Lucy Richards, 26
Lucy Richards is adept at living in the present moment. From a very young age, she has been mindful of the fact that self doubt is fuelled by fear of the unknown and has been running head on at life’s challenges ever since, defying the voice in her head that dares to question her. This is perhaps one of the reasons she has been able to achieve all that she has.
At 26, Lucy is the General Manager of Smiling Mind, a wonderful mindfulness app that helps young Australians find peace and perspective through web-based wellness programs and Mindfulness Meditations. She got the job after a number of years operating in the not-for-profit space at the Reach Foundation, a stint at a communications agency, an internship at The Wheeler Centre and a foray into dancing and choreography which led her to work with some of Australia’s best known artists such as Kimbra, Delta Goodrem and Guy Sebastian. She is that powerful mix of creatively motivated, corporate-minded and super organised.
Lucy, who is also a member of the Junior Board of the Melbourne Festival and a Director of YWCA Victoria, tells me that she is motivated by a desire to connect and contribute to everything around her.
She is all heart but with an awe-inspiring cool, calm efficiency. Her story will make you feel like you can move mountains.
Tell me about your journey to becoming general manager of Smiling Mind.
Sure. I’d say my journey started when I was working at the Reach Foundation with young people in Melbourne. Reach is all about helping young people reach their potential. As we go through our life and try to reach our potential there are things that pop up, you know, whether that’s self doubt or other people doubting us and I learnt and came to highly value that idea of equipping people with the ability to become who they need to be and be who they really are.
From there I thought I needed to try an office job and so worked at an online communications agency doing their email marketing. It was great because I got to learn about and work with small businesses who wanted to communicate with their customers as well as corporates like Siemens and GE and AGL.
In that time I got introduced to Jane Martino and James Tutton, the co-founders of Smiling Mind through a friend of a friend. Smiling Mind was their passion project at that point and they needed someone to help with the day-to-day operations. As soon as I met them, I was like, I want to work with you, I don’t care if it’s selling cars!
These are two amazing people who are so passionate, so driven, but they’ve also got that human element to them. I started off as a Project Manager and then as time went on and the team began to grow, that’s when I moved into the general manager role.
Wow. Quite a ride!
It’s been a huge journey…unbelievable.
Self doubt is completely made up in our heads pretty much all of the time. Mindfulness gives you the power to separate those thoughts from reality, which is so incredibly empowering.
Can we go back to this idea of self-doubt that you came across when you were working at the Reach Foundation. It’s something that plagues so many people and in fact a lot of the women that we speak to talk about feeling like a fraud in so many aspects of their life. Where do you think it comes from?
Where does self-doubt come from? My gut response is inexperience, if that makes sense. In that, as a general rule, after you’ve done something once you know you can do it again. My brother, for example, is the most beautiful human but he grew up not necessarily fitting in within the education system. He is incredibly intelligent but didn’t fit that model. So he left school having not felt really affirmed for who he was because he wasn’t within a system that allowed that and allowed him to explore and grow and get those little wins along the way.
I’ve watched him since he finished school over the last five years. He was a bit paralysed initially but then as he began to go through the workforce and meet new people, he used his own initiative and his confidence grew. He’s worked his way to flourishing and I’m so proud to be his sister. I think it’s those sorts of experiences that help with self-doubt. Does that make sense?
Yes, that makes perfect sense. Is that your experience as well? Have you had any moments of thinking, Oh my god, I can’t do this.
[Laughs] Yes! Absolutely! And it links back to mindfulness, the power of the ability to see life and the experience for what is actually happening as opposed to what you think is happening. Self doubt is completely made up in our heads pretty much all of the time. Mindfulness gives you the power to separate those thoughts from reality, which is so incredibly empowering. I guess that’s why I love working at Smiling Mind.
Has mindfulness always been part of your life or have you sort of discovered through Smiling Mind?
Well, I didn’t start meditating until I was with Smiling Mind. But when I was younger I was a gymnast and I vividly remember one time standing on a beam, about to do a backflip in a competition and I thought, I could fall on my head right now. I remember catching myself and saying to myself, That is so unhelpful.
That is mindfulness. So that was a bit of turning point for me, I was probably seven or eight at the time. If you’re going to be executing something at a high level, whether that’s having a really engaging conversation with someone, or doing a backflip on a beam, or writing a really great report or whatever it may be, you have to be present and you can’t be caught up in all of those thoughts that can get you into trouble sometimes.
I think that I’m actually motivated by a drive to do, to do things and I guess then part of that is creating a change and having an impact.
Absolutely. Would you have any hot tips for gaining mindfulness in your life?
I would say try to build in a routine of present moment-ness in everyday. We all have those things that we do naturally that we relish and enjoy, even if it’s having a coffee in the morning, you sit down and take that first sip and it’s just so…amazing. For me, it’s my walk to work in the morning. It’s about finding things that work for you that you can start to build into a routine and then what naturally begins to happen is you get addicted to those moments because they’re so precious and special and you’ll want to have more of those moments throughout the day.
And meditate! That’s the gym! The mind is like a muscle so the more you can sit down and formally practice mindfulness meditation it’ll then naturally begin to flow into life in other areas.
I need to incorporate this stuff into my life!
It seems to me that there’s this not for profit theme throughout your career, was it a goal to work in that space or did it happen by accident?
Yes and no. At school I did The Duke of Ed and would always support other initiatives throughout the school. So while it wasn’t necessarily on purpose, I guess I’m not surprised.
The things that you’re doing have a great impact on so many people…I’m wondering what motivates you? What are you thinking when you wake up?
Don’t check your emails! is what I’m thinking. I think that I’m actually motivated by a drive to do, to do things and I guess then part of that is creating a change and having an impact. I’m someone who is quite active, even on a Saturday morning I’ll get up and visit my gran or go to the market. I just feel like I want to be connecting and contributing a lot of the time.
Are you extroverted?
Yes and no. Probably I’ve grown to be but if I’m put in a situation, around a dinner table where I don’t know anyone I’ll probably sit there and just observe for a little bit before I come out of the shell. What about you?
I’m the same! I was very shy when I was younger but you kind of evolve or, like you said before, you gain experience and you start to work out that everyone feels uncomfortable in situations and it’s not unusual and that no one is thinking about you as hard as you’re thinking about yourself and how you’re being perceived.
So here is a tough question for you on that idea of being perceived, what do you think people’s biggest misconception about you is?
Oh my goodness. That’s tough. Being honest it would probably be that I’m full of energy because I actually feel pretty deeply exhausted at the moment. Also, that I’m confident. Yes, I feel confident but it’s a constant moment-to-moment battle to build that and to be that and fight that self doubt that creeps in in every moment. Even now, I’m wondering if I’m saying the right thing, if what I’m saying make sense!
You are making perfect sense.
You were also a dancer when you were younger, you were semi-professional right? I mean you’ve danced with some celebrities?
Completely accidental! I would not call myself professional and I’m not being modest either! I was just lucky enough that one of my family friends (Guy Franklin) is an amazing director and got his first break when he did Kimbra’s first video clip, and he just said ‘Oh Luce, there’s this little dance scene that’s in it, can you help me out?’ Because we used to just dance around the living room when we were young and he knew that that was something that I did and I’d been teaching dancing.
It was great because I’m actually not the best dancer in the world and I’m not the best choreographer in that world but what I think one of my skills is, and it’s continued across a lot of my work, is being able to translate and communicate.
Women have historically been better at compassion and gratitude…and combining that now with strength and confidence and pushing through self doubt…I think it’s incredibly empowering.
Do you have any role models that you look up to?
I’ve been so lucky to have the most amazing mentors. My old dance teacher Jazz is one. I met her when I was thirteen and she was probably twenty and we’re still really close friends. She did this amazing thing where at the end of every class half the group sits down and watches the other half and then you have to talk about what your favourite move was and why you liked someone’s dancing, not just because they were the best but why. It was just about instilling that human connection and since jazz has stopped teaching, I haven’t really done that much because no one has been as special as her.
I’d also say Jane Martino and James Tutton would be my mentors. You know that question if you could invite any celebrities to dinner, who would it be? It’s too far fetched for me. I like real people that I know and connect with and can have in front of me so it would probably just be my friends or people I’ve met once or twice and admire.
It’s interesting that you say that, it segues so well because I had actually written down here that I wanted to know who you would want to invite for dinner if you could invite anyone. So it would be these people who exist in your life already?
I think so. I mean there’s certainly people like Arianna Huffington. What she does with the Huff Po is like, oh my god, amazing. And Taylor Swift!
Gotta have Taylor.
Probably Julia Gillard too. Women. I think I’ve increasingly grown to appreciate women as I’ve gotten older. So someone like Julia who could just share her experiences.
What do you think it means to be a woman in 2015?
I love being a woman in 2015. For me, I find it really empowering being a woman. I think, and this is in general terms, women have historically been better at compassion and gratitude and those sort of softer emotions and combining that now with strength and confidence and pushing through self doubt and all of those things, I think it’s incredibly empowering.
Okay, so throw yourself into the future and your face to face you’re your grandchildren…what would your advice be to them?
This might be a completely different tangent but let’s see where it goes. I was thinking about this this morning on my walk here. There was a little girl on a scooter crossing a road and her dad was kind of like on top of her as you would be and it made me think about death because she was this little girl, vulnerable, and the father was trying to communicate the need to be safe in this moment.
I was actually thinking what if my child or grandchild asked me about death. What would I say? And I was thinking that my solution might be to go on a journey with them.
I thought, Well I’ve got my thoughts on death but they might not be the same as yours and there’s people around the world who think completely different things about death so I would say, ‘Let’s explore this, should we look it up on the internet? Should we get books about it?’ Not in a morbid sense or anything like that but I think the essence of it is encouraging that sort of curiosity and openness to learn and self enquire and value different opinions.
We’ve actually never talked about the notion of death in a Friday Best interview before and I’m glad that it’s come up particularly in relation to mindfulness, do you think it plays a role in that? To be in the present moment, do you have to have an awareness of the cycle of life?
I don’t think you have to have an awareness. In fact, I think mindfulness helps you accept the cycle. I feel like that could be a very flippant answer because I’m not someone who is afraid of death or thinks about it so I know that other people would feel very differently about that and see it as a very important element of their life but I would say mindfulness helps you to accept it as just a part of life a little more.
Do you ever find it difficult to be mindful? Or to be grateful?
Ah…yes! Absolutely. Probably one of my worst traits is intolerance. My mum would agree with that. I’m trying to figure out where that comes from. I hate it when people don’t thank me for letting them in in the traffic, I get unnecessarily attached to the anger. I find it infuriating because it’s like they don’t have the same values that I have, one of which of course is gratitude, which is ironic isn’t it? Then my other intolerance is around inefficiency. I can get unnecessarily attached to this intolerance sometimes and it comes out in anger…no just frustration.
Do you ever turn on the news sometimes and feel despair or do you have hope for the world?
Well I don’t watch the news so I don’t really have any idea what’s going on in the world. I’ve been watching the tennis and I am just appalled at the advertising. I’m not very good at being up to date with the world, I think it’s that same thing as the dinner table thing: I want to be connected with what’s in front of me. But do I have hope for the world? Yeah, absolutely. You gotta have hope for the world.
At Smiling Mind we have what we call champions of change, people who want to make a difference, you know, through publishing and reporting, or in an organisation we find someone who wants to bring mindfulness to their employees, or the most incredible teachers who just want to equip their children with the ability to manage everyday life, so finding those people is very hopeful.
So the last question we always throw in is what do you think we should be talking more about?
My goodness, as a world? My immediate response was mental health but I think that’s a bit more agenda driven…the other thought that’s going through my head is compassion but only because I believe that if people looked at life through a more compassionate lens it would change the decision making process. So whether you’re a parent dropping off your kids to school, compassion determines how you speak to them in the car or how you say goodbye to them, whether you’re an employer deciding whether you hire or fire someone or a politician deciding what choices to make for the world, if we did that with a more compassionate lens or just a sense of how that decision is going to have a greater impact than the person immediately in front of you.
Big picture thinking. Big picture impact.