Overcoming limiting beliefs: an Ivy House alumni story

Overcoming limiting beliefs: an Ivy House alumni story

There are moments when I feel totally humbled. And speaking to Stephen Kakouris about how he has smashed his own limiting belief is definitely one.

Stephen is one of the Ivy House Alumni, and when he completed the Programme he made a commitment to himself. Despite having mild motor disabilities, which cause him challenges when walking, he wanted to take on and conquer the Brighton Half Marathon.

Stephen’s performance coach, Ray, says this about Stephen: “He was fantastic to coach. Experimental and committed. He took on feedback well and was an incredible guy. When he said he’d do this challenge I had to do it with him! Others also jumped to support him reflecting the Ivy House spirit of radical support. People were pushing themselves outside their comfort zone as they were inspired by his story too.”

So, the day after the race, I caught up with Stephen and spoke to him about his undertaking:

How did the idea of doing the race come about?: When I started Ivy House, I wanted to work on some limiting beliefs. Specifically, those surrounding the challenges that I face as a result of being born with mild motor disabilities. I have adapted my life so it doesn’t affect me in any way but I still felt quite uncomfortable talking about it. So, on The Ivy House Programme, I challenged myself to get up in front of a group of people I had never met before and openly discuss it. Talking about my speech impediment and challenges openly I experienced a greater acceptance of myself. It was very powerful for me.

When I went on to do the rest of the Masterclasses, I discovered a limiting belief that I would never be able to run a half marathon. I struggle with walking and have always hated running. But as I learned more about stepping out of my comfort zone I challenged myself in front of the group to run a half marathon.

What support did you have?: The amount of support that I got was amazing. When I committed to doing this, 7 other people on the Ivy House Programme decided to join me. And Ray, my Ivy House executive performance coach, came and said he would do it with me and make sure I crossed the finish line. I can’t think of a more committed coach. On Sunday, he set the pace the entire way and helped me to accomplish something I never thought I’d be able to do.

How did you prepare for the race?: I needed to train my body. So, I started running 3 to 4 times per week. The first time I went on the treadmill, I had to stop halfway through doing 5k at relatively low speeds. I went on to finish the race in 2 hr 15 mins, even better than I thought I’d do.

What was it like at the end of the race?: I took the medal and didn’t want to take it off! I had never given up even though it hurt. Some of the pictures show that I was in pain but I was so happy that I finished the race.

I was raising money for the Alzheimers Society. I received a lot of support from my network and friends who sponsored me and it felt good to say that I had done it. These people believed in me, encouraged me and helpedraise money for a cause that’s important to me.
I even wore my medal the next day. I thought that people would think that I was walking funny because of the half marathon. Then I realized that I walk funny anyway, and felt proud of what I‘d done.

Could you sum up how this has impacted you?: Being blessed with physical differences, all my life I have been smashing the boxes that I have been put into because of what people perceive my limitations to be. I ran further than I’ve ever run before and I had to put a lot of work in before the race. I saw it as a metaphor for what I’m trying to accomplish in my whole life. I was running towards a goal – putting in the hours to achieve something great. Even though it may look like I have a problem walking, I know I’ve run a half marathon in a pretty decent time. I now can’t tell myself that there’s something I can’t do due to my limitations.

If you put in the time and effort, if you show up, I believe you can achieve great things. I’m not yet where I want to be in every area of my life but when I crossed the finish line, the amount of pride I felt made me reflect on other opportunities in my life.

So what’s next?: I realise now that I actually quite enjoy running. I think I’ll keep going. I’ve committed to doing a second half marathon in 3 weeks’ time. I am flying to Cyprus, where my parents live. Then they can see me run a half marathon too. They are very supportive, and have decided to run 5k with me too. I’ll be running with the team linked to my father’s work – a much bigger team of people – but I won’t have anyone close to Ray with me through the race, showing me the way.

I’ve gone from not running at all to running 2 half marathons within a month! Maybe with some more training and a few more half marathons, I’ll be running a full marathon.

How has this impacted the others who’ve been with you on this journey?: When I think of those who showed up this weekend, some were raising money and some wanted to prove something to themselves. They did it for their own reasons. The fact that I committed to do this started the ball rolling for them too. Possibility is contagious. The mindset of possibility is contagious.

Today I wore my medal into work and showed someone who hadn’t thought I could do it. He had been genuinely worried for me and had tried to talk me out of it. Seeing the medal, he talked about things going on for him and said that he felt inspired too. It made my morning. I hope that people will say, ‘if Stephen can do it, why can’t I?’

ABOUT IVY HOUSE: Ivy House is on a mission to create a new generation of purpose-led and values-driven leaders who have the courage to look at how they show up and be challenged to change. Stephen took up the challenge and flexed both his physical strength and his mental strength. For more on the Ivy House Programme visit www.ivyhouse.co.uk.

The power of vulnerability in the professional world 

The power of vulnerability in the professional world 

Everyone suffers from confidence issues at some point in their lives – a feeling of being different or not good enough. But what would it be like if, every day, you had to face people’s judgements and preconceptions because of something entirely out of your control?

Stephen Kakouris, a Member of Ivy House, was born with a mild motor disability that affected the way he talks and walks. Here, he shares what he has learnt about facing these differences and the ongoing process of using them to develop real inner confidence.

Stage one – own my difference

I was born with a mild motor disability that affected the way I talk and walk, and I have worse handwriting than a 6-year-old (in fact I’m pretty sure that my handwriting was better when I was 6!).

Being “different” was a massive point of struggle when I was young. I remember frequently wishing that I was like everyone else. It felt unfair but I pushed myself to overcome my challenges – doing speech therapy, physiotherapy, and whatever else it took.

At 16 I realised that my greatest “challenge” was my attitude. I was fed up with feeling insecure, sensitive and resentful about things that were out of my control. I realised I had a choice to make:

Feel sorry for myself because I am “different” and life is not fair.
Accept that this difference is out of my control and not let it negatively affect my life. Start to embrace it and live my life to the fullest.

The option was abundantly clear. And the amazing thing is that, once I had accepted it, I began to stop feeling so insecure. Like Marilyn Monroe’s mole, what made me different became a beauty mark. I started to live this decision and, as I did, I began doing things that exceeded my wildest dreams.

My last year of high school, I won Most Valuable Player for my school soccer team (big deal for the kid always picked last). I was chosen to travel to a conference in Qatar where I gave a speech in front of 2000 people (another big deal for a guy with a speech impediment!). To put myself through university I became a bartender in cocktail bars. Despite having shaky hands and “a funny accent”, my ability to make people comfortable was a real gift, and brought amazing opportunities. One such connection with a gentleman in the oil industry led me to leave the US and head to London where i pursued an energy related Masters Degree.

I made a habit of embracing my vulnerability. If there was something that made me feel uncomfortable, that was the place I had to bring myself to grow. My differences became my biggest teacher. I learnt how to deeply read and understand people, and how to connect with them in a meaningful way. I also learnt what it took to feel comfortable in my own skin. Embracing my vulnerability, I shed my insecurities and replaced them with self-confidence.

Stage two – Face the elephant in the room

I would forget that I was any different 99% of the time – I did not allow it to prevent me from doing anything. My mentality was, “This is how I am. I will exceed your expectations. If you have a problem with it then it is your problem, not my problem.”

With a Masters under my belt, confident of my prospects, I was ready to approach the job market. All good, until one evening a mentor asked, “So how do you address your difference in the context of a job interview?”.

Suddenly I didn’t feel so sure. I had confidence in my abilities but that didn’t mean that other people’s judgements and preconceptions had disappeared. I believed that if I could create a positive lasting impression, I could defuse earlier preconceptions. But in an interview, what was the solution to addressing the inevitable questions an interviewer could have? If I spoke slowly would they think I thought slowly? If I walked differently would they think I wasn’t up to the job? The thought of entering an interview with a disclaimer, “I may be slightly different but it does not have any impact on my performance…” was terrifying!

I began to question myself. Maybe I wasn’t as comfortable as I thought. Perhaps I had reached the limits of my capacity to be vulnerable.

Stage 3 – How to address other people’s preconceptions and judgements?

I was left with this challenging question but I was determined to find the answer. Earlier this year I was offered the opportunity to participate in The Edge, an Ivy House masterclass for young professionals designed to develop personal and professional impact.

This was a chance for me to grow and overcome my own preconceptions. I pushed myself to understand how others perceive me. I asked my peers for their honest first impressions, I asked the coaches for feedback and, at the end, I stood up in front of 60 strangers and told them why my difference is my superpower.

My willingness to name the elephant in the room, to listen to other people’s experiences of me, and to be vulnerable and open resonated strongly. Instead of judgment, I felt an overwhelming respect. People listened! The journey to understand my differences and overcome my own attitudes and beliefs had once again become my teacher as I learnt what it takes to really connect with others.

If you’re facing similar challenges, my advice is to meet them head on. Don’t shy away from your vulnerability – it is an opportunity for profound growth.

And as for the job interviews, I’m ready and I know what I have to say. “I have a mild motor disability and it has made me a stronger and more competent person. This is why…”

Talent is useless if you don’t have impact

Talent is useless if you don’t have impact

“Why should we choose you over someone else?”

This is one of the most common questions asked in job interviews. And it’s totally stupid – impossible to answer, because you don’t know who else has applied.

Thankfully, there’s a secret, smarter question lurking beneath the silly one. What prospective employers – and most strangers who meet you for the first time – are really trying to understand is this.

“What makes you special?”

If you learn how to answer that question in a clear and confident way, in a variety of different personal and professional situations, you massively stack the odds of your own success. If you don’t, no amount of innate brilliance or hard work will get you to where you want to go.

Do you lack impact?

Carrie is an extremely bright young woman who came to me for some coaching support. Carrie has wanted to be a lawyer since she was eight years old (it happens, apparently!). She’d held onto her ambition through her teenage years, watching back episodes of LA Law, and gone on to get a good law degree.

But Carrie’s passion for her subject got her nowhere when it came to applying for a job.

The feedback from her interviews was consistent – she came over in a rehearsed way and didn’t engage. These law firms were looking for someone that could win the trust of clients, take ownership for projects and ultimately sell their expertise, but Carrie interviewed as nervous and passive. She was good at the work, but she didn’t leave the interviewers feeling eager to spend more time with her. And so she got rejected, again and again.

Tom, on the other hand, did manage to secure a place on the corporate graduate programme he was aiming for. Six months in, however, his boss was wondering how he had managed it. Tom was a straight A student, used to following the process to get a brilliant result. But when he had to work without clear direction, think on his feet and deal with quickly changing goal posts, he found himself out of his depth.

Instead of recognizing what was going on, noticing how he was reacting to it, and having the conversations he needed to turn things around, Tom withdrew and grew increasingly angry. This wasn’t what he had been sold! Tom began to question his career choices while the organization, slowly but surely, wrote him off.

Both Carrie and Tom demonstrate the same point: without impact, talent goes to waste. It’s not that rare to be good at something. Most of us have natural gifts or hard-won accomplishments. What’s really rare is the ability to make an immediate and positive impression on others. And it’s especially hard when you’re young.

Why does impact matter?

We tend to think of ‘presence’ as a personality trait, something you’ve either got or you haven’t. In fact, it is a precise and teachable set of skills. I am often asked – if I could coach young people on just one thing, what would it be? And without a doubt, it would be the ability to make an impact.

Success and happiness do not come from what we can do. They come from how good we are at engaging others. Research backs this up. One study has shown that people make a decision about you in an average of seven seconds; the rest of the time, they’re simply looking for evidence that validates that first impression. Similarly, recruitment surveys show that the top reason interviewers choose one candidate over another is because of the connection they make with them, regardless of how well they do in tests.

What does good impact look like?

People who make a powerful impact display clear traits.
They feel comfortable in their own skin;
they communicate in a clear and engaging way, whether they are talking to a friend or a complete stranger;
they remain fully present when they’re with people by listening, sharing and contributing; and
they tell stories that others remember.

One of the most impactful CEOs I know has progressed from being a commission-only sales guy to running one of the leading software businesses in the world. He puts his success down to being truly comfortable with himself and knowing how to connect with anyone, anywhere, anytime. But that wasn’t always the case. Aged eight, this CEO was a ginger-haired boy with a drunk for a dad and hand-knitted jumpers. He was relentlessly teased and, by 16, seriously depressed.

But at that point, rather than accepting he was doomed, he decided that he was going to become the kind of person that he himself would like. He read voraciously, he took classes at a drama school to learn how to speak confidently, he eventually worked with a series of top coaches who could help him boost his impact. Now you can see him regularly on TV, rubbing shoulders with presidents and rock stars. He is never nervous – just himself. People are compelled to be with him. And he never stops learning about who he is and how he shows up.

So yes – you can learn how to have more of that elusive ‘presence’. But you need to work at it.

How can you make more impact?

The journey starts by asking yourself three challenging questions.

1. How good are you in the moment? You get in a lift and meet someone who could make all the difference to your career. You have the time it takes to get to the 7th floor to make an impression. How do you do?

2. How compelling are you? Do people want to hang out with you? Are you regularly invited to events? Would you want to sit next to yourself on a long journey? Do people remember who you are?

3. What do people say about you when you are not in the room? Who do you know that would go out on a limb for you? Would others recommend your talents? Would they recommend you as one to watch?

Presence is the secret superpower of really successful people. Are you ready to find yours?

The 3 things young people really need to fulfil their potential (and it’s not A grades)

The 3 things young people really need to fulfil their potential (and it’s not A grades)

When you’re 16, it can be hard to imagine that you’ll ever achieve success.

Not just glossy celebrity success, the sort that you see on social media and in TV shows. When you’re struggling with tough exams, hypersensitive friends, irritable parents and an unreliable body, the idea that you might one day, somehow, find work that you love, be in relationships that make you happy, have enough money and time to do the things you want, and feel good about yourself doing it, can seem about as likely to happen as meeting Gigi Hadid on the bus.

In fact, that kind of success can be hard to imagine when you’re sixty. So many of us feel that muddling along with mediocrity is the most we can expect. That only a few lucky humans, blessed by their upbringing and circumstances, get to live truly fulfilled and happy lives.


The big success gap

We live in a time when technology allows us to watch the world’s greatest minds at the click of a YouTube video, search for anything we want with a few keystrokes, and connect with new friends at the swipe of a thumb. But recent research shows that just three in 10 people in Britain feel happy with their lives.

The problem is that our culture and education systems simply do not equip us with the tools we need to become one of those ‘lucky few.’ This isn’t the fault of teachers or parents. Most of us are doing our very best to give the next generation a leg up. But it is time we started admitting that what we’re doing isn’t working very well – for them or for us.

It’s time we started teaching our children (and ourselves) the things that will really lead to success.

The magic 3

What is it that those ‘golden’ people have that the rest do not? Well, when you drill into the detail, highly successful people of all fields and backgrounds consistently demonstrate three things. Three transformative attributes that have the power to get them wherever they want to go.

They are self-mastery, self-knowledge and essential expertise.

Some have stumbled upon these three attributes through a massive stroke of luck. Others might have had the fortune to learn them at the feet of a wise early mentor. Many more, through their position and power, have come to them later in life – by employing the best teachers and coaches in the world.

But that’s not good enough. These attributes should not be the preserve of middle-class high-achievers or wealthy CEOs. One or two is not enough – you need all three. And every young person deserves the chance to learn them. So what do they look like?

1. Self-mastery

Self-mastery is the ability to take full ownership for your life without being continually blown off course by circumstances, your own emotions or others’ judgement. It allows you to choose your behaviour in any situation, and thereby influence the outcome. At Ivy House, we call it OMG Self-Mastery because there are three essential components:

Ownership – taking 100% ownership for your life and the person you are.

Mind – because our thoughts create our feelings, our feelings determine our behaviour and behaviour determines the results we get in life.

Growth – because if you are not a life-long learner, you will eventually stagnate and stall.

2. Self-knowledge

To achieve consistent success, you need to understand yourself on a really deep level. You need to look beyond the general traits we assign ourselves – shy, energetic, lazy, good with people, rubbish at relationships – and understand instead what strengthens you, what puts you into flow and what you are here to do. You need to shine a light on your habitual patterns of behaviour and see if they are what will move you towards your ideal future. Then you need to know how to change the ones that won’t.

3. Essential expertise

Let’s imagine that you’re eighteen years old and, in your heart, you know you are a musician. Writing or playing music makes your soul sing. It is fantastic to know this, and to plan a life around it. Unfortunately, ‘knowing your destiny’ is not enough. You will also have to develop some expertise that will make your dreams a reality. You will need to learn to network, find a ‘look’ that is right, have the confidence to audition, create a social media presence, take rejection after rejection… and on and on.

Our first two attributes are about knowing who you are, what you want and how you behave; the third is the ‘doing’ part. Whatever your chosen path, you’ll need to learn some essential skills to drive your chosen results. We’re not talking quadratic equations or Latin. We are talking about the ability to create strong relationships, to communicate in a way that engages others, to find your inner confidence, to build teams, to lead. These are the self-skills that will empower you to make the most of every twist and turn in life.

Learning these three attributes is not easy – it requires a deep and challenging journey. But it can be done. If the next generation is to reach its full potential, we have to start talking about these three life-changing superpowers, explaining and evangelising them… and then finding ways to support young people of all backgrounds to take the first step.

Are you in?