Five years ago Ness Knight quit her 9-5 job in marketing and embarked on the adventure of a lifetime, forging a career as an explorer, endurance athlete, presenter, and speaker.
Ness’ greatest passion lies in exploring her mental and physical limits in some of the world’s most unique locations and terrains. She knows that when we challenge ourselves, and step outside our comfort zone, we grow.
In this episode of the Inspiring Women Interviews, Ness and I talk about:
Ness reveals things in this interview that she’s never revealed in public before: You’ll hear her talk about the deep-rooted fear of failure that was instilled in her as a child, how she struggled with depression and how she overcame it.
This interview is intensely personal and Ness is definitely a REAL model as well as a role model. I know you’re going to be truly inspired when you listen to this episode!
Amanda: Hello, Ness.
Ness: Hi. How are you?
Amanda: I’m good. I am so excited about interviewing you today. Thank you very, very much for being here.
Ness: It’s my pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Amanda: Ness, I’m going to start at the beginning. How on earth do you get started as an explorer? It’s not something you can go and look up where the job ad, first, in the paper, “wanted explorer,” is it?
Ness: No. Actually, that’s one of my jokes and all these online forms. There’s no drop-down for explorer. Officially, my job title is other. It’s quite an unusual one, I guess. Yeah, I guess best job description as well is that I, basically, specialise in hauling everything I need to survive around with me, around those remote parts of the world, which is a bit of an unusual one. A fair question, how do you get started in that. In my case, it was definitely by accident. I stumbled into this career. That happened, probably, about five years ago now, five-and-a-half years ago. I use to actually work in Digital in London. I just had a bog standard 9:00 to 5:00 as a marketing manager.
I was actually working, at the time, for a company called, “School for Startups.” It was actually a social enterprise. Quite a few people might have heard of them. It was phenomenal. We basically taught entrepreneurship. I was responsible for the digital arm of that. I just realised after quite a few years of doing this that I spent all of my time teaching the people how to go about living their dreams and making their passion into a business. I really wasn’t taking my own advice. I didn’t know, at the time, what I really wanted to do. I knew lots of things in my life that I was passionate about, but I didn’t know what direction I wanted to go. I just took a year off and I quit my job. I headed out to America and stand up paddle boarded 1,000 miles down the river because no woman have ever done that. Actually, no person had gone that far, so why not, basically.
I got to the end of that and swapped my stand up paddle board for a bicycle. I just felt that the journey wasn’t finished. I hadn’t figured out what direction I wanted to go in yet. I was going to carry on thinking about this on the road until I figured it out. Because of my background in digital marketing, I knew how to tell a story. I was really passionate about storytelling. Along the way, along my journey, cycling west across America along Route 66, I just shared my story online through a blog and through my social media. Before I knew it, I suddenly have this following. It was completely unexpected. I thought it was great if one or two people stumble across it, but all of a sudden, I have this audience.
As I carried on paddling across and I was thinking, “Okay. Well, what can I do about this?” Because I really have fallen in love with adventure and wilderness. This is, really, truly where my heart is. “How can I use this audience and this new found niche to make a business because it was a niche?” There were very, very few people making a business out of this and a career out of this and let alone, women. There’s lots of women doing sorts of thing, but they weren’t in the limelight. I just couldn’t figure out why they weren’t getting that limelight and able to monetize on it and make a proper business out of it. I thought, “Well, I’ve got the experience in teaching entrepreneurship. I found the thing that I’m passionate about. I’m just going to take another step into the unknown and turn this into a career.”
Yeah, it was a little accidentally, but yeah, I guess when you open yourself up to opportunities and spontaneity, we tend to stumble across some great interesting things, which is what I did.
Amanda: You said that you took a year off and then you paddled 1,000 miles down the river. As you do during the year off like “Okay. I’m just going to paddle 1,000 miles down this river here,” how did you [crosstalk 04:25] and then paddled down the river?
Ness: Yeah. I guess, it’s quite a bizarre one to do. The seed for that idea, I suppose, was when I was working my 9:00 to 5:00 in an office that was, pretty much, windowless office in the centre and I’d gone in one of my lunch breaks. It’s one of those shops that sell post cards. I bought a post card that said, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” I just thought, “Oh, that’s really sweet.” I really like that and I bought it. I didn’t really think very much of it. I hanged it on the bottom line of my computer because it sounded like a really nice quote that was really inspirational. Three months later, I sat back one morning. I thought “I really don’t want to be here.” I sat behind the computer, two massive computer screens in front of me, greying my hunchback and thought, “This is not right. I was just not feeling this at all.”
For the first time, I looked at that post card and really read it. I thought, “Okay. Well, right now, in this moment, what would I do if I knew I could not fail?” because that has been a big thing throughout my life. It’s that fear of failure. I just thought, “You know what, I would go out into the wilderness and I would get space.” Time to breathe and to do something that’s physical because I love the gym. I love working out, something that’s mental so that psychological challenge of going on an expedition and into the unknown and you’ve never done anything like that in your life before and that huge challenge. I guess, that’s where it came from. Yeah, I just stand up paddling down the river. It was just, yeah, quite a bizarre stuff, I suppose.
Amanda: That’s really interesting that you say that fear of failure had always been a thing for you throughout your life. Tell us more.
Ness: Here’s a story I haven’t told anyone yet, actually. I guess it started, really, when I was quite young. I suppose, going really back to the very start when I was about six or seven. I was growing up in South Africa and it was quite an outdoors country. I spent half my time building tree houses and sitting in the mud. My mom screaming at me to get inside and try and get me in the bath, which was forever a chore and probably still is to this day. I really believed as a six or seven-year-old kid that anything was possible. I had a vivid imagination. I use to spend my time in my mind imagining these amazing world and universe as I was travelling through. It wasn’t one of adversity. It was just this incredible and magical world. I believe that anything was possible.
Then I went to school and that’s when things started to change for me because all of a sudden, I was introduced to schooling where you were taught to fear failure because you better not get lower than a C. If you get a D or let alone in that, a complete fail, then there’s something wrong with you. That’s where that started. The story that I’ve never told anyone is that, I guess, I stumbled in my early years in primary school because I was labelled. The reason I was labelled is that we were put through, at a very early age and I don’t think this is right, a IQ test. The whole school at primary school is put through this IQ test. A handful of us were sent off, shipped off to a place called, “Johannesburg School for the Gifted.” They said to us, “Well, you’re too smart and you need extracurricular activities off to school.” At first, my parents said, “That was wonderful.” My friends were like, “Wow. This is new and unusual and interesting.” The teachers started treating me differently because I was now the special kid that had been labelled as smart.
Really and truly, I really disliked going to that school for the gifted. It just wasn’t my scene. I didn’t enjoy any of it. It became very not pleasant place for me, but more so because when I came back to school the kids saw the teachers treating me differently. I got labelled and outcast from that. I was this kid that was special. No one wanted anything to do with me because the teachers liked me. I rebelled because I didn’t want to be excluded. I think a huge part of us as humans is getting connected to people around us and I did not feel connected at all anymore. I rebelled and my marks plummeted. The teachers and my parents and everyone around me thought, “God, what is going on with this child.” I was told I was smart and I had even failed at that. My confidence was utterly shattered. I was quite shy, introvert kid. I really, really, truly stumbled my way through school and didn’t do very well. I don’t think that anyone really truly, apart from my parents, expected me to come to anything much.
For me to be doing what I’m doing today is quite a long journey to get to where I am, but yeah, definitely, that fear of failure in school was instilled there. I just think it’s such as shame because as real young toddlers, we’re encouraged to fall and get back up. At what point do we change that conversation in that dialogue and start instilling that fear of failure. Because in my mind, personally I see it, any mistakes that you make and any failure is, now, having gone through the journey I’ve gone through and adventure and exploration has taught me this. I see those failures as my situation. They’re the most important part of our journey and the thing that makes us grow and become stronger. I think without them it’s very difficult to be successful. You have to be prepared to fail. That’s quite the journey. Yeah, that’s … Sorry. That was quite a long-winded explanation of why I think that fear of failure had been a big thing in my life and it was a big thing for me to overcome.
Amanda: Gosh. Thank you very much for sharing that with us. You saw this post card and you thought, “Okay. What would I attempt to do if I knew that I could not fail?” You have this whole hunger from childhood and from having your confidence not a fear of failure. How did you bridge that gap between that innate fear that you’d, I suppose, nurtured inside you and doing something so huge? Most people, if they feared failure, would be making baby steps.
Ness: I guess, actually, that that theme of jumping head first since my fear started a few years earlier than that because I’ve gone through those difficulties in childhood. I knew the person inside me wasn’t this nervous, scared, shy person. I was uncomfortable in my own skin because I didn’t have the skills and abilities to communicate and talk properly with people and really, just be who I was and have the confidence in that. When I moved from South Africa to the UK at the age of 15, it was actually an amazing thing because I said to myself, during that move and when I landed this side of the water, “This is a clean slate. This is an opportunity for me to change how things were in South Africa and start a new chapter in my book.” I promised myself that if I do one thing over the next 10 years, I would slowly but surely take on my biggest fears.
The very first one of those was when I was, oh gosh, I think it was about 20. I’ve really felt like I haven’t made too many inroads to doing that. I decided, “Well, I’ve got the summer ahead of me. What’s the thing I’m most scared about?” I can just say, “You know what, bug this. I’m going to go out and do that,” because I’ve had enough. I’ve had enough of being introvert. I’ve had enough of lacking the confidence. I’ve got all these great, amazing ideas of what I want to do with my life. I will be so disappointed of pointing it down the line, “I haven’t done something to change that and chase them.”
I really was terrified of sales and negotiation and strangers; walking up and talking and making conversation to strangers. I looked online and one of the jobs that really spooked me to overcome all of those was being a face-to-face fundraiser. You know these people on the streets that you’re going to walk around, they’ll ask you to sign up to charities and that encompass everything that “Oh, it’s terrifying to me; sales, negotiation, and strangers.” I did that.
Really, my first day was awful and horrendous. I stood on the street. I didn’t speak to a single person. I was just smacked in the middle of the street shaking all day long. I just thought, “No. Come on. You’ve got more inside of you.” I’d hit my work button that day of disappointment in myself. The next day, I went out and I just went through it all out. I suppose, because sometimes when you hit that rock bottom, there’s nowhere else to go. It’s like “Okay. Bugger it, I’m just going to go for this.” Yeah, it worked out for me and I realised that it’s never scary in real life as it is in your mind ever, ever. Within a few months, I was team leading and then I was coaching and managing the national campaigns for multiple charities and the face-to-face fundraising. Yeah, it became one of, well at one point, the most successful female fundraiser in the country. That happened quite quickly. I really surprised myself.
Really, it was just that courage to take those first few steps to go completely blindly into the thing that you’re most scared of and surprise yourself. The more I did that, the more I realise that it’s not as scary as I think. Actually, every single time, I’ll surprise myself in a good way more and more and more. I just felt that confidence that way. By the time I got to that little post card and thinking of, “What would I attempt to do if I knew I could not fail?” It was a little bit of a habit, but as we all do at some point in our life, I just got stuck in a rut. I got complaisant and I stopped chasing my dreams. That’s where after a few years, I realised that I was just doing life and ticking off other people’s boxes of get a house, a car, a dog, a cat and new relationship, but really, there was nothing personal and passionate that I was chasing within that. That’s the point where I’ve said, again, “All right. Okay. What would I do if I knew I could not fail?”
I wrote a list, actually. It wasn’t so much of a bucket list. More of booting myself up the ass of the things that I wanted in life like I didn’t want to get old and regret the things that I didn’t have the courage to try. Those things were on my list. Yeah, that’s where that came from.
Amanda: Those things on booting yourself up the ass, was some of those doing the 400-mile run [inaudible 15:47] with respect to that?
Ness: No. They were very vague, actually. I have always been really interested and passionate, probably because I was quite introvert, about the mind and the body, about psychology and that relationship also between mind and body and challenging ourselves. I knew for a fact through experience that we can always go further than we think we can physically. It’s just our mind that kicks into that survival mode that says, “No, no, no. Conserve the energy.” Yeah, we can always get through a little bit more pain and go a little bit faster and further. I wanted to explore that. Also, growing up in South Africa, I really loved wilderness, nature and animals and the outdoors. I suppose, it was only inevitable that I would go out and spend my first year of doing what I want to do, doing something and some adventure and exploration and challenging myself, but yeah, definitely, it was more of an accidental stumbling into this career in terms of really having a list of things like these expeditions that I do now.
Amanda: I’m going to ask you a question now and it might caught you on the spot. You’ll have to provide what I think is your natural modesty of what makes you do. Okay. You’ve said that you’ve had these fears that you’ve said you’ve had to be courageous. You’ve got that curiosity, but what do you think is the quality or the combination of qualities that you have that has actually made you do something about this and create this incredible career and become this record breaking adventurer whereas, 99.9999999% of people who even thought they might want to do that would never do it?
Ness: Interesting question and a really hard one to answer.
Amanda: Well, sorry.
Ness: It needs to observe outwards, but sometimes, yeah, the real difficult stuff to observe inwards is quite tough. Oh gosh. I was certainly not a born explorer or a born entrepreneur. I learned everything along the way. If I really think about it, probably, the one quality that’s got me to where I am right now with hands down have to be just resilience. Because if you can keep getting back up after people say no or things go wrong, again and again and again, you’re absolutely going to find your way to success. That’s really where it’s down to because I’ve been told no. People have closed doors on me more times that I can’t count in my life. I just keep getting up and chasing that and say, “No, that’s not good enough.” It was the same thing with confidence and courage is baby steps really and truly.
Our courage and our mindset is a muscle. Unless you’re working with and doing something about slowly building that up, then it just becomes stagnant and weak. You have less to call on. If you can just bit, by bit, by bit work on that courage and confidence and just hold on to that little bit of resilience.
Perhaps, the other thing is visualisation. I don’t know where I got that from. I guess, as a kid, I always have this vivid imagination and it’s never gone away. I have this ability, I suppose, to really in absolute, thorough detail and depth visualise where it is I want to get to. Even if it’s not a super defined pathway, I know that they’re actually I want to go into. I start imagining all the different ways that I could open doors for myself or try things. If that went wrong, then how would I react to that and pick myself back up.
Before, I wouldn’t just leave things to chance in terms of how I feel and how my internal narrative goes. I would proactively beforehand visualise, “Okay. If somebody said no to me and then the next person, the next person, the next person, I got 30 people down the line saying no to me, how would I be feeling and how could I get back up and what could I do about that?” I’d be prepared for that already. I guess, that’s helped me a lot both in life as well as in expeditions is knowing … You know who talks about this very well, if anyone has heard of Brene Brown. I’m not sure if you have. I’m sure you have.
Ness: She is phenomenal. If you look up her TED Talks, she’s incredible. She talks a lot about courage. The one thing that she says, which I really truly lived by and believe in and it’s what has got me to where I am now is this idea that you have to have the courage to step into the arena and you will get bloodied. You will get battered and bruised in that arena, but that’s where the success lies for you. If you’re a spectator on the side, that’s all you’re ever going to be. You have to get into the arena. You’ve got to be ready to fight your way and battle your way to where you want to get to. It’s that expectation that it’s not going to be a breath ahead of you but also, that positivity that no matter what you’ll get through, I suppose. Yeah, resilience and courage and bit by bit growing confidence like a muscle.
Amanda: Fantastic. Oh, yes. You are speaking my language. Actually, that just alluded to something that comes from a quote. I think it’s Abraham Lincoln. It’s “Victory belongs to the man who doesn’t get out but he’s coached to get into the arena and gets down and gets up bloodied and blah, blah, blah.” It’s a really good quote but I can’t-
Ness: Yes. I know that one. I can never remember by heart but it’s brilliant. Yeah. Absolutely.
Amanda: It is great, wasn’t it? Just in the side, my other favourite quote is, “Leap and the net will appear.”
Ness: Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. On a similar vein, actually, if I turn around behind me, I’ve got a poster on my wall that says, “There is freedom waiting for you on the breezes of the sky.” You ask, “But what if I fall?” The answer is, “Oh but my darling, what if you fly?”
Amanda: Oh, yeah.
Ness: It’s a similar thing. You really do just have to have that courage to go for because really, what’s the worse thing that could happen.
Amanda: Yeah. Well, [being placed 22:45] to that, maybe.
Ness: Well, yeah. Fair enough. I can’t argue with that. Yeah. There are certain contested rivers that, maybe, if you leap, you might not … Yeah. Certainly. When I’m in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, I won’t be leaping off my boat.
Ness: Yeah. Certainly.
Amanda: Yeah. I’m [recording 23:12] that one.
Ness: You get to leap [crosstalk 23:13] when I’m out in expedition.
Amanda: Ness, I’ve got … Oh, my brain is going all over the place because there’s so many things I want to pick up and there’s so much valuable stuff in there, but can I go back to the resilience. You talked about resilience, about keep getting up again and again. Is there a story that comes to mind of a time when, not necessarily in one of your adventures but actually maybe an adventure as well, but perhaps preparing for an adventure, the funding, or trying to get your business off the ground. Something where you almost gave up.
Ness: Oh, yeah. I got plenty of those. Don’t get me wrong. These keep happening. You don’t suddenly and miraculously become this person that never fails and never has to go through that and call on that resilience like that’s ongoing, but you get better at managing it and expecting it. Yeah. Certainly, with my career, it’s the same as running any business. A lot of people only see the expedition side of it and think, “Well, that’s a wonderful career” and off you go and that looks like quite an easy life. In reality, 90% of my time is spent at home doing the admin work behind my computer to make these things happen. In order to do that, I have to run everything like a business and I have to wear multiple hats. I do my marketing, I do my PR, I do my accounts, I do the logistics, and the fundraising. Everything is done myself. I even build my website. I do my social media.
It’s a huge daunting task. Especially, for example, leading up to this Pacific expedition, but yeah, over the years, I’ve had some big expeditions that have required a lot of funding to get off the ground and a lot of planning. I know, about three years ago, I went through a really rough path, actually, where I’ve almost gave up. It was right at the beginning of my career and because of what I do is quite an unusual thing. I have quite a job on my hands although, people were proud of me of what I was doing and achieving. My friends and family, they did find it quite difficult that I was going off around the world and doing these things that they see as incredibly dangerous and that they didn’t know much about and that they really quite honestly fit because they didn’t know whether I would come back alive. It’s easier for me because I’ve been through a few expeditions. I knew that I was safe.
As I said, I take calculated risk, everything or the minute detail that we go drill down into in the planning and organisation of this. It’s massive in the safety element. It’s a huge part of that and mitigating any risk and issue. I knew that it was quite a big job to convince those around me that this was a good idea for me to change after this career in this passionate mind. I struggled a lot with a number of things around that time. One was support. Again, don’t get me wrong, they were so proud but really scared. It was a big unknown for them. If I want to become an accountant, that’s known to everybody. That’s all right. I was like “Yes. Great. We know about that. Wonderful.” Exploring different story. Not having a huge support unit around me was difficult. At that time, I haven’t really made a huge number of friends in the world of exploration. I just didn’t know that many people yet or haven’t been out networking and getting to know people. I didn’t have that call on either.
I was trying to raise funds for expeditions. Obviously, everybody gets multiple times, people say, “No. That’s wonderful. We love the idea of it, but it’s not for us. Sorry.” It was like “No, no, no, no, no.” You’re trying to build a business and a brand and you have to have calling all those creativity to the marketing side of things and keep upbeat and be able to build pictures for that when you’re trying to sell people into your ideas and your expeditions. To try and keep that level of positivity there, to try and move forward and make the funds that you need and get the right partnership onboard and keep all this. That was really hard, really hard.
Actually, I stepped back from adventure for a little while and I slipped into depression. I’d never experienced that before. I’ve never been depressed in my life before. Trying to come back on that was really hard. That’s where I learned that you have to call upon the support of others around you. Without that, I think, it’s really easy for us in this day and age to feel like we need to be this super human people that are just good at everything, naturally, in order to look and appear successful to others and to ourselves that we have to win all the time. We put a huge amount of pressure on ourselves that we have to do it so low. That, to me, is just the worst way that you can go about things. What I’ve really learned in business and life, in general, is just don’t be that little island on your own. I’ve seen in so many ways in business and through my expeditions and also, the tribes and the cultures that I’ve met in some of the most remote parts of the world.
Most recently, in Namibia, the value that they put on collaboration and support of each other is huge. That’s the success of them. They’re incredibly happy people. The best businesses and entrepreneurs that I know are people who understand the power of collaboration. Yeah, I guess, that really was what started to turn things around for me again, but yeah, well, I’ve had to pull on that recently and it’s a lot. Put the ego away too. There’s no room for ego. Just chuck it to the side, leave it on the table, and ask for support around you. I think who you keep around you is very important and the attitude to life that they have. It’s very important to try and build a network of people close to you who have a really great outlook on life who will be a positive influence on you in moving forward.
Amanda: Thank you. Thank you. How long did that period of depression last?
Ness: Oh, about two years. Quite a while. It was a very slow coming out of it. If you look at the expeditions that I did, I’m trying to go back through the dates. I did my attempt swim in 2013. I did a 400-mile run from London to Lands End straight off the back of that, and then it went quiet for a period of time. A couple of years later, I headed out to Bolivia and things started getting moving again. I struggled during that period of time to pick myself up. It was extended and I learned a lot. Yeah, it was tough. It was definitely really tough.
Amanda: What were the most valuable things that you learned apart from what you’ve talked about with reaching out for support and not being in an island?
Ness: From going through that tough time?
Ness: This goes for everything again. During that time, I learned very strongly that things can seem very overwhelming. There were days where I was lying in bed in my pyjamas at 11:00 in the morning and I was so depressed. I didn’t even have the energy to lift my arm to get my cup of tea next to me. I really just had nothing. There’s absolutely nothing there. I learned that sometimes some things feel so overwhelming. The most important thing you can do is reel things back in and go back down. Sometimes, the very smallest possible next step and just do that thing. Once you get there and you’ve done that thing, then find the next smallest possible next step and do that. Slowly but surely, you build momentum. I think that’s really important. It’s to try and get momentum going. It’s the same with expeditions. There’s so many times I’ve been out there.
In Namibia, recently, last year, I was heading towards 50 degrees Celsius and I was dehydrated, exhausted, sleep deprived, and plus any kind of motivations got bored and I would literally look ahead and see a rock about 10 metres ahead of me and say, “Okay. Well, I’m just going to cycle to the rock and put my foot on that rock, and then I’ll take it from there. I’m not going to think about anything else.” I get to the rock and then you think, “Okay. Well, next one, I’ll do 20 metres for the next one and then you get to the next drop, the next drop.” I’ll just go to that corner and then I’ll go that ridge line. Really, yeah, bit by bit, small steps as long as you are taking any step no matter how small. It’s what you can call it. That’s really important.
Amanda: Oh, yeah, sister. I agree with you. Absolutely. Related to that just looking at that rock in front of you that, first, not even the obstacle but just taking those baby steps, do you practise mindfulness?
Ness: I think I just recently started looking into this. Some people have said to me, “Well, naturally, through your expeditions and how you describe things, you seem to practise bits of mindfulness.” I think it’s a really interesting thing that I would love to learn more about. Apparently, I do a little bit and I would like to introduce that into what I do a lot more. I think many aspects of my expeditions and the building of my business and the balance and happiness that I have in my life are probably really growing and benefit from that. I would definitely want to look into it more.
Amanda: Oh my goodness. Goodness knows what you’re going to achieve with mindfulness.
Ness: I know. I think I need to get onto this one pretty soon.
Amanda: I think that for about four years now, it’s made a real difference for me. Actually, I use get some head space and they have different packs. At present, I am going through a pack called, mindfulness. It’s for sport and for training. The introduction is all about how we have to get over ourselves when we have a goal. Especially, a goal with and adventurous goal or a physical sports goal and how we have to push ourselves. It’s like getting out of bed and not the whole thing about putting into perspective and mindfulness and being in the present and enjoying that presence. Yeah, it’s very useful, but I bet you probably do practise it without knowing what it was called.
Ness: Yeah. One of the things that someone said to me recently that I do, which is mindfulness is, when I get up in the morning, for most of my life, I just left. I didn’t think about, literally, those best 15, 20 minutes of when I wake up and what I do in the narrative that’s in my head. Through adventure and expeditions and that extreme endurance that I’ve been testing myself at and pushing myself to the limit, I now set my day and my mindset and my attitude and my feelings to the day, literally, when I first wake up. I don’t leave it to chance. I wake up and I think, “Right. This is the day ahead. This is the stuff I want to achieve. This is the attitude I’m going to go and to work with. I give myself a little pep talk.” That set me off on the right footing and I find that I don’t do that. I just leave it to chance from the day that I’m least productive. I definitely believe in all that stuff.
Amanda: That’s a great top tip. Can I ask you, what did you set as your mindset and attitude for today?
Ness: This morning, it was all about creativity. I’ve got a big talk coming up in couple of days. I’m also doing a pitch for a lot of my fundraising. I just need to be in a very, very positive mental space. In order to get creative, I get that creative presence that block if I am not feeling in the right atmosphere and the right place. I’m going to go get the best out of myself. I actually spend time with my dogs, the very first thing in the morning because I lift my spirits up. I would think through the rest of the day and what my plan is in getting into that creative mindset. Yeah, that was today.
Amanda: Wonderful. Do you train first thing in the morning? What’s your training regime like?
Ness: At the moment, to be honest with you, it’s all over the place just because of my schedule. It’s all over the place. Yeah, I’m struggling a little bit with that because I do like to have some general skeleton idea of what my week is going to look like. Yeah, my training sometimes is early in the morning, sometimes it’s mid-day, sometimes in the evening. I do find though that that the times that I train first thing in the morning and get up 6:00 am session and by eight clock, I’m ready for the day and having my coffee. Those were the best days and most products days for me. I did struggle a lot if I leave my training to the end of the day. I’m really tired and mentally exhausted. Yeah, it’s not really how I wanted it in my day. I do prefer training early morning. It’s energising. Obviously, we don’t know that doing exercise releases those happy endorphins. Yes, it’s definitely in morning when I can get in early.
Amanda: Are you a crossfitter?
Ness: I am now. I might have been following these on Instagram. I’m going to suffer for this. I have to admit. I’ve been watching them. For two years, I’ve been going through my Instagram looking at all these motivational fit people and they do competition to fitness centre. It’s phenomenal what they can achieve. About two months ago, I signed up to my local crossfit. I am doing it now. It is hard. They make it look so easy. I guess it’s the same thing with gymnastics and those kind of sports. It looks effortless, really effortless and then you try it and you just can’t even lift your leg up. It’s awful.
Yeah, from my Pacific Ocean road that I’m heading out on next year, There’s three, really, important things for me and that is flexibility, core strength and muscle mass. As I go, I’m going to be spending six to nine months and see. Once I’ve depleted my fat stores, which I do need to actually up before I go, I need to put on weight before I head out. Once the fat stores go, my body will start using my muscle mass as fuel. I’ll start losing that very quickly. Also, the powerful rowing is in your legs. I really need to build that up. I’ve got these little skinny legs. That’s what I need to work on. Obviously, your core strength to prevent injury and flexibility. I incorporate at my crossfit. They do a lot of Ashtanga yoga and something called, [Animal Claw 38:40].
I’m the least flexible person. It’s horrendous and quite embarrassing. There’s a long journey ahead of me. It’s not a pretty one, but yeah, I’m giving it a go bit by bit. I’m starting to see the results come through now. Yeah.
Amanda: Tell us about your next challenge, your record attempt across Pacific Ocean.
Ness: Yeah. This is one that’s being in my mind for about seven years now. Before I even began to think about adventure and exploration, as a career, I was following a lady called, Roz Savage. She, at the time, was in the, I think, her early 30s, heading towards her mid 30s. She had been a management consultant for many, many years and in a similar way to what I was doing. It was just ticking boxes and going through life and just doing life. She just needed more. She ended up heading out and rowing. She became first female to row all around the world. She did it in stages year by year. She rowed the Pacific in three different stages and then she’s in India and she’s in the Atlantic. I just looked at the story and it just really, really spoke to me and spot something in my imagination.
I just thought from that very first day, that was to see those, but until I was going to, at some point, row an ocean. The most unknown, crazy thing that I could ever imagine doing. Regardless of doing this for a career, I still would’ve done the row. For seven years, I thought about it. When I started the adventure career, somebody who I trusted, close to me said to me right in the early stages when I got really excited, “Okay. I was going to be an adventurer. I’ll go to the Pacific road.” They said to me, “Well, what’s your reason for doing it?” At the time, I had so many different reasons why I wanted to do it. I didn’t explain it very well and I stumbled over. “Well, I just really want to feel what it feels like to row halfway across the world on your own steam, using your own body.”
I just thought it was the most fantastic thing. They said to me, “Well, that’s not a good enough reason. You can’t do that. That’s just not good enough.” I listened to them, unfortunately, for a good few years. I never embarked on it because they basically said, “Well, that’s not a good enough reason so you’re not allowed to. You’ll look like a fool.” Yeah. I guess, as my career, post depression, actually, and as I’ve got back into this career and built things up, I’m really in a good place that I thought. The time is right now. I’m so ready to do this. I said, “Right. Let’s start planning it.” Yeah, it’s been a long time coming.
Amanda: When you started planning it, what was the first thing that you do? The first thing that you do is, you try to secure sponsorship funding or something else?
Ness: The first thing you do is buy a giant map and put it up on the wall. My office, the entire … It’s a slanted roof and the whole thing is a map of the world, an enormous map. Yeah, I bought that and then plotted out the root for that. I stare at it all day. From that point, I set it up a bit like you had set up a major project for your business. I wrote a skeleton structure of a business plan for it. I got those giant rolls of paper and I stuck them to my wall and started plotting out all the different elements from the marketing side, the fundraising side, the partnerships, the equipment, the team, everything. Everything involved. I put a timeline together of how long I feel it would take, and then all the contingency around that.
From there, I started really going into each one of those and then exploiting those out and writing a much more detailed plan for each one of those different sections. Then I got the marketing side of it together enough that … I didn’t have a perfect plan, to be honest, but it was enough to get my marketing together, get a sponsorship proposal put together because of my digital marketing background that I could luckily do that all myself. There was no cost behind that and both to pitch and just started going out. I’m working on my LinkedIn connections. I literally connected with thousands of people on LinkedIn that I thought would be fantastic for building relationship in the future in terms of my expeditions and partnerships and sponsorship and things like that. I just started contacting people and cold calling. Also, getting in touch with my network that was existing and asking them if they knew anyone who might be interested in getting all the warm contacts because that’s so much easier than cold calling.
Their response was phenomenal. Absolutely phenomenal. Yeah, it’s been good planning from there. Obviously, you want those fun stuff trickling through then you can start working on getting the equipment and organising the boat build and things like that. Yeah, it’s just literally as you would with any company. It’s putting together a major project.
Amanda: Wow. When you’re telling me this, I’m thinking about how many parallels because essentially, you’re starting a new business each time on you, something parallel. Well, it is a business.
Ness: Absolutely. No, it’s exactly the same structure, exactly the same thing. You have to think about and put together in organising the same way that I would approach it for any other business. Yeah.
Amanda: I also think, Ness, that what you’re sharing with people who’ll be listening here is that there’s going to be people listening who have no interest in doing adventures or no interest in starting a business or growing their business, but who have a career and there’s so many lessons that you can take from your career. For example, how do you use your LinkedIn contact, for example, that somebody might be able to mimic that to their next career move?
Ness: Absolutely. For me, the very first step on LinkedIn was taking a step back, asking people around me what they thought about might existed. A lot of people that weren’t close, just close friends. Business connections that were good enough, close enough that I could ask them for this favour and trying to get people that wouldn’t be emotionally connected to me to tell me honestly with constructive criticism what they thought of my profile. Yeah, leaning on the support of others for that, then taking that and building my LinkedIn profile so that it was that all five star, [inaudible 45:40] singing and dancing. The most important thing, I’ll be honest with you, with my LinkedIn and with all my branding, regardless of whether your business or you’re just looking toward your career, you still have to think about your brand. Who are you? What can you offer? So much of pitching yourself or pitching a project or pitching a company is the ability to story tell.
If you can’t connect with people and really get them to understand both the logic but also, the passion and the vision behind it, then it becomes incredibly difficult to move forward and get them to buy in. If you can learn how to story tell, learn how to get your profiles in the various places like LinkedIn up to scratch, then that’s hugely helpful. I got that up to scratch and then I started connecting with people, literally doing, using and … LinkedIn is incredible because the ability to drill down in the searches is phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal. You can find exactly the right people and exactly the right places to connect with. I would click “connect” and then write a little personal note for every single one of them. That sounds like a huge amount of hard work and it did. It took me hours and hours and hours, but the pay off now, months and years later, is huge because those people felt that I was genuinely wanting to connect with them, which I was. I had taken the time and effort to write something personal to them.
Yeah, really and truly like you can’t cookie-cutter anything and just blasted out because people just delete it or not even bother reading it. Really, that personal connection with people and customising everything was critical. I feel I’ve got the upgraded premium version of LinkedIn. I’ll save the InMails that I have for key people and then just having the courage. Quite often, I’ll be like “Oh, no. I can’t connect with them. They’ll probably think I’m weird,” but no, you just do it. Just connect with them, find something to connect with them about and make it personal. That’s been great and yeah, it’s been the one thing that’s brought in so much of my sponsorship. It’s been fantastic.
Amanda: When you connect with those people that you are initially reluctant to connect with because you worry they might think you’re weird. I guess you’re upfront to say, “This is why I’m connecting with you and this is what I’m hoping to achieve.”
Ness: Yeah. Absolutely. People appreciate honesty. There’s nothing worse than someone trying to connect with you. It’s so obvious when someone is trying to give you a little … Trying to sales pitch you but make it sound like it’s not a sales pitch but really … Just be honest. There’s nothing that beats that. Just be honest. Because frankly, if you go through those efforts to try and pretend like there’s some other reason why you’re wanting to connect, down the line, you’re going to ask them for that thing and they’re just going to say no. Well, they get to know upfront then waste your time and get down the line. People either open to it or they not.
For the most part, most people have been pretty fantastic with connecting and most of the time, if I’m not honest with them, they’ll turn around and say, “Well, this is not … a lot of things at the right time, right place.” They might be interested in you but just not at that point in time because the business is not looking for that at that point in time, but you’re still going to be at the forefront of their mind because you connected with them when the time is right for them. A lot of what I’ve learned around business and connecting with people is [inaudible 49:33] awareness. Once I’ve connected with them, what I do is make sure that I put up the occasional updates and post that thoughtful and relevance so that they’ll hopefully see those in their stream. I’ll keep coping up. It’s just honesty. I’m not a fan of trying to pretend that there are plenty other reason than what you are.
Amanda: I like that. It’s really fascinating to hear you talking as an explorer and an adventurer about your LinkedIn process thing.
Ness: Well, yeah. I think it’s all good.
Amanda: Not what I was expecting.
Ness: If you think about it as an explorer, there are so many people that I’m going to want to connect with. Not just for fundraising, but also, there’s people that could be great partnerships. Service is partnerships with me, not financial fundraising. There’s also people who are directors and producers and the creators out there. There’s people that work within publishing industries. All of this stuff is relevant to me. There’s coaches out there who are fantastic storytellers that actually me going in having a coffee with them somewhere down the line would probably be incredibly useful for me. Some of the best connections and the biggest doors are being opened for me. The most amounts of money that have come my way are from the least expected people. The guys that I thought, “Well, I connect with them, but I’m really not sure what can come out of that.” You just don’t know who they know. Don’t just count people.
Amanda: Yes. Absolutely. I run a monthly business breakfast for women in business as part of an organisation called, Forward Ladies. When I’m speaking to people about networking and about the way we do things at Forward Ladies, it’s very informal networking. I say to people who might have been too more traditional networking events, “Don’t come here expecting to give your business card to someone and they’re going to be on the phone next week ordering your thing or your service. That’s not how it works.” It’s so less century. It’s unbelievable. It’s about connecting, being interested in people, and you just never know where it’s going to land. It’s, as you say, always from the most unexpected places. You can’t control the people.
Ness: Yeah. An example of this is, he is going and I started out on my speaking career, I would go out and basically, for free, do talks to companies locally in the area for that reason. To be honest, anywhere that I possibly could for two reasons. One, because I needed to practise and the more you do something, the better you get quicker. I didn’t want to do one talk a month and then have to drag out this process of getting better at it. I’d rather do one talk every two or three days and fast track that process. The other reason was because I knew by giving something away for free and going and inspiring people and not asking for anything in return, those people have those events. They run their own company, they work for other companies.
An example of this is a lady who … To be honest with you, I couldn’t even remember her because I never really met her at the event, but I did a free talk. Two years later, I get a phone call because she’s now working for a huge corporate and wants me to come in. There you go, there’s five grand worth of one talk. It pays off. I think it’s being able to see every single relationship and events as the ability to invest in a possible open door down the line in the future. I see it this way that I’ve always said to people, “You know there were so many things in life. The more cons you go through it’s more aces you find. Don’t hold back. Try and do as much as you can whenever you can. If that’s doing free talk, just connecting with as many people as possible and just being very open with people and very genuine and authentic with people.” It really does pay off because like we said, it comes from the most unexpected places down the line. It’s really truly worth it.
Amanda: Yeah. I absolutely agree. I have an analogy. It’s throwing spaghetti at the walls. You just never know which of it is going to stick.
Ness: Brilliant. I love that. It reminds me when I was a little kid about where I use to get the toilet roll and get tonnes of it and dump and throw it. Oftentimes, I use to throw it and my mom did her [inaudible 54:17]. It was all over the house and stuck to every corner of the house. No. Absolutely. It’s a story that remind me.
Amanda: I hope it wasn’t [crosstalk 54:24].
Ness: Yeah. Definitely. I wasn’t that naughty as a kid.
Amanda: The rebellious streak of it for.
Ness: Yeah. Rebellious but not quite there. Yeah.
Amanda: Listen, I am going to have to ask my last question. I would like to keep you talking for the next three hours.
Ness: Oh, awesome. I love chatting.
Amanda: Oh, good. It’s been absolutely wonderful. There’s so many other cases we could explore. By the way, remind me, when we finish the interview, I’ve got a great contact for you.
Amanda: You see.
Ness: You see.
Ness: Thank you.
Amanda: I could probably give you more if you wanted that. You say that your mission is helping others, ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things. For all the women and some men who might be listening to this podcast, what would your message to them be about feeling ordinary and what they should do to achieve what their heart’s dreams of but they don’t actually go for?
Ness: Okay. Do you have a few hours that I can explain? There’s so many things, but I’ll try and get down to, I suppose, the most important things that I found for me have really worked. Really, genuinely, doing a very physical proactive thing like sitting down and really asking a question, “If I knew I could not fail, what would I do with my life? If you’ll remove all of those insecurities, what would you do with your life if you knew that you were going to succeed at it?” Write all those things down and really, start making the changes to do that because it’s so worthwhile. I think there’s nothing left in getting 20 years down the line, genuinely. We know this. People are speaking about this for decades and centuries. The thing we regret the most are the things that we didn’t have the courage to do in our life. We don’t regret the things that we did and we finally made mistakes. That’s part of life. Those are things that we didn’t have courage to do in the first place that we would regret.
Do them. Sit down and write a list and start making the changes. It really does seem quite daunting at first because a lot of us have commitments that we’ve already invested in and we’re scared that those things are going to fall away, but you don’t have to do this overnight and instantly. You can work towards that on the side. I think I was reading something the other day. I can’t remember the exact number but after a year, the amounts of days that we have off including weekends and holidays and things like that is back up to about 120.
Ness: We can find a little bit of time within that each year on the side, grow whatever it is and then make that transition period. Really, I’m a very ordinary person. Really I truly am. I’m not sporty. I’m not born for this. I’m very uncoordinated. I’m very clumsy. I walk into door frames all the time. I have no spacial awareness. I should not be doing what I do. I’m a very ordinary person. It’s that whole idea that just got to keep reminding yourself that every single one of us who have mastered something was a beginner at some point. We’ve all been there. None of us are different to each from that perspective. We were all ordinary people. We’ve just grown experience. If you can just have the courage and the resilience to keep plodding through and taking the next smallest possible next step, you’ll absolutely succeed. I think that’s it. We’re not supposed to be extraordinary super human. We are all ordinary. Just the things that we end up achieving are the extraordinary things.
Amanda: Thank you.
Ness: Also a plea, really, one of the things I’m most passionate about in life is that if you succeed and if you start finding yourself on the way up, please pull people up with you.
Amanda: Of course.
Ness: That’s really important. That whole ripple effect of positivity that just to keep really think about it. If you just help one person up, that person is going to have the similar effect on those around them because they will help. It goes on indefinitely. That’s an amazing thing to do. Yeah, just pull people up around you. It’s just the best thing.
Amanda: Yes. Absolutely. It works so much more energetically and that’s what changing the world is one person at a time.
Ness: Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah.
Ness: I know it sounds corny and cheesy but it really is. That’s my everything.
Amanda: Yeah, it really is. That, really, is the ordinary people achieving extraordinary things.
Ness: Yeah. Absolutely.
Amanda: Ness, thank you very much. I will put a LinkedIn show notes to your website and your Twitter feed. Probably, also, your LinkedIn feed.
Ness: Better make sure it’s in order then. Yes, really. Please do. Anyone can feel free to connect with me.
Amanda: I’m definitely going to go and put a microscope to your LinkedIn profile. You might be getting an email from me saying, “Ness, please give me some constructive criticism on my LinkedIn.”
Ness: I’m more than happy to help. Absolutely.
Amanda: Thank you so much, Ness. It’s been an absolute joy.
Ness: Likewise. Thank you so much. I’ve had a blast, absolutely a blast. Thank you.
Ness: Take care.