Lessons in Grit with Milla Chaplin Rae

Today I welcome Milla Chaplin Rae from Mumbai, who shares her transformative journey and the incredible experiences that have shaped her life and career.

Listen as we explore her profound experience with the TIE Leadership program, and how it became the catalyst for her next life chapter and her compelling book.

Milla opens up about the emotional depths of her time in Myanmar during the military coup, the whirlwind of life abroad, and how these experiences reignited her passion for writing.

We also discuss the realities of reverse culture shock, the journey of writing her book Not Quite to Plan amidst its traumatic content, and the universal lessons learned through immersive experiences.

Milla provides practical advice for navigating difficult moments, offers a heartfelt glimpse into the often unspoken aspects of parenting, and reveals the magic formula of grit that played a crucial role in her story. Tune in for insights on finding fulfilment and purpose in corporate roles, the power of adaptability, and a sneak peek into her second book.

Then we wrap up with the invaluable wisdom of Jon Steel: “If the role you’re in doesn’t leave you or your company a little nervous, you’re not pushing yourself hard enough.”

Expect profound reflections, inspiring advice, and a celebration of resilience and creativity.

So throw on those running shoes, or grab that favourite beverage, and here is Milla. Please don’t forget to let us know what you think of this episode, leave a review and subscribe.

If you would like to be reminded of future podcasts and other inspiring stories from TIE, join our newsletter here.

If you would like to order my book Return on Humanity: Leadership lessons from all corners of the earth, you can do that here.

And if you would like to order Not Quite to Plan, you can do that here. And you can follow Milla on instagram here: millarae_writes.

0:03

Welcome to the show where we expose new perspectives on our ever evolving world through the lenses of various industries, cultures and backgrounds.

Our guests are disruptors, united by a common goal to bring their purpose to life.

0:21

Whether they’re from the commercial world or third sector, from the Global North or the global S, expect an inspirational journey that will transform your perspective on just what is possible.

My name is Philippa White and welcome to Tie on Earth.

0:41

As many of you will know, I caught the travel bug at a very young age.

I travelled around Europe and Africa before university, at times on my own.

I then found myself finishing my business degree in Bangkok, Thailand and then got a job in London before moving to Brazil in 2005 where I live now.

1:01

These experiences without question shaped my life and fully contributed to the work I do and to writing my book.

They are also the reason I met Milla several years ago and why I absolutely loved reading her debut book, Not Quite to Plan, as I could relate to so many of the stories within it.

1:25

Hello and welcome to episode 89 of Ty Unearthed.

Today I’m speaking with Milla Chaplin Ray about her memoir, Not Quite to Plan.

Like Me, Milla caught the travel bug.

Her early career took her to Beijing, New York, and London before she then settled in Yangon, Myanmar, in 2015, where she fell in love with both the country and her husband, Dylan.

1:54

Milla and Dylan lived and worked in Myanmar for six years until the 2021 military coup forced them to leave and triggered the series of events which would result in Miller’s memoir, which details her rather extraordinary first year as a mother, a year in which she navigated the global pandemic, the 2021 Myanmar military coup, and six months of involuntary separation from her husband with a newborn baby.

2:26

This episode will have you raising your eyebrows in surprise and at times your heart may just beat slightly faster.

But it was such an enjoyable yet also emotional conversation and I can’t wait for you to hear it.

So throw on those running shoes or grab that favorite beverage.

2:42

And here is Mila.

Hi Mila, thank you so much for joining me on Thai on Earth.

How are you?

Thank you very much for having me.

I’m very well.

It’s the end of a long day, long week.

It’s Friday night where you are.

2:59

Thank you for speaking to me at 6:30 at night on a Friday.

I honestly didn’t realize that it was going to be such a week.

So just, yeah, a few minutes ago and I was starting to kind of prep myself.

I, I looked in the mirror and realized what a disaster my face is today.

So this is an audio audio format.

3:15

You look absolutely fine, so tell me where are you speaking because this is a fun response.

I’m currently in Mumbai, India where I live.

I’m sitting at home, I’ve commandeered my three-year old’s playroom and I’m sitting surrounded by Legos and various dinosaur toys.

3:35

I’m trying to have an an adult conversation.

Well, just so the listeners can understand, Milla’s very good at setting scenes for, well, her book launch and her Instagram.

What I see is not what she’s just said.

So she’s put up some lilies.

3:51

She’s got her book in the background.

She’s got, I think, a candle there on a bookshelf.

It looks all very professional.

So yes, yeah.

I went around the house and collected as many as many things as I could to make myself look like an adult.

We’re obviously going to be talking about your extraordinary book, which I have just finished reading and I’ve absolutely adored it for so many reasons, so many reasons which we will get into.

4:12

But before we start talking about your book, let’s talk about Milla before your book, just to paint a bit of a picture as to your your personality and who you are.

And you can probably tell by my accent, I’m originally from the UK.

I’m British.

I grew up in Jersey in the Tunnel Islands.

4:28

That’s the original Jersey for any American business.

And I started my career in marketing and communications with WPP, and actually that’s how we came into contact with one another.

I began with the WPP Fellowship program, which offered me three years, three companies and three countries as a start to a professional career, which has continued very much in the same vein.

4:50

My university degree, I studied Chinese and German.

And I think that’s what really kicked off my love of living abroad because as part of the program, you obviously get to go and study in those countries.

I had just the most fantastic time in China and really fell in love with East Asia.

5:05

Then I’ve slowly crept to them Southeast Asia and now I’m in Central Asia.

So all over the place.

I really, really enjoy living as an expat working in different countries and, and that’s basically what’s brought me here, although there’s, there’s been a few, you know, a few folks in the road.

5:21

Yeah.

What would be interesting is before you went on the fellowship, were you, you know, much of an avid traveler and had you traveled loads?

Because obviously the the fellowship was amazing and that is a phenomenal opportunity for anyone to be able to work in three different countries over three different years.

5:39

But had you done much backpacking and had you travelled a lot as a family when you were growing up?

But when I was much younger, you know, as a child, I always used to, I suppose, get annoyed with my parents for taking us on some cultural holidays.

You know, I think I really like the idea of just going to the Caribbean like some people did and, and spending a week on a jet ski.

5:58

But my my father especially was very into yeah, cultures.

And we’d go to European cities and go to museums.

And I didn’t realize at the time that actually what that was kind of in great cleaning in me was a real love of understanding how other cultures worked and I suppose sort of social anthropology at a very, very basic level.

6:17

And then when I turned 18, I did this sort of traditional British gap year.

So a year out between school and university and I decided to go to China.

I think I’d actually originally decided to go to Nepal, but there was there was an incident with their royal family and it essentially meant that Nepal wasn’t particularly safe at that time.

6:37

And so I decided that I’d go even further away, much to my mother’s horror, and went to China.

And, and I, I did one of those placements where you, you sort of pay a company to support you to get set up for a three month internship.

And, and the sort of, you know, the, the life that you have to build for yourself.

6:52

There is, is essentially where you learn things rather than actually the internship.

But I think it was the just sheer frustration of being in a country where, unlike a European country where you can at least read the road signs, in China you’ve got nothing.

If you don’t speak or read or understand any of their language, you really can’t get around.

7:10

And I think the frustration led me to taking some classes while I was there.

And actually then I really enjoyed just trying to get my head around such a completely different language and culture that I switched my university degree to be Chinese.

It was originally going.

7:26

To be Russian.

Yeah, It was originally going to be German and Russian for no particular reason.

I, you know, I just sort of had this romantic vision of Russia as sort of Anna Karen and that kind of Russia, not the Russia we know today.

And so I, you know, I called my university when I got home from this placement and said, actually, could I switch?

7:43

And they said, yeah, unsurprisingly, Chinese and German is not an oversubscribed combination.

So there was only one other person doing that particular combination.

So but yeah.

And then, you know, then I took off on my sort of Chinese and Asia journey.

7:58

And yeah, best decision I I made, I think was switching, switching that degree.

How I did not know that about you.

That’s amazing.

That’s really interesting about the Nepal thing.

It’s it’s interesting that you said that there was something strange that happened between the within the royal family.

8:16

I was in Nepal when that happened.

And actually I was in Nepal.

I had finished my degree in Bangkok, Thailand.

I didn’t exchange and then between my finishing university and starting some kind of work which I was planning to do in London, I wanted to travel around and make the most of being in Southeast Asia, so traveled around.

8:36

Nepal was the 1st place that we went and we heard rumblings that something weird was going on and and I can’t remember exactly what happened but I I feel like something happened.

The Crown Prince shot the rest of the family was.

Or was that it?

Yeah, I think that was it.

It was, I think the.

8:52

Prince shot the rest of the royal family something.

Yeah, it.

Was and it happened literally I was walking around and we heard that there was, it was not a good atmosphere, but at that point nothing had happened.

And then it happened while I was walking down the street and then suddenly it was so crazy because you could see that everyone started shutting all the shop doors with the.

9:11

Wow.

Yeah, so.

Everyone started shopping, panic lockdown and I was like, Oh my God, what’s going on?

And then I, I was coming back from a bakery and I turned a corner.

It’s one of those things where in a movie, if they’re trying, if a director is trying to show a very difficult situation, they would show kind of clips of people closing things and then suddenly seeing the eyes of angry people and then seeing the rocks within the hands of the angry people and then a mob coming.

9:35

And that’s, that’s basically, that’s how you remember that happening.

And then cutting to a big mob of people coming towards me.

And it was the only that I could get out.

Like I I was down the street and I’m looking and then suddenly I could see that it was a weird atmosphere.

9:50

And then I looked in their hands and I could see they all had rocks.

And then they all started throwing rocks.

I was like, oh, my God.

And so I yeah, So anyway, I sort of just, I think I must have turned the other way.

And it’s like it had to try and figure out how to get back to where I was staying.

And I’m running as fast as I can.

And I get in and then everyone’s like leaving Nepal, leave.

10:07

Yeah.

Then you find out, yeah.

Yeah.

So anyway, yes, I was there when that.

Happened so that’s why I didn’t go to Nepal.

Yes, that’s yes.

Set me off on a course that’s, you know, been pretty.

Interesting.

So when you’re at the WPP fellowship, you ended up getting chosen to go on a TIE program.

10:25

And so I just wonder if you want to just explain a little bit about that and why you applied and what you got out of it.

I mean, I remember seeing I, I can still remember sitting on the sofa in my living room talking to you.

It’s just extraordinary.

But it was a while.

That was a long time ago.

10:42

It was really nice actually.

I’m thinking back about why I went on TIE and and how my experience of TIE was because I applied to TIE at a pretty difficult period during my career, I suppose like a kind of tough, tough patch in my professional life.

10:57

I was in London and I’d, I’d done the fellowship program and I’d done London, New York and Beijing.

And then I sort of had a wobble in Beijing and decided maybe I wasn’t ready at the record age of, I don’t know what was like 2425 to commit to being an expat.

11:12

Yet, despite the fact that I spoke the language fluently and, you know, could have had a wonderful life in Beijing working for an advertising agency.

I sort of panicked and went back to the UK thinking, no, no, this is where I should be.

And after about three years in London, I, I really wasn’t in the right place.

11:28

I, I just found, I think the possibility of it all very mundane.

And you know, yes, you’re working in a developed market where some people get genuinely excited by the progress of the media and communications industry.

And I just didn’t feel that at all.

I, I think I was just kind of chugging away and, and actually at the time that I applied to tie the rules at WPP were that you had to hand write a request or an application letter to Jeremy Ballmore.

11:54

And at the time I had a broken thumb because I’d smashed it to smithereens playing hockey.

And that was on my writing hand.

So I still have somewhere some photographs of my application letter, and it honestly looks like it was written by an 8 year old child.

I had to write the whole thing with my left hand.

But there’s nothing like handwriting something to make you really think about what you want to say.

12:13

But there’s also nothing like handwriting something with the wrong hand to make you think about what you want to say.

And I really, I didn’t necessarily expect to be chosen for a placement because I was in such a space professionally that I was thinking that I was useless at everything.

I wasn’t very good.

How could I ever got on the fellowship?

12:29

You know, why would I ever be selected for a program like this?

Because, you know, they only selected one person or maybe two people per year to go.

And so I, you know, I really didn’t have much hope, but was selected and given the opportunity to travel to Brazil.

I think that the difference in the person that I was when I started the program and then a month later when I returned from the UK was just, it was, it was obviously so clear to all my colleagues and friends.

12:52

I think it was so clear in my body language and the way I came back with, you know, renewed confidence and sort of faith in myself.

And just, I think probably a sense of triumph that I’d succeeded in, you know, managing and executing and a marketing or an advertising project in, you know, in a country.

13:11

And I’d never visited a city.

I’d certainly never visited a culture I definitely had no experience of because, you know, Latin American cultures are so different from Asian cultures.

My experience was all the other side come back from a month in Brazil where I’ve used all these skills that I, I kind of knew I had like leadership and team building and strategic thinking and sort of I, I now call it my USP is bringing order to chaos.

13:34

I think other people just call it strategy.

But you know, I, I, I’d sort of done all these things and I come back just feeling, yes, so empowered, I think by it.

That’s when I started looking E again.

And that’s how I ended up in Myanmar.

I know, and I remember sitting with you on the rooftop at you must have been at Mind my share.

13:55

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

We’re on the.

We’re on the.

Rooftop and I remember you saying Philippa, I’m sticking with WPP.

I’m still going to be within WPP, but I am moving within the network to to Myanmar.

And that that was the beginning of, you know, the next.

14:12

That was the beginning of everything for me.

It definitely just kind of, I don’t know, reminded me of parts of myself that I’d sort of put to sleep by being in London.

And, and those are the parts of me that really are the the biggest parts of me, I think.

And they’re the ones that I’ve managed to kind of keep alive for the last gosh, or when did I move?

14:29

2015, So coming up to 10 years, nine years.

And it’s so.

Important.

I mean, I, I think within anyone, I think it is that unearthing that purpose, isn’t it?

And understanding what it is that makes you who you are, if you’re just stuck in a situation that’s not allowing you to be that person, I mean, that’s not good for the company.

14:48

It’s not good for anyone.

And thank goodness you were working within a network where you were able to understand what it was that spoke to you, and then you were able to do that within another place, but that that was more of what you know made you.

Yeah.

And that, you know, having that kind of support from, from a company like WPP was amazing.

15:07

I had travelled to Myanmar as a tourist in 2014.

So I’ve been just one year before, hadn’t been to Yangon.

I’ve decided, you know, I don’t really want to visit the big city, so I haven’t bothered with the Yangon.

But I on this little sort of tour of Asia that I took myself on, I went to Singapore, Ho Chi Minh City and then Bangkok and met with the, I think it was honestly about 12 different interviews.

15:28

I kind of set myself up with, with all the WPP agencies and, you know, they were all amazing.

And and so, yeah, so helpful in terms of what my skill set might fit into as a role in, in Southeast Asia.

And then I, I accepted actually a role in Ho Chi Minh City.

15:44

It was meant to be in, in Vietnam.

I accepted the role to go to Vietnam and I’d put my job in London and, you know, it was already, I’m going to Vietnam.

And then my sort of future boss called me and said, actually, like, I’m not sure it makes sense for you to go to the hotel and then the clients actually a telco in Myanmar.

Would you mind coming to Yangon?

16:01

And because, you know, I was in that headspace of in for a penny, in for a pound, I decided, you know, why not?

So I, I, I changed everything.

I haven’t booked a flight yet.

So I just changed my, my mindset more than anything of going to a country where I knew absolutely nobody because I knew a couple of people in Vietnam, I think.

16:20

And yes, that’s off.

That’s off to Yangon and.

Then it starts.

I want to know your thoughts.

I want your gut reaction.

Now you’ve got me like a day after you finished the book.

What?

A day after I do it, I I absolutely adored it.

But it’s because I mean, I think what’s fascinating about because obviously I’ve just written my book and I think it’s and it’s full of stories.

16:39

And so I think what’s amazing about doing that when you’re writing stories or when you write a story, that’s why stories are so powerful, aren’t they?

Because you you put your experiences into what you’re reading and you feel like you’re there, but also you’re you’re reflecting on what would have you done and what similar experiences that you might have had.

17:00

And yeah.

And so everyone’s going to get something different from it.

For me, I felt like I was there, OK.

I thought it was beautifully written.

Well, you have an extraordinary ability to remember things.

I don’t know how you remembered things in so so much detail, I think.

Some of them are just traumatically burnt into the memory.

17:18

The language is so illustrative.

I mean, it’s extraordinary.

Just the sounds and the smells and the what you see.

I’m also living in a country that I am not from.

I mean, it’s slightly different in the sense that my partner’s Brazilian and my children were born here.

17:35

And, I mean, I’m not Brazilian, but I feel, you know, my children are Brazilian and I feel very.

Yeah.

And you’ve been there so long.

I’ve been there for here like 20 years I guess.

So I, I definitely feel at home here.

But just how how much you fell in love with where you were living, how it was your life.

17:52

You didn’t see yourself moving and then suddenly the carpet being.

Yeah, just pull down underneath you.

And obviously sort of holding your guns and being like, no, but this is our home.

No, we’re going to stick through it.

And then just everything crumbling around you and you’re still like, we’re going to see what happens.

18:09

We’re going to stick here.

No, it’s going to be fine.

It’s all going to work out.

And I mean honestly, and just the, the feeling of just when you, you said like I had the map open and just being like, where do we?

Where in the world could we go?

And like, what’s going to capture my essence and my heart and my energy again to even start this crazy move that I don’t even want to do?

18:30

And meanwhile, everyone’s getting sick and from COVID, there’s like hurricanes.

And I mean, it was just, I just thought, Oh my God, I don’t know.

I know I can totally relate to the feeling and I can totally imagine being in that situation and being responding to it in a similar way.

18:51

And I just for you, but also was just amazed at how you managed to kind of pull through and where you are now.

And I just can’t even imagine the moments of slight desperation.

I’m sure there were more than what you explained in the book so beautifully.

Yeah.

19:07

And like, one thing that’s actually been amazing since the books that are out in the world is that lots of people who are also living in Yangon and who I know from from Myanmar have read it and have got in touch.

And people, you know, some people that I knew very well and very close friends and, and some people who I’ve worked with maybe on one or two projects, maybe they were at an agency and I was the client or something.

19:26

And you know, really actually, you know, I don’t know them very well, but they’ve all got in touch saying almost exactly the same thing that they essentially had to grieve.

I mostly tear up just saying it like I think Myanmar, I don’t know, it cut deep into all of us, everybody who who lived there during that period.

19:44

I think because it was a period of such intense excitement, optimism for the country and, you know, all this sort of investment and growth and development and everything that was coming in from from sort of 2015 through to about 2019-2020.

And, you know, people who were there then, you weren’t there by accident.

20:02

You didn’t just think, oh, yeah, you know, I’m kind of going off on my elephant punt tour of the world like you would like maybe in Thailand, because it was hard to live in Myanmar and it was hard to get a visa and things.

So there was a sort of natural selection process that had taken place through immigration.

And that meant that everybody who was there really genuinely wanted to be there and, and a lot of those people.

20:23

Left during COVID thinking they’d go back and then the coup happened and they never got to go back.

So they had absolutely no closure in terms of they didn’t have anything to sort of say goodbye or, you know, and this is to friends, to their jobs, to their furniture.

Like, you know, and it sounds so trivial thinking, but these are foreigners.

20:40

They could get out and they could leave.

And, you know, this is just a, you know, table and chairs we’re talking about.

But as you say, like, we’d all sort of made it our home and we all thought because it was such a wonderful country, we all thought that we’d be there for a long time.

So having that taken away from, you know, from all of us was quite traumatic, I think, for a lot of people.

20:59

And, and that’s where writing this book has been quite cathartic for me.

I think, you know, I’m, I’m having just teared up now, but, you know, I’m getting better at talking about it.

But actually, when I first finished the book, I could not get through a sentence without bursting into tears.

Just the emotion of how much I missed me and my how much it had meant to me, how much it changed my life.

21:18

I met my husband there.

So I think the, the sort of biggest thing for me is that my kind of love affair with Myanmar was running parallel to my love affair with my husband.

And and so, you know, everything was caught up in this, you know, incredible sort of emotional bubble, which was then popped when the military overthrew the government.

21:34

And I in no way say that I’ve suffered, you know, anything compared to what the Myanmar people are suffering now.

But it, I don’t know, it’s testament to the people and the country and, and, you know, the beauty of life there, but it really did, you know, leave a hole in my heart when I had to leave.

21:50

And and this is what, you know, people have got in touch with me to say just, you know, they’ve absolutely loved reading the book because it it has given them some feeling of closure because they’ve sort of been able to say goodbye through the book or it’s, you know, brought up old memories of what it was like to live there and wonderful memories.

22:05

Not, you know, because there’s a few chapters just dedicated to sort of a love story basically to Myanmar in the first few chapters.

And and that was, you know, pre COVID, pre coup.

So, you know, just remembering the Myanmar that we all fell in love with.

But also, yeah, just a lot of them, I think have spent the last two or three years trying to work out what’s missing.

22:24

And it’s sort of been back to what you said earlier about like, I’m very fortunate that I’ve managed to find a role, well, a life again in a country which allows me to be myself.

Like, I do enjoy developing markets.

India is absolute chaos.

I do my best to bring some sense of order to bits of it, the bits that affect me.

22:43

But, you know, I’ve ended up here and a lot of these people who are friends from Myanmar have actually ended up going back to the Netherlands or Belgium nor France or, you know, somewhere in Europe.

And actually, I think there’s something missing.

And a lot of them have said that that the sort of envious of the fact that I’m still living a rather chaotic life, you know, and I’m still in a country where you can do probably, you know, significant amount of good simply by a sort of different way of thinking to teams and to people that I work with.

23:10

Why did you write the book?

Not quite.

To plan is essentially about my first year as a mother, which is a year which coincided with not only the global pandemic but also the 2021 Myanmar military coup.

So my first year as a mother was not in any way as I might have imagined it before becoming a mother.

23:32

And it was from the moment my son was born.

Actually, there was a rather dramatic story around his his birth that was insane.

That story.

As a, as a mother, as someone who’s gone through childbirth, who’s also lived abroad, who’s kind of, you know, I’m seeing so many parallels.

23:47

But then it is not paralleled because like so much went wrong.

Long story short, I ended up in a different hospital from my newborn for the 1st 36 hours of his life.

And that was, yeah, again, it was not how, you know, I had a birth plan.

24:03

I think we all do as sort of mums to be.

I expected it to go a little bit wrong because I’d lived in Myanmar for six years and I knew that, you know, things things didn’t always work out how they were meant to, but I didn’t expect it to get that wrong.

And I think that was probably the first sort of trauma that I maybe hadn’t processed passed properly when the coup happened two months later.

24:22

So, so the military overthrew the government when my son was just two months old.

There’s a tiny, tiny baby.

And, you know, we woke up one morning having, as you say, like, you know, relating to the Nepal story, there had been rumblings and there had been sort of rumours and things about the military.

24:38

We’re not going to accept the results of the election that had taken place the November before.

But we didn’t really believe it was going to happen.

And, and then we woke up on the morning of the 1st of February 2021, and it had happened and all the members of parliament had been taken essentially by the military, including Aung San SU Chi.

24:54

So, you know, they went right to the top and took the most powerful figure in politics in Myanmar and arrested them all.

And that was sort of the beginning of essentially the next year.

And that was my first year as a mum.

So while most people would be stressing over, you know, how to be the best mother, I, I had so many other things to worry about in the foreground that actually motherhood kind of took a little bit of a backseat.

25:18

When my son was six months old, we were still stuck in Myanmar because we were having issues getting his passport.

We were dealing with intermittent Internet outages.

And I had, I had no friends there who had young babies.

I really didn’t have a network of mums or anyone to rely on them.

But the Internet going in and out, I couldn’t always call my mum or, you know, anyone back home.

25:35

So I was relying on Google a lot for, for my, for my parenting knowledge.

I used to joke, but I Co parented with Google for, you know, the first probably first six months of justice life.

We, you know, got to the sort of weaning stage where he needs to get introduced to.

And so I booked an online course actually during the day.

25:52

So I knew the Internet would be switched on because it tended to be on from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM and then it would go dark.

I booked myself onto this first aid course in the UK run by a, you know, sort of charitable trust.

And my friends had done, it was like, yeah, it was fantastic, super useful.

And as this class was going on, there are a few other couples.

26:09

I think there was one couple based in Dubai actually.

So we weren’t the only people doing it remotely, but, and it was remote because of COVID anyway, but most people were based in London and the first aid trainer kept saying if you are worried about joking, call 999, call 999.

So I was, you know, put my hand up and said I’m so sorry, but we don’t have an emergency service here.

26:27

There is no 999, there are no ambulances, there’s pretty much no medical care because of the coup and because all the doctors are on strike.

And you know, you know, tried to wrap it up quickly for her.

But I was like, so just so I know in case he were to choke, would I be better to drive him or run him to the clinic?

26:44

I was like, it’s roughly a 3 minute drive or about a 7 minute run.

And she was just staring at me like what is this person?

Like, what is this person doing wherever she is with no medical care asking me, should I run or should I drive?

Like, because I was like, no, yeah, because if I run, maybe it’ll dislodge.

27:00

What else stuck in this, you know?

And she just, you know, sort of answer said, like, you’re better to drive.

Just lay him down on the back seat of the car and drive as switching as you can.

For everybody else, call 999.

I actually out loud, it wasn’t really a laugh.

It was kind of like, gosh, like the realisation of this is how bad it got once you’ve lived around the world in different situations where you need to rely on being resilient because if not, you’re just no help to anybody because it’s just always so difficult.

27:33

And so being that kind of person, you okay?

It’s a bit difficult right now.

Okay, no, I’m gonna push through.

I’m gonna put.

It to be fine.

It’s gonna be fine.

But then it gets to the point where you’re having those kind, I think that was my response, because it gets to the point where you’re having those kind of like conversation and you’re like, maybe this is the point where it’s like, maybe I need to start looking at Plan B.

27:57

Yeah, I actually, around that time, I think it was actually, you know, maybe three months before that I’d started writing a journal.

I’ve always had a blog that I’ve written.

But then when things become kind of normal, I tend to stop writing.

You know, life gets busy and, you know, I, I, I guess I just stop.

28:12

I stop noticing what’s different because it all just becomes completely normal to me.

But forgetting that, of course, it’s still different to people back home.

But.

So I’d had a blog when I first arrived in Myanmar.

And then I think pretty much my Last Post was when I got together with Dylan.

And then, Yeah, I think like, he kind of took up all my time.

28:28

So that was the end of my writing.

But in about 2-3 months into the coup, I realized I had to start writing stuff down because it had all just become so absurd that, you know, we’d be having conversations with friends.

Yeah.

Do you want to actually come and, you know, come to our house?

There’s sort of a temporary badminton court on the car park outside.

28:45

You want to come and play badminton and be like, yeah, yeah, yeah, we’ll come.

We’ll just check and see if there’s any bombs or anything in the morning, and then we’ll set off.

That’s not normal.

Like, that is not a normal conversation to be having.

Like, are there bombs?

Are there blockades?

Are there, you know, police checks and things?

So I started to keep a bit of a journal, which actually came in very handy dates wise, because my memory was not as crystal clear in a kind of chronological fashion as it needed to be when it actually came to writing a book.

29:11

But I knew it was so absurd that I had to start writing things down.

We’d lived on on a golf course, basically.

We’d lived in this nice compound outside of Yangon city centre.

And we were playing G1 morning.

And you know, we’re sitting on that.

I don’t know, whatever it was the 7th green and suddenly we had gunfire and we’re just like, Oh my God, that’s an automatic weapon.

29:30

Like that’s, that’s not something I’ve heard before in, in my life.

And you know, that’s, that’s a gunshot.

And then you look over and you’re like, oh, there’s actually smoke coming up from, from fires along the road, which probably would have been the either the people setting fire, military, you know, blockades or the military setting prior to the barricades that the people had put up.

29:48

So, you know, moments like that, we where I, you know, I did write it down, but after I’d written a few of those down again, that became normal.

And as I’ve worried that I’ve become very hardened to, to all of this, which is, you know, it’s not an experience growing up in, in the Channel Islands.

It’s not something that I experienced as a child.

But the more we lived through the sort of stress of the coup and, and as I say, motherhood very much to the back seat to all of this, you know, I think I was just suppressing a lot of emotions and just, you know, you know, it will be fine.

30:15

It will be fine.

We’ll get through this, we’ll get through this.

And then we, we left Myanmar, you know, we’ve managed to, to get out and we got Jasper’s passport.

Finally, the day I collected Jasper’s passport was the same day that we tested positive for COVID, meaning we couldn’t travel immediately.

And also the same day that me and I went from to the UK’s Red List, meaning that my, my foreigner husband, he’s an Australian, was not allowed to travel directly from Myanmar into the UK.

30:39

So it was all again, it was hurray, we’ve got the passport.

Oh my God, we’ve got COVID and oh crap, now we can’t travel to the UK.

Where in the world can we go?

Because everything’s close because of COVID.

So, you know, those sorts of, you know, emotional roller coasters going sort of little ones during the whole narrative of the book and the whole year that I, that I’ve written about.

30:57

But actually, when it became the hardest is when we got to the UK and, and Jasper and I ended up stuck in Jersey for six months because again, immigration problems, we’d underestimated how hard it was to get a visa for India and, and how bureaucratic India is and how they never metal form they didn’t want filled.

31:16

So, you know, there was no sort of skirting around visa issues like there might have been in Myanmar.

You could sort of fudge your way through.

India is not like that.

And, and it was during those six months in, in Jersey where I, I’d gone from being essentially a full time working mum, Dylan had actually quit his job just before Jasper was born.

31:33

So he was not working.

He was sort of stay at home dad.

And we will all stay at home because it was COVID and the coup, But I was essentially working and I had a nanny for Jasper and I had a helper in the home, which again, is very normal for Southeast Asia.

And I had my father-in-law in the building next door And I had my husband, you know, around to help.

31:51

And then suddenly I was there in Jersey in a cottage attached to my dad’s house, completely alone.

I, my job came to an end.

I was parenting through Auk winter, which I hadn’t seen for a good number of years.

I found that really, really tough.

You know, then the end of that six months, we finally made it to India.

32:09

And when I got to India, my sort of real motivated behind starting to write was that I need to record this so that Jasper understands again, get emotional saying besides, so that Jasper understands just how incredible he was as an emotional support for me throughout, you know, the nine months under the coup, but also the, the six months that we were stuck in in Jersey on our own.

32:30

And, and I just thought, you know, even looking back at the journal I’d kept in those early months of the coup, I’d forgotten a lot of the things that have happened.

And I thought, you know, you know, I’m going to forget, I’m not going to be able to tell him this big sweeping dramatic story if I don’t write it down.

So that was really the motivation in the beginning.

32:46

I started to write, I started with the chapter, which is now chapter 4, which is about his birth, because as I say, that was a pretty traumatic 24 hours or 36 hours.

So I started writing that and I probably quite passive aggressive.

And it was, you know, just sort of, you know, look at all the things the hospital did wrong and, you know, wasn’t this ridiculous And, you know, this would never happen in my country sort of approach because I was just angry.

33:09

And I think I just needed to process it through some words.

But once I’d written that, I sent it to my sister actually and said, like, I don’t know, is this a thing?

Like, is this an essay?

Is this maybe a collection of essays?

I think I’d like to keep writing.

And she’s she came back saying, but, you know, The thing is like, because it is a little bit angry.

33:26

If I didn’t know you, I’d be thinking, but, you know, why didn’t she leave, like, actually put herself through this unnecessarily?

She’s not from Myanmar.

She could have left.

She could have had the baby anywhere else in the world.

You know, this doesn’t make sense to me.

So then I realised, yeah, OK, I need to go back and explain why I was in Myanmar.

33:42

And.

And, you know, and then I sort of went back in time and, you know, wrote a bit about why I was there.

And then I sort of got back to the birth story and the tone changed completely the second time I wrote it because it was much more like this is what happened and it was hard to deal with.

But I’m not angry.

33:58

I’m just processing and probably more insightful for a leader to understand what it’s like to give birth in a developing country and, and to sort of go through something as as dramatic as like having your baby taken away from you for 36 hours without really knowing what was going on.

So many stupid things happened, but so many things went wrong that piled on top of each other and, and kind of got me to the emotional state that I was in by the time we arrived in Jersey, where my, my mum, you know, said when she first saw me when we arrived in Jersey.

34:23

It’s just that you just seemed traumatized, basically, You know, you, you weren’t yourself.

Actually, as I wrote the story, I realized that, you know, and as you will have found, you have to just choose the moments that illustrates what was going on.

You don’t need to tell them absolutely every time something small went wrong because, you know, that was literally every day.

34:40

I took a Coursera course on plot and character development And, and then I, you know, I found a couple of podcasts that I listened to about writing.

Yeah.

Before very long, I realized that what I had was probably not a collection of essays.

It was, you know, more what they call narrative nonfiction.

34:56

It was a very plot driven story, as they would say, because things were happening, you know, and then this because of that and then that.

And, you know, like it wasn’t just a sort of series of experiences.

It was all very much like, ’cause all that one thing happening then led to the next thing and let the next thing, that’s the next thing.

35:12

And, you know, my first finished draft, I sent it out to some friends and and family who very kindly read it.

And they all came back saying, whoa, you need to slow this down.

Everything happening all at once.

It’s too quick.

You need to give the reader a break, otherwise it’s actually kind of too traumatic to read because the reader’s just thinking, oh, my God, I just, nothing else can happen now, surely.

35:31

Oh, there we go again.

And so, you know, so then a lot of my rewrites were about slowing down the challenges I was facing and, and slowing down the situations as they came at me and giving a little bit more insight into what I was thinking and how I was feeling.

And I kind of got to the end of it and realized, yeah, do you know what this is?

35:48

This is definitely a book.

And what’s more, it’s a book that people are going to relate to even even though they haven’t necessarily lived through the exact same thing.

There’s so many elements in it that people will relate to, especially mums, especially people who’ve lived abroad, especially people who’ve lived in Myanmar, you know, and as you say, like you actually found yourself finding similarities to experiences you might have had, you know, 20 years ago or something, you know, backpacking.

36:15

But the the feeling is the same even if the circumstances are not so.

Yeah, you know, just reflecting on your learnings for people reading the book, but also for you coming out of an experience like that, what do you think your take out was from this experience?

36:32

And what do you hope readers will take out from reading the book?

I, I mean, I think you’ve sort of stolen my favorite word and in resilience, but I think more than resilience, it was, I realized looking back and writing about it all, how resourceful I can be.

And again, that’s probably something that the TIE program in Brazil had showed me and then that living in Myanmar showed me, but it had never showed me to the point of I had only myself to rely on.

36:55

And, you know, I was making this motherhood game up as I went along and I was just really hoping for the best.

You know, I think people will, will read it and realize that they too can be very resourceful and that they’re a lot stronger than they think they are.

Because initially when I would start to talk about this experience, they just, Oh my God, I don’t know how you coped or how, you know, how did you cope?

37:14

You know, I could never do that.

And you just say that you would.

You absolutely would because you have no choice.

If you’re in a situation where you you can’t just say, oh, no, actually do not today, I don’t think I’ll deal with this.

You have to go through this.

And that’s when you realize that you are more resilient than you think, you are stronger than you think you have all this inherent knowledge and decision making ability that you don’t realize you have.

37:36

And, and I think as a mother, it is instinct.

You do whatever it takes to keep yourself safe and your child say one of the biggest things would be that people read it and realize that honestly, doesn’t matter what’s thrown at you.

It could be big, could be small, but you do find a way to get through it.

You don’t have to be happy about it.

37:52

You don’t have to say that it was easy.

And you can absolutely be having very different thoughts inside your heads as to what you’re portraying on the outside.

But you know, that we are actually or maybe stronger than we think.

I originally thought maybe the title would even be emotional support baby.

And then then I sort of moved away from that.

38:07

But you know, what I found as I was writing it was I just don’t think enough is written about how much we parents probably can get from our children by way of strength.

Like, I think there’s so much written about how motherhood is so hard and, and how we give everything to our children and, you know, and, and the balance and the juggle and, you know, everything around that sort of angle.

38:28

And what I found was, you know, just actually, he’s just like a little charger for me.

Like I could be feeling absolutely rock bottom.

And then he just, you know, snapped me out of it or do something funny.

And, and I, you know, just a cuddle from him would just sort of energize me and, you know, fire me back up and just remind me that actually, yeah, you can keep going.

38:45

And I, yeah, I sort of always feel sad that there’s not a lot written about that or talked about like that, about how much strength we get from our children.

And that was also something that I, I hoped that, you know, maybe mums or parents might, might take away from it is that just go and find your child, if you have one, Like, they may help you.

39:01

I know you.

They’re an absolute pain in the butt.

I think that was a perspective that I that I had as I started to write things that that I felt like lots of people would identify with, but actually nobody ever really talks.

About and I think what’s interesting the mix between obviously Jasper and your love for Myanmar and how important love for where you are, love for who’s around you and how we talked about purpose earlier, how that is what then gives people grit and yes, and that resilience and that sort of desire to keep going.

39:34

When I reflect on the work that I do and reflecting on workplaces and culture and, and thinking about, you know, how do we get people to really kind of fight for what we’re doing or how do we really believe in in the work that we’re doing?

And at the end of the day, it comes down to really loving the people who are around you, loving the work that you’re doing, loving where you are and feeling a real connection.

39:54

And when you feel that, that’s why there’s bombs going off around you and you weren’t leaving like.

I am going to work this out.

It will all be fine if we could just have a conversation about it.

Right.

And it’s, and you know, I guess the point you’re like, OK, I think we need to find another option.

40:13

But it’s just interesting, isn’t it, how these competencies of tenacity, of, of grit, of perseverance, of determination, of resilience, there has to be an underpinning of something for that to continue.

And even if if people are forcing you to do something, it still doesn’t work because you’re like, I am going to.

40:31

Your heart’s not in it.

Your.

Heart’s not in it.

It’s not going to work.

We are coming to the end of the podcast, but you said that you’re in India, so I think maybe just wrapping up, is there another book on the horizon?

What are you planning?

I desperately hope there’s another book on the horizon.

And actually it’s sort of following the same theme.

40:47

I, we’ve been here two years now and I was not able to work for my first, well, year and a half here because I was on a spousal visa, which is, you know, glad to work.

I took that time to write the book, which was amazing.

But I have actually since gone back to the UK and got myself a new visa and I am now full time employed with a real estate company and I work in the ESG department.

41:07

So environmental and social impact is my main focus still, you know, in a marketing role.

And I absolutely love it.

You know, I have had a number of epiphanies sort of in the last few months.

You know, I wasn’t loving India when we first got here.

And I, I found it really tough and I, I couldn’t find that much in common with some of the other mums that I was coming into contact with.

41:24

And I was only really coming into contact with mums because I was essentially living India through Jasper.

Everything he needed I was doing for him and that put me into contact with with various people.

But actually, you know, I was really wasn’t sure who I was in the context of India because I didn’t really have anything in the same way that I’ve had, you know, job and and sort of friends and social clubs and things in in Myanmar.

41:44

There was one moment that really opened my eyes, which was last summer, UK summertime.

I took Jasper back to the UK for six weeks back to Jersey and we were staying with my mum.

You know, the entire time I was just like, this is home.

This is where I’m from.

Isn’t it wonderful showing him everything?

42:00

And every day he just kept saying, when are we going back to my India home?

When are we going back to my India home?

Dylan came over to the last two weeks of that trip.

And even once he was there, Jasper just kept looking at all the planes in the sky and saying, is that our airplane?

Is that our airplane?

Like, when are we going back to India?

And when we landed back in India, I just suddenly realized that I’ve been fighting the system for the whole first year we’ve been here.

42:20

I was desperately trying to sort of recreate a childhood that probably looked a little bit like my childhood, insisting on family roast dinners every Sunday and, you know, trying to do the shopping myself and go to the grocery store myself because that’s the way we would do it in the UK.

And it starts to rain and everyone brings their children inside.

42:36

And I’m like, no, just to stay outside.

You’re not going to melt.

Like, you know, have this very sort of, this is how I was raised approach to things.

And, you know, coming back after this trip to the UKI just realized, no, this is his home.

Like I have to embrace this.

I have to absolutely see it through his eyes.

It’s an incredible country to live in.

42:52

You know, he absolutely loves it.

He definitely knows more about Hinduism than he does about Christianity, you know, like, you know, just sort of cultural things that I had as a child.

He doesn’t have, but he has so much more and so many different things.

So that was a real moment of I’ve got to write a second book about this.

43:08

And it’s sort of playing with the title, something along the lines of get with the plan.

You know, I’ve just got to accept that my experience of motherhood is not going to be the mirror image of my childhood because I’m in a totally different situation.

But it’s, you know, it’s also just how much Jasper is showing me the way and he’s, you know, really showing me how I have to be open minded and approach everything with a curiosity and a positivity and optimism rather than me coming into it being like, well, you know, we’re not here forever or this is not what I would have expected, you know, when I was a child.

43:37

And I definitely need to write about life in India because it is crazy.

There’s so many things that are just, I can’t relate to at all.

But, you know, it’s the experience of his childhood.

And then the second thing was just that, you know, since I’ve joined this office and since I’ve started working, you know, I’m no longer peripherals for everything.

43:53

I suddenly have a role and a purpose here.

And I have interesting and amazing colleagues and really interesting projects that I’m working on and the social impacts space or in sustainability.

And yeah, it really comes back to what we started talking about at the very beginning that, you know, I sort of have this purpose, I suppose.

And, and being here and not being involved in society and culture, I found very hard.

44:14

Now that I’m embraced by India, you know, I feel so much more at home and so much happier to be here.

So my second book, had I written it a year ago, like six months ago, it probably would have come out quite angry and quite bitter.

But now I think if, you know, I really keep going to start to write it now I think it will be far more sort of light hearted and funny and you know, me just making a fool of myself trying to fit in and and having absolutely no clue how things work.

44:39

Yeah.

Is there a quote that sums up our conversation?

I often go back to this old friend of both of ours, John Steele.

I will never forget the very early days of the fellowship, John saying to me about my roles within the fellowship.

But it just, I just always think it just still applies to everything, both professional and personal.

44:56

I just remember him saying to me, if the role you’re in doesn’t make both you and your company little bit nervous, you’re not pushing yourself hard enough.

Everything I’ve been through has really just taught me that nervous is probably where I’d like to stop.

Now.

I don’t necessarily need to go over into genuinely terrified professionally and personally.

45:14

That’s something that I I think we can all live.

By David Bowie also said something similar.

I have it in my book and I can’t remember the exact quote, but it’s basically if your feet aren’t quite touching the ground then you’re in just the right place.

Oh, amazing.

Yeah.

Yeah, and I and I talk about that a lot in my book, actually, just because there’s the big beginner’s mind.

45:32

Then Buddhism talks about the beginner’s mind.

And so the more you can clear your mind and start as a beginner, kind of what you were saying, how you stopped writing because once you were in Myanmar for too long, everything just sort of seemed the same.

But the more you can kind of clear your brain and then almost see things.

Continue to see things.

45:48

Yeah, yeah.

That’s when you just keep your creative juices flowing and you’re.

Yeah, because.

You’re constantly inspired by things.

Yeah, yeah.

Yeah.

So yeah, I agree.

I’ve got to try and maintain that.

You do, you do.

It’s funny, I remember so clearly when I was living in London, working and advertising.

46:06

This is right at the beginning, this was in probably 2002, working at Leo Burnett.

And I remember going on holiday and I remember coming back from holiday and I remember walking down Sloan St. and suddenly I became aware of the street signs and how the particular street signs on that street on a certain corner, they were so beautifully created and they were very different to all the other street signs.

46:29

And that was sort of the, and I remember just looking at that and then I became aware of other details and I thought, God, I’ve been walking down the street every single day.

But it’s because I’ve gone on holiday and I’ve come back and suddenly my, it feels like my brain has more space in it and I’m seeing things.

46:45

I remember noticing that and telling people and we were like, what are you talking about?

You’re weird.

Yeah.

How do we stay curious like this?

Yeah, yeah.

So no, it’s very good advice.

No, this has been absolutely amazing.

Thank you so much for joining me.

I cannot command not quite to plan enough.

47:04

We will have the link to Amazon on the on the blurb.

And for anyone who just wants to be taken on a journey, taken into a world that is so unlike anything that you’ve experienced, but with some takeaways that will just get you reflecting on how to be more resilient, more tenacious, etcetera, than read the book.

47:24

Thank you for joining.

Me.

Well, thank you so much for having me.

This has been so nice.

And good luck with your book launch.

I’m so excited to read it.

It’s going to have so many lessons that I can apply to my role here in India and I’m so excited.

Bye bye.

Hey everyone, this is Philippa again.

47:40

I hope you enjoyed listening.

Now this is your chance to get involved with Ty.

If you’re looking to create better leaders, better companies, and a better world, that’s just what we do by helping leaders tap into their greatest asset, their humanity.

We have a number of corporate programs that impact a range of people, from individuals at a company to 500 people around a business.

48:03

Or check out my book, Return on Humanity, Leadership Lessons from All Corners of the World.

You’ll find the answers to how business can truly become a positive force while remaining at the forefront of competition.

You can find all the information you need on all of this at thaileadership.com.

48:23

Get in touch and I can explain more.

A huge thanks to Behen Naviera for Co producing this with me and for creating the music.

I hope we’ll meet up again soon.

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