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Ep. 59 – Rory Southworth – Challenging Purpose

Mich Bondesio chats to Rory Southworth about how approaching challenges and pushing our limits can be motivated and guided by a strong passion, focus and purpose.

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Creating Cadence Podcast Transcript – Episode 59

Published 25th March 2024

Mich Bondesio:

[00:00:00] Hi, and welcome to Creating Cadence, a podcast for life and work in motion. I’m your host, Mich Bondesio, a writer, speaker, coach, and solo entrepreneur. I’m also the author of The Cadence Effect.

My purpose with my work is to be a provoker of thought, change, and learning. And my aim is to guide high achievers stuck on the toxic treadmill of overwork on how to transform your approach to life, work, relationships and business.

So we can all activate more of our potential and perform better in every part of our life. At a cadence that’s more suitable to us. Despite this fast paced world we live in.

This is episode 59, the fifth of season nine.

In today’s episode, I chat with Rory Southworth.

Rory is working at the forefront of connecting tech innovators in Lancaster, UK. He is also a high-achieving endurance athlete in his spare time.

But first, a quick update about the Cadence Coaching Programme, which is my new wellbeing and productivity- focused leadership and accountability offering.

I’m so excited to say that the doors are now open to book your place for the first cohort, which starts week commencing 15th of April, 2024.

There were two options to choose from.

  • The TOGETHER option is the full package. It’s a 10 week programme that offers private accountability, live masterclasses, as well as group feedback, and one-on-one sessions. Spaces are limited for this full programme.
  • The INDEPENDENT option is for self-paced study over seven weeks. You get access to recordings of the masterclasses and the worksheets, too, plus some bonuses. And this is a great way to engage with the learning opportunities provided by the programme, but for those who prefer to maybe go it alone, or on a tight budget.

You have until the 11th of April to book your place, but as indicated spaces are limited.

So check out the Coaching Programme tab on the Services page of creatingcadence.co for the full details of what’s involved and what you get out of it.

But now let’s get onto the interview section of this episode.

Rory Southworth works for Lancashire’s digital and tech sector as an ecosystem builder and connector.

His expertise lies in tech and tech enabled investment activities.

Rory is the person behind the renowned tech hub at Fraser House Hub, which puts on up to nine events a month that bring together the Lancashire tech community.

As the lead for an initiative called FHundED, he puts on tech innovation, investment events, creating a platform for innovation and investment opportunities. Additionally as the Innovation Ecosystem Manager for Lancashire County Council, Rory’s role is instrumental in nurturing and expanding Lancashire’s tech ecosystem, making a significant economic impact in the sector.

As you’ll hear, Rory is an incredibly driven individual who loves a big challenge. And in this vein, he also runs up mountains and swims across cold lakes in his spare time as part of his sporting endeavours, where he has accomplished some incredible feats.

In this episode, Rory shares what drives him in his work and life as well as his preferred methods of focus. We also chat about what cadence means for Rory, which you’ll hear is a bit different from how other guests on my podcasts have spoken about it so far.

I wrap up the episode with a couple of thoughts of my own based on the conversation. So don’t forget to stick around for those.

Now if you’re ready, let’s dive in.

Mich Bondesio’s interview with Rory Southworth

So welcome Rory. It’s great to have you on the show.

Rory Southworth:

[00:03:17] Thanks, yeah, thanks for having me.

Mich Bondesio:

[00:03:20] Pleasure, so just a bit of background for my audience. We first met several years ago when I think you were working at the University of Central Lancashire with the team running the Lancashire Forum Creative Business Support Program.

Rory Southworth:

[00:03:30] Yeah.

Mich Bondesio:

[00:03:31] And then a few years ago, you migrated to Lancaster to start managing the Fraser House coworking space there.

And your role with Lancashire County Council has since grown to encompass a whole host of interesting tech-focused events and programmes. Tell us a bit more about your current life and work context. You know, what do you do for fun and for financial freedom?

Rory Southworth:

[00:03:49] Yeah, so I’m, I’m Lancashire’s Innovation Ecosystem Manager, and essentially what that means is I go around connecting people within the business sense, to other businesses, business to business, and also to support that’s out there and investors. So my remit and kind of, I guess, where I focus a lot on is more the tech side and the tech-enabled side, but anything kind of innovative is quite interesting.

So in the last two years, I’ve been working a lot with Fraser House Hub, which is our tech hub that we have here in Lancaster. And that houses about 120 tech and digital businesses within that space. And I’ve been going around kind of connecting them within the hub and also outside of the hub.

And a lot of work has been around getting investors to have chats with the businesses that are raising investment to be able to grow and grow at a really fast pace. So I also lead on a project called FHundED, which is really putting on events for founders to meet funders. But a lot of the behind the scenes is that kind of introducing people to, yeah, have chats, have conversations and start them on their journey with, uh, chats with angel investors and early stage investors.

And then from a kind of more personal work, personal business side, I also create content for mostly sports brands and brands that want to associate themselves with sports, specifically outdoor running and outdoor swimming.

So I’ve worked with Salomon for the last couple of years. probably about five or six years. Ordnance Survey who make maps. Until kind of summer, I was working with Speedo, but I’ve since switched to a different swim brand that I now work with, and a couple of drinks brands I’ve been doing bits of work for, so Arla that make dairy products, and Rubicon Raw, which is Rubicon as their energy drink.

So that is kind of the work side, and then personally I’m very passionate about the hills. I really love the hills that we have up and down the UK, but specifically the Lake District, is I guess where I’ve spent a lot of time since moving to the north, but also, where I really love the area.

So, last year I finished off running up every single peak in England over 2000 feet and that’s been quite a long project because there’s quite a lot of them and it takes quite a long time. But that’s kind of my main focuses and interests, I guess, with work and outside of work.

Mich Bondesio:

[00:06:18] That’s fantastic. And so interesting to hear you’re clearly very passionate about all of the different types of work roles that you have, and also what you do for fun in the rest of your life. And, you know, we are very lucky, as you say, Lancashire is on the edge of Cumbria and the Lake District. We have beautiful landscapes here. And, I’ve seen your Instagram feed, you get out into them all the time, which is amazing.

And congratulations also on all the amazing work that you’ve been doing. That’s a huge growth that you’ve explained happening up at Fraser House. Very exciting.

So let’s talk a little bit about your work and your life at the moment and how it supports or challenges you.

Cause it sounds like you have quite a lot that you have to juggle. What are the upsides as well as the learning moments you’re experiencing at this point in your life?

Rory Southworth:

[00:07:02] Yeah, so I think there can be moments of intensity with the work I’m doing. For the most part, a lot of the work I’m doing is not massively life or death critical to the businesses with connecting. It’s about improving their growth journey. It’s about getting them to have chats that may lead to things.

But even before that, a lot of my work is about creating an environment for businesses to just have better opportunities, a better chance of growth. So a lot of that isn’t incredibly stressful.

The more stressful or more intense moments are around the investment side. So tech businesses I predominantly work with, they will have not sort of profit making moments and in those moments, for the growth that they’re looking to do, they’ll require investment that normally they swap a bit of equity in their business, a percentage of ownership in exchange for cash.

And some of these businesses will be running pretty low on cash and they’ll need to get those deals done and that cash in pretty quickly. Otherwise those businesses will struggle and will eventually run out of money. So those are the more stressful times. And where we are in Lancashire, there isn’t a huge amount of funds and there’s not a huge amount of investors in the county.

So you’re having to bring businesses and funders, investors from outside of the county, all over the North, all over the UK to the businesses that we have in Lancashire.

So I guess there’s a bit more pressure on there, and that’s where the challenges are within the role.

We do have quite an exciting ecosystem up here in Lancashire. There is a lot of really great businesses, businesses that are raising investment and are doing deals and are growing as businesses. Tech specifically is quite an exciting place to be right now. So, yeah, I mean, those challenges definitely keep me active and I love a challenge. I think I am one of those people that do switch jobs every couple of years and, well, tweak what I’ve been doing.

And I think that’s just my, I love a good focus. I love like a singular Sort of activity or challenge or product or focus and I will kind of attack that for two two and a bit years And then once i’ve kind of hopefully solved most of that problem i’ll move on to the next And I think that’s the same with exactly how I treat my sports.

So the with the recent Nuttall’s project which is the list of peaks over 2 000 feet in England I, every, every kind of free moment, I’m thinking, ah, cool, like there’s this list of peaks. I need to do the next one and the next one and the next one. And you know, I think having that quite singular focus and it’s around whether, yeah, climbing all of the peaks over 2000 feet in England or whether it is creating the best environment for deals to be made, or a certain sort of number of deals.

What generally probably pushes me the most is just achieving that challenge. Like I am an absolute sucker for a list. If there is something that I’m like, this is what I want to achieve, this, boom. Then I just get really, really motivated to do it. And I always kind of need that one major challenge or that one major focus.

And if I don’t have that, I find myself incredibly inefficient and unmotivated. So having that one thing and that needs to be one thing in sport and that also needs to be one thing in, in work. And I think they need to be very different things because when I am injured, I can’t train and do as much sports.

Then that work focus becomes my purpose. Yet when, I’m, at my absolute peak and I’m feeling great in the sports. It’s really good to have that sport focus as well as that work focus.

Mich Bondesio:

[00:10:46] That’s great. And, I want to talk next about daily habits and routines and how they support you to have that focus. But before we get there, I think a perfect example of your focus that you’re talking about and how you like to push yourself is during the pandemic. I remember when we were sheltering in place.

And you were trying to train for a specific event. And so you took it upon yourself to train by climbing up and down your stairs every day and cold plunging in your wheelie bin. And so that for me is a perfect example of how dedicated you are and disciplined. But tell us a bit more about your habits and routines.

You’ve mentioned that you’re an ambassador for certain outdoor brands. You spend a lot of time trail running on mountains and swimming in frigid tarns. What do you do daily to support yourself to be strong enough for that and to cope with the stress that you deal with at work?

Rory Southworth:

[00:11:33] Yeah, I think, you know, you’re kind of training somewhat mentally and also training somewhat physically. I tend to maintain quite a good base fitness and that kind of allows me to flip flop between challenges. So, and also get around injuries and I feel like if you do a lot of sport, injuries are always on the cards and, you know, it feels very present, because last year I had surgery on both of my feet.

Well, sorry, actually the end of the year before last, and coming back from that, and it was a surgery that I needed to have because I’ve been putting it off for a while. But you then work around.

So when I have some injuries, I’m more swim focused. When I’m less injured I’m normally defaulting to running. So where I’m at now, where I’m in you know good health, no current injuries, I will tend to run between five and six days a week or I might swap a run out with an extra swim. If I’m more swim focused, I’m doing a lot more swimming, but probably no more than three times a week on the swims. Just because most of my swimming is outside and it is quite difficult to maintain lots of swimming when you are a little bit further away from the lakes.

You know, it’s only a 35, to an hour, distance away, but it’s quite a commitment going up and back. And as the winter months come in and it is a lot colder, putting in the longer swims is more difficult. So yeah, my mostly daily habits is I do like a run. I just do quite a lot of road running in the week before work.

And then in the afternoons, evenings, especially in the summer, I try and get out into the hills. Where I live, it’s a 10 minute drive to kind of the nearest really good trail running hills for me, so I can get out there, or when it’s really great weather in the summer, it’s great just to get out to the lakes and go running in the lakes after work. But yeah, I try and run sort of five to six days a week, and then on the weekends, that’s when I’ll often do maybe the bigger runs and kind of get out a bit further afield.

Where I’m at at the moment, it’s kind of a bit more volume. So I’ll be putting a lot of sort of miles in on the road in the week and then going out into the bigger hills on the Saturday and Sunday and going for the longer runs and hikes and and actually sort of integrating if I go for a run in the morning I might also do a hike in the afternoon. And just trying to get a bit more volume of of training and then that’s just because the latest challenge is a bit longer.

Mich Bondesio:

[00:13:51] Well, clearly you’re very disciplined and I’m sure you benefit from all those endorphins from all the exercise you’re doing every day, which obviously supports how you manage your stress. But do you have any productivity hacks or routines that you engage in to help you stay focused while you’re working?

Rory Southworth:

[00:14:07] I do think I set myself up better for the day when I’ve gone for a road run beforehand. I think like otherwise, I do come with quite a bit of energy so getting that run in earlier in the day does kind of set me up a bit better. I think one of the things that I do tend to work better, with headphones, and I love noise cancelling headphones so much.

I struggle with my current role to be doing that as much just because I’m chatting to people a lot of the time. A lot of my work is more communicating with the businesses around. However, when I’m really focusing, there’s nothing that beats noise cancelling headphones and just like having that absolute bliss where you just kind of, yeah, pure focus.

I think most of the longer sort of writing projects or anything I’ve kind of had where I’ve had those long focuses, it’s always been, yeah, some big noise cancelling headphones on and, and just focus from there.

Mich Bondesio:

[00:15:01] Yeah, I agree with you. I have got into the habit of, even if I’m not listening to music or anything, just putting my ear pods in my ears signals to my brain that it’s focus time. I’ve built this kind of unconscious habit around it. And I completely agree with you. I’m super sensitive to noise.

So I benefit from having that, you know, that dampening of sound when I’m trying to do focused or creative work. So that’s really interesting. Thank you.

So this show is all about ways to create more cadence in our days and build more momentum in our life. But what does the concept of creating cadence mean for you personally?

Rory Southworth:

[00:15:34] I think it’s very much to do with having that pace that keeps you motivated. So, when I’ve got that strong project, and it does need somewhat of a narrative to it, I just can hit everything with a level of pace that I just can’t do without feeling really passionate with a challenge that resonates or a project that resonates with me.

And I think so much of it has to have, like, a strong narrative for it to feel worth the effort.

I think, whether it’s with work and you’re traveling quite a bit and you’re putting loads of hours in and it’s so easy to put lots of hours in. But when there’s a narrative that you can understand and it resonates.

And from a sort of a tech business and funding side, for me, it feels so worth it when my friends that have cafes and bars on the high street. I see their business increases when I support on a big deal that ends up meaning that the business that’s got that cash has just increased their staff by quite significant amounts. And now staff are paying and buying things on the high street where my friends own these bars and, and cafes and that, that is a strong narrative like that is you, you’re seeing that economic development happening in front of you.

So, from a sort of supporting the business side and seeing that impact, that just drives me to just go harder and put so much more pace and effort into it.

Mich Bondesio:

[00:17:02] All right.

Let’s talk a bit about that concept in terms of what you do with your passion projects. And personally, what does creating cadence and building momentum mean for you?

Rory Southworth:

[00:17:10] I feel like with the outdoor stuff, I’ve kind of grown up around it as almost like an expectation that I would very much get into it. So, in the way that my dad was mountaineer and granddad and there is very much that kind of sense of belonging that my family is very much passionate and has been a part of mountains and hills for so long that when I pick a project and a lot of time these projects will be inspired by an old guidebook, an old book written 50, 60, 100 years ago, and suddenly there’s that sort of the idea of revisiting this. people have been going up these hills for hundreds of years.

But in the way that I now attack these things in a faster, lighter, with the most modern equipment and kind of more modern ways and approaches and styles. Gone are the days of three quarter lengths you know, cord trousers and cotton jackets and woollen jackets and ties and big leather boots.

We’re now running out of these things in some short shorts, a vest and some lightweight trainers.

I think it’s so amazing sort of how technology and the kind of ethics and etiquette of mountain exploration, it’s amazing how these things have changed.

And I think knowing that, having this like strong narrative is really how it kind of motivates me and gives me that pace and that desire to really like drive forward is that this is kind of, you’re experiencing what everyone else has experienced but in your own way, in this kind of, in your own approach, in your own style.

Mich Bondesio:

[00:18:43] I love that. I love that idea of how, you know, we can experience the same thing that our parents and grandparents did, but from a point of progression in terms of how things have moved forward. And I think that translates also into the work that you do with the innovation and driving businesses forward.

So that’s really interesting how that connection can get made. So Rory, based on where you’re at in your life, do you have any words of wisdom or some key learnings that you want to share about your journey so far?

Rory Southworth:

[00:19:09] I think I very much used to enjoy more things solo, and actually now, it’s I much more prefer in both work to collaborate and also in my personal stuff in the outdoors to collaborate far more and and go out with more people and I think I probably came to share these things later than I probably should have. And I can get focused and I can think “oh I can do this on myself, I don’t need anyone else” or I’ll go out do this big run and I’ll just do it by myself. But actually it’s so much better when you share things.

You gain so much more. And I just, I wish I’d probably collaborated more. Um, it’s rare that I go, I wish I didn’t collaborate. And it’s rare that I go, I wish I’d gone for that hike or that run by myself. It’s, it is much nicer when you do share these things. So, yeah, I probably should have shared more.

Mich Bondesio:

[00:20:05] Well, you still have opportunities to do plenty more of it. Connection is really important and we do not realise the value that building community can have. And I’m sure that, you know, all of your experiences with Fraser House have helped you realise that, you know, and in your role as well as a connector for other people. It’s an ongoing unfolding skill that you’re building. So that’s exciting. All right, Rory. Well, thank you so much for your time. Please tell us where people can find you online.

Rory Southworth:

[00:20:33] From a work sense, it’s best to connect with me on LinkedIn, just LinkedIn slash Rory Southworth. And then from an Instagram point for this more sports focused stuff, it’s yeah, just at Rory Southworth, R O R Y Southworth.

Mich Bondesio:

[00:20:48] That’s fantastic. Thank you so much, Rory. And I really appreciate you being here on the show.

Rory Southworth:

[00:20:53] Thank you very much.

Mich Bondesio:

[00:20:54] Big, thanks to Rory for his thoughts.

This was a refreshing conversation as Rory provided some excellent insights into how to support yourself to be highly driven in your work and life.

Here’s a few things that stood out for me that relate to foundations, community connection and purpose.

Let’s talk about foundations first.

The reason Rory is able to achieve so much is in part, because he has found a way to channel his energy, in a way that supports him optimally. For him, it’s swimming and running and he has built a foundation rooted in fitness.

He knows himself and his body well. And he knows that maintaining a strong level of base fitness is good for his resilience. It’s what helps him deal with stress at work and what helps him bounce back from injury more quickly. And he has found wellness activities that are naturally suited to his personality and body type and his need for adventure.

He also changes up the combinations in his routine regularly to keep things interesting. And also depending on seasonal influences.

Now, fitness activities are far easier to fit into our day when they’re things that we enjoy. For example, I am not a runner and I hated every second of doing Couch to 5K. But I adore walking and hiking, cycling and yoga. And those are the things that I incorporate into my week to help me build strong foundations.

Knowing ourselves is a key part of creating cadence and also benefiting from the cadence effect. So give some thought to what activities you are naturally drawn to. And how you might be able to incorporate them into your life, if you’re not doing so already.

And if you want to really stretch and challenge yourself like Rory does, that doesn’t mean that you have to go and climb all the mountains in the UK.

It could be signing up for an aerial hoop class, or starting weight training, or taking dance classes, whatever your age.

We each have a different edge, the point of discomfort for us. What is your edge and what happens if you push it slightly? Perhaps ask yourself the question, “What if I can?”

Next is community connection and collaboration.

Rory’s advice in this regard centred on the benefits of doing things together instead of alone. And how you as an individual gain so much when experiences are shared.

Socialisation is important, both at work and in our personal lives. I’ve mentioned this before in the podcast, but loneliness is a health epidemic, and it has disastrous results.

We can be surrounded by people and still feel lonely. So it is about finding the people who connect with you based on a common purpose, interest, or goal.

Whilst I love being a solo entrepreneur and I have no desire to grow a team, building a business on your own can be a very lonely endeavour.

When I first came to Lancashire nine years ago, I knew no one. I was building a new network from scratch and it was very, very tough. Through time though, I’ve made friends and I’ve nurtured some wonderful connections and some amazing collaborations have come my way as a result.

One of the best decisions that I made in this regard, in terms of finding the opportunities to connect and share experiences was to become a member of a coworking space.

For me, that’s Society1 in Preston, but the Fraser House Hub in Lancaster that Rory spoke about offers similar services, too.

If you don’t have access to a physical shared space where you can experience community at work, there are also plenty of online communities out there where you can build relationships, too. For example, I’ve interviewed several guests on the show who are from online communities, that I’m a member of.

So, if you feel like you’re lacking connection in your life, consider how you can create ways to share experience with others. If there isn’t something out there already that you can join, maybe think about starting your own.

The last thing I want to speak about is purpose and how it can motivate you to keep going when things get tough.

Rory referenced passion and purpose several times during our chat. He indicated the importance of having a strong reason or narrative or story that you can tell yourself for why you’re doing a challenging thing, to help you stick with it. Whether it’s a work task given to you or something that you choose to take on as a goal in your personal life.

What I like about Rory’s approach is that he has more than one specific area of focus related to purpose.

He has one for work and one for his sporting activities, so he can juggle between the two to keep things interesting. And the research shows that when we push ourselves in one area of our lives, the benefits of doing so very often cascade into the other areas.

Purpose is also personal.

We all approach challenges differently. So it’s also about being aware that even if you are taking on common challenges that have been dealt with by others before, that you have the opportunity to bring your own unique style and value to how you solve those problems.

Let’s face it people, life is challenging. And the way to build resilience in the face of those challenges, is to get comfortable dealing with challenges.

And that’s what I love about Rory’s approach to adventure. He pushes himself, ultimately to see what he can learn about himself.

I’ll be back soon with another interview, but a few things before you go.

You can find out more about my book at thecadenceeffect.com. And helpful reviews are always welcome to help the book get found by those who need it.

If you liked the show, please share the love by rating it, where you listen to it. (Apple, Spotify, Google Play, or Amazon Music.)

And you can also support the making of Creating Cadence on Patreon or Buy Me A Coffee.

So thanks for listening. Until next time, keep moving forwards with courage, curiosity, and cadence. Bye for now.

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