A special interview with Francis Owusu from KutlureBreak where we discuss programs for boys and much more.
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JD: Well welcome to The Weekly Podcast, Jonathan Doyle with you once again. Ladies and gentlemen, this is a big change this week. After many, many months now of you listening to me I suddenly realised that there’s over 6 billion people in the world. And many of these people have wonderful insights for us. So I wanted to do something different this week; this week I’ve got us a very special guest to join us on The Weekly Podcast, and over the next few weeks I really want to start talking with people who are doing really fantastic stuff in the area of changing lives, changing culture, helping us all grow and learn. So I’ve got a very special guest for you who has done some amazing work over the last decade, and we’ll talk about that as we go. But I’m talking today to Francis Owusu who’s the Founder and CEO of an amazing organisation called Kulture Break which I have been aware of in different times over recent years. And he’s somebody making a real difference in the lives of so many people and I just know in this interview we are going to hear some insights into what we can all do to contribute, to grow, to change. So Francis, with that glowing recommendation welcome to The Weekly Podcast.
FO: Well welcome and thank you for having me on board.
JD: [h] Well the truth is that people…I don’t get to do often interviews in my own town and Francis and I are living in the same city – and it’s very early in the morning isn’t it? [h]
FO: It is for a Canberra morning and it’s, you know, winter in Canberra is very cold.
JD: [h] And we’ve both consigned our various children to different parts of the environment and they’ve been told on pain of death they’re not to come anywhere near the recording area [h].
FO: [h] That’s true, they understand.
JD: So mate thanks so much for joining us, I’m really excited about getting a chance to talk to you. So um, I’ve got a few questions for you, but let’s…just give us an overview – who is Francis Owusu, what does he do and tell us a little bit about Kulture Break?
FO: Great. Well I guess Francis Owusu is a…I class myself as er, somebody who just loves life and is passionate about people. And I also [.? I live here, living ? 01:52. ?] I just think – just being grateful – er, a life of gratitude and er, I guess certainly as I’ve got a little bit older and as I’ve er, lived this life I’ve er…that’s probably one of the hallmarks of who I class myself to be. And I guess er, my involvement with Kulture Break started back in 2002. And it started out of my own sort of personal journey; as a young man who, you know in a lot of ways I kind of struggled to find myself, my own identity, who I was, and how, you know, how [.?2:23] I…I was born in Canberra but I grew up in Victoria and it took a long time for me to understand that um, that I was special and I was unique.
JD: Yeah. And you’ve got um…you know I’ve been watching some of your videos this morning and your parents are from Ghana, and that’s informed some of the work you do in terms of your whole approach to, you know, to dance. And as we talk about dance, tell us quickly what does Kulture Break do?
FO: Oh yeah, well Kulture Break is a…a charity organisation who is committed to empowering young people through the arts. And I guess the whole foundation of Kulture Break is the recognition that you are somebody. And er, we have this statement that says you don’t become somebody, you are somebody. And it’s that sort of recognition that, you know, before you like attempt to do anything in life, you need to recognise and believe in yourself that you are actually somebody and not trying to be, be something – you already are someone.
JD: So it’s starting from the bedrock foundation that I mean…/
FO: That’s correct.
JD: …and I guess that so many people must, you know, so many of us we live life from this position that if I’m…if I was different; if I looked like her, if I could talk like him, [FO: Yep] if I could do this. So, you walk into a room of young people and this is what Kulture Break is doing isn’t it? I mean you’re going into schools, community groups – walk us through what you do. Tell us about the Programme and what actually happens?
FO: So yeah, so pretty much what we do, we sort of um, you know, because our music culture is such a…in particular well, you know, popular culture with hip-hop and er, and that kind of culture’s very kind of prevalent in youth culture today and it’s very popular; we use that culture to connect with young people and create an environment using dance as a physical, you know, a physically active environment to connect with young people. And I think that’s the first point with going into an environment is connection. And er, connecting with people first. And that’s one of the great, one of the things we identify with that…identify as young people is that music culture and dance culture connects with a lot of young people. And so, what we do is, you know, we saw when we go into a room, typical when we go into a room kids think okay, alright, um I have to perform, I have to dance and what we say to you, say to them is before you even dance, before you do anything you are somebody, and um, you are accepted. Now let’s dance.
FO: Er, and a it sort of flips the whole thing around, where our society is kind of built where you know, you need to perform first to be accepted, and then you get your identity. And we sort of say no. We flip it around and say it’s your identity…’cos you’ve got identity you’re accepted and let’s perform.
JD: Yeah. That’s an incredible insight. I’m going to actually encourage people…we’re going to have a transcript of this – but what you just said there is so important. Like…that’s a big insight. The idea that we just think that we need to do ‘X’, we need to just do things and be things before we can have, you know, the love and the relationships that we desire; but you are coming from a different paradigm here.
FO: Yeah, yeah. And I think it’s sort of brings…it’s sort of like a…when young people get it and people get it I believe it’s a…it’s sort of a…a freedom breaks out because then you realise that you…who you are is not contributed to your, you know what you do is not contributable to who you are.
FO: …your core. So you can do mistakes, you can do, say things wrong – we all do those things, we are all…mess up and miss the mark, or, you know don’t achieve the goal that we wanted and the whole sort of pressure of that’s who, I have to do and achieve these things in order to be recognised – takes the pressure off young people in realising that what, who I am, is uniquely different to what I can do. So now I know that I am somebody, now I can go and do something.
JD: Yeah and then, it must lie at the heart…you know, whether it’s for young people or for all of us as adults – it must lie at the heart of so much depression, anxiety, this sense that fundamentally who I am in myself is not okay.
JD: I mean we, we talk about an epidemic in mental health and of course there are very genuine conditions, but you know so many of us must struggle with you know, depression and anxiety and especially young people out of this sense of ‘if I was different…’ but um, you know I’m thinking of Brian Tracy – some people would know, a great communicator on goals and business – and he used to talk about ‘Someday Isle’, you know this mystical island called ‘Someday Isle[I’ll]’ and [FO: [h]] he goes, you know, people are like, you know somebody I’ll, you know, be here, someday I’ll look like this, someday I’ll…and he goes, you know what? You never get to Someday Isle[I’ll], you don’t.
FO: Yeah [h], yeah.
JD: So, I mean I love what you’re doing and I’ll…there’s something, I’m going to embed a heap of your videos in this transcript because I was watching them this morning and um…you know, you made a great comment – and there’s some really moving videos and I hope people will look at those on the site because, you’ve got, you had this great comment where you said, ‘It’s hard not be happy when you dance’. And that was really cool ‘cos I thought yeah you know, even as a short, white man you know, when I get out there [h]…[FO: [h]] when I get up there at the occasional wedding – you know, when you just let go and um, you know, I don’t drink anymore but many years ago there was a proportional relationship between, you know, the number of drinks and the dancing ability but, you know, you just have fun don’t you? I mean you must see that all the time?
FO: Yeah, you do. You sort of see it, I see kids that er, just the kids who are shy or reserved or um…and you just see, you know they come in with…one one way and when they start to dance and start to enjoy themselves their confidence goes up and [.? 07:34] to move and there are just changes and they start to have fun. And you know I think it just…it really does, and I think I just go back to what it did for me, you know, that’s… That was one of the catalysts um, you know for me, because I was a very reserved, shy child, and people look at me today and go ‘How could you be such a reser[ved]…?’ you know? And I was. I was afraid,… And they laugh sometimes ‘cos I was, I was very afraid of girls [h].
FO: [h] Um, and er…because it’s okay for a young man or a guy to say something bad to you and you can either defend yourself and that – but when a girl said something to you, there’s nothing you can say [h] or do[h].
JD: Yeah, yeah. Yeah.
FO: And er, and so, you know, it’s…it did shape that. I mean I got involved with um, many years ago, with the Rock Eisteddfod, [08:16? at an all Boys./our boy’s /voice?] school and I got on stage and for the first time in my life, you know, I had people not look down on me but look up at me [.?.]
JD: Yeah. So it’s…I mean it sounds like, you know Tony Robbins used to talk about this, you know setting up the game so you can win. Like having, having an environment where you can get some success, some positive feedback [FO: Yeah] um, you know I think many people – even listening to this today – you know we, we surround ourselves in environments where we, we can’t have those small wins. So…
FO: That’s right.
JD: …listening to you it sounds as important to be in positive places, to be around people. So tell us a bit about that; what’s…how does environment affect, you know…< tell us about that?
FO: Yeah. < Yeah, no hugely. I have this er, sort of a…my own colloquial thing calling it ‘The Banana Effect’ and er, I remember many years ago I went to…my parents took me on holiday to [.? 09:07] and I’ve never seen so many bananas in my life. And er, I came back and I was thinking this years later and I said, um, why isn’t there any banana plantations in Canberra? [JD: Yep] And er, I realised it’s not that we can’t grow bananas, it’s just not hot long enough, the climate’s not hot long enough to grow here. And it’s this same thing with the environments we create around ourselves; it’s that, you know, I have a dream zone and I call it, I tell young people you’ve got to create environments hot enough and long enough to see a change.
FO: And so it’s not that people can’t be positive; they’re just not in that environment long enough in order to become a positive person or to see the change they want to see in life. And so it’s important the environment you surround yourself becomes extremely important in the climates [09:55] because we are all a product of our own climates and our environments that we surround ourselves with. And you can…I believe you can accelerate things, just like you see a child who likes music and you…what you tend to see a lot of times – not all cases – but a lot of the time – you see that it’s in the [.? 10:12 fire.?] at the family home. My kids love dancing. My son’s three years old, he’s a better dancer than I am now [h] at that and it’s because we surround – ‘cos I do the music all the time, and dancing – he’s surrounded by that environment so he accelerates that environment. And I think that’s really important.
JD: It’s crucial. And listening there it’s like, you sort of talked about you know, the environment isn’t hot enough for long enough here in terms of growing bananas, that metaphor, it’s interesting, because often you know, it needs time doesn’t it to create change in your life.
FO: That’s right.
JD: You know people are like, you know so many people are like well I’m gonna go on a diet, I’m gonna do this and you know what, you know 30 seconds later it hasn’t worked.
JD: And it’s like, well, you know the advice was bad. And it’s like, you know it’s often it takes persistence, I mean you know going back even to Aristotle, to the Greeks, it was just the idea of just constant change, moving in that direction, surrounding yourself with the right people. So how do you do that? Do you seek them out? Do you just find that if you stay positive your environment just changes? How…what do you do personally to shape your own environment?
FO: Yeah, I think as I’ve sort of spent more time on this I’m beginning to recognise that the people you hang around with are crucial and er, in particular, as I say well if you’re the smartest person in your group you need to find a bigger group.
FO: Um, because you need to surround yourself with people who have different…who are, you know in some ways have different ideas, who are smarter and sometimes are more…[.? 11:42.?] and have the things that you want to aspire to being…around you because that helps you to shape and accelerate your life. I mean, you know, if you hang around with barnyard chickens and er, that’s what you’re gonna get.
JD: Correct yeah.
FO: …[.? 11:57.?] with the eagles[h].
JD: The old great saying from Texas: you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas you know?
FO: Fleas [h], yeah.
JD: That’s so powerful. I mean, I think there’s a previous podcast and I’ll try and put a link to it – about reference groups – and this comes out of, you know often with personal development and motivation people think it’s all sort of you know ra-ra, but you know, Princeton and Harvard both did studies on reference groups, which was a kind of 30-year study on the five key people, five key peers in your life and you’re exactly right, you will mirror the success of those key people around you. And, you know I guess for your work with young people that’s a huge insight because the people that they’re…you know they’ve got this hunger for identity [FO: Yep] and you know, they’re unsure of who they are, and they get in a particular reference group that may not be healthy.
FO: That’s right.
JD: So, here’s a tough one, for people listening, if they can go okay yeah, that’s pretty challenging, my reference group isn’t great – how do they change it? What can you do to start getting yourself around different people?
FO: I think it starts with first of all like come back to yourself. It’s the way you see yourself.
FO: If you…and you have to make that change in perception of yourself. A lot of – I see this relationship with a lot of young people – they say oh, all my …well a female or a male may say, you know all my…you know relationships I’ve been in the girlfriend or the boyfriend…um, they’ve been losers, and er, the way to change that – it’s ‘cos you are – well everything…your outcome is connected to who you are. So, it’s got to start with changing you. And you’ve got to start to see yourself as a winner. You’ve got to start to see yourself as worthy. You’ve got to start to see yourself as valuable. And I think that’s just the first, because then you…then you will attract what you are. [JD: Yeah] Because we are all …ultimately attract what we are. So I tell young people if you have a losing relationship it’s because that’s the way [h] you see yourself. [JD: Yeah] And so I think it starts to change…the key catalyst to changing the environment or the reference group that you hang out, is to start to see yourself differently; to start to believe. And sometimes, it’s not going to happen instantly, you’re not going to sort of have this sort of – ah, I’m a winner straightaway, but it’s just making that first choice: that I am worth more than this, I am better than this. I’m not saying you’re better than other people, but you’re better than the way you see yourself.
JD: Correct. And there’s two things in that; one is kind of, it can sound really challenging can’t it to say to somebody look, you know, the outcomes around you, the quality of these relationships, you are contributing to this.
JD: I mean people don’t want to hear that. People are like no, it’s my environment, it’s my childhood, it’s like.. You know that’s why I think there’s so few people and hopefully there’s many listening today who, if you really want change, that’s confronting isn’t it? You’ve got to go, I’ve got to put my hand up here and say I have been contributing to the results.
FO: That’s right. <I think it’s challenging.
JD: And the other thing…< yeah. Well the other thing I sort of, in what you are talking about is, you talk about this ability to see yourself. And my experience has been…you know let’s talk about the how. How you change this, this self-paradigm. I have been lucky enough to be kind of drilled in that cognitive behaviour model; that it’s the language you use about yourself, how you speak about yourself… Tell us about that. How do you, what’s your experience been about the power of language and how you, the self-talk?
FO: Yeah, yeah. No for me, like um, that’s just so powerful because I look back at the words I used to define myself in, you know I’ve heard this saying once: people can call you whatever they like, but it’s what you respond to that counts. And it’s very true in that aspect and I would reinforce the way I speak with negative things; like I was a ‘loser’, I was ‘rejected’. [JD: Yeah] I was an outcast. I would reinforce those words I’m no good, and whatever you reinforce, you know re-repeat, re-enforce is, becomes, you become you know, what you say. And so, that language you speak over your life is very, very, very, powerful in driving the direction you head in, and I began to reassess how I spoke about myself. And you probably noticed now that when you introduce me and say ‘Who’s Francis?’ I say ‘Francis is a very passionate person’ [JD: Yeah, yeah] ‘about people, he…’ the way I speak about myself is so much differently to the way I spoke about myself 20 years ago. [JD: Oh yeah.] I would say to myself um, ‘I’m a shy person, I’m reserved, I’m rejected, I’m no good’. So I think it’s a very powerful tool to recognise.
JD: So tell me this, like what happened to you? I mean at what point did you go: I am not that. I mean there are 6 billion people on the planet, you know most people never do, or experience what you’ve experienced. Was there a key moment, was there just a gradual sense of I’m not living with this any more? How did you change?
FO: Yeah, I think that there are just, there are some pivotal moments. I…some of them are candid, some of them are really like quite deep and I think there are a number of factors. Number one I think from an…artistic point of view, for a guy who was bullied and was, you know, um, you know racially abused and look, kind of ostracized during school – I mean I had great moments in schools but there were times that were really dark – it was the getting on stage. And people, I am on stage and um, I wasn’t embarrassed to be what I was doing ‘cos I loved what I was doing and people rather than say that was…you’re a loser and that, they saw I could do something, I was succeeding in something and so they applauded. And that was a key thing, to just say, point to say you know what? I actually am, I’m okay, I’ve got something, Iike, somebody. And I go fast-forward, you know, my faith has been a big part of that as well, because I recognised that I was loved and I did have that…I wasn’t alone and that I had a future and a purpose. Um, it’s a very essential, big part you know in solidifying that. But that’s another big part – you know at the age of 19 I began to realise that, you know, and it took a number of years – that I was loved. [JD: Yeah] That I was somebody. And I think that was also a very big pivotal moment. And then fast-forward a few years later forward until when I was 24, sitting at MacDonald’s in…going to a Beyoncé Concert in Sydney [h] [JD: Wow, yeah, yeah [h]] And the guys are, we’re sitting around our tables, this bizarre comment I said, and I just said to them, ‘I want to eat in a MacDonald’s’ – something we shouldn’t do[h] but er, um…[h] – but I said to myself I don’t want my life to be about myself anymore. And I then realised…and the boys were like oh what do you mean by that? And we just kept eating and I don’t know why I said it but, I got to the point, I go you know, my life [won’t 18: 40.?] be defined by how I help others, not just about who I am trying to be in myself and who I’m being myself. And I think when I put those three things together they’re the key [.? 18:52] at what really began the changing process.
JD: Yeah. And I am pumped seriously listening to you. You know if we had the webcam on you’d see me sitting here going it’s just awesome to hear it. I…something in me, I just love listening to people like you, you know who’ve encountered challenge and encountered adversity and just great stuff’s come out of it. And I want to, you know you’ve given us a nice sort of approach to the next question just in what you were just saying, when I was watching your videos, you said something again, really awesome – and I really want people to watch these videos that will be embedded – and I quote from Francis Owusu here: he says, ‘When I started to think that my life could be more than just me, that unlocked something in me’. Now I want to talk about contribution and I want to introduce that by, you know, I’ve been lucky enough to study a lot of stuff around you know Martin Seligman’s ‘Happiness Studies’ and what we do know is that money is correlated to happiness up to a point [FO: Yep]. So if you’re completely poor and you can’t feed your family then it’s very hard to be happy, but if your needs are met and you’ve got shelter, you’ve got your housing, you’ve got food, yeah you might want more but you know…the theory is that adding more money to any human life, you know exponentially, doesn’t create extra, extra happiness. If that was true of course then Bill Gates would be the ultimate happiest person on the planet, which is not necessarily [FO: [h]]. So you talk about contribution and I think it’s a massive thing and it can snap us out of depression [FO: You’re right about that], it can snap us out of… Talk to me about contribution, that sounds like a real hard beat for you.
FO: It is, it is and I think, and that’s one of the things that we, I’ve embedded in the organisation of Kulture Break, about getting our young people, two times a year we get them out to go and contribute to the society, where we get out there an do something which, ultimately just giving to strangers, people they don’t know. Because such a big power in your own personal happiness from giving. You know there’s a lot of studies around that talk about how, you know, it increases happiness and that’s where my gratitude comes from; it’s that being grateful for what I’ve got is by helping people less fortunate. And I think one of the keys to you know increasing your level of happiness is to be a giver, be generous. And I think when, when reciprocity…you sort of…well you know I see situations where, you know, if you create a system where people are only receiving, never giving, it creates a blockage and it’s like a damn. And I believe our lives should be rivers, should flow, should be inlets and outlets and once you…I think once people learn how to learn the power of giving it actually increases their level of happiness. And um, you know we all have…they say, you know a study was done on you know pre-determined levels of happiness and they’re saying how to increase that, this pre-determined level, one of the keys is being grateful and I think that’s one of the key things. I think when you really begin to give and live and to contribute, you begin to live a more happy and productive and healthier lifestyle and becoming a happier person.
JD: Yeah. Look it’s like, we can tend to make life so complex. There just seems to be these basic, operating laws of the Universe you know, that God establishes[h] this kind of process where you do certain things and you get certain outcomes and contribution is just…you know I’m going to undo any um, probably spiritual value of having done this[h] but a few months ago I was at a um, you know I had the kids with me at a supermarket and you know, I happened to have a bit of money on me and I walked out (and it was a fair [h]) and there was some people there collecting money for a children’s hospital charity and um, I have a habit of, whenever…my father I think sort of taught me this: whenever you see somebody busking or anything you just give ‘em what you’ve got – [FO: Yeah] and I gave ‘em this money, and it was quite a bit, and I just walked off. I don’t like getting into a discussion, I don’t like you know, people going ‘oh my gosh’, and I just walked off and I got in the car. And the next thing I’m [h]…strapped the kids in their car seats, I’ve got tinted windows, I look up and there’s this bikey standing right there – the beard, the whole beard [h] [FO: [h]] and I hadn’t seen this guy and he’s collecting money with the um, with the people there – there was a whole group of them – and he was the toughest looking guy…and I’m not making this up, he’s starting to tear up and he taps on my window, I wind down the window and his gratitude was just amazing. [FO: Wow] He was all…so teary, he just said, ‘Mate, you’ve just done the most amazing thing’ and for me it was a tiny, a little thing, but I’m like…his life had been affected by this, I think he’d had a child that had been, you know, in a really desperate situation, so this was real for him. And I was just, you know all this time later I can see it and I’m like…we miss…you know everybody listening to this – today, you can contribute, you can make little in…you know deposits in people’s lives, just little things [FO: Right]. So, look, another great thing in your video, you talked about focusing on what you can do and not on what you can’t do. I mean and there’s a beautiful, there’s a young boy in your video and he’s just, you know, he’s the kind of kid that you wouldn’t picture to be out there doin’ you know, dance and stuff, and um, you know he talked about being nervous and stuff and you must obviously teach people: don’t worry about what you can’t do, look at what you can do. Tell us about that.
FO: Right, that’s right and it’s, it’s just yeah, it’s about unlocking. Because that, the whole thing about you know, what you focus is where you’re gonna go and so um, you know, it’s always ah I can’t do this and people – particularly in dance you know, you see um, young kids in particular like with break-dance or things you see guys can do things, kind of flip and twist and jump and you go ah, I can’t do that and they go okay, well what can you do? [JD: Yeah]. Let’s focus on that. Oh well I can do a six-step, or I can do this step. Well let’s do that and do it the best you can do it. And then when they do that and they go that’s great that really enforces them to focus on what they can do and then when you focus on what you can do begins to unlock, or begins to break down those barriers to what you can’t do. And I think it’s just um, that understanding that, you know, you don’t have to do everything but you just look at what you can do.
JD: What you can do.
FO: You know it’s like that thing you know, um, that story where – you may have heard this before – where someone’s walking on the beach and they see all these starfish washed up on the shore and he begins to put them into the, you know, throw them back into the sea and someone says ‘Why are you doing that? You know you’re not going to get them all in’ and he says well, what I made a difference to is to that one, that I’ve just put in. And it’s about focusing on that: the one thing that you can do. You can’t save all the world, you can’t solve every world problem but what can you do. You know?
JD: Yeah. So tell us over the time that you have been doing this work – what’s really moved you? You know I think in one of the videos you can see you…you know at an event and there’s a lot of great stuff happening – what really breaks your heart? What’s a memory you can look back and say you know at that moment I was deeply moved by what was happening?
FO: I just…ah gee, there’s so many. Um, I think there’s many moments but er, you know, I…I think one of the times I was really moved – there’s two occasions recently. One is in the video that you can see is with James, the young autistic child.
FO: He was er, severely bullied at his primary school last year and to the point where his mum and dad didn’t know what to do and were going to take him out of school and then our programme happened to that school at that time and long story short um, he’s a young man who’s completely turned around; he’s now, he’s now been made a leader, one of the house leaders in his school, you know saying that he is somebody. And his mum said I wish I saw you guys five years ago and she said ‘thank you for saving my son’.
FO: That just went boom, that kind of, you know, a stone that hits the bottom of the core of you[h].
JD: [h] Er, watch that video people – I’m going to put that video embedded here ‘cos um, it’s just a beautiful scene – that little boy and his mum. And um, mate that is awesome, that’s such exciting stuff. So let me throw you a few final questions, um, you’ve got a three year-old son, I’ve got a four year-old son and I mean, how good is it? It’s a beautiful time of life, you know they’re sweet and [FO: Yep] you know, you’re a father now and you’ve walked a journey and you’ve experienced you know, times of rejection and disillusionment and all that stuff and I’m sure he will in his way at times, but what are, as a father, speaking into his life, what are sort of two things – two life messages – that you would want to really give him? Because I think as we hear these from you they’ll tie into your message to pretty much everybody. What are two things you’d really want him to know?
FO: I’d really want him to know that he is loved and he is somebody. That’d be the first one. That you’re loved and you are somebody. And the second thing is that I would say and I certainly say it with my young guy is that failure is not falling down but failure is [getting 27:47: not? ] back up. [JD: Yeah] And I want to encourage him just to try and it doesn’t matter if he fails. It’s the fact that he’s willing to give it a go.
FO: Give it a go. And I think they’re the two things I’d say to him.
JD: So it’s kind of identity and resilience isn’t it?
JD: It’s know who you are and… Let’s talk just a little bit – I love chasing these little directions on resilience. You know, for both you and I in our different areas of business and life, I think people meet us maybe sometimes and they think wow you do all this stuff and I’m like if you had any idea [h] what…[h]
JD: …how long… [h]…I can remember years ago sitting in an office that we had and I had just spoken to my accountant and things were tough and it was just…I had my feet up on the desk and I had this blank expression staring out the window[h] and my wife walked in and she was working in the business back then, Karen, and she just – you know how wives’ just know – she just stopped, she looked at me and she just went, ‘What happened?’ [FO: Yeah [h]] And I just remember thinking it’s, we’re done, like this vision, this dream – gone. And um, that was like six years ago now and we’re still going, and really well and I’m like, you know, in your own life how do you deal with adversity? How do you…do you have days where you’re like ah, how am I gonna do this?
JD: I mean tell us about that, how you deal with it yourself?
FO: Yeah, yeah, it’s a tough thing. I had the same similar thing er, back in 2008 um, with Kulture Break, when I had 48 hours to shut the business down ‘cos…[JD: Oh wow]… you know, there’s no money left, you’re trading insolvent now…[JD: Yeah] and er, my wife even said, look I love you but the writing’s on the wayl [JD: oh [h], wow] and you go back and er,…/
JD: Go busking [h].
FO: [h] Yeah, you go back to…she said ah, go back to your – you know ‘cos I’ve got a Finance Degree – go back to the finance world and er, earn some real money [h]… [JD: Wow] and there was something within me that said it’s not…it’s not over. [JD: Yeah] And um, and the first part of that was to, I took ownership of the situation and er, I just think I said no, this is not over and that was actually that resilience that said look, you can go again, you can do it, you can push through this, this is not the end. And er, you know, here we are [h] five years later – bigger and better than we were before. And er, it’s just that little belief, that sort of grit, you know that sort of like, you know self-belief and determination which, you know, resilience and grit. Like I kind of say there’s two to making it: there’s resilience and grit.
JD: Grit’s a great word.
JD: If people haven’t seen it, it’s worth seeing, the original movie, True Grit with John Wayne. [FO: [h] True Grit, John Wayne[h]]. The original John Wayne version is awesome and um, the new one, there’s the one done recently with Jeff Bridges which was pretty good. But it’s like you know, this, this deep ability just to keep going, just to you know?
JD: I wonder[h] listening to both of us – there’s a fine line between true grit, self-belief and rampant stupidity sometimes[h].
FO: Yeah, there is[h].
JD: Especially when our wives kind of go, er, we’re done now[h] and you’re like, no we’re gonna keep going.
FO: Yeah, got to keep [h] going.
JD: There was another word you mentioned at the start of when you talked just then about ownership and um, you know, this podcast is all about creating change and moving our lives forward and ownership, you know, for where we’re at and responsibility. [FO: Yep] Like, again,…you know when we talked earlier, we said, you know people want to blame you know if they are having bad relationships they want to externalise it all. Taking real ownership and responsibility for our lives and our outcomes is a big thing for people isn’t it?
FO: Ah, huge. Huge, huge. Huge. And you know when we were in that financial situation, I mean I had a financial advisor working for us and it was so easy to say, point the finger at him and say well, he didn’t look after the finances…we’re in this situation – no, I said you know what, other people said look yeah blame him and I said no I’m not blaming him. I’m taking ownership; I’m the owner, it’s my vision, I’m responsible. [JD: Yep] And you empower, once you take ownership you become, you empower yourself for change, and you take control. And um, you know, blaming others is just, just sort of, spiral out of… you know[h] freefall. And it’s, freefall you just, you know you’re trying to grab a branch, it’s like falling down the side of a cliff and you’re trying to grab these small branches and you never know until, until you’re upon ‘em[h].
JD: And if you do that I often find you’ll have plenty of people around you who’ll validate those assumptions. You know you’ll go…[FO: Yes]. You know it’s the environment, it’s the economy, it’s this, and everyone’ll be like ah yes, that’s right, it is you know. You know you’re the good guy and it’s everything else.
JD: And I mean I think what you’re saying is so powerful you know because, you know for people listening to this now, if you want to really contribute and live a passionate, alive life then you have eventually got to put your hand up and go, look, eventually the buck stops with me. You know I can blame my parents, I can blame my boss, I can do everything… And you know I meet so many people – and maybe this is where you and I are similar – I meet people and I just want to grab them and go, do you have any idea what’s possible?
FO: That’s it; that is so true.
FO: And, you know, I think that the work that you’re doing in helping people to realise they have a choice and that they can make the changes. Um, it’s, I mean we all hear these things, they’re not new to us, but it’s actually that sort of – just taking that step to actually grab it and believe it. Just grab it and believe it. You have it.
JD: Well it’s interesting you say you know we’ve heard it so many times because I sort of said I did a second Masters Degree in Philosophy and one of the principles was that, you know one of the basic human conditions of existence is forgetfulness. We just constantly forget, you know, who we really are…[FO: Yeah] and we constantly forget the great stuff that’s happened. We forget to be grateful. It’s kind of like, [h]you know, we need to get a fax or an email from God every day going look, will you just read this one more time, you know?
FO: Yeah, yeah.
JD: There’s so much good happening. And um, so tell me about the future, what’s planned? Like where….what…you know you’ve got so many good years ahead of you. What do you wanna do? What do you wanna see happen, what do you want to grow?
FO: Yeah, well I guess on the Kulture Break front you know one of my, I guess my biggest dream and passion is to see it evolve into becoming a training and education facility. So you know, sort of like…I look at [.? ALIAS.? 34:06] I’d like to have something like that for Kulture Break. The vision and that we can what I call raise ‘Kulture Breakers’ to go out and change culture. And that’s what I wanna do is have a you know, multiplication effect.
JD: Well if you talk about Kulture Breakers tell me about the culture you want to see. I mean what is the world that you see? How do you see it being different?
FO: Well I see it, it’s that breaking that negative and that barrier that says that things aren’t possible, you can’t do this and it’s that, that’s why we call it that; changing culture, how the name of Kulture Break got formed – was breaking culture. So wherever that culture that inhibits people from being who they really are and achieving their potential; that culture needs to break. And it starts with first knowing that you are somebody. Because once you go into an environment and you don’t know who you are[h], then you allow all that space for other…[.? the environment others.? 35:04] to tell you who you are.
JD: You’ve got to be vigilant don’t you? You’ve got to constantly be aware of what’s around you.
FO: Yeah…around you. and we look at you know, things like poverty, injustice, all these things that um, you know these things in the world that are decaying and I think in order to address those sort of things you need to raise people who have, who believe they can contribute, who believe they are somebody, believe that they’ve got potential, believe that there’s more in other people than they realise and then they can step into those environments and bring about the change that’s required. And it takes a special group of people to do that. And I want to see a multiplication effect to change the world, one by one. It’s a massive vision and I won’t see it in my lifetime. What I can do is leave a legacy and raise a generation that can believe that; that can pass that on.
JD: It’s great listening to you; it’s like you know just…it’s a great way to live isn’t it? And like you said you may never fully realise it, but it’s this, at the end of the day your momentum, your movement, is forward.
JD: You know you’re not sitting there going, you know blaming everybody – you’ve got a vision and I think that’ such a powerful thing for people is where’s your momentum? [FO: Ahah] Are you moving forward in some area? You know is tomorrow better? And you talk about gratitude. It’s a big thing for you and I remember once, you know recently I had a family holiday and one of the rituals I had was – and it was a pretty challenging time of life and, you know, things were pretty tough – but I would get up every day and we were staying in a beautiful place and the beach was there and I’d have my journal and I would force myself to write four things that I was really grateful for every day. And you know sometimes I didn’t feel it and you know I’ve got beautiful kids and just these little things that you can be grateful for. Do you have rituals? Do you have something in you that you kind of…I mean is your…[FO: Yeah] What do you do that keeps all this moving?
FO: Yeah, well I guess – ah gee, one of the key powerful [things] is having quiet time. And our lives become so busy with noise, with things, our words, and things, when I do a piece of work, because of the kind of stuff that we do, [.? 37:07.?] a lot of people, go here, go there, raise a family, mobile phones, this-that and you don’t, we don’t tend to stop, and reflect. And one of the things like my rituals which are – I haven’t actually to be honest done as consistently in the last[h] couple of months[h] – but for a long time I used to go down, past [.? Placename .? Tharwark.?] and sit by the river.
JD: Yeah, beautiful out there.
FO: Yeah it’s beautiful, quiet time, where there’s no mobile reception and I’ll just think about the great things that God’s done for me; the great things I have in my life – be grateful. Speak it out. And I’d be – if someone actually saw me, and in fact one time I was down at er, down in Gordon and there I was talking to myself out loud and [h]…on the little sand there and [.? 37:51] walked past and looked[h], but they’re just thinking this guy is insane [h] speaking to himself.
JD: Yeah[h] well I think you’ve got to, you know if you’re gonna do something amazing you’ve got to be a little bit crazy you know?
FO: Yeah, crazy, so I think that’s one of the rituals I’ve done – just talking to yourself and um, reflecting and having quiet time and really thinking about what are the good things in life?
JD: Yeah. And listening to that like it’s um, you know, similar for me, like the silence and introspection. And one of the principles I teach and, you know for everybody listening to this – you have got to make time for what Francis is talking about. This time for daily silence, reflection, whether it’s, you know I get a lot of time, Francis and I both get up super early. I just think it’s a key ingredient of success you know? Aristotle used to say that the unexamined life is not worth living.
JD: He’d be like this constant sense of, you know I’m huge on journals you know, just writing dot-points, goals, just silence. Thank you for that one because I think the vast majority of people do not do that; they just live from, you know the minute they get up it’s email and it’s right through to TV late at night and there’s no sense of like, who am I, why I am here, what am I doing, what do I want?
JD: So let’s wrap up. What are you excited about, what’s coming up very soon? Your website looks awesome, I’m going to put some links up for that and congratulations to Thomas Stephens who I think is your web guy.
JD: So what’s coming up around the corner?
FO: Yeah we’ve got two big events that are coming up at the end of this month – on the 27th June we have our um, we’ve got a Dance Nation centenary project celebrating 100 years of Canberra, we’ve got 500 kids from 23 primary schools showcasing what makes Canberra Canberra. So you’re going to see you know things like Skyfire, [.? 39:44?] multiculturalism. So it’s gonna be a big showcase and it’s at The Royal Theatre, on that. And then on the Saturday we have our Kulture Break Annual Fundraising Concert – it’s called the [.? ] Expo Benefit so we um, all our dance kids are going to be showcasing and [.? Talents On Stage.?] that’s going to be at [Airondale Theatre] and the links on our website to have it, get those things. So yeah, those two things and then I’m launching a magazine in early July called I Inspire. [.? ] magazine so a few things on the radar.
JD: So listening to that and I’ve got to wrap this up but like, I’m big on teaching self-care, do you get tired and if you do, what does Francis Owusu do to care for Francis Owusu?
FO: Alright[h], do I get tired? Yeah I do get tired [h]. Um, I’ve got actually a habit, I don’t know if it’s habitual where I, I’m a late sleeper and an early riser. So…[h], yeah. Someone asked me yesterday you know how do you manage that? And I think how I regenerate is two things; it is the quiet time and the second thing is I also go to the gym.
JD: Wow, okay, good stuff.
FO: [h] Even when I’m tired because it just um, gets my muscles moving, gets you know oxygen and stuff and just, just clears my mind.
JD: Ah, brilliant. Well I’m going to put a bunch of links to all your stuff here and we’re going to have some videos in there and um, I really hope that you know people listening to this will share it with other people, just to get those little gems that Francis has shared: gems about knowing who you really are, knowing that your identity is not in what you do, it’s already there. You know, knowing how you speak to yourself, making gratitude an essential aspect of life, reference group; the people that are around you. And to put him on the spot to finish let’s ask this one last question which is Francis finish this statement: The meaning of life is…?
FO: Happiness and gratitude.
JD: Happiness and gratitude. It’s a fantastic way to finish. Francis, thank you so much for your time, I really hope that people listening to this, if you’re involved in education, business, get in touch with Francis and his team, I just am passionate about what they do and I know that whether you are in education, business, government, that it’s really worth touching base with him and his team because I’m sure they’d have something – a great programme or an initiative for your organisation. Francis thank you for joining us on The Weekly Podcast and have a fantastic day.
FO: Great, and thank you [.? ] it’s my first Weekly Podcast that I’ve done so it’s great to be able to be part of the show and you’re doing great things so, look forward to seeing more.
JD: Awesome mate, you have a fantastic day.
FO: You too.
JD: Thanks pal.
FO: See you, bye-bye.