Cat Wiles - The NABS Podcast
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How a strategist went on a journey of self-discovery – with Cat Wiles

tw: suicidal ideation

Cat Wiles is an award-winning strategist who is as passionate about mental wellness as she is about creating great work.

She has championed the right to disconnect, volunteered as an industry mentor, and set up mental health first aid programmes. As well as being Lucky General’s first-ever Chief Strategy Officer she’s currently also training to be a hypnotherapist to help people uncover their potential and overcome their self-limiting beliefs.

Louise Scodie – NABS  00:00

Welcome to the NABS. Podcast. NABS is the support organisation for those working in advertising, marketing and media. I’m your host Louise Scodie. Each week I’ll be chatting with someone from our industry to find out how they support themselves and those around them through challenging times as well as day to day and it’s all to help you support your own mental wellness. I can’t wait to start chatting. This week, our guest is Cat Wiles.


Louise Scodie – NABS  00:26

Cat Wiles is Chief Strategy Officer at Lucky Generals, the creative agency. Cat has worked at some of the world’s most respected creative agencies. She is an award-winning strategist whose accolades include five D&AD yellow pencils, nine Cannes Lions, eight IPA effectiveness awards, as well as being placed runner-up for Campaign Strategic Planner of the Year award. Cat’s as passionate about mental wellness as she is about creating great work. She’s originated mental wellness programmes, including mental health first aid programmes in her previous workplaces. And she’s currently training to be a hypnotherapist to help people uncover their potential and overcome their self-limiting beliefs. Cat is also a mentor to young people, helping them to achieve their ambitions.


Louise Scodie – NABS  01:11

Welcome Cat it’s brilliant to have you thank you for sparing some time. With your busy work and hypnotherapy schedule, it must be a bit tricky to carve out some time for yourself. Thinking about making that time for yourself and what mental wellness might look like to you. How’s all that going for you? What does mental wellness looked like for you?


Cat Wiles  01:31

Yeah, thank you for having me. Wow, what does mental health look like for me? Well, it’s sort of a bit of everything, isn’t it? I’ll start by saying what it isn’t. And I think that mental wellness isn’t about a state of happiness that is continuous. Unfortunately, if that’s something you’re chasing for, that isn’t what life is like, you know, and you just kind of setting yourself up to fail. And I think that’s like a big thing about this, which is about setting realistic expectations for what good mental wellness looks like. For me, I suppose a bit of everything, because probably what some of the tumbles in my mental wellbeing have taught me over the years is that it’s not just about it’s not just about what you’re thinking, it’s also about what you’re doing. So when you’re having a challenge with your mental health, is there something difficult going on in your life? Or could it be more day-to-day stuff? Are you sleeping? Well? Are you eating well? Are you making good choices? Are you getting as close as you can to some sort of balance? Because the way that you live really contributes massively to your thinking and your your modes of thinking. And for me, certainly, that’s about I tend to be able to know that I’m feeling better is if the voice of my inner critic isn’t as strong as forceful as it as it sometimes is. So it’s also for me about are you able to see obstacles or energy feel surrounded by obstacles? Or when you find obstacles? Are you able to turn those into opportunities? So it’s really about your resiliency, and your ability to sort of see things with some hope, and movement and energy sort of moving forwards? I think lots of people talk about their being triggered. I heard a brilliant thing the other day about glimmers, which are the opposite things of triggers, which are things that you can be grateful and notice every single day.   It’s so good. Isn’t that I saw on Instagram. You know you can like save pages? I’ve got about 40 different pages saved of like glimmers.


Cat Wiles  01:35

Oh how cute! That’s so helpful, though, isn’t it? Because you can look at them when you’re feeling a bit less than perfect one day and maybe give yourself a little insight into something a bit more tranquil and happy by looking at one of your glimmers.


Cat Wiles  04:15

Exactly. And I think just like I’m so lucky now since I moved back from Canada, I live in Brighton, so by the sea, so just like going out grounding like, you know, looking at the vista of the infancy and you can tell that I’m getting old now. Like the simple pleasures of just those sorts of things really help thank you and move you away from feeling triggered into restoring, restoring balance and topping yourself back up again.


Louise Scodie – NABS  04:45

Two things strike me in what you’ve just said, which has been a really fascinating way to start. Firstly, you mentioned experiencing mental health tumbles, was it going through those tumbles that led you to be such an advocate for mental health and mental wellness as someone who brings mental wellness into your work environments? And the other thing in how you were describing, are you sleeping enough? Can you see clearly can you see your obstacles as opportunities? There seems to be there’s a lot of chicken and egg there. Because I know if I’m not sleeping enough, the last thing, I’m going to see an obstacle as an opportunity where I’m going to see it as yet another stupid thing bringing my day down, you know, are you sleeping enough? Are you eating enough? Well, if I’m not sleeping enough, then I’m eating too much and possibly of the wrong thing. And things that aren’t going to put me up are going to make me peak and trough, peak and trough. So it seems to me your perspective is you’ve identified quite a few things. There’s lots of interconnectedness, and it’s about keeping your eye on the prize with all of them. And have you how’s the recovery going from those tumbles as well?


Cat Wiles  05:48

Well, so what I would say is that I’ve had a long personal history with mental health challenges, both within my own life and also within my immediate family’s life. Actually, my mum has depression. So the black dog has been around and present in my entire life. And my first challenges with my own mental health, which is quite severe was in  my second year of university.


Louise Scodie – NABS  06:19

Oh me too, I had such a difficult second year.


Cat Wiles  06:22

Oh it was awful. Yeah. What is it with the second year?


Louise Scodie – NABS  06:24

It’s like the difficult second album. Second year is so hard for so many people.


Cat Wiles  06:28

Oh, my gosh, that’s so funny that you say that? Yeah, I found it absolutely savage. Yeah, really, very depressed. And actually, weirdly, one of my friends from university, also had the second year thing as well. So maybe it’s a thing. If it’s thing going to be straight on Reddit after this.


Louise Scodie – NABS  06:45

Is it a trend? Have we just spotted something here?


Cat Wiles  06:48

Exactly, a coincidence or trend? And then various, various times throughout my life, probably the most recent one that was pronounced was after I gave birth to my second son, who was premature, and there was lots of stuff going on in my life at that moment, in time. But, you know, I just had a complete… I mean, that was much even way more way more pronounced than the one at university, which was really bad. But this was, yeah, a lot of like,


Cat Wiles  07:19

I think, postnatal depression, but also lots of other stress indicate stress-induced depression as well. So that was a that was a big well to climb up from.


Louise Scodie – NABS  07:32

I’m sure. And it sounds as though you’re doing a good job of climbing. And is that what then makes you think, I want to help other people and support their mental wellness?


Cat Wiles  07:42

Of course, if you’re someone who’s got empathy, and you’ve got lived experience, and you know how much pain there can be, but also how much joy and hope and energy there can be from coming out the other side. And, of course, you are someone with empathy, and you want to help others and you feel driven to help others and make a difference and make a change. And obviously, I’ve had a huge amount of therapy. And actually, you know, I think of myself, as you know, Kintsugi, the smashed bit of pottery that’s put back together with gold, so wonky and imperfect and different from before some of my challenges, but put back together, different, stronger in some ways, not in others. But that’s good, that’s life. That’s how you develop, that’s how you grow. And actually, I think all of my challengers have made me genuinely a better person made me a better leader better at what I do. And that’s what I mean about, you know, kind of trying to find opportunities. I think, actually, that’s where a lot of my hypnotherapy training has also been helping, which is reframing and thinking about the language that we use. So a lot of the training with that is to do with the words that we use really matter. So if you sit there and you say about something, you know, like before presentation, or something like, Oh, I’m terrified, you can just say that word terrified out loud. I literally said it then. And I just felt it. A degree of panic and anxiety go to my chest. And you know, the words we use really matter and your brain doesn’t know the difference. So you can actually retrain your brain with different things. So if you are nervous, for example, about taking a presentation or something, you can just repeat to your brain. I’m excited.


Cat Wiles  07:53

Even if you’re not feeling excited, will it work?


Cat Wiles  08:22

Your brain doesn’t know the difference. So the brain doesn’t know the difference between being nervous and being excited and being terrified. So don’t use words that catastrophize make things worse. Create that snowball effect, because actually if you use more empowering language, well, what they say, you know, fake it till you make it, nobody talks about them become it, which is the third thing, which I think is the most important thing. So embody what you want to be every day and keep going towards that. And you’ll get that.


Louise Scodie – NABS  10:19

One way that you’ve helped people in the industry is with the right to disconnect initiative. So you were very involved in the APG, which is the organisation for planners and strategists. And right to disconnect, it’s all about setting boundaries that work. Boundaries, it’s like my favourite word is my favourite mental wellness topic, and how you use those boundaries to protect your mental wellness. So what was the background for this specific initiative? And what practical tips can you give us or that we can implement?


Cat Wiles  10:49

Yeah, so well, that was a while ago now. So it’s like, I think I can like 2017 / 2018. And it was about the background was about putting the P back into the APG, which, of course is account planning group, but actually looking at the P as something else, which is the P as and the people looking at our community, that makes up the APG, and obviously only as strong as our members. And at that time, I was on the committee. And we were looking around and seeing that actually, the way the Planners were working, and, you know, we’re sensitive lot, I think with a department within the industry, that have got an a discipline that have got like, generally a high emotional intelligence probably like, you know, more sensitive, and that they, you know, a lot of strategists do have predication to overwork, work very hard, perfection. And so there was just a bit of a temperature check on how how people were feeling. And there was a questionnaire that went out. And then what we realised was that we can actually start helping our members in more ways. And it also, you know, the more people we spoke to the more that we learnt. And when we got the results back from the questionnaire, which was said that, you know, people were finding some challenges in the way that they were working. We thought, well, why don’t we do an event, and let’s see if there’s any interest for it. And, of course, three speakers that I was one of them. And we did it, we thought that it would be the wrong thing to do it in an agency within that environment where you’re talking about something as sensitive as, you know, mental health and resilience and stuff. So we did it above a pub actually not too far from where I am now, Lucky’s just near Farringdon, and it was one of the fastest selling events it like sold out in 24 hours. And so it was kind of standing room only. At that time, actually, when I did the talk, I was still in therapy. And everything was very raw, I hadn’t long returned to work from having my second child. And actually my psychologist was like, You sure you want to do this? You’ve got a pitch on at the moment, you’ve got this, you’ve got that? It’s like no, no, I think it’s like really important thing to do. And all of that basically led up towards the right disconnect. And I think like the big benefit of doing that five years ago or so just over now, has been about really normalising and you know, as a couple of years before the pandemic, this conversation wasn’t really happening. And, and it was about taking some of the negativity and bias out of the conversation. And, you know, to just help it be normalised so that we can sit here and talk like we are now with mental health without feeling shame, or stigma, which, unfortunately, is more prevalent than perhaps we would like it to be. But the more we talk, hopefully the better it can get.


Louise Scodie – NABS  14:18

So if I want to set a boundary about something at work, what’s a key learning that you can share with us from that project?


Cat Wiles  14:25

And so I think from that project, you know, we talked about, you know, eight to eight, no emails from outside eight to eight. I think as we all have a choice about how we engage others at work. We can do sheduled sends, which I’m a big fan of, you know, so you don’t have to encroach on other people’s weekends on their evenings. You know, hold yourself account to how you’re working. And you might want to be working until all hours. You might want to be working weekends you might you know, but but don’t put that on other people that you work with, that’s really important. Another part, one of the things within right to disconnect was about leaving loudly. So as leaders, how you can, you know, give people permission to leave on time. And when you’re actually leaving as a leader, check in with your team and you know, kind of see what they’re working on, can you help them? What do they need, so they don’t have to throw late one, if they do have to throw late one, obviously, we’re in a service industry, you do have to every now and then make sure they get that time back as lieu, you know,  later, but I also like, kind of have done like, a lot of work on boundaries. And, you know, I think it’s also about identifying how you like to work, what does that look like. And the revelation for me really was that boundaries will make you better, not worse at your job, it will make you perform better.


Cat Wiles  15:56

And I think a lot of this is just about owning the word ‘ no’ that I’m a work in progress, I still struggle with it, that


Cat Wiles  16:05

I try to think about in my work, and my personal life is set questions that I like, ask myself course like, I’m a strategist, right? Those support give me like, you know, give me a module. And so the questions that I asked myself, like, do I really need to do this? Or just, you know, do I just feel like I should share this language of shame, and guilt? And so actually, stay away from anything where you said, should do that?


Louise Scodie – NABS  16:32

Yeah, just generally in life is a terrible word.


Cat Wiles  16:35

Exactly its’ so guilt ridden! Will I regret it? If I don’t do it? And be like, really? You know?


Louise Scodie – NABS  16:44

That’s a great question.


Cat Wiles  16:45

Will saying yes, bring me joy, meaning? Or is it a kind of begrudged? Yes. And did I really this big one? Will it be something that I dread? So just because you think that you should, doesn’t mean maybe it’s the right thing for you to do, you know, just because you’re available to do something or can do something doesn’t mean that you should,


Louise Scodie – NABS  17:08

These are all really healthy working practices, a lot of which you can be very vocal about. And I think as a team leader, or a manager, that’s a great way to work, because you’re then modelling the way for other people to be like that as well.


Cat Wiles  17:25

Totally, I mean, that’s the most important thing as a, as a leader to role model, a positive space with psychological safety, where others can sort and do things their own way, you know, so it starts really, with yourself and understanding yourself. And looking at where you can make the impact for others. It’s not helicopter leading, and it’s allowing people to fail in a safe space.


Louise Scodie – NABS  17:54

Yeah, because you learn like that. And also, you’re not going to get everything right now,


Cat Wiles  17:59

No one’s gonna get everything right. Of course,


Louise Scodie – NABS  18:01

we’re not designed to get everything right are we?  It’s not possible.  Which is why my life is so interesting, because I rarely get anything. Right. So you you weren’t in Canada, which is something you got right? Because that must have been a super experience. You worked at the agency Cossette for quite a long time, which is where you rolled out Mental Health First Aid amongst the leadership. This is another example of how you’re taking your mental health, passion and knowledge out there into the field. What are the challenges and opportunities? There’s a lot of companies who are considering implementing Mental Health First Aid, if they haven’t already? What’s your advice for anyone who’s bringing this scheme into their workplace? And it’s not just about starting it, you’ve got to keep it going consistently, and have have the same amount of energy with it, five years down the line?


Cat Wiles  18:52

Yeah, I think that’s you’ve, like stolen the answer to my question.


Louise Scodie – NABS  18:57

I did something right!


Cat Wiles  19:03

Yeah, I think that’s really, really key, which is that you can roll out whatever you want to. But if you’re not living it on a day to day basis, it’s not going to work and allowance nothing. So, I mean, I’m a big like believer in you know, walking the walk, and having integrity and embodying what you say. I have to say to my team, don’t don’t don’t judge me by what I say judge me by what I do. Yeah. Because it’s all about you build trust by your actions. Marrying together with your, with your words, you know, there’s got to be very little distance. I’ve got to be like lockstep between the two and I think that’s the same as for a leader as it is for an organisation you could be doing presentation, you know, doing all of this Mental Health First Aid training, but it counts for nothing. If it’s a organisation that embraces grind culture, yeah negates the culture of fear. Yeah, just on a on a day to day basis, and I mean, you know, someone said to me once that, you know, your values within your organisation, they should be, you know, you’ve got your values, right, if you can spot the values happening and being lived every, like 15 minutes. And they should be all around you. So if you think that kind of, you know, if you as an organisation, mental resilience, mental health, mental wellbeing in the workplace is something that you take, importantly, are you creating a culture that is kind, compassionate, supportive, collaborative, you know, promoting, positive working, you know, amongst each other, with without kind of, you know, toxic conflict? Or, you know, oneupmanship? And are your leaders, leading with all the authenticity, integrity and humanity? And, and, you know, if you’re not in a place of psychological safety, then, you know, I’d always say to somebody, you might as well not bother, and you might as well just find someone else. Yeah, somewhere else to work.


Louise Scodie – NABS  21:07

Mental health first aid programmes are so important. Yeah. But you can only really have them in conjunction with a healthy working culture that you describe. And if structurally, you’re not sound, then all it is is a bandaid.


Cat Wiles  21:21

Of course, of course, or worse than that, it’s window dressing. Yeah. Yeah, and it can be incredibly damaging. And I think if you’re trying to create a mentally healthy workplace, and it actually starts exactly as you say, it starts with the opposite. It starts with the structure, and the way that you are organising your place of work, but it also starts with how you’re recruiting people into the culture, you’ve got these behaviours, it’s about hiring people who are ‘soft strong,.- that was something that candidate said to me the other day, which I just thought was, was wonderful. And I was like, ‘Oh, I’m going to be stealing that.’ So there you go. And I think, you know, at Lucky’s, we’ve got a lot of people who are trained in Mount Mental Health First Aid, but we’ve done and we’re doing extensive training with Self Space to actually take that on from mental health aid, first aid to become mental health champions as well. So to really move that conversation on the support people.


Louise Scodie – NABS  22:21

One of the services that NABS provides is therapy referral. So if you’re experiencing some challenges, and you want some talking therapy, you call our support team, and then they’ll do the referral, if it’s something that’s going to help you. And self space is one of our providers, and I’ve used them because working for NABS, we also get the benefit as well. And they are super,so good.


Cat Wiles  22:49

They’re just phenomenal, aren’t they just like, their fluency and just the, the range of therapists that they have from different backgrounds from, you know, CBT, trauma specialists, people who are, you know, from more systems, therapy, which is an area of therapy that I find so interesting.


Louise Scodie – NABS  23:08

What kind of therapy Do you have? And are you still having? Have you had a buffet of therapy,  a smorgasbord?


Louise Scodie – NABS  23:18

I’ve had, I’ve had a smorgasbord. Yeah, I started off with psychoanalysis. So you know, more kind of, lot of doing it. Yeah, that was where I started then did like a bit of psychodynamic. And then actually, my happy place, which was more from my, when I when I got bad post-natal depression was actually CBT. And my, my psychiatrist introduced me to an amazing CBT therapist, and for me that that just worked really, really well. And he’s just amazing, because he personally teaches at a university, he’s very learned. He’s doesn’t feel like therapy. He’s almost like tricked me into thinking that it’s that it’s not therapy, and we can talk almost about strategies,


Louise Scodie – NABS  24:12

Which hooks into the way your brain thinks and the way you see life, it’s perfect.


Louise Scodie – NABS  24:16

I would say, if you’re listening to this thinking, Well, I’d like to approach therapy or fall, but I don’t know what type of therapy I want. You don’t need to, because we’ll have that conversation with you. And then the therapy provider will have that conversation with you. So you just kind of go in and experiment. And so many people who’ve had therapy have had, you know, one or two therapists, maybe they’ve got chemistry with one but not with another and it’s fine, isn’t it to have that process of trial and error?


Cat Wiles  24:43

Totally, I mean, think of it almost as like a chemistry meeting. I mean, that’s really important. You know, do you are you vibing with that person? Do they make you feel comfortable? Do they make you feel like they’re going to sit down And the whole at the bottom of the well with you, and then slowly, slowly help get you back up to the surface, as you know, Are they someone that you just feel comfortable around, that you can confide in to do leave the session is a key martyr than when you went in. Yeah. Even if slight, even slightly better. Yeah. Because no, if they don’t I, actually a few years ago, I had to do a different conversation. But I had to do a court case to go to Canada. And I remember going to see two different lawyers, the first one I went to just make me feel scared and almost like I had a panic attack, and I couldn’t do it. And then the second one that I went to…


Louise Scodie – NABS  25:43

Maybe it is the same when you know, when you’re in a good team, or whether you have a good friend, do you feel lifted up? Or do you feel squished? Have you spend time with that person or people.


Cat Wiles  25:57

Oh, totally. I mean, like, this has been one of my greatest joys about being back in the UK for the past year. It’s just been, I’ve got so many friends in the industry, I’m so lucky. And you know, because I’ve worked in the industry for like, 20 years, is the amount of support that I get from my friends within the industry. They can pick up the phone to each other share it happens, have a bitch. Share ideas, you know, you don’t feel like you’re alone. And I think having friends as cheerleaders is really invaluable. And you know, sometimes I’m lifting them up, and sometimes they’re lifting me up. And, you know, that’s, that’s just been such a joy.


Louise Scodie – NABS  26:38

That’s amazing, because you answered my question without we have a basket. The question was, how does the online community lift you up? Well, that’s exactly how people we know exactly how that works. It sounds as though it’s a mutual exchange. That’s what I like about that. And it’s rediscovering your community with, we are so passionate about the power of community on the podcast, and lots of people come to the podcast and talk about that. And there sounds as though the pleasure of you coming back to the UK is that you’ve gone back into your community, and you’re reinforcing all of your links there.


Cat Wiles  27:12

Oh, yeah, absolutely love it. And you know, the big, one of the big things that happens as well, because I’m from living in Canada, we decided that when we came back, we didn’t want to live in London who wants to relocate, and I just felt this like weird feeling that I should be in Brighton and you know, my partner agreed. And so not only were we doing a country move, but we’re also doing like selling a house finding a house like I’ve never lived in Brighton before. So on to choosing schools, like honestly, it was a bit of blind art, but, you know, it’s kind of trust the process and actually realise that I’ve got like, quite a few friends and Brighton crew down there. There’s like, you know, one of my, one of my friends VCPs down, then we’ve got a whole like, Whatsapp group chat, like on a sword or on the beach. You know, we’re like living our best lives. So yeah, it’s great. And that’s really amazing. crew on the committee. It’s really good fun. Yeah,


Louise Scodie – NABS  28:15

I can’t believe we got to the end of this conversation. It’s just been so interesting and has flown by. And my last question to you is, what’s a lesson you’ve learned about how to support yourself


Cat Wiles  28:29

A lesson, I think I’ve learned many. Probably the biggest one is about how to quiet the inner critic. And I think recognising when that inner critic voice is getting louder. The other thing is voice dialogue therapy, which have got different characters almost, and there’s one of the characters is called ‘the pusher’  And the pusher is very connected to the inner critic. And I realised that I got really strong push a voice when I did some work with a coach that I had in Canada, who’s the pusher is the voice that pushes you to go beyond anything that is reasonable, go beyond your boundaries, like all the dots, you know, the pressure was always making me break, break, break my boundaries. So  I’m much better now. Like, recognising when it’s the pusher. And also just getting a bit better at trying to get my perfectionism under control. And a big thing for that with me is letting go of what I believed a strategist should look like how a strategy should work, which is, you know, going into a room, being able to write a deck perfectly coming up with the answer and I don’t work like that. Unfortunately. You know, I get to my best thinking, by talking, collaborating, texture, tone and often get my best ideas when it’s not at all connected to what I’m working on. So I think probably if I’m thinking about a lesson that I’ve learned, which is do some work to understand how you like to work, where you get your energy from, and lean into that, know where you get your joy from. And just follow your path and just be unapologetically you. That’s probably the most biggest lesson that I can say stop trying to feel somebody else’s shoes because they are always going to fit them better than they fit you.


Cat Wiles  28:30

That’s a lovely note to end on. And I really liked the shoes I’m wearing today. So that has particular resonance for me. Thank you so much for joining us. It’s been an absolute pleasure.


Cat Wiles  30:51

You’re so welcome


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