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Resilience After Brain Injury
Episode 2319th March 2024 • Beyond the Smile • Marylayo
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Resilience After Brain Injury

In this episode, Marylayo talks with guest, Greg Ward. Greg shares his personal story of recovery following a brain haemorrhage that occurred when he was just 14 years old; and reflects on how after many years he's only now more comfortable discussing his challenges openly.

Discussion points

  • (00:00:01) MaryLayo and Greg Ward on Brain Injury Recovery
  • (00:08:17) Journey from Zero to Academic Achievement
  • (00:17:13) Overcoming Trauma with Support and Work
  • (00:19:47) Career Reflections After 50
  • (00:21:44) Reflective Shifts due to COVID
  • (00:23:41) Advice for Similar Challenges
  • (00:28:46) Spiritual Wellness Tip

Take a moment to delve into what may be 'beyond the smile' - listen in to the conversation.

Marylayo's spiritual wellbeing tip: Meditate on the bible scripture: Joshua 1:9.

For help in dealing with mental health related matters, please seek specialist advice and support if needed.

Transcripts

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MaryLayo: Welcome to beyond the Smile with me,

MaryLayo, a podcast that discusses mental

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health and spiritual wellbeing.

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If you like what you hear, please do remember

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to follow and share.

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But before we jump in, there may be episodes

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that are particularly sensitive for some

listeners.

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And if that applies, then I hope you'll join

me whenever you feel ready and able.

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In today's episode, I'm talking to guest Greg

Ward about his journey recovering from a brain

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injury.

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Greg's recovery started as a child, so I asked

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him to talk through how it first began.

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MaryLayo: Let's join in the conversation.

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Can you, like, just talk me through what

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happened?

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Greg: Yeah. When I was alive in 14, so it was

Christmas or late December,:

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brain hemorrhage.

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It was a berry aneurysm.

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So I can remember in terms of what it was.

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I can remember being at school.

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I can remember going downstairs with a friend

of mine, Lee.

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And as I was going down towards what was

probably the second level at school, I

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remember being completely off balance and just

starting to be sick out of nowhere.

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And I can remember him and what I'm assuming

was a teacher sort of catching me from there.

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And I woke up on Christmas Day in hospital

after having the brain surgery.

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MaryLayo: Okay. Once you, I guess, woke up

from that surgery, what do you remember in

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terms of your recovery process?

Because that's a big, major life event.

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And then 1 minute you're at school, and then

as a teenager, you're waking up in hospital.

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So tell me what you remember about the

recovery process from there.

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Greg: Yeah, it was difficult because the

consequence of it, obviously was significantly

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painful in terms of the surgery itself.

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Obviously you've had a lot of, without being

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gory, a lot of skull removed and elements of

brain and what have you.

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The consequence?

The immediate consequence of that is that I'd

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lost a lot of my eyesight, a lot of memory.

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It caused, unfortunately, a whole decade of

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epilepsy.

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As a consequence of us, things were going

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back.

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But one of the most severe things is that I

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struggled to speak.

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And I just remember some of the basics of

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getting Christmas cards, for example, or get

well cards, but not being able to read it.

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So I realized that I didn't know how to read

or a lot of the time was even just to speak

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was difficult.

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I remember the recovery.

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I could remember lying in bed in the

children's ward.

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I could remember the surgeon, Mr. Smith, who I

then subsequently went to see with my wife a

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few years later.

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I really felt, I mean, he'd saved my life, so

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there's no doubt in that is that what they

came to me is that he would come across with a

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watch, and he would point at me at the point

at.

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And say, can you tell me what that is?

And for a while, I couldn't say watch.

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But once at the point when I could say watch,

he would then come and say, well, what's that?

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And I would say, I wouldn't know then.

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And then I had to work out whether it was the

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strap and then a buckle.

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And then he would say, what does the watch

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consist of?

So I then had to think about basically the

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numbers, the whole concentrate, be able to

think of the words.

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So the whole thing, he was asking me to do

that in order for me to start talking.

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So it was in the third year at school, so I

missed the next five or six months where all I

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was doing was learning to read and write,

learning to speak, speech therapist, et

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cetera, and going through those things in

order to just get back to some kind of

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normality.

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And I went to school in July, so I went to

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July properly for about the past.

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For the last half a dozen weeks or so in the

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remainder of that year, just to get back to

the normality of doing that.

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And then when I went back to school in

September, started doing GCSEs, which was.

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So we were actually the first year to do

GCSEs.

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I know it seems like 1000 years ago, but 1988,

and took my GCSEs and passed them two years

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later.

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So that kind of journey, those are the sort of

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specifics, if you like.

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MaryLayo: Even hearing what you were saying

and how you were describing it, and it's like

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you went through, you had to almost start at

the very basics to what you had known and then

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get to a point where you even resumed back at

school with the same classmates and then get

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back into that school system.

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That education system.

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Greg: Yeah. And it's difficult because when

you're going to school, and I was a very

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bright kid, so I was a very bright student.

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And so when you're going back to school, and

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then suddenly I can think of little things,

like, so if you're thinking about when you're

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in class and know, the teacher would go round

the class and know, read certain pages, you

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know what I mean?

I can remember Mr. Gorman, our history

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teacher, then saying, all right, who's going

to read it?

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And then the people are shouting, oh, get

Wardy Torah, get wardy to do it.

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So then he'd say, right, ok, you read this

passage, if I can describe it to you.

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So if I pick up what I'm sitting next to me

here.

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So on this piece of paper here, as I look,

actually, what I can see is the letter s,

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because everything to the right of me is I'm

blind to the right hand side.

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So I have a technique about how I sort of

consume those words now, but I didn't when I

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was 15, so I would go through the words really

slowly, as well as the fact that I also

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wouldn't recognize some of them.

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So I used to say a lot of spoonerism, so words

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where I would assume this is what the word.

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And I would just say the wrong words.

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And because it wasn't in a coordinated

sentence, all sorts of different words would

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be coming out to the hilarity of the class.

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And despite that, I had very close friends,

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you know what I mean?

But it's the way.

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It's almost a tough love, if you like, about

how to do it.

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But the reality is, and this sounds od.

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But I realized at the very early stage that I

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was just lucky to be alive, really.

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So you've just got to be somewhat

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philosophical about it to say you're going to

take some stick here.

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But, yes, I'd much rather reading something

out in school incorrectly than actually having

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an epileptic fit.

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So it's a lesser of two evils.

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So, yeah, school was all right, but at 16, I

left that school and went to a technical

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college for two reasons, because I didn't know

anybody at a technical college, and that was

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better.

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So they didn't know.

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And it was the first experience that I had

where I didn't want people to know that past

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history.

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So I wanted to go there and I wanted to do.

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And I needed to do a course which was

relevant.

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I couldn't do the a levels because reading was

difficult.

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So I did a BTEC course and then passed it with

seven distinctions as student of the year.

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So that was where.

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That was it.

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And from then on in, everything has been about

being the best of first of.

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You know what I mean?

It's all that.

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I'm competitive by nature, but it drives me to

do and exceed because I don't know, you have

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that feeling.

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I don't want people to think about things with

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either a sympathetic eye or.

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Well, I just want just to exceed expectation,

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exceed my own expectation.

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MaryLayo: I mean, you've said a lot there,

even the fact that you were at a place at some

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point where you couldn't read, you couldn't

speak.

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And then it sounds like to me, in a very short

period of time, you were able to sit exams.

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You're in a classroom with your peers.

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It's not like you took time out.

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So I'm even baffled how you managed to get

through that.

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And then you try to reset things by going to a

technical college.

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But it sounds like you were able to almost

like hide that background and move in a way

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that you actually exceeded general

expectations.

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Like to come up with, what, seven

distinctions.

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That sounds amazing.

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So I guess I'm trying to think of how in a

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short period of time, I know you mentioned

about you avoided doing the A levels because

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of the reading, but how in a short period of

time you got from A to Z. Yeah.

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Greg: Well, there are some factors.

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In fairness, I also took an a level.

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I did an a level at night school.

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I did politics at night school, as well as

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the.

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MaryLayo: While you were doing the Btech.

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Greg: Yeah.

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MaryLayo: Okay.

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Greg: One of the things, yeah, I'm quite self

driven.

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I mean, there are circumstances,

unfortunately, I also lost my father at 17 as

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well.

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He passed away, unfortunately, when he was

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only 41.

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And those things that also made me very driven

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in a circumstance that if you tried to put it

in the thoughts of my mother, who had the

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difficulty of what had happened to me, and

then obviously then losing her husband as

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well.

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And so you're then in a situation where there

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was myself, my younger sister and my mom.

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So you're kind of very driven to be successful

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or to just do things to a higher level.

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I don't know.

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It's a kind of feeling that time is very

precious and therefore you want to.

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Even now I can't sort of say almost like, sit

still.

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I have to do something.

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I have to create something or write or paint

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or whatever it is just stuff.

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And that's like that.

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So I felt like it's hard to say now about

where I am and where I was then.

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Perhaps it's a reality of thinking that what I

wanted to do when I was young was just to be a

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cricketer and that was removed because of loss

of eyesight.

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And yet I then still, I just started playing

again when I was 18 because I just thought,

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why not?

I couldn't think of reasons that you should be

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denied to do things rather than feel sorry for

myself and think, well, that's just bad.

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Actually, everybody has to deal with different

things at different points.

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So actually there isn't an excuse not to try

and be excellent.

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That's just a motivation, I guess.

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MaryLayo: Yeah. And to me it sounds like it's

a very unusual motivation, if I'm being

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honest, Greg, because when you're talking

about how your classmates, they'll be like,

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I'll get wardy to read this and that to their

amusement.

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That would know.

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To the general Joe blogs that would knock them

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know.

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Greg: What you'd also have to remember is that

these are children whose friend has gone

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through a traumatic piece.

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Whilst I was in hospital at school, they had

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masses for me.

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I went to a catholic school, so we had masses

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and these kids had the upset that they

suffered, so they're entitled to take their

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bit back.

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It's just fun.

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If I asked them to stop, then they would stop.

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So it's like, you just need to be slightly

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reflective that people have gone through quite

a very difficult and unusual thing where they

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committed their faith into me getting better.

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And I did.

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I don't begrudge on that.

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I just remember it because it makes you feel

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very awkward.

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MaryLayo: Yeah, sure.

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And I guess the reason why I was teasing it

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out is because it's almost like.

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I don't know, I'm getting the sense that

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things aren't sticking to you, basically,

whether you get a knockback because you can't

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do cricket, which is something you loved, but

it didn't hold you back and you learned that

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very early.

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So I'm getting the sense that even though

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there's an environment that for many people,

it would cause them to withdraw or to be

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negatively impacted, you didn't allow that to

restrict you.

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You didn't allow that to limit you or hold you

back or affect you mentally, psychologically.

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And you've managed to pave a way forward quite

naturally.

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Greg: Well, there's an element of denial, I

think, in what it is, is that what you're sort

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of doing is almost.

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Or what I did was to try and do it as if

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that's in the past.

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That's gone.

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It's not an epiphany.

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But I went to lords with the handicapped

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children's pilgrimage trust, I think, when I

was 16.

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And I didn't want to go in the first place.

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I didn't want to go.

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I was offered a chance to go and I just

didn't.

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That wasn't the same people that I was with.

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And I went and they realized, obviously,

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actually, I was just a 16 year old lad who was

not in a particularly difficult way.

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What I experienced was, is that I sat and met

with a dozen similar aged people, youngsters

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with various different disabilities, some of

which with terminal illnesses.

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And it just made me realize how fortunate I

was.

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And in actual fact, the experience itself was

really positive.

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It was really lovely.

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I remember the three boys, all in wheelchairs.

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I said, well, are we going to play football,

then?

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And so what we did is we got a balloon.

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One of the guys just stayed in his wheelchair,

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and the other two, and we had a where you.

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Where you just.

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All you could do was header it to try and

score and what have you between the two of us.

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And it was really nice.

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It was a really nice thing doing that.

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When I came home, I stepped out of that, out

of that environment and then backed into a

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normal environment and was never sort of

tempted to or felt like I wanted to do

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anything more there.

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What I felt was that I'd really valued from

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that experience and appreciated that.

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Actually, I'm in a much greater position than

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other people.

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So I'm not going to say that was a defining,

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motivating piece, but actually it did give me

an appreciation of something different when I

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was 16.

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And then, as I mentioned about my father,

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again, it's a thing where after having that

surgery and you see those experiences, you

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just grow up very quickly.

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And then it's just a question of saying, well,

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okay, well, you're going to have to do

something about it.

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The denial bit, SARs are saying, is that

actually I'm presenting out a piece of saying,

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actually, I don't have any sort of issues or

problems or challenges or what have you, but

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that's just not true.

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And I made a number of assumptions that in

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terms of where my career was going to go was

based on the fact that actually nobody was

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going to feel sympathy for me.

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No employer was going to recognize the fact

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that actually, he's a really intelligent guy.

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We'll just take him on.

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I just didn't even think the world existed

like that.

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That doesn't mean I'm convinced that it does

now, but I'm just saying that I felt like,

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right, I'm going to have to go into a job

where I'm not reading, so I'm going to have to

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do something where I'm just articulate.

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Well, a natural thing to do that is in sales.

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So I sort of fell into a career that I'm very

good at, but that was, I don't know quite

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which way to turn it around is to say, well,

whether it's made me to be good at something

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or whether I've forced myself to be good at

something a little similar to doing my exams,

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just to make sure that that's the area I have

to work in, so therefore I have to be really

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good at it.

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So it's an interesting thing and it's only

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when I'm mature, mature, when I am more

mature, more mature, that I can begin to

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reflect and saying, actually, there are people

who are there to support and help and what

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have you, and then you think differently and

therefore I can make an advantage of that

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later in life.

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MaryLayo: So I guess you are an extraordinary

case, Greg, because I'm struggling with how to

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get out.

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Like, okay, so you went through this and this

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and you struggled with this, but then you

managed to overcome this.

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And I'm not getting that.

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And it's not a bad thing.

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It's just a unique thing to me.

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And I'm not saying, oh, Greg, you're my hero.

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But I think it is really extraordinary in

terms of how you think, and I think it's

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innate within you, almost like natural.

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And I think you just matured very quickly and

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you almost didn't look back and allow yourself

to be wallowed in those past.

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What many would say is a traumatic event.

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Greg: Yeah, all I would say is that people

sort of are impacted by things differently.

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And what I think you're trying to draw on is

to say, well, where were the things that

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really were difficult and what was the sea

change in your experience?

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I know the moment where that takes place

because it's actually the point at which I

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realized that actually there were people who

were sympathetic and there were people in

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that.

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And actually through support, through social

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services, I actually realized you can get

loads of help and you can do that.

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And that was a point where I was helpful to

go.

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It's not a know to say, actually, I need

assistance in terms of travel and got really

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great help from the DWP through access to

work.

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It's not a weakness to say, actually, my

reading is a lot slower than somebody else's

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because that's the reality.

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But then I realize you can get audio pieces

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that help you through work and what have you.

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Funny enough, it's only really since where I'm

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working now over the past three years, where I

feel much more comfortable to say that and

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express that.

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And I feel that as an employer, that would

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say, well, let's help with that, let's

accommodate that.

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And it is really refreshing that I can feel

comfortable in that situation.

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And therefore I can sort of challenge that

question of saying, well, as a disabled

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person, would I recognize myself in that?

I would have to say that in order to drive

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myself forward for 20 od years, I would never

say that.

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I wouldn't recognize that at all.

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Whereas actually that is a reality.

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It has actually shaped the way in which I am,

and therefore it'd be something that I should

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be really comfortable in having in the

conversation, I guess.

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MaryLayo: So you alluded to how it's only more

recently, like the last few years, that you've

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become more comfortable in terms of maybe

sharing or disclosing, I guess, limitations.

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So what do you think are the factors?

Is it because of the culture?

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What do you think has helped to facilitate

that?

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Greg: If anything, COVID, I think, is one of

the big impacts.

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So COVID is one of those things where actually

you had time to reflect.

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You are looking for an employer that actually

delivers and illustrates real care.

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And perhaps for a very long time, I wasn't

that interested in that at all, and it wasn't

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necessary or it wasn't a priority.

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But particularly as you're past 50, you kind

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of begin to think about your career slightly

differently and the value of the businesses.

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So you're then thinking, well, I'd rather work

for an organization where I think where the

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way it operates or the way we think about

people is a priority.

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I mean, my whole career is in sales, so it's

all about the numbers that you're generating,

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et cetera.

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But that isn't it.

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It's more about the way we interact with

people, et cetera.

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And we can all sort of sit and take and be

critical of who our employers.

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I get that, but that makes me feel different.

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I know that the business has made a

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significant effort in terms of EDI and whether

it's success or otherwise, is that at least I

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don't really feel like it's a token gesture.

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I think it's trying something, and therefore

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that's allowed me to just perhaps just relax a

little and be a little bit more reflective.

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MaryLayo: So when you mentioned about how

COVID, I guess, helped to make you more

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reflective in terms of the kind of

organization where you wanted to be, would you

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say that?

And you did mention this about EDi.

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Do you think how, because there's a lot more

of a spotlight when it comes to equality,

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diversity and inclusion, do you think that

that may have played a part in the fact that

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you can now start getting your mind to look in

that direction when it comes to organizations,

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for example, being more inclusive, diverse and

open to it allows me.

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Greg: To ask a lot more questions of myself as

well as others in terms of thinking about what

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that business is in what it's talking about

and where COVID helps in the sense that

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actually you spend a long time with family,

which is the really important thing to me.

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And then you begin to think, well, who are we?

As people?

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Who are we?

And as you're then going back into employment,

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that you're thinking, what is it that really

matters?

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And therefore, when you're looking at that

externally, you can also then think internally

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about, well, what does that mean in terms of

who I work with, how I treat people, how I

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talk to people, to try and understand and

think about people emotionally.

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It's become a much, much more important point.

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And therefore, expressing to people who I am,

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what my background is, or where I've come

from.

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And those things are the challenges is that

you can then empathize, you know what I mean?

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You can begin to understand about other

people's issues because you're reflecting it

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in your own, and therefore, not to hide that,

but actually, I think it gives people an

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element of comfort in thinking, actually, this

guy's just telling me exactly what he's like.

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You can't read this stuff quickly.

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So it's like all.

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Whatever it is, those just different aspects.

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MaryLayo: If there is someone who, let's just

say they're going through something that's a

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similar challenge, and I acknowledge that

everyone's different, but what would you say

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that has helped you to them?

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Greg: My answer to that, really, is to reflect

on things which have been very unfortunate,

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which I can at least reflect on, whether it's

loss of family and things like that, et

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cetera.

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It is very difficult to look at that in a

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positive.

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But what I would genuinely say is that you

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don't realize that actually, on a day by day

basis, you are redirected into different

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experiences which are positive.

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I'd never spoken to you, I don't think, Mary,

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before being at work, we've happened to have a

conversation because you were doing this,

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because I saw you were doing it on LinkedIn

and what have you, and then just by doing

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this, you know what I mean?

I never thought I would ever even have.

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I've never had this conversation with

somebody.

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And to do that, I think, is a good thing.

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It's cathartic.

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So where the opportunity for people to talk or

speak or what have you is that it is really

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difficult to think about.

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I look at sports people, for example, who

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might come to the end of their career and then

think, what do I do now?

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You've got people who are multimillionaires,

but they just don't know what to do with

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themselves.

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And it's really hard about thinking.

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It's just a new journey that you're taking.

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::

And I know there are cliches.

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It's shut one door and open another and it's a

new chapter and all that thing.

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But that is actually, it's real.

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I think about all different things where just

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as you get an older and then somebody said,

oh, well, you need to reduce your cholesterol,

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et cetera.

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::

Okay, so if that's the case, then, well, I'll

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::

go on a walk every day.

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So actually you now have a different

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experience about what you're doing and you get

different visibility of what's around you and

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what have you.

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So there isn't a way of saying something

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simple to say, oh, well, it'll be fine.

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No, that's not it.

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It'll be the same.

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But what you want to do is, what does it mean

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from a different experience if I give you a

practical and funny, well, just experience.

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I've never read a book, right.

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So I've never read a book that enjoyed it.

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I've read Lord of the Rings mind and that took

about a year to read it.

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But you had joined Giorg to get through.

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I don't sit and read because it's not a good

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experience.

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I don't do it.

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So I challenged myself to do two things.

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One was to write a book, because I thought,

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well, if that's the case, then I'll write one.

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So I wrote a novel and I was so pleased that I

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did it, I took it to a local library.

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And so they said, right, we'll have a local

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author in to do this.

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So I took my book, Lexium nine Sci-Fi book.

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I got copies, I got it all printed and what

have you.

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It's on Amazon and all of those things.

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I gave it to people to read.

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It's self published, so I'd give it to the.

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So anyway, I went to the library, I sat there,

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there were 17 people sitting around, they'd

all read the book and they started going

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round, round the room, universally, every

single individual hated it, right?

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Really thought it was terrible.

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And then a guy right at the top said to us, I

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said, I've read it twice.

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And I said, oh, that's great.

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He said, because I didn't understand it first

time, and I now really don't understand it.

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And I went away from that really quite

pleased, because I thought, well, 17 people

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have read it, so at least I know that that's.

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That experience was a good experience.

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And then out of nowhere I found audiobooks and

I've consumed them from umpteen, different

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authors and stuff like that.

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::

And reading and listening to everything and

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listening to everything every day and stuff

like that.

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All I would say is that for 35 years I

thought, well, I don't want to get a book.

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::

I'm not interested in that particular author

or what have you.

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::

Actually, these things just take you into a

different path.

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And it might be just because I just always see

things from a glass half full that things are

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always positive, and that's that.

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That might not be helpful for some, but from a

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practical point of view, I'll just say one

thing is ask.

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It surprised me when I investigated in terms

of things like access to work, people helping

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to get to and from work and things like that.

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I didn't know that they existed.

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::

Just ask.

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::

You'll be surprised about what support there

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::

is there.

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::

And finally, I would say, talk to other people

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because you're surprised is when other people

begin to tell you their story, you realize

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that neither you're not alone.

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And also that actually gives you a greater

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::

position to be appreciative of other people.

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::

Actually, you're in a pretty good spot.

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::

And you might not know it, but actually you're

all right.

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MaryLayo: Thanks so much for coming along and

sharing and giving me your time.

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Greg: Yeah, you're very welcome.

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MaryLayo: Here's a spiritual wellness tip for

you.

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It's Joshua, chapter one, verse nine.

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::

And it reads, this is my command.

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::

Be strong and courageous.

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::

Do not be afraid or discouraged.

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::

For the Lord your God is with you wherever you

go.

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::

MaryLayo: Thanks for listening.

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Do follow and join me again next time on

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beyond the smile with MaryLayo.

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