Ben Laplanche

Antifragile.

I partner with Product & Technology leaders to move from a place of fear and overwhelm to clarity and conscious awareness. My clients are purposeful leaders who care, who want to serve others and make an impact yet perhaps are feeling stuck and need a partner to define what leadership means for them in their life. 

After all leadership isn’t just a job title, but a calling to be an authentic human first and foremost, then forging relationships to help others.

I grew up in Nottingham in a loving family, with Mum, Dad and a younger brother. I was always quite independent growing up, preferring to code away on my computer or retreat somewhere with a book. It was in these years that I discovered my logical-systems thinking brain, my thirst for learning. I was always yearning for more.

Life has been very kind to me. I did well at university and in work, proving to myself that I could be successful in whatever I turned my attention to. But looking back it feels like I was walking a well trodden path by making the same decisions as everyone else. I never stopped to think or question them. 

I got a job working as a product manager for an incredible company with the most amazing people culture I’d ever experienced – empathy being the number one trait they hired for. The company grew, I gained more and more responsibility and the pace kept picking up – as did the challenges, and the learning curve never relented. I thought I was living the dream, doing all the hours I could, trying to do it all on my own and not asking for help.

 

One Saturday morning in October 2017, I woke up in floods of tears, shaking and not knowing what on earth was going on. My body was clearly telling me that something needed to change and that I was burnt out. This was the push I needed to ask for help. 

That day I rang my parents and then rang my employer’s anonymous workplace counselling service, which I do not remember saving the number for, but my subconscious is wiser than I’d previously realised.

My boss and the broader company were incredibly supportive, for which I’ll be eternally grateful. I took a month out and started therapy and the exploration of what had been going on for me.

The burnout was multi-faceted and really draining, not just in terms of physical exhaustion but also emotionally. I started to learn about how my self-preservation mechanisms were to retreat into myself, to withdraw from any kind of relationship and generally just put up a barrier. 

The time off from work and taking part in therapy helped me reset myself in terms of energy, but I didn’t know what really needed to change or even how to do it – but I did know I didn’t want to go back to how I was pre-burnout.

It was also about this time that I received some really challenging feedback at work that held a mirror up to all of the blind spots that I had; in particular about what I was like to work with, how I wasn’t serving people as a manager and that people were unlikely to ask me for help and didn’t feel supported.

If I am honest I didn’t like what I saw when those mirrors were held up and I did not handle it well. I became defensive; I made myself the victim with thoughts such as, “This can’t possibly be me. It must be everyone else that’s wrong!” constantly running through my head, each one an attempt to justify what was going on for me and make me ‘right’. It was absolutely exhausting and only serving to make things worse – and so began the next phase of my journey.

I asked my boss if I could work with a coach. I didn’t know what to expect but my logical brain was hoping to be given a framework or a book to read that would help me know what to do. I was so incredibly lucky to work with the most incredible co-active coach who helped me with such care and compassion and complete lack of judgement, even though I showed up defensive and thinking I was right.

It took a few sessions of wondering when I’d be given ‘the answer’ before I had the lightbulb moment of, “Oh shit! This is harder than I thought. This is about ME. I can’t fix this by reading something, I’ve got to go deeper into myself, into unchartered territory.” 

By doing this work it really highlighted my blind spots. It showed me how my behaviours and inner dialogue were causing me to appear unapproachable and defensive and how the feedback was, in fact, all true. It was really tough to acknowledge and come to terms with how I’d not lived up to my own ideals, not just as a leader but as a person, and to the detriment of others.

Going on this journey required me to learn a new language, the language of Ben, of my own feelings, emotions and thought patterns. I had to learn to “run my brain in debug mode” so I could understand why I was about to react in a certain way or intercept those nagging voices that tell you you’re not good enough.

This work has fundamentally changed my life for the better and I cannot emphasise that enough. I had two big learnings on this journey; firstly the only thing I can control in the world is how I show up and choose to be; the second is that I need to look after myself to look after others. I realised that if you’re not being kind or compassionate to yourself and always beating yourself up, it’s going to show up in interactions with other people, no matter how much you try to hide it. 

I now view this whole experience as an incredible gift. It was such a powerful, beautiful, emotive experience, and it has truly awakened me. I feel like this has been a journey of stepping into myself and becoming visible. 

I think fixed concepts like ‘work/life balance’ where we’re expected to turn up with abundant energy and focus for work, having put our personal life and emotions in a box for 8 hours, are outdated.

We live in a multitude of contexts of which work is just one, so it’s important to bring your whole self and show up with integrity. This is hard and means constantly balancing where we spend our energy, making constant adjustments to ensure we’re also prioritising ourselves. This is the dance of life and with this we can do anything. 

I’m now more conscious about how I spend my energy and, with intention, balance the pace at which I live against my ambition to make an impact, which hasn’t faltered.

I work with people to embrace stillness – there is something powerful about slowing down to then go faster. I help people build routines that support the life they want to live in a way that prioritises their energy and self-care – I can’t function without my morning routine of coffee with a great book, writing in my journal and meditation. All of this serves to help people live fully, from a position of consciousness and integrity to making decisions and communicating things that matter to them. The impact that this work can have is what draws me to it. It’s made a significant difference to my quality of life and for that I want to pay it forward to others. 

My journal has been a key part of this journey and is now part of my daily life and travels nearly everywhere with me. I find that there is something very cathartic about the act of sitting quietly with pen and paper, being able to just write unfiltered with no fear of judgement. 

Some days I write very little, a few quick notes on how I was feeling or about something I’m grateful for, others I write more as I meander through different perspectives on what’s on my mind.

There’s a quote that speaks to me so powerfully. It captures the spirit of all my growth and learnings on this part of my journey. It’s how I now choose to show up in the world and make an impact. So be kind to yourself, slow down and become conscious about how you show up and live your life – it’s beautiful on the other side, I promise.  

Dr Emily Anhalt – I’ll look after me for you, if you look after you for me.

To have a conversation with Ben about his story or the coaching work he does, get in touch via email by clicking here: ben@laplanche.co.uk