next 8 years climbing the corporate ladder and ending up in a senior leadership position at the company.
As he was driven to chase the revenue growth that all corporate leaders face, he found himself pushed further and further away from his core values and becoming increasingly unhappy. From an Instagram feed level, everything looked great. He had a beautiful wife, two healthy boys and a newly built house down by the beach. The tension between the internal Jem and external Jem ultimately led to a midlife crisis.
His marriage had been secretly unhappy and was falling apart. Then, he lost his corporate job, which included the paycheck he needed for the house they had just built on the beach. That meant he couldn’t afford the house, so he lost that, too. In the separation, he told his wife he didn’t want to fight over stuff so he said she could have it all. After they sold the house, there was debt, which he took because he didn’t want his wife to be burdened with it. The only thing he asked for was to go 50/50 with the kids.
Shortly before he lost his corporate job, there was a leadership retreat with an external coach. Jem was blown away. He thought the coach was more like a magician. Within half a day he had profiled the entire leadership team and understood what made them tick. Jem knew this was something he wanted to do, but thought he’d do it in a year or two, once the beach house was built and things were more stable. But life had different ideas. Two months later he was out of a job and the dominoes of his life were falling.
While friends and family were encouraging him to get another corporate job, Jem knew the Universe was giving him a sign that the path he was on wasn’t the right one. So he invested in studying coaching and getting his coaching practice underway. He knew he had to back himself.
Jem reframed his midlife crisis as a midlife awakening or midlife opportunity. It was then that he became aware of the subconscious beliefs that were limiting him. Jem realized that, throughout life, if he was becoming successful at something, he would sabotage it because – deep down – he believed he didn’t deserve it. He says our perception of the world is “flavored” by our beliefs and, if something is out of alignment with our beliefs, we will distort whatever we need to to come into alignment with those unconscious beliefs. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The good news, Jem says, is that we can flip the script and consciously “brainwash” ourselves to create new beliefs that are more aligned with who we are and what we want out of life. The really fun part comes when you start to believe those new beliefs because your mind will distort reality just as much as it did previously to match your new beliefs. Now, you’ll start to see opportunities where you hadn’t seen them before. The evidence will align as much with the new beliefs of success and happiness and “enoughness” as it did to prove the old, limiting beliefs.
Jem says life has gotten easier thanks to a whole host of habitual practices that have become daily for him including meditation, affirmation, perspective, introspection, contemplation, cold showers, exercise, moderation. No one thing makes everything easier. There is no silver bullet. But many, little 1% healthy habits, taken together, add up.
All of our suffering comes from our thinking and thinking about things in the past or future.If you can stay in the present moment, most of the time things are ok in the moment, which can bring some peace and respite from anxiety or suffering. Often, Jem says, suffering comes from the gap between our expectations and our reality.
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Stephanie: Hey Jem, thanks so much for joining me today. I'm really happy to have you here.
Jem: Yeah. Hey Steph, I'm really grateful to have been asked onto your show. Thank you.
Stephanie: Yeah. Oh, it's my pleasure. It's not often that I have a real life fire dancer with me on the show, so I'm very excited to meet you and to hear a little bit about what fire dancing is and why it's in your bio.
Jem: Yeah. Fire dancing for me was, and then throughout the years of being a father, once a year at the winter solstice, the kids' primary school would ask me to get the fire dancing toys out and, you know, wow all the kids with them. But fire dancing for me started back in the nineties when I was a hippie traveling around India, and it's basically, you have a stick with Kevlar on each end and you put flammable liquid on it, kerosene or something, light it up and spin it around. Or then you've got things called poise, which are the same things but on the ends of ropes. And you spin them around and you can start to create beautiful dance and patterns with this fire and it looks amazing because the fire's spinning around really quickly, um, and creates beautiful patterns. And it's dangerous cuz you can burn yourself, so people go, Ooh and ah, and I ended up, um, doing this in Taiwan when I was living in Taiwan, working as a kindergarten teacher. And I ended up as my side hustle, my wife and I got paid to dance with fire outside department stores in Taipei, in Taiwan, . So that's how I became a fire dancer.
Stephanie: Well, that's the wildest story I've heard all week, and we haven't even started yet.
Jem: There's plenty of those.
Stephanie: This is gonna be fun. I'm so excited. We're off to a great start. Um, Jem, why don't we start by telling me a little bit of your formative adult years, how'd you get to your late thirties and who were you at that point?
Jem: Hmm. A pretty standard kind of upbringing in a middle class suburb in Melbourne, Australia. I was born overseas, but raised in Australia. My father was from England and we had been overseas a few times as kids, so I knew there was a big wide world out there, and that's a kind of an important preface to it. But then in the last year of high school, my closest friend died on his motorbike. And it shook me. It really shook me. That was halfway through the year, right on my 18th birthday actually, I was sitting next to him. He had his accident five days before my 18th birthday. I was sitting next to him while he was in a coma on my 18th birthday. And then five days later, the decision was made to switch off the machines and let him go. So that was understandably um, horrible for me at the age of 18. And when I finished high school, I just wanted to get as far away as possible from everything. So I got on a plane and flew to the other side of the world and spent a year or so working and traveling as an 18 year old, which I think they call a gap year now.
My 19 year old son is about to take off overseas and do the same thing. And now they call it a gap year between university. Yeah. But back then it was just like running away travel around the world. Slacking off. Yeah. And I fell in love with it. I really did. My other passion at the time was acting andI was desperate to be a Hollywood superstar, and I came home and I actually got into the National Institute of Dramatic Art here in Australia, which is where Mel Gibson went, and Julia Davis went, and Cate Blanchett went. And I actually got in, which was a feat unto itself. And I was 20 and I thought, yeah, I'm gonna be a famous actor, convincing myself that it was for the art, but really it was just all ego. Anyway, so I I, I was acting for a while through my early twenties, but I had this calling to keep traveling and to travel to far and wild places. I wanted to really get off the beaten track. And then just through my twenties, the travel overtook the passion for acting and travel just became my main thing. So all through my twenties and early thirties, I was either living in a, in a strange and wonderful culture somewhere, or I was earning money somewhere else to then keep traveling. So that was the first kind of adult chapters of my life.
Stephanie: And where did you meet your wife?
Jem: I met my wife actually in a performance. She was at Victorian College of the Arts as a contemporary dancer, and I was at the National Institute of Dramatic Art as an actor. And she graduated in the time when I got kicked out. I didn't finish, I got kicked out. And and we met in a performance. So we both were cast into a modern contemporary dance performance. So that's how we met, and that was way before we fell in love. I kept traveling and then came back and then in my late twenties, we fell in love and got married and kept traveling. I said, if you want to be with me, that's great, but I'm not done traveling around the world. So we had a two and a half year working honeymoon. That's when we were living in Taiwan teaching kindergarten kids and twirling fire together. Then we came home, got married, had kids, and had to settle down and find a way to support them.
Stephanie: And what did that look like?
Jem: I didn't know what to do. I was in my early thirties. I was now a fresh father. We had a baby. Uh, And I had no career. I had no qualifications. I had no work history. I'd been bumming around the world, and I was like, "Oh, crikey! What am I gonna do?"
Stephanie: Let's also remember that at that point in time, cuz you and I are contemporaries, at that point in time, there was no gig economy, there was no hanging up your own shingle. There was no just becoming an influencer. At that point in time, you really had been slacking off for a bunch of years and it was still the period in time where you needed a career, you needed a job, you somebody to think you were credible and skilled. And so that must have been a heck of a transition.
Jem: Yeah, it was, and I have always been, apart from this chapter that I'm about to talk about, I have always been very alternative. So even to the point of being anti-establishment, for a while there I was full punk living in squats in London, and then when I was traveling around Asia for many years on my own barefoot, dreadlocked, smoking weed and sitting around the fire playing my guitar, you know, so that's the foundation. I'm very alternative and so when I got a job, I didn't know what to do and I got a job with a travel company because I'd been traveling so much. So I, I learned how to be a travel consultant and book other people on their trips. And I had to wear a suit and tie. And my family and friends were looking at me going, "What are you doing?" And I had a suit and tie on, and I did that for eight years and I actually did it really well and climbed the corporate ladder, quote unquote, and ended up in a senior leadership position with 150 staff and turning over a lot of money in my section of this international company that I'd bought into. And so two things happened: one, I learned a lot about leadership and coaching and cool stuff. The other is thatwith the inherent drive to grow, net profit growth month on month on month that all corporate leaders face, I found myself being pushed far away from my values and really becoming deeply unhappy, but surface level Instagram feed, like everything's great. You know, got a beautiful wife and we've got two boys and we've built our house down by the beach but inside really increasingly more and more unhappy. Which led to the the midlife crisis.
Stephanie: Yeah. So we'll get to that in a minute, but before we get to the midlife crisis and before the midlife crisis hit you, you turned 40.
Jem: I did turn 40.
Stephanie: You did. And, uh, I'm a little jealous I wasn't invited, and I even know the details yet, but let's hear a little bit about your 40th birthday.
Jem: Yeah, let me start by saying that when I was turning 50, I had a lot of people saying, "You have got to do your 40th all over again." And then I booked it. We had booked to have a festival for my 50th. We were gonna have a big, massive festival. Um, and Covid got in the way, two years in a row, Covid got in the way. So then I got over it and went, "Nah, nah, not happening."
But the 40th, a bit of context. I come from a social group where we organize events at festivals as well. And I don't know if any of you or your listeners have heard of Burning Man, but a lot of my crew go to Burning Man Festival and set up there, do stuff there. And we do similar sort of stuff here in Australia. And so we love putting on festivals and parties and, you know, we've got all the gear and, and that kind of thing. So for my 40th, one of my friends who's heavily involved in that scene said, "Let's do it. Let's, let's create an event." But it was in the city. We had a city party, so we hired out a nightclub and we promised the nightclub owner, it was multi-leveled, we promised the nightclub owner that we'd bring enough people that it'd be worth their while to just let us have the place and they'll make so much money over the bar that it'll be worth their while. And so then, I don't know how it happened, but it went viral. My friend probably had something to do with that, but it went viral. And we ended up having about, I'm guessing 350 to 450 people come to my party. And I only knew about a hundred of them. Maybe, maybe 200 of them. But it was a great night. The crazy thing was that before the night really got even underway, everyone was getting excited and people were turning up and coming up and wanting to wish me happy birthday and give me a gift and were giving me all sorts of illicit substances to help flavor the mood So by the time the party kind of got underway, I was flying, to be honest. It's quite, quite funny. And the party was, there was a mate's rock band and then there were DJs, some of the best DJs around at the time. All of my friends secretly had organized a flash mob. So we're in the middle of the nightclub and there's, you know, it's packed with people and we're all on the dance floor and everyone's just having an absolute ball. And then all of a sudden someone grabs me, they grab me and lift me, and they carry me up into the corner of this nightclub. And there was a stage and a throne, and they sat me in this throne and put a bloody crown on my head and gave me a scepter. And I'm like, "Oh no, you're embarrassing me. What are you doing?" And then the dance floor, there was about a hundred of them that have been training, practicing and rehearsing and, and about a hundred of them all went into choreography together for this flash mob. And they flash mobbed me, and the other couple of hundred people in the room who didn't even know whose 40th it was, they were going, "What is going on? This is crazy." So that kind of stuff was going on. I knew it had gone viral when I came up to the, there was this huddle of four people, these young cool looking people. Oh, by the way, it was a full dress up, so it was Rock Stars and Techno Tarts it was called
Stephanie: Rock Stars and Techno Tarts.
Jem: Yeah. Yeah. So it was full dress ups and, and quite hilarious think Rocky Horror Picture Show meets Led Zeppelin kind of thing.
Stephanie: I'm there.
Jem: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And so I knew it had gone viral when I came up to these four people and I kind of huddled in with them. I didn't know who they were. And I huddled in, we were on the dance floor and we were just having fun and you know, clinking glasses and stuff. And they were going, "Whose party is this?" And one guy goes, "I don't know, it's some dude's 40th." And I'm like, "Yeah, right. Okay, cool." And we just kind of kept partying when I didn't tell them that it was my birthday party. Oh. I thought, all right. It's gone viral. And we went until the nightclub kicked us out at six in the morning. And then we went to a mate's house and we kept going for another couple of days.
Stephanie: Oh my God. Wow. That's a good party.
Jem: It was a good party. It got spoken about for a long time. Well, like I said, you know, when my 50th turned up, people are like, can we do that again?
Stephanie: Oh my goodness. That's a good day. Yeah, I'm envious. I haven't had one of those nights in, well, you know, decades, but those are
Stephanie: all time Good for you.
Jem: Yeah. Thank you. Yeah, it was, it was great. And the idea of the 50th was great as well. We were gonna have a big festival. We wanted an excuse we, I dunno, about where you were through Covid, but here in Victoria, Australia. So, the state that I live in, we were the most locked down over the longest period of time, globally.
Jem: Our local state government really, really took the bull by the horns and wanted to just try and keep it zero here, which was silly because it obviously came through here as well. But they just kind of really took it to the nth degree and had us locked up for a long time.
Stephanie: Yeah, we weren't quite as tightly locked down and for a much shorter time, still, it was, my 50th birthday came and went through Covid, like you said, you weren't able to do a whole lot. And then even the next summer we thought, oh, it's better. And then it was still lots of people really uncomfortable and not confident yet in being in places with lots of people.
Jem: Yeah. That's right.
Stephanie: Yeah, yeah,
Jem: My 50th was very different. I live on a farm, in a little surf town, and so we snuck a handful of people up to the farm when they weren't supposed to come, but we, um, we, you know, we were a bit sneaky and, and they came up and one of my mates who's a DJ, set up in my lounge room, and 12 of us danced, danced around like there was 400 of us.
Stephanie: Nice, nice. My husband threw me a tiny little surprise party. It was just my family, my brothers and their families, his sister and her family, our parents, and then one friend and his wife, he's my third brother essentially. And it's the middle of the summer, so we had lobster and french fries, my favorite meal. So, um, so yeah, it was great, it was, but again, right in the middle of Covid.
All right, let's go back to your 40th birthday party. You're a completely different person than you had been through your twenties and thirties. You are a corporate man, you're a husband, you're a dad, and you have this great 40th birthday. And then for the next couple of years, things start shifting for you. Let's talk a little bit about that.
Jem: Mm. As I look back and reflect, it was obviously building up. It's not like everything went from being peachy and rosy one day and then overnight had fallen apart. There were factors of it that were building up. And one primary factor, to be honest, that had been building up since I was probably about six years old, was this subconscious belief that I wasn't good enough.
Jem: Subconscious. You know, if you asked me upfront, are you good enough? I would of gone, "Yeah, I'm great, I'm good, I've got what I need, blah, blah, blah." But there was a limiting belief in the background that I'm not enough. And that plays out in interesting ways. We are interesting cats, us humans. We're very complex. Anyway, so that was in the background, but leading up to it, So when was that? when did we turn 40?
Stephanie: It would've been, 2011.
Jem: Yeah. So the year before, my father had had a brain tumor and was dying and I'm the eldest of four kids and we were all living around the world. So our youngest brother was living in Vancouver and my sister was living somewhere in Asia working. And my other brother was in Europe and I was in Australia. And when dad was dying, we all decided to come home and nurse him through palliative care at home and be there for mum. My youngest brother and his wife moved home from Canada and said to my mom, "We're gonna come and live with you after dad dies so that we can look after you." So dad died in the December and then three months later or four months later, my youngest brother died on his motorbike in a head-on collision.
Jem: So that's my best friend when I was 18 and then my youngest brother when I was 39, died on motorbike. So it was a really, really massive blow to the family. It was the most horrible experience I've ever been through. And look, I know we all are going to experience losing loved ones. It's a part of life. I get that. Butwhen you lose a parent, it kind of makes sense, they're the generation above. And even though my dad was only 67 when he died of his brain tumor, he was still my dad. So it kind of, it made sense,
Stephanie: It's the natural order of things.
Stephanie: that your parents go before you.
Jem: Right, right. So you kind of go, okay, you know, but then, out of the blue. and we knew it was coming, we had a year to prepare for. We were all sitting bedside, and it was actually quite a beautiful passing.
Jem: But then to get the phone call saying your brother died tonight on his motorbike instantly, um, was shocking. Really shocking. So that had happened and you're navigating that kind of grief and to the best way anyone knows how. And then the 40th, but also building up in this, my marriage had been very, very secretly unhappy. There'd been my own anxieties. I had put all of my own anxieties into one very vulnerable place of my life, which was in sexual intimacy. And my anxiety started to play out there, to the point where in the later years of my marriage, I was sexually dysfunctional, which is something people don't wanna talk about, but I'm happy to talk about because I think we should talk about these things. But it was a very secret and shameful torture and I was so embarrassed, I didn't tell anyone. Obviously my wife knew, but she didn't know how to deal with it and she didn't know how to help me and I didn't know how to help myself. And that was building up to being the end of our marriage, that part. And it all kind of accumulated at the same time. So the marriage was falling apart. I lost my job, which meant I wasn't earning the great money I was earning and the house that we just built, I couldn't afford anymore, so I had to lose the house. And in the separation, I gave all of my belongings to my then wife saying, "I don't wanna fight over stuff so you can have it all."
So there I was, early forties and we went straight into week on, week off with the kids. We had a bunch of debt after we sold the house. We had a bunch of debt and I took all the debt, I didn't want her to be burdened with the debt. So I gave her the stuff, I took the debt, and I said, "Look, the last thing I wanna do is fight over anything. Can we just go 50/50 with the kids?" And we did, amicably, we went 50/50. We're still friends to this day, by the way, because we've been doing shared care week on, week off for the last, you know, nine or 10 years.
And so yeah, I left and there I, there I was with my two boys and we found this rental property in our little town where we live. And I moved into the rental property and I had my guitar and my surfboard and I had the boys and their surfboards. And we moved into this house and looked around this empty house and went, "Oh, whoops. We've got nothing." Like crockery, I didn't realize how much stuff goes into a house functioning until I moved into this empty shell of a house with nothing. No crockery, no cutlery, no beds, no linen, no washing machine, no microwave, no tv, no couches, no nothing. You know? And I was like, "Oh, boys, we're camping on the floor until I sort this out." We have down here it's called Surf Coast Free Stuff. It's a Facebook group. And essentially the group was set up so that people can recycle stuff they don't want and just say, "Hey, I'm getting rid of this TV. Does anyone want it for free?" So there's no money that changes hands on this site, but primarily the site is for people to give away stuff and I just went on there and reverse engineered it. I just went on and said, "Hi, help. Single dad starting all over again. I've got nothing. I need absolutely anything that you've got that you don't need. I need it." And so we drove around with a trailer for a few days and completely filled this house. It was beautifully hotchpotch, you know, like mismatching bowls and plates and mismatching linen and everything mismatching, but all for free and all secondhand.
Stephanie: One of the things you said to me was you don't realize what losing everything means until you walk into that apartment with your guitar and your surfboards and go, "Uh oh."
Jem: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Wow. We actually don't have anything, you know, well, I mean, we had each other, which was amazing. The part of it that I didn't mention was just prior to losing my job, when I was still employed in a senior leadership position, my boss, the state manager, had engaged an external coach to come in and run a weekend of leadership development. So there was six of us senior leaders in a hotel for a weekend with this coach, doing stuff. And I was blown away by what he was doing. I just absolutely loved it. It was my first proper introduction to behavioral profiling and NLP. He was a human behavior expert.
Jem: And I was just blown away by it. He was like a magician. Within half a day he understood us better than we understood ourselves. And I just found it fascinating because I've always been fascinated in humans and human behavior and culture and all of this stuff. And I said to him on the second day, on the lunch break, I'm like, "Mate, I love what you do. What do you do for a job?" And he said, "This, I do this." And I was like, "Oh, wow. I'd love to do this." That was at the time when I was still building the house, just finishing building the house. I said, "Look, I'm pretty financially committed. Do you mind if I ask how much money you earn?" And he told me, and my jaw dropped visibly, just went, what? You earned that much money? I was like, half of that is fine for me. Thank you. So I went home I was still married at the time and I went home to my wife and said, "About a year from now, I'm gonna leave this company and I'm gonna go and start my own coaching practice," and she went, "Oh, okay, whatever. Can you just not do it right now cuz we're financially committed?" And I said, "No, no, no. In about a year." So the universe heard me. The universe's idea on time is very different to ours.
Stephanie: Yes. The universe heard you and it chuckled.
Jem: Yeah, chuckled.
Stephanie: That's cute, Jem.
Jem: Yeah. Oh, you want out? How about now? Two months later, I got unceremoniously turfed, Yes. Unfairly dismissed from the company that I was at. And everyone said to me, "Just go and get another leadership job. Just go and get another corporate job." And I said, "Nope, nope. I'm taking this as a sign." So I took the small handshake that I got from the company and I spent it, invested in studying coaching and human behavioral profiling and all the stuff, became a qualified coach and started my coaching practice and was in the deep end, really in the deep end. And you know, it's funny because young coaches come to me now and say, "Jem, how have you become so successful as a coach and can you gimme some advice and yada yada?" And then I'm recounting the story and they were like, "Oh wow, you fully committed." I sold my house so that I could stay on this journey. The reason I had to sell my house is cuz I wasn't earning enough money as a coach at the start and I was getting more and more into debt and the only way forward was to sell the house. And they went, "Wow, you sold your house just so that you could be on this path." And I'm like, "Yep."
Stephanie: Yeah. You knew you were committed because it felt so good. You knew it was right.
Jem: I knew it was the right path to go on. I had to back myself and I'm so glad I did. My life now is ridiculously wonderful. And at the same time as all of this midlife, you and I were talking about this before. I see it as a midlife awakening. I see it as a midlife opportunity. And the fundamental shift for me personally, internally with my relationship with myself, is that I became conscious of that background belief that up until then had been subconscious. I became aware, oh wow. I've been running a belief that I'm not enough.
Stephanie: It is funny that you went there because as soon as we got to a break, I was gonna go all the way back to that and say, tell me about that. What I wanna know is, so when we have subconscious beliefs and we have limiting beliefs, most of the time we don't know. We just go on our merry way. And like you said, you could say verbally and consciously, "Of course I'm enough and of course I'm good enough and of course I can do this." You could say all of those things. . Tell me where that unconscious belief reared its head, tell me how it affected you. Where did it bubble up in your life before you had acknowledged it, and then I wanna talk about how you acknowledged it.
Jem: Yeah. So the most painful place and, at the time, the most shameful and embarrassing place that it reared its head was in my sexual anxiety, which got culminated in me having anxiety attacks and breaking to sweats and not being able to function. But it also showed up in many other areas of my life. For example, if I was starting to become really successful at something like my career, I'd sabotage it.
Jem: And I didn't know why I was sabotaging it, but I was sabotaging it because deep down I believed I didn't deserve it. And we will create evidence in our life to match our beliefs. And we will distort the evidence from around us to match our beliefs. So if you, for example, if you have a belief, life is tough, you will experience a tough life. Your perception of life will be tough because you believe it to be so .If you believe that people are generally lovely, like that's one of my beliefs, I don't even know if that's true. I've only met .00001% of the Earth's population. How do I know if everyone's lovely? I don't. But because I believe that people are generally lovely. I just keep meeting lovely people.
Jem: I walk down the street and smile and people smile back at me. So our beliefs really do play into our version of whatever reality is. Our perception of reality is very much flavored by our beliefs. And if something's out of alignment with our belief, we will distort whatever we need to do to match our belief. So I would sabotage things. It's a little bit touchy to say this, because I don't mean any disrespect at all. I say this with love, but because I believed that I wasn't enough, I attracted a woman to me. I fell in love with a woman who pointed out to me pretty much on a daily basis where I wasn't good enough. She would say to me all the time, "Why aren't you more like him? Why aren't you better at that?" And I don't blame her for that. I created that. I attracted that. I fell in love with that because it was a reflection back to me that that matched my belief.
And so when this belief went from being subconscious to becoming conscious, which by the way happened in one night in a North American Indian sweat lodge, on Australian, Aboriginal, Indigenous, sacred land in a circle with men from a men's circle that I'd been sitting in, in a very, very hot sweat. And we were in the pitch black inside the sweat lodge, naked in the mud. And the sweat was so hot and went on for so long that I had an out of body experience. And I became my five year old self, I was flying around in the cosmos laughing and happy and joyful. And it was that night that I realized, when I came home and had this crazy dream about a serpent. I dunno if we've got time to talk about it, but essentially what ha- we do?
Jem: So you want to hear the story of the sweat lodge?
Stephanie: I wanna hear the story. Jem. This is the good stuff.
Jem: Okay? Okay. Now, for, for your listeners,I am not a kind of faith believer. I'm not religious. I grew up in a Christian household, but I'm not out there, you know, believing in stuff willy nilly. I studied physics and maths in high school. I want evidence, I love science. I want to know stuff. I'm not kind of the burning incense and singing Kumbaya kind of guy, but this was my experience of what happened.
I went into this sweat lodge. AndI can only describe it as an out of body experience because I wasn't aware of my body anymore, but I was aware that I was light and it, and it felt like I was five years old and everything was hysterical and funny. And I was flying around in the sky, in the cosmos and then finally the other men had left the sweat and I'd been in there with a guide. So there was another man who understood the process of North American Indian sweat lodges, and he was the one guiding us with the chanting and all the stuff we were doing. So, call it heat exhaustion, call it whatever you want. I had this experience.Um, I was lying there naked in the mud and he put his hand on my shoulder and said, "Jem, it's time to leave the sweat." And so I crawled out of the sweat lodge and sat around the fire and all the other men had been out there for quite some time. And was really interesting. I found it very funny, but these other men were standing up and they were naming themselves very earnestly, for them,it was very earnest and sincere. But the names they were giving themselves were strong names. Like one man stood up and said, "I am Standing Bear." And the other man said, "I am Soaring Eagle." And I was sitting there and I was five years old and I just found it all really funny. And then there was this body of water nearby. It was a lake and we're all really hot. So one by one the men were walking down to bathe and wash off in the lake, this is in the middle of the night. And I ran down into the lake, like a five year old, and I dove into the cold water then I jumped up out of the water and my naming just kind of came out. I hadn't planned it and I just jumped up outta the water and said, "I am Naked Wet Boy!" And everyone just started laughing, like it broke the seriousness, you know? It broke the seriousness and a metaphor for can we just get over ourselves?
Jem: Cuz we take ourselves so bloody seriously. It's like, can we just laugh at ourselves a little bit? You know? Anyway, so that was that. Then I went home and at the time my boys were young, I think one and three or two and four, somewhere around there. Yeah, and my mum had been babysitting them while I went to sweat lodge. And then I came home and mum left and I went to sleep. And I was having this amazing dream, completely lucid, completely vivid. And there was this serpent that was living in the core of me, like this big serpent.
Jem: And in the dream, I had to try and get the serpent out of me. So I was reaching my hands down inside my throat and grabbing this serpent, and pulling this serpent out. And it was strong. It wasn't aggressive, it was just strong, but it wanted to be inside me. So every time I'd put it down on the ground, it would just slither back down into my core again. I even tried one time, I pulled it out and I put it down and I was blocking my mouth so it couldn't slither back in my mouth. And it slithered up my leg and up my anus and back up into the core of me, like it was completely clear. Anyway, halfway through this dream, in real life, one of my kids was stirring in their bed and they needed settling. And I knew that my work in the dream wasn't done yet. It felt like I can't finish this dream yet. So I got up outta bed, kind of stayed half asleep, went in, settled my infant, got them back to sleep, went back to bed, and got, and went back into the dream, back to sleep, and back into the dream to finish the work. And eventually there was a group of faceless men around me, like brothers who had help, I needed help. I couldn't do it on my own. And that was an important part of the dream. I needed the help of community and these men helped me get this serpent out. And we found a way to keep it out and was a bit technical.
And anyway, in the morning when I woke up, straight away I knew what the dream was and what the serpent was. This is the moment when the belief went from being subconscious to conscious. And I sat bolt up right in my bed and I went, "Huh, that serpent was the belief that I'm not enough, that I'm not good enough, and it's been living in my core most of my life." I was like, "Wow. And it's time to be gone of that belief, and I'm gonna need some help and it's gonna, it's not gonna be easy, but I need to change that belief. And then these books, you know how books just show up in your life randomly. Someone goes, "Oh, read this book," and then another book comes, and another book comes, three or four books in a row. Were all the kind of Joe Dispenza, How to Evolve Your Brain type books, How to Change Your Wiring and Your Beliefs. Um, and so I went to work and, and got on with changing my life.
Stephanie: Wow. That's big stuff. One of the things I'm so curious about, and I really like to dig into in these conversations is something that I've started creating a character almost, and I call it The Ick. A lot of times as people approach that age 40 time period. It could be 35 to 45, whatever. But they start feeling like an Ick, like something in their life doesn't feel right, but they don't quite know what, and they don't quite know how to fix it. And you just have chafing, like you're wearing something that's the wrong size. And what you're describing here is making your way through The Ick in a very you know, specific and intentional way. I mean, you went digging for it. And that's what I'm so curious about because a lot of these stories and a lot of the people that I talk to, every story is unique and yet there's so many commonalities. There's so much that we have to unlearn in this period of time. It's like this period of time we are ready to unlearn some of the stuff that we were taught or told. It's the era where you unlearn all the things you should do,
Stephanie: Somebody else told you you should do. So, for you it's like, oh, well you met a girl. Well, you know, you should get serious and you should settle down and you should get a job and you should put on a suit. And it just took you so far away from your true self that you were able to do it for a decade, but much beyond that and you were breaking down in all kinds of different ways.
Jem: Yeah. It's so true. And you know what I love about what you were just saying is that as different as we all are and the actual stories, you know, there's so many different stories, but underneath it all, we've got so much in common, us humans, and I really do love that. We have the same kind of core fears when we're little. What if I'm not enough for mom and dad? What if I'm not loved? What if I'm isolated? And these are survival fears and we all have them. We have the same joys and love. You know, we all would do anything for our children. When I say "we
Stephanie: of course.
Jem: Generally speaking, we are wired to just love and adore our children and put them first. We all need food and shelter. We all need, air and water. We have things in common. This is a little bit of a tangent, but it's a story that exemplifies what you were saying about the things we have in common. In 1998, I was on a bus in remote North Pakistan, in the mountains in North Pakistan. And the timing, just to put this into the context of historical timing, this is when Osama bin Laden, so this is years before 9/11,
Osama bin Laden or somebody had had had blown up an a US embassy in Africa.
Jem: And so the US government at the time wanted to retaliate and they were sending cruise missiles into the Northwestern Frontier Province, which is some kind of tribal lands between Pakistan and Afghanistan in the mountains there. And I'd been traveling through there and now I was just a little bit out of that area, so I wasn't where the bombs were going, the missiles, but I was close by and I was on a bus, and an American backpacker got stoned. He lived, but he had rocks thrown at him at one of the campsites, one of the T stops. Anyway, I was thinking, and I was chatting with him, saying, "Man, that's pretty unfair." He goes, "Dude, I didn't even vote for the government that's in it at the moment. I don't agree with what they're doing." But because he had an American accent, the locals were throwing stones at him. And I thought, that's a bit rough.
Anyway, I was chatting with this university student, a local mountain, Pakistani man, and he spoke English cuz he was studying at university and he was a devout Muslim and grew up culturally, religiously, spiritually, geographically completely differently to me. But we were sitting and I was wanting to connect with him and understand. I was curious. I've always been a curious traveler. And we were talking and he said one thing to me that always stuck with me. He said, "Jem, if we cut your skin here and we cut my skin here, we have the same colored blood. We are the same, you and me." He said that to me and it always stuck with me. He said, "We're not as different as you think we are." You know, and he was a young man. He was like a 21 year old, and it was just so wise. And he's right, we've got so much in common and it's frustrating, isn't it, to watch these people who have been sucked into the division that's been manipulated and exacerbated with social media and watching people who have different opinions on things, which is fine. It's good that we have different opinions, but they're just shouting at each other and trying to cancel each other on Twitter. And, and it was just all so ridiculous. I'm like, "Oh, people, you're not helping humanity move forward like that, you know?"
Stephanie: Right, right. And for my part, what I'm trying to do here with the podcast and with these conversations is to sort of demystify this transition that is
Stephanie: apparently pretty common, this transition sometime between 35 and 45. And my story is that when I turned 40, I was in a place in my life where I didn't wanna have the big party. It just felt icky to me because I was single, never married, had recently, another awful relationship had fallen apart. And 40 just felt like, to me, the time when somebody else should throw you the party. Like, your boyfriend or your husband or somebody. When I was 25, I threw myself a rocking party birthday
Stephanie: it was awesome. It was a lot like your 40 festival, where we took over a club in Boston, but, at 40, it all felt like the wedding I had never had. So I decided instead to have 40 drinks with 40 people in 40 different places, and each drink had some thematic connection to my friend or our relationship. And I did this because I thought, well, this is ridiculous and I am ridiculous. And for most of my life had tried to suppress my ridiculosity, and was coming to the point where I was like, you know, screw it. I am ridiculous. So let's do this.
Jem: Yeah. Great.
Stephanie: So I went about this and the whole project took me 13 months. And what happened was it changed me and my life was completely different at the end of the 40 drinks than it was at the beginning. And so that transition to me was a surprise. It took me unawares. And, upon reflection and after the whole thing, it's like, well that was crazy that that happened that way. And then, oh, well actually these kinds of transitions happen to all kinds of people and maybe even many or most people, and yet it's not something that we know about except for the shorthand of the midlife crisis, which most people say tongue in cheek and sort of goofily but there's something here that we go through. And so my quest really is in talking to people and digging through these transitions, again, that piece where every story is unique, but a lot of the transitions are, real similar. A few episodes ago I talked to a man, Martin, who had a childhood trauma. He was 10 and his brother was five, and his brother got hit by a school bus and died five days later. And so he realized, and not until he was an adult and much, much later, he realized that in that moment he became a people pleaser. He could never let his parents be as unhappy or as sad as they were when they lost his brother. And so it was his job to make sure they were happy, right? So that's the same kind of thing that gets stuck somewhere in our lizard brain. Just like yourI'm not good enough got stuck, and it was probably something, again, you were probably six because, you know, if you saw yourself at five
Jem: I was six,
Stephanie: and you were having so much fun... do you know what the impetus for the belief is? Where did come from? Oh, tell me!
Jem: There was, oh, well, when I was six. So my father, who I love completely, just to preface this and, and before he died, we were completely in love, reconciled in love as father and son. However, it was, um, all sorts of interesting shades of a relationship for me growing up with him as a father, and he would discipline us in quite a controlled way. Normally, he would discipline us by smacking our hand. So if we were in trouble, he would get angry and shout at us, and then we had to hold our hand out and he would give us like a high five. But as a little kid, it stung, and it was painful and it was demeaning and blah, blah, blah. But this one time when I was six, he actually lost his temper. He actually properly lost his temper and he kind of beat me up a little bit. He threw me around the bedroom, like he picked me up and threw me into walls and stuff. And I could see in his eyes that he'd lost control. He'd actually lost it.
Jem: And they were the early days of his alcoholism, it wasn't too much of a problem then. His, his alcoholism got worse as he got older, but it, it scared the bejesus out of me and petrified me. And it was in that moment, and I can only know this now by looking back and having done a lot of work on myself, a lot of introspection and counseling and psychology. But I look back to that moment and I go, "Wow, it's completely understandable that that six year old boy, his world of innocence was broken because the man on the pedestal, the man who I adored and honored, and revered and admired, hurt me and scared me." And so it's understandable that a six year old would go, I'm not good enough for him. If I was good enough, he wouldn't have done that to me, must have been my fault, so I'm not good enough. And that's where it started.
Stephanie: Yeah. Oh, heavy stuff. And children are so delicate and they're so open that, obviously, that was a bad day for your dad and he lost control. But it's things like that commonplace, everyday occurrences that can lodge these little thoughtsin your very, undeveloped childhood baby brain that they just get, they're like calloused over, over time. Right. And we don't even know they're there cuz they just get calloused over through, you know, childhood and teenhood and, and you know, there's still,
Jem: Yeah, and they become self-fulfilling prophecies because if you start to believe something, then you distort the information from the world around you to match your belief, which becomes evidence.
Jem: And so then when I'm in school and I'm in a springboard diving competition and the whole school's watching and I do a double somersault, and I don't do it right, and I land on my back and the whole school is laughing at me, then that's evidence, right? So then I'm walking away going, subconsciously "I knew I wasn't good enough. I knew I wasn't good enough." And sometimes even consciously, know, the way we talk to ourselves, we look at ourselves in the mirror when we're upset with ourselves and we cuss at ourselves, abusively, horribly, like you wouldn't talk to anyone else the way you talk to yourself.
And so it becomes this, this self-fulfilling prophecy, which is interesting. The good news, the part of it all that I've found in the last 10 years that I find really wonderful and forms a large part of the coaching work that I do with leaders is that we can flip that and we can consciously brainwash ourselves. There are ways that we can create new beliefs, unlimiting beliefs on repetition, and we can wire this stuff neurologically using the benefits of the fact that we have a plastic brain that can change, and does change, using some of the technologies of understanding that when we're in a dopamine peak state and we fire a particular neural sequence, it wires together faster. So we can get quite clever about how we do this, but we can pick a belief like, I am enough and I'm exactly who I'm supposed to be and I do deserve love and happiness and success and abundance. And you can say that over and over and over and over and over and over again like I've been doing for 10 years. And you start to believe it
Jem: then you start to believe it. And then you start to distort the information from the world around you to match your beliefs and your eyes open up to opportunities that weren't there before. And you start to create this life, like it's amazing. When I started to believe that I am enough just the way I am and I do deserve love and happiness, blah, blah, blah. When I started to believe that, that's when my partner Talia showed up in my life, not before. We didn't fall in love and then I got convinced that I must be good enough cuz this gorgeous, amazing woman is falling in love with me. It didn't happen that way around. It happened the other way around. I learned to love myself first. I learned to go, wow, I am enough.
Jem: then she showed up as evidence to me, and she loves me absolutely, and completely and utterly. All my bits and bobs. She thinks I'm more than enough, you know, my bald patch and my belly and my, whatever, all the stuff I used to look in the mirror and go, oh,
Jem: She loves it all. It's really fascinating the way life changes when you change that internal relationship.
Stephanie: It's interesting that you say that because the very same thing happened with my husband Patrick, and I always call him my reward. He is my reward for never settling. He is my reward for doing my work. He is my reward for getting myself organized.
Jem: Yeah. I love that. I really like that. My reward. Yeah. That's what feels like.
Stephanie: It is.
Jem: That's the reward I got for doing all the work and learning to love myself properly and not settling and, and having the courage to follow quote unquote the path of the heart. Cuz I know that gets overused, that saying. But to follow your gut, to be true to yourself, to live a life where your values aligned. And for doing that, cuz it's not always easy, is it? You know, there are days when you wake up and it's, it's not always easy, but if you can have the, the grit and um, the self love to keep showing up, values aligned and with integrity, then you get a reward. It's like, oh wow.
Stephanie: Yeah, yeah. Will you get a reward in that you create and you build a life that fits you perfectly.
Jem: Yeah. Yeah.
Stephanie: That's the reward. I think as you were talking, I was thinking it's messier though. It's messier when you're living in should, when you're living in somebody else's authority and, somebody else guiding you on all the things you should do to be a success or to have a successful life or you know, whatever. And they're our parents. They're our teachers they're our bosses, our mentors, and by and large, they want well for us. But should is kind of easy cuz you just follow somebody else's plan. But as with you, and there have been others that I've talked to as well, it's like your whole life breaks down. If you don't listen to that gut orthe little tiny voice inside your head that you discount most of the time, if you don't listen to those things, like those are your opportunities to do it a little bit cleaner. But, if you're not gonna pay attention, then the universe is gonna send you something you can't avoid, like a major breakdown in life, like yours. And then it gets a little messier because you have to make up your own rules. You have to know your own heart. You have to find your intuition. You have to find your gut and hone it and learn it and tune into it. And so it's not as easy as, well, geez, you've got a, a girlfriend, you've got a wife, you should buy the house. You can have the kids. That's all pretty like robotic and easy. This is not as easy, but way more fulfilling.
Jem: Way more fulfilling. And you're right, it's messy. There's no prescription, there's no one telling you do this, then do this, then do, then do this. And you've gotta make a lot of mistakes.And there's no one to blame when you make a mistake. You can't turn around and say, you told me to go and get that job. No, no, no. You're owning your stuff, you know? And you're right though. It is way more fulfilling. For me, life just keeps getting easier.
Jem: Just keeps getting easier. Now, that's not to say that there's not painful events that happen, you know, people that you love
Stephanie: It's not to say that you don't work hard,
Jem: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. No, It's not to say that I don't work hard, I mean, in terms of my relationship with life, in terms of my perspective, it just keeps getting easier.
Jem: You know? And I I think that's great. I think that's exciting. That's wonderful. Yesterday actually, a mate of mine and I, we run this day for year eight students, so they're 13 to 14 year old kids, and we run a day on mindfulness, what is mindfulness and how can they put it into their lives and how it can help them. Anyway, we were running this day and we were catching up, me and my mate, haven't seen him for a while. And we were talking about how life gets easier. And he goes, "What do you mean by that? What, what does it look like?" And I said, "Well, just everything, from doing the stuff you don't want to do to the big stuff when there's pain, you know, like some, something happens and it's painful or, the love stuff or the relationship stuff or the work stuff, everything is getting easier."
And he said, "How, how's it getting easier?" And I said, "I think it's because of the habitual practices that have become daily for me, like meditation, affirmation, perspective, introspection, contemplation, the cold shower at the end, the exercise, the moderation." You know, just all the little one percenters. It's not like there's just one thing that all of a sudden makes everything easier. It's each day the little 1% healthy habits. For example, one of my healthy habits that I've created, I call them pause moments. And it's very literally throughout the day, it's become habitual for me to be, I'll finish something and I'm about to do something else, and I'll pause, take a breath. Just notice what I can notice. You know, notice my heart rate, notice my breathing, notice what I can see or hear. Just notice three to five seconds and then carry on.
Jem: Small, tiny, simple. People go, "That can't change your life." And its like, well, it's one of those little one percenters that with consistency over time actually does, you know,
Stephanie: Well, love that one because it brings you into the present. It you into the present moment. It brings you into your your body. I think I said this in a recent episode, but my husband was anxiety about work, it was something, and he was projecting and he was, oh, what if this, and what if that? And, and the advice I gave him at that moment, and it was just sort of divine, it kind of came outta my mouth. But he said it was the best advice. I said, just stay in your shoes.
Stephanie: Just stay right here where your shoes are. I love that your pause moment because I don't do it the same way you do, but there are bits and pieces of the being present and not having your brain thrown about into the future or the potential future or the past, or the just coming here and being here for a minute before you dive into the next thing. It actually, it is magical.
Jem: Ah, it is because, you know, most of, I wanna say all of our suffering is in our thinking, the way we're thinking about something, and it's usually in the past or the future. When we drop into this present moment, right here, right now, and we just become completely present, it's like, oh, everything's actually all right in this moment right now.
Jem: Mostly. Sometimes you might be experiencing pain. I don't know, my back's twinged and I've got back pain right now. But even still, when you can become completely present to that pain, the suffering dissipates. Pain is a sensation, but the suffering is in the way we think about things. And quite often the suffering is in the gap between our expectation and reality.
Jem: You know, that's where we're doing the suffering. So those little pause moments for me are a little recalibration back to reality.
Jem: Just going, oh, everything is what it is right now. I'm not gonna argue with that. And now what am I gonna do moving forwards? You know?
Stephanie: Yeah. It's interesting how simple it is, and yet how profound.
Jem: Hmm mm.
Stephanie: I love that you said your friends or people you're talking to say, how could it be? Well, sorry. It actually is profound. You know, try it for just a little while and see what happens.
Jem: Yeah, I got the idea from this amazing keynote speaker at a conference that I was at in 2014. I was at the Global Mindful Leader Forum, and this keynote speaker was a meditation teacher from the States. And he was he was short of stature, but just emanated this big beautiful Dalai Lama type presence when he came on onto the stage and the whole auditorium went completely silent. And, he was projected up on this big screen behind him and you could hear a pin drop. Thousands of people just silent. And he did his keynote. And two of the things that he said that landed, and it was just the right time for me to hear him say these things because I actually took them and implemented them into my life. You know, so often we hear an inspirational keynote speaker and we go, yeah, yeah, I'm gonna go do that. And we don't go do that.
Stephanie: Right. Yep.
Jem: But this time it was the right time for me to hear. And he said two things he said. One was, "Know the work," he was talking about meditation, "Know the work, but do the work." And that really, I felt called out in that moment because I'd kind of tinkered with meditation for years, traveling around the world and sitting as a bit of a hippie in India and blah, blah, blah. I'd kind of played around with it, but I didn't have a consistent practice. And from that day on I started my consistent practice. But the second thing that he said was just two words. He said, "Pause Often," pause often. And I thought, what does he mean by that? I thought, I'm just gonna take that literally, I'm just gonna literally create a habit. And I did it through habit association, so I had a little sticky note on the coffee machine. I had a little sticky note on my laptop. Little sticky note next to the toothbrush just saying pause.
Stephanie: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
Jem: And then after a while, the habits link and you don't need the sticky note. Right. Um, and so I, yeah, that's, I started doing that in 2014 and yeah, it's the most simple things are quite often the most profound, huh?
Stephanie: Truth. That is the truth.
Stephanie: Jem, I have a sense that you and I could probably go down many rabbit holes and talk for hours on end, but I think maybe this is an interesting spot for us to stop today. What do you think?
Jem: That feels right.
Stephanie: I agree. I agree. Before we go, last question. Someone who found themselves in a similar position to you when you were 41 or 42, they were in a relationship that wasn't working, they were not feeling great about themselves, life wasn't feeling like it fit. What advice would you give to someone in that?
Jem: You're only halfway, the second half of your life is in front of you, and you have the opportunity in front of you to live your best life. So have the courage to do what you feel is the right thing to do. And, um, yeah, go.
Stephanie: Perfect. Thanks for joining me today, Jem.
Jem: Ah, thanks so much for having me on Steph.