Serendipity, mentorship, Russell Brand and Rich Roll

Serendipity struck again at the weekend. It’s bizarre to me how often things happen just when we most need them to happen.

On Sunday, after a quick grocery shopping sprint and obligatory sweet treat Sunday stop-off, my nine-year-old and I stuck our heads into the bookshop to pass half an hour until the parking ticket elapsed.

I caught sight of a slim hardback with the unmistakable face of Russell Brand.

Brand is someone who has interested me greatly for some time. I didn’t care much for his various trysts or dalliances (reading his writing since then, it seems neither did he) but the breadth of his intellect probably first caught my attention during a remarkable Newsnight interview with Jeremy Paxman in 2013.

Since then, I’ve dipped into his book on recovery from his drug addictions, and when I saw his new book, entitled Mentors: How to Help and Be Helped, it spoke to me deeply and personally.

I have been grappling with the necessary challenge of mentorship over the past few months.

It has been a challenge on both sides of the coin: on the one hand my need for mentorship, and the requirement for me to erode my ego and pride to allow that to happen; on the other hand my calling to become a mentor for others, and the requirement for me to let go of my fears of being an imperfect role model or dispensing the wrong advice to the wrong person at the wrong time.

These fears are real, because everything’s on the line here.

But these fears must also be overcome, because my capacity to help others will be reduced to nothing if they’re not.

Listening to the latest Rich Roll podcast on the way into Dublin city on Monday morning, I realised with vivid clarity that Rich Roll has been mentoring me from afar these past two years or so.

Rich is an extreme endurance athlete, who follows a plant-based lifestyle, lives in California and formerly was a high-powered lawyer specialising in entertainment law.

I am none of those things.

I’m very proud that I managed two half-marathons last year and learned to swim. I’ve been trying to eat more plants, and mostly succeeding. I live in rural Ireland and I’ve been in court three times in my life and don’t have any aspirations to go back there anytime soon.

And yet there is so much about Rich Roll that I can look up to and aspire to follow.

He hit his rock bottom at 40 years old, when he realised he was overweight, out of breath after climbing a flight of stairs, and on a surefire path to an early grave.

I hit my rock bottom in my late 30s, when I realised that I was overweight (this came after several years of ridiculing the body mass index as phoney science, and a little quiet and gentle persuasion from a nutritionist); that I had struggled with self-worth issues for at least 25 years, which led to its inevitable financial chaos and regular bouts and deep depression; and that I was on a surefire path to several more decades of continued suffering, if an early grave did not intervene.

I’ve written about Rich’s two interviews with Dr Zach Bush (here and here), and his conversation with Guru Singh about depression, and I encourage you to give them a listen.

This piece is about Rich in general, though, not the contents of any particular show.

Rich has shown me paths and options that I would never previously have considered.

He has shown me another way to live life.

He has, at least in part, inspired me to start my own show, the Life Well Lived podcast, where I speak to guests every week about navigating the challenges of life and becoming our best selves in the world.

He has inspired me to consider my eating habits, and the interconnectedness of all our choices to our health and our environment.

He has, from his California base, led me to the Happy Pear boys Stephen and David Flynn, who just happen to live and work about an hour’s drive from my house, but who I’d never really paid any attention to before. (The Flynns, incidentally, or perhaps not incidentally at all, make an important cameo in the Russell Brand Mentors book…)

He has demonstrated that humility is no barrier to global impact.

Rich has become a mentor for me, from afar, through the wonder that is the Internet.

I think back to my 11-year-old self. It’s just 30 years ago, but it’s like another universe. I remember the amazement I felt when my mother might bring a kids magazine home with the weekly shopping, with stories and puzzles and the strange place-names of the United Kingdom, which was just a boat trip away but seemed so faraway and exotic.

Now, after what seems like just a few blinks of an eye down the road, I can find myself led and guided and inspired, every week, for free, by a man in California who I’ve never met.

And I know also that I can find such mentors in many places, in real life and on the Internet, if only I am open to the possibility that I can be helped and that they might be able to help me.

I’m thankful that for all the negativity on the Internet, and there is an unsurpassed amount of negativity, that it is also a conduit to making life better, for individuals and humanity as a whole, in ways that we are surely only beginning to consider.

(I’m thankful also to Conor Devine from Belfast, Ireland, who first alerted me to Rich Roll, and who is also on his own journey to transform and inspire the world. Read about Conor at his website here.)