Minter Dialogue with Petra Velzeboer

Petra Velzeboer is a renowned author, psychotherapist, TEDx speaker and CEO of Mental Health Consultancy PVL. Born into a notorious cult, Petra was raised in a strict environment where individuality and self expression were discouraged. Travelling the globe, she learned firsthand about cultures and people but was sheltered from education, books or friendships outside of the community. Leading a double life for many years, she knows firsthand the toll it takes to wear a mask of conformity on one side while leading a hedonistic escapist life on the other. In this conversation, we discuss her new book, Begin With You, from Kogan Page. We delve into the cult world, what distinguishes a cult from a tribe or community, an appropriate definition of mental health, the importance of adversity in building resilience, how to stop being a victim despite horrible circumstances and how to improve our mental health.

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Music credit: The jingle at the beginning of the show is courtesy of my friend, Pierre Journel, author of the Guitar Channel. And, the new sign-off music is “A Convinced Man,” a song I co-wrote and recorded with Stephanie Singer back in the late 1980s (please excuse the quality of the sound!).

Petra Velzeboer Interview Transcript via

SUMMARY KEYWORDS : mental health, talk, expectations, work, people, business, life, cult, petra, book, ambition, idea, risk, conversation, responsibility, community, evolve, learn, society, notion

SPEAKERS: Petra Velzeboer (66%), Minter Dial (34%)

Minter Dial 0:05

Hello and welcome to Minter Dialogue episode number 533. My name is Minter Dial, and I’m your host for this podcast, a very proud member of the Evergreen Podcast Network. For more information or to check out other shows on this network, please go and visit their site, Evergreen To this week’s interviews with Petra Velzeboer, coach, a renowned author, psychotherapist, TEDx speaker, and CEO of mental health consultancy PVL. Born into a notorious cult, Petra was raised in a strict environment where individuality and self expression were discouraged. traveling the globe. She learned firsthand about cultures and people but was sheltered from education, books or friendships outside of the community, leading a double life for many years. She knows firsthand the toll it takes to wear a mask of conformity on one side while leading a hedonistic escapist life on the other. In this conversation with Petra, we discuss her new book, begin with you from Kogan Page, we delve into the cult world, what distinguishes a result from a tribe or community an appropriate definition of mental health, the importance of adversity and building resilience, how to stop being a victim, despite horrible circumstances, and how to improve all of our mental health. You’ll find all the shownotes on And please, if you have a moment, go over and drop in a rating and review. And don’t forget to subscribe to catch all the future episodes. Now for the show! Petra Velzeboer, you’re gonna have to tell me how to pronounce that properly. Great to have you on the show. I have known you, your work for the last few years, you were kind enough to participate in the empathy that counts session that we ran, and you’ve written a new book begin with you invest in your mental well-being and satisfaction at work, in your own words, Petra, who are you?

Petra Velzeboer 2:10

I mean way to start the conversation, right? Who am I? I am a mother, a woman, I run my own business, which is all about mental health in the workplace, interestingly. I now can say I’m an author as well, which is very exciting, because this is my first book and foray into kind of being published in this way. I guess for me, I’m about I’m on a mission to share the ideas that helped change my life. And I think for many of us that are on these sorts of paths, it’s because it’s deeply personal. Right? So I guess I’m a person who wants other people to get it a lot sooner than I did, and be able to live their own version of a good life.

Minter Dial 2:52

Well, the funny thing about writing a book that’s so close to your life, as a reader, you sort of get the feeling well, I’m getting to know Petra, and almost like, well, I know you better than, you know me feeling and yes, and you’re oftentimes you I might expect you to know me almost because I really have got to know knew, it reminds me of the idea that, you know, if you listen to somebody endless endlessly, at the end of the conversation, so you know, you are really interesting person. So the question though, for you, Petra is in the idea of getting to know you. How much of you do you think the book represents? Is it enough because at the end of the day, 100% seems unlikely.

Petra Velzeboer 3:38

It represents a hell of a lot, though. It represents a lot of me and you know, you’ve written a few books that that first book is just really putting a personal stamp, I think on the voice that has been stacking up for years and years and years and years. And certainly I speak on stages, and I’ve worked individually as a therapist and a coach. And so you have little moments of kind of putting your voice out there. But to put it in a consecutive kind of fashion, because my story was important to put in there in the way that I did because it informs my viewpoint on the workplace. Right. And so yes, I’ve been studied and trained as well and added to that skill set. But certainly the idea that cults is how I was raised are quite similar to the corporates and the toxicity that I’m seeing in the world today, making that connection between groupthink and how people are this is what fundamentally I think is an issue when it comes to the mental health agenda is that people have forgotten to learn to know how to think for themselves. And so it’s pretty darn close to admit, let’s say 98% of heart and soul is poured into that book.

Minter Dial 4:51

Well, I say that because obviously you have a publisher COVID page editor. And then there’s the authorial voice the words that come down on paper that ended up being used. Sometimes you change the word in the sentence because you’ve already used the word. So there’s inevitably an essence that somehow is more about the published the publication version, the public version of you, that mask that we talked about, but I’m refreshing to hear that you you’ve got so close to the real, the real Petra, I think. So, this cult business, so obviously, I’ve never been exposed or lived anything like that. I’ve read about it in occasion. But I’d love for you to describe actually, what is a cult in the first of all, what distinguishes a cult, from a community or a tribe in your mind?

Petra Velzeboer 5:42

I think, most cold start like communities or tribes, right? They start with a shared passion. Most startups, if we think of business start as like a shared mission and a shared cause and a sense of tribe and community and fighting towards one thing and lots of hope, right? Of like, oh, maybe I have backup now. Or people can complement the bits that I’m not very good at, right. And if I see like my parents, and like the early, you know, 70s Joiners of the community, which it would have been seen at the time, it was all of those things, right? I think what differentiated differentiates it is eventually you have one voice and one leader. So people are following one voice and one leader. And as you grow bigger, right, so moving from the small band of you know, kind of musicians or missionaries, or whatever it might be, that voice becomes the only voice that matters. And everything rules, procedures, practices kind of stem from that voice. But interestingly, it’s that voice, but sometimes translated by middle management. So if we think of the workplace, yes, exactly. So now we’ve got these people who are translated, we’re communicating that voice. And that’s where the nuance happens, where the power dynamics happen, where the toxic behaviors, you know, control these sorts of things. And then the bigger you get, it does become more about control. And not always intentionally, right. It’s, it starts with like, oh, we now have the masses of people. So this is where you think about groupthink, you think of mass formation, anything, we must now organize, right? We can’t just have like excited disciples like running around, we must have policies, procedures, you know, expectations, we must have rules for things, and it filters down into rules that, you know, just are so I mean, we had rules around, when you would wake up how you would wake up the music, you would listen to the books you would read, the time you would go to bed, how you would interact, what types of punishments parents should give their children. And this notion for us was, we are all one family. So it takes away this responsibility of like an individual parent, or an individual and becomes collective. And so it’s a nuance, of course, because interestingly, if I tell my story, and I say, Hey, I was raised in a commune, these days, people lean in, they go tell me more, right? 50 Yes, but also like people are desperate for connection and belonging, like, Oh, is there a way to do community that will give me a boost to my well-being? And then if I say I was raised in a cult, right, people are like, whoo, right, they back off. And of course, it was generally genuinely somewhere in the middle. Most of the time, there were there were good times there was connection, there was that collaboration. But there were dark things like we didn’t go to school, we couldn’t watch or read certain things, right? We thought the world was going to end right. So it’s now this shared mission of like, yeah. And so now when you become a teenager, and you start going, the world hasn’t ended yet. What do I want my life to look like? You then realize the disconnect, and that you have to build from scratch because nobody kind of told you what to expect.

Minter Dial 9:04

Yeah, the other commune kibbutz also, you know, the other favorable type of idea of commune it’s complicated, because clearly this need to belong is something that I feel is missing in our society. And in your description of the culture that you live through, it sounds much like if you are familiar with the spiral dynamics idea where the different levels stages of consciousness, a very red existence, which is all about sort of almost the cult of the individual at the head, and then the cult of this the system, and ultimately when you the way you describe it, it’s also exactly how certain companies become they form. You start small fun, great, then you need to build up and not everyone can know the CEO anymore. CEO As minions, we create policies, procedures, and we have the legal team, and then we’re into fear of what we can’t do. And next thing, you know, we are all, you know, toeing the company company line, and we forget ourselves.

Petra Velzeboer 10:17

Absolutely. And I think it becomes fear based. And there’s this idea that when the business does, well, we take the credit, but if something goes wrong, such as a business thing where the individuals burnt out, right, because there’s often this notion of like, work hard now sacrifice now for a reward later, right. And so that’s very much in startup culture as well like real slow sat low salaries, like this vision of equity, whatever that means, because the business doesn’t mean anything at the moment. But if you work hard, and so that you get this collective sense of belonging, because you are driving towards the same goal, but my God, once you’re burnt out, and I see this all over the place, once you your own mental health is struggling, your relationship breaks down, you know, that ripple effect of carnage happens. You should be more resilient. You know, you should check your mindset, there’s stuff you should do to work on yourself, right, not taking into account the wider system that has squeezed and led you to this place. Where’s the loyalty then. And so people continue to fight for the dream they once had. At one point, I did feel and I stayed in the cold for a long time, because I was like, but there were these times where I felt epic, the music and the connection and the shared mission like that it can’t all be wrong, because those things were true, right. And so we rationalize in our mind, why this is a me problem. If I just work harder, if I just think differently, then I will, eventually, then I will, again be able to belong, right. And of course, this overtime can completely destroy people’s mental health.

Minter Dial 11:54

We’re gonna get into that in a moment. But I want to go back to this notion of cult because when I was the CEO of a company called Red Chem, I was not afraid to call it a tribe and a cult. I, it was not about me, it was a we had history and we also venerated the individual, once the you sort of come into the cart, you we had a kind of a set of this is, this is how we roll. If you’re into that, then come in and be you. And so we had the belonging side set up ahead of time, this is what we expect, is expectations. This is the behaviors that we do this is this is how we roll this the language we use when we talk about different parts of the head, because we’re talking about headdresses. And then when you but when we’re in, then we fully expect you to flourish as an individual within this code. And, and I thought that that worked, but and it topples. The idea of the notion is all about the boss, the red headed, led organization is much more amorphous in that. And the interesting thing that I was putting out, also from what you said, is that everything I feel has a shadow there, everything has a negative side. So the idea of painting a perfect picture is always wrong.

Petra Velzeboer 13:17

And so the What you said makes sense. So it’s like set the code and expectations, it’s kind to be clear, right? This is what we expect, you make a conscious choice to join that situation. But please do bring your personality, your opinions, your who you are into the mix. So that’s fine. If that was fixed, good, we’re set Life is good. Everyone’s gonna stick to this from now on, right? But with the pace that the world is evolving at, and the world of work is evolving at, you can’t just do one and done. Here’s our values. Here’s our mission. This is what we expect. Join us a pandemic hits hybrid work, what is flexibility mean? Oh, now people have policies around two days in three days, out three days in two days. And I’m like, what, this isn’t trust. This isn’t psychological safety. This isn’t evolving our working practices in a collaborative fashion. It’s thinking, we’re scared. So therefore, we need to put procedures and policies and expectations in place to control you know, and not intentionally, everyone’s trying to just get forward, move forward and do their thing. But it’s like, we, you know, where it works is where we have a continuous check and balance system, where we’re like, Hey, are we still getting it? Right? You know, how do people feel right, we now have there’s a talent retention issue. So you had a team that you worked really hard and that you were forming and all these things. Now you’ve got eight different people, you’ve got 100 different people, you’ve got 10,000 different people. So it continues to evolve, the more new cultures and people you know, and so this is where the red flag can be. Because if we’re not aware of that constant evolution, and that working on psychological safe you openly being vulnerable as leaders and saying, Hey, I don’t know if we were still getting it, right. Like I recently had to change my business because it was going in one direction. But there was a feeling in me that something wasn’t quite right. And I had to name it and discuss it. And my business has evolved since then. And people are happier than ever, but it’s different. Does that make sense? Like I just think it plays a part.

Minter Dial 15:23

I love it. And it reflects back on a conversation I was having with my friend, Paul Skinner, who wrote a new book called “Purpose Upgrade,” how even purpose needs to evolve. According to what’s happening in time, we’ll just as we tend to say values are something that’s immutable. Well, not really, the way you learn values over time can evolve as well.

Petra Velzeboer 15:47

Because a value can be a word or a nifty sentence that you did with an expensive coach, right? But now you’ve got a younger generation coming in, you’ve got different factors that are playing a part in departments, managers have different styles, like how are we living these values? What do they actually mean off of the page? And that’s the bit that needs to not continuously, I’m not thinking like this is all we talk about. But I think it’s that people forget that this is integrated into your working practices. So as a manager and a team meeting, we’ll check ins in one to ones those informal as well as the formal people do surveys, like, what do you do with that information? are you even asking the right questions to help you check your blind spots and evolve that culture so that it can thrive and of course, be productive? And all those things long term?

Minter Dial 16:39

Well, we’ll put veterans, so mental health, you right, that we’re getting as a society mental health wrong, you define or you write down the definition that the World Health Organization use for mental health, and I’m going to read it, a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, and work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to his or her community. So, do you think that’s a good definition? And my reflection is, isn’t that almost a definition of what success could look like?

Petra Velzeboer 17:19

I do love this definition, actually. Because I think it’s inclusive, and it’s about all of humanity. And this, the trouble with the mental health kind of narrative is, and the reason it’s stigmatizing is because immediately people think of mental illness. So you say hey, how’s your mental health? They’re like, Whoa, are you asking me if I’m depressed? Like, this is a workplace or whatever, right? When When actually, if we reframe it, we’re using this definition. We’re kind of going, Hey, how are you coping with life, right, and the normal struggles of life. And we could argue that the pandemic time is kind of that threshold has gone up for people. But you know, if we look back at history, there’s been times of war, there’s been times of all sorts of things that have kind of factored in. And I do think it’s about success. And I do think mental health is intrinsic to our success long term. And I mentioned quite a few times in the book, whatever success means to you, right? So we get very influenced by society’s norms of what success should look like. And the amount of therapy clients I’ve had when I was practicing more frequently. Literally, what they were coming for was, I’m 30 something, and I haven’t reached the goals that I thought I would at this stage. I’m depressed helped me, right. And so that is literally the narrative around what society’s expectations are depending on your culture, and of course, the media has escalated all of that in a big way. So for me, mental health is about all of us. It’s about the health of our mind, it’s connected to our body, people forget that the head is connected to the rest of your body, right? And you have the separate doctors for all the things right. And it’s about listening and learning and that word community is in there. Can we connect and contribute to a community? What does that look like? And I think that is having a massive effect on mental health at the moment, the fact that people don’t have a community or don’t know how to make the first move to connect inwards to a community.

Minter Dial 19:16

What you just said, seems to speak to two different things, one of them being this notion of expectations. And you quote, Moe Gadol got that, in his book sold for happier Your happiness is equal to or greater than the difference between the events of your life and your expectations of how life should behave. And so in this, is it really about? Well, you have the second thing, which is that it’s actually not a destination, what you wanted to achieve at 30 isn’t really that important. It’s the journey the circle that you talk about.

Petra Velzeboer 19:53

It is and I think I love Moncada and he lost his son tragically and went through his own dark moment. It set him on this path right of trying to figure out happiness and what were the components. Also, personally, I don’t chase happiness, because I think it’s an emotion that is transient. Sometimes we’re sad, sometimes we’re happy. It’s like, we have a full range of human emotions, that means we’re alive, right? For me, I chase fulfillment. And that can mean many different things, right? It can come through work, it can come through family, it can come through. So you know, side hustles, whatever, volunteering, whatever. And those things, as well as looking after physical health set the conditions or the environment that enables happiness to occur more frequently, right. And so from my perspective, that takes away the expectation that I should always be happy, right? Or like, hi, are on this kind of this kind of Instagram version of what a good mental health kind of looks like. So I think that it’s one of the fundamental issues is, and trust me, mine was quite extreme. The expectations for me were to be Gods and time soldier and save the world. That’s how I grew up. Right? Yeah. So no pressure, right. But interestingly, when I started being brave enough to tell my story, and I thought, Oh, my God, no one’s gonna get this. This is way too extreme. People were like, I’ve had expectations. Like my, my family thinks I can only be a doctor or a lawyer, my family thinks I can only do this or that I have to be straight. I have to, you know, all these identity things that you must be. And then I realized it was a universal issue. And I had one story, but everyone has a story.

Minter Dial 21:37

Do you feel that I have in my head two reasons why the mental health issue is so big today, as in why we have so many people declaring anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, and such. And one of them seems to be that we have not reconciled our expectations with our reality. So I think so why is that? Why is that more the case today, in terms of the Mental Health spike than it was before because I know my parents has expectations for me, I had ambition and expectations. And so I feel like there’s always going to be ambition, expectations. But today, I felt I was,

Petra Velzeboer 22:23

but back in the day, you kept up with the Joneses on your street. These days, you compare with an influencer on the other side of the world. And it’s text, right the amount of people you’re comparing against. So that saying that we learn in addiction recovery is like we compare our insides to other people’s outsides. So on the inside, we have our angst and our you know, existential crises and all these things. And so we’re comparing that kind of messiness to other people’s like data, Instagram, like house car, boom, boom, boom, right? And so if you don’t, if you lack self-awareness, you think you’re not thinking, Oh, they have an inside to write, the richest people in the world are not necessarily the happiest, right? And so this idea of always striving to the next thing, but when you get there, you’re like, huh, right, forget to celebrate the wins. Don’t truly like go, Fuck yeah, I’m allowed to swear on this podcast. You know, look at what, you know, what, what I’ve done or what it’s been about, and then not immediately thinking, Oh, but now I’m not enough to that guy, or to the next person on the horizon, who’s done a little bit more than me. Right. So I do think social media plays a part. But also, I think people are a little bit confused sometimes between feeling sad, especially our young people, which is a normal angsty time, a normal time for like anger and these different emotions, and clinical depression, right? And Generalized Anxiety Disorder, right. And these sorts of things. I’ve also learned over time, that the more you fanned the flame of something, the more it exists. And I you know, I never used to say that, but I know it for me, because at one point, I was like, talking about PTSD and trauma, and like really kind of trying to solve that. And now I actually have let go of that label, or that title, or kind of let go of anything that creates a structure around what my normal brain has done to react to a normal circumstances. Right.

Minter Dial 24:32

It seems like rewiring your brain.

Petra Velzeboer 24:35

It’s learning to think differently and evolve our consciousness to use it to use your language it actually is about moving through like the stuck phase phase of being a victim and being angry and it’s everyone else’s fault, to going actually, and, you know, I didn’t go to school, I there were things that were not my fault, but I can sit there in the victimhood and drink on it and just be like in total despair. About the cards that I didn’t have, or what I had to learn to do was take radical responsibility for my life. It didn’t mean, I absolved anyone. It didn’t mean I’m not all about the forgiveness bit and like, forgive, and then you move on. It’s not my vibe,

Minter Dial 25:15

nor mine, by the

Petra Velzeboer 25:16

way. But what I can do is let go and take radical responsibility from this point on. I am 100% responsible for my life. And I have to do the work and build, you know, and that’s, I guess, what, what’s driven me? Hmm.

Minter Dial 25:33

Well, I certainly appreciate that in you, Petra, for the little that I do know you. And I appreciate that language. The notion of victimhood is something that I certainly play around with or and watch, observe how it’s being played out in our society, radical responsibility or self-responsibility, as I understand it, is your solution for avoiding being the victim, especially for you who had a hard core experience? Is it is that is that the best prescription of how to get out of being the victim playing the victim card?

Petra Velzeboer 26:13

I think for I now see the fact that I got to a very extreme of suicidal ideation, addiction, you know, dangerous situations as a strange sort of blessing. Because in a way, if you get to that extreme, you only have a couple of choices. And I made some fundamental ones. One was all right, I can’t, I can no longer live in this limbo of despair and horror, right? So either I must take the leap. And you know, this sounds dark, but and it right. Or I must find out if there is another way to live, right? So sometimes grace that of like, hit those really dark points, you then have some really stark choices. And I could no longer live in that despair. And so what choices did I have I tried blaming people tried that for a long time, I tried drinking on it, it was only hurting me, right? I tried these different things. And of course, this isn’t ever an overnight, like, I’m gonna take responsibility, boom, my life is over. Now, I didn’t have an education, I didn’t have a way to earn an income. I had two young kids. So I now have responsibilities once I’d left. And so responsibility starts small. But it is I think, the prescription for moving away from a victim life. So I remember training as a coach, and we did this exercise. And somebody said something, you know, some irrational feedback that was like, you know, slightly rude, it was erring on the side of rude. And the question you had to ask yourself was, if 1% of this was true? What would it be? And what would I do about it? 1%. So you had to sit in the like, well, you like, what were you saying, you know, and go, Oh, I can see like, how 1% Right. So that’s like an extreme like, training ground in a way. And I’ve used that when I’m angry. And I’m like, oh, it’s their fault. You know, because that’s those are the little clues, right? That you’re slipping in that direction? And I’d have to say, Well, if 1% were true, right? Okay, I can take responsibility for my emotion regulation. For the energy I give this for boundaries, maybe it’s saying no, maybe it’s moving forward, whatever it might be. But unfortunately, I know a lot of people who are stuck in this middle zone of victimhood, but are unable to see it. And I think that is the saddest place because you think and have convinced yourself that you have no control. You have no control life is being done to you, right. And then we have a pandemic, we have something in the news, and you just have as much fuel as you need for that fire. But then this happened, but then this happened, but then this happened, right? But at some point, you gotta go what’s in my control? There are things that aren’t push them to one side, what are the things that are in your control?

Minter Dial 29:07

In dealing with the onslaught of negative news and bad things, and woe is me. So you have this, this idea of self-responsibility. And then you also talk about, let’s say, not always talking about it, because you feed the feed the fire by constantly talking about it. If I were to read this, maybe out of context, it sounds like a little bit of stiff upper lip, a desire not to repeat the conversation again and again. I feel maybe that’s the bad word because it’s got a bad rap, a stiff upper lip, but it does feel like it’s closer to that notion, and I refer to my conversations with people who were in the Second World War. They didn’t constantly talk about all the problems of course they had ongoing problems, but they chose the path of oftentimes of not talking about it, not that it disappeared, but they were brave enough not to need to put it on everybody else.

Petra Velzeboer 30:14

So there’s a lot of nuance there, right? Because I do think there’s a fine line between avoidance, which might sometimes be what the stiff upper lip is because like, Oh, I’m uncomfortable talking or being vulnerable. So I’m going to do to expectation in society, be quiet and hold it down, and even go as far as pretend I’m someone that I am not. Right. This Yeah, and this is really can have very dire impacts on people’s mental health. If we think of the suicide rate of men globally, specifically, where that expectation of what it is to be a man, it’s like an added layer. Sorry, go ahead. Yeah, no,

Minter Dial 30:55

Especially if you come back from serving in wartime, the suicide rates of returning veterans.

Petra Velzeboer 31:01

Massive, and we need and community is about honesty. So I’m very much about honesty, authenticity, this is who I am, hey, I’m struggling today. Or, you know, I’m going through a relationship breakup or my kids struggling, it’s affecting me. Right. So that’s honesty. When it comes to the news. And when it comes to like I was talking about PTSD. This is where it takes self-awareness and that radical honesty with yourself to start with, am I avoiding because it’s uncomfortable, right? And not talking? Because I’m scared, right? Or am I feeding the fire of like, okay, I’m going to watch the news all the time on repeat, and this is going to affect your nervous system, it’s going to affect your brainwaves, right? It’s going to affect how you think. So now I’m going to see things more likely through a lens of like, the world is a bad place, rather than I choose to spend my energy, being honest about where I’m at taking responsibility about what I will do about it. And then of course, challenging, because we’ll be talking about personal responsibility. But in the workplace, there is collective responsibility as well, right for culture. So thinking about that side, it’s important to talk about what’s going on. But at the same time, we can get stuck. So my question is always like, where do I want to spend my energy? What does my body and my mind need? And who am I willing to talk to you about it? Yeah, there’s nuance we could spend hours on this.

Minter Dial 32:33

Indeed, well, I just wanted to roll into it. Because the other thing that strikes me is you talked about managing expectations. And so disappointment from too high expectations, and then that causes mental health issues. The other thing that strikes me about your story, Petra, is that you and you refer to this, this notion that you’re thankful for what happened to you, the hardship and adversity that you faced, seems to me to be a bedrock of your resilience by short of sending everybody to have some shit experience like that, how does one actually develop resilience? Because I think this is also part of it. You know, you think back to the World War Two veterans, what they went through. That was big time. Today, it seems like we’re worried about my broken finger. And this is the woe is me thing. So when you’ve had a really difficult time, it like a stoic says, it’s not what happened to you. It’s how you deal with it. That is interesting. But how does one build resilience without having to ship you off to a cult?

Petra Velzeboer 33:47

Let’s not do that. Let me let it be known. That’s not my dad. Oh, really? No. Well, to put it in a sentence, it’s taking risks. And that could be about learning to be yourself. So and just to kind of caveat, what you said earlier about too high expectations. I don’t think it’s about too high expectations. I’m ambitious. But if it’s someone else’s expectations, versus your expectations, and goals and ambitions, but also learning to celebrate the journey, like I’m still celebrating my book coming out, because I remember the kid who was 13 in the library for the first time going one day, I’m going to write a book. And so I’ve like just doing happy dances with my friends and stuff still, a few months in, but does that make sense to like, even if you haven’t been through a shit time, we’ve all been through the human experience, you know, parents who fight or school bullies or just normal life stuff. So that World Health Organization definition it’s like coping with the normal stresses of life, right? A breakup, you know, these sorts of things, friendships, navigating, you know, adulthood, all of these things affect our psyche, right? And so either we get sick Where’d that breakup hurt? Oh, never doing that again, and we shrink back. Or we go, that was tough. Let me learn some stuff about that, from mentors from books from education, whatever. And let me take a risk again, right? So it’s risking our heart, it’s risking You talk a lot about empathy. It’s risking that connection, even though we’ve been hurt. And that’s a universal process. So for me, resilience is about taking risk, but risk that is yours. And its intrinsic and emotional. But it’s also because we think, Oh, I’m gonna climb a mountain, you know, but I’m thinking great, that’s one way of doing it. But the real risk is emotional risk, often in how we connect and being brave enough to be ourselves.

Minter Dial 35:40

It refers back to what you mentioned before the messy insides that we are, absolutely. We live in a society that is by some people called precautionary, where it seems that more and more we are in sight, not to take risks. In fact, as opposed to just the nature of risk taking and it being a difficult thing. Today, we, with our children in particular. And this bash perhaps speaks to the societal, systemic challenge that we have, of allowing for risk and failure, and, and scrapes on my knees, and broken fingers and ribs, as part of risk, as opposed to shunning it, or looking for a blue pill that solves all of my pains.

Petra Velzeboer 36:36

I mean, there’s no blue pill, you know, we’ve been trying, and we’re trying to live in more virtual worlds, and to even connect more digitally, and anything that allows us to stay safe to just be with our device, and the connection is on the other side, but it’s not human, in a sense, right. And I mean, we both have kids, right? You’re like, take risks or whatever. And then when you have kids, you’re like, oh, students safe, I’m responsible for you, I can’t have anything bad happened to you, right? And so with the best will in the world, many parents are like, Oh, sure, just stay in, right, let’s do the, like cotton wool, like protection. So there’s, there’s that piece just as fundamental to protecting our kids. And then their society, there’s all these influences, we can’t protect them from now, right, that are out of our control that we don’t see. So it isn’t just climb that tree, it’s like, be, you know, careful of a sexual predator online, right. It’s not just the white band that drives up. It’s like you’re there’s stuff there’s grooming, and all these things, right. But we can either choose to teach our kids to have the lens of the world is a dangerous place, which I think a lot of people are doing right now. Or we can teach them to be optimistic and see the wonderful humans that are everywhere, that are building amazing things that are passionate and creating, right. So I think that’s our responsibility. And yes, it’s a learning process. So with my kids, I’m like, my, my commitment to myself was, if they are comfortable taking the risk, I will back them up. Right. So traveling first for on their own for the first time, my son did it a little bit earlier. And I was like, of course, would you like me to meet you on the other end? Or shall I hang back? So having this collaboration, my daughter was a little bit more nervous, right? And so it was a little bit later, fine. But now I’m in a stage where I’m like, I think you should take the train, you know, like, I try and push her to kind of travel places and do these small life, things that are all stacking that resilience that we need.

Minter Dial 38:38

Well, I, I often cite another book that I found certainly informed my thinking, which is by Jonathan Haidt, and his co author, I can’t remember his name, the coddling of the American mind. And I feel like this is a true discussion for the British mind, the French mind many other minds, and how we as parents and society, are trying to make a riskless society, in part because we only have one or two children, which is different from having 10. But we’ve we’ve, we’ve gone a long way. For the last part of our chat patch. I’d like to talk about the notions of mental health in a business context. And it seems obvious, but I don’t believe it’s cracking the bill. The business case for having a mental health policy and mental health system in a business what what is a your first crack at that?

Petra Velzeboer 39:44

Sure. I mean, the business case is growing exponentially. And so there’s loads of reports by World Health Organization by thriving at work here in the UK and the US are doing some reports as well and they amalgamate like the numbers because P Some people speak numbers, right? They want to know, what’s the return on investment of this human business, right? And of course, they calculate fancy things like presenteeism. I don’t know how they do that. But there’s a fancy algorithm for when you show up to work, but you’re not actually that productive, you’re not actually doing that much for a variety of reasons, mental health, or poor mental health, being one of them. The big buzzword at the moment is talent retention, right? So it’s going, people are leaving left, right and center to go live on a boat or like, raise chickens, right? What do we do bring it, you know, and the cost that that affects the business, because arguably, the culture just didn’t sustain that person’s wellbeing, right? So they’ve left and made other choices. And then engagement is the big buzzword as well. So these different buzzwords around, you know, putting numbers against the the mental health crisis and how it’s affecting the bottom line of the business. But if we go back to that original World Health Organization definition, and if we think about what we call a mental health continuum, so on one side, you might have struggling and crisis in the middle, you’ve got survival, and on the far sides, you’ve got thriving and excelling. So how do we create cultures where people can thrive? Right? When people thrive, there’s loads of science behind performance, right? When people have good health when they’re mentally fit, when they’re resilient, these sorts of things, enable them not just to push to that one deadline, because we can all do that right in the short term, push, push, push, push, push, but how do you sustain that long term? And so the conversation now is around burnout. And I think the stacking of stress that happened in the pandemic, where everyone was in this heightened fear state, nervous system firing for way too long, like your fight or flight system is meant to be there in an instant, when you’ve got to decide, save yourself, not 24/7. Right. And for years, and exacerbated is your notifications on your phone every time your phone goes ping thing thing. Are you alive? Yeah. Well, you also see some clickbait headline, your nervous system doesn’t know what the difference between a real threat or a perceived threat. So it’s going Oh, should I check? You know? So anyway, all this stuff is stalking to the burnout conversation. So there’s plenty of business case, that’s for sure.

Minter Dial 42:19

Well, it, it certainly is one of the big challenges within business, you. You mentioned, and I thought this is it piqued my car, my curiosity, you say let’s focus on honest spaces, healthy environment, and normalized conversation for everyone about anything. So I was wondering, how do you define or describe normalized conversation with the context of let’s say, a workplace?

Petra Velzeboer 42:47

I have? Yeah, I mean, I wish we had five hours, right. But I can give you an example. And one is my head of strategy, most senior person in my business, she struggles with anxiety. So chronic anxiety, and it shows up physically mentally different things. There’s a misconception that if you talk about mental health at work, everyone’s going to take time off, I must go home, right? No one’s going to do their job. And the business is going to fail. Like if I speak with managers and leaders, like they’re like, but if I talk about it, they’re gonna ask for time off, right? I’m like, maybe because you haven’t talked about it for 10 years. And now they’re at breaking point, they may need time off, right? But that’s not actually the normalized conversations, right? So my head of strategy has a big pitch to do or a big keynote, whatever. And she’s like, Oh, my, she’ll go on Slack. Or she’ll say to the team, the whole team, right? My anxieties through the roof. I’m really struggling today. I do not say, Oh, should I take that off your plate? Do you need to go home? Right. So this is the kind of cuddling of like, oh, okay, you’re not fit to work, like all your brain and everything that we’ve hired you for that is excellent. Now doesn’t exist, right. That’s what people think that poor mental health, I did my best work when I was in heightened states of trauma addictions, but I could fucking perform, you know what I mean? So it’s not like it’s not they’re not disconnected. And then I’ll say, is there anything you need from Is there anything you can do to support yourself? So I always challenge the individual first, and she’s like, No, but I think I’ve got it right. And I’m like, is there anything you need from the team? When I finish this presentation, I’m going to take 30 minutes because I’m going to work out or shake it out personal responsibility. That’s what I mean by like, more and more extreme circumstance, but a normalized conversation, because it’s every day somebody might be going through something, oh, my kids sick. But we’re not like it’s not halting the whole business, but it’s like a normal life thing that we’re not erasing. And in businesses where those masks are firmly in place where we see suicides like this sort of thing. You cannot bring your normalized conversations into the workplace. Your mask must be firm. We in place, even if some shits going on behind you, right. And the simple act of being able to say those things relieves the pressure than then the pressure cooker, as well as building trust, psychological safety and enhancing performance long term because you’ve got each other’s back, you can see I could talk about this bit all day,

Minter Dial 45:18

indeed. And it speaks was he there is a thing called Good stress. And when you are under the gun, because you got a deadline, good stress should kick in and other stresses will kick in, you know, performance will I perform well, and these are okay, providing they are from within as opposed to from without that right?

Petra Velzeboer 45:46

stressors, there’s nothing wrong with stress, there’s nothing wrong with stress. It’s toxic stress that is stacked over time that we don’t shake out of our bodies. And so we can’t just stress is not just a cognitive thing that we can even talk to a therapist about. That’s one component, but actually stresses in our bodies, and we need to move our bodies in order to release it. Right. And in our really century lifestyles. This is No wonder these things are stacking and stacking, we’ve got the mental onslaught, we’ve got the physical. And so I am never against stress. I’m never in the book, I say like, I love ambition. I love people who want to create waves and do things. It’s not about bubble bath well-being where it’s like, we must all just be in the zone. But yeah, right, that lotus position in order to be a well, workplace, no, you got shit to do.

Minter Dial 46:37

I love that language that you use. And somewhere I feel part of the need for anyone listening is this idea of perspective. Because if you haven’t had a deep hardship, at least, consider how lucky you are. And think about it that way. And yet, I also feel like because of the depth of your hardship, you’re able to go over to the other side. And you work through it, this sort of self-radical awareness, and self-responsibility nation with regard to your and the notion of ambition, because it’s almost like ambitions, a dirty word in our society, in the sense of, you’re pushing me, or I’m trying to do too much. And, you know, I want my Chateau and the expectation side. And I think ambition must be correlated with risk taking.

Petra Velzeboer 47:36

But I would repeat what I said before, which is, is it your ambition? Or is it someone else’s pressure, they can look similar, but they’re very different. So my ambition to build my business, my mission work in a culture that I love and feel relaxed. And that’s ambition, because and it’s all mine, right? And of course, impacts people and we’re bringing them along. Other people’s pressure is I need this, you know, a spreadsheet, but Friday, you know, and you’re like, why am I even in this industry, these people hate me, right? But I’m working all hours to get gain, gain money, right? And, you know, don’t get me wrong, your ambition might be to provide for your family, your ambition might be to take two holidays, and work is a, you know, a ability, a way for you to do that. Right. But this is, again, the radical honesty, because we can work tirelessly for something that really is meaningful to us. But we work that many hours for somebody that’s toxic, shows no appreciation, and it doesn’t feel fulfilling, that’s gonna affect us negatively.

Minter Dial 48:39

Right now. So I wanted to have a quick little chat about AI therapy. You’re a psychologist, you talk about artificial intelligence. And, and I pretty sure you wrote that. Friends and therapists, they both do it wrong. The therapists only listen where we could give you some better advice. And the friends never listen. They just tell you what they think. Which, I mean, the never is obviously wrong. But then I thought that was kind of funny. The idea of AI therapy for you what does it cost in your mind?

Petra Velzeboer 49:16

I’m remaining open, because I can see how, you know, if we think of the robots in Japan, you know, with old people and creating some level of care, right, some level of some relief from loneliness, right? Not the perfect connection, but something right. And so AI therapy can certainly provide the person who feels stigma because I know people the first time that they talked about their mental health was in an anonymous blog back when that was the thing, right? And then we’re in chat forums where they were anonymous, and they got people going, Hey, have you tried this? Have you tried, they got feedback, they put their voice out there. And so you know that that level of anonymity to that level of challenging stigma of getting advice and guidance that might be relevant for you. But, you know, you’re one of training to be a psychotherapist. And there’s a book called this the relationship is the therapy. You can have all the tactics in the world like step one might be think about this, ask yourself this question all useful. But what we need is to and Brene Brown talks about this to be seen, heard and valued? Is AI seeing me valuing me and hearing me, right? And do I feel those things and this is what I tell managers to be bringing to the table is Do you Do you seen heard and valued? So I do think there’s a place for it. But I’m worried that we are solving issues in ways that aren’t solving the issue. Right? So it’s kind of like here to have some self-help tips to let stay alone in your bedroom and eat chocolate and learn about a mindset tool trick. Right? That I know that’s it’s much more complex than that. And there’s some, a lot of nuance there and amazing stuff. But yeah, it worries me because of the state of lack of belonging, loneliness, and isolation, which is really the thing that can push our mental health to the limit.

Minter Dial 51:19

Yeah, this is actually the big the big thing, the big problem the way we as a society aren’t taking responsibility. We’re sort of expecting the government to do things, or are we expecting my boss to or to help me blaming everyone, or medication or technology as you write? Great stuff? Last question. Before we close out? Do you want to what extent do you subscribe to all the talk about psychedelic assisted therapy?

Petra Velzeboer 51:49

You’re just going to ask me now at the end of our cat,

Minter Dial 51:54

take a tab’n’roll?

Petra Velzeboer 51:58

What’s the short answer? I’m down to the answers. I’m very curious. The research is incredible. And having experienced some psychedelics myself and experience trauma, there’s just something that can’t be done in years of therapy, and if talking about it, because MDMA, psychedelics like DMT, I did DMT therapy, once I’m not I think I’m allowed to say this, I’m in London. And in one minute, second, everything makes sense and is simplified. And now you can do the work. Like, I don’t know why we’re, we’ve been squashing this for so many years. So I’m down. And I think I’m excited about research. I’m excited about, of course controlled environments and people that are trained in it. But I really think it’s the future of mental health, big time.

Minter Dial 52:51

Beautiful words to close with Petra, how can people follow you get your book? What would you like to have in terms of go to from here? Yeah, sure.

Petra Velzeboer 53:00

I mean, you can find everything on my website, which is just my name. So Petra bells I’m very active on LinkedIn. That’s where I put a lot of workplace mental health kind of tools and ideas and, and my book can be found through my website, but also Amazon, either US, UK, please do support the book. I’m excited.

Minter Dial 53:20

Kogan Page, “Begin With You,” Petra. Thank you so much. Thanks for having listened to this episode of the Minter Dialogue podcast. If you liked the show and if you’d like to support me, please consider a donation on . You can also subscribe on your favorite podcast service. And, as ever, rating reviews are the real currency for podcasts. You’ll find the show notes with over 2000 and more blog posts on Check out my documentary film and four books, including my last one, “You Lead, How being yourself makes you a better leader.” And to finish here’s a song I wrote Stephanie Singer, A Convinced Man.


Minter Dial

Minter Dial is an international professional speaker, author & consultant on Leadership, Branding and Transformation. After a successful international career at L’Oréal, Minter Dial returned to his entrepreneurial roots and has spent the last twelve years helping senior management teams and Boards to adapt to the new exigencies of the digitally enhanced marketplace. He has worked with world-class organisations to help activate their brand strategies, and figure out how best to integrate new technologies, digital tools, devices and platforms. Above all, Minter works to catalyse a change in mindset and dial up transformation. Minter received his BA in Trilingual Literature from Yale University (1987) and gained his MBA at INSEAD, Fontainebleau (1993). He’s author of four award-winning books, including Heartificial Empathy, Putting Heart into Business and Artificial Intelligence (2nd edition) (2023); You Lead, How Being Yourself Makes You A Better Leader (Kogan Page 2021); co-author of Futureproof, How To Get Your Business Ready For The Next Disruption (Pearson 2017); and author of The Last Ring Home (Myndset Press 2016), a book and documentary film, both of which have won awards and critical acclaim.

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