No Labels: Clare Freeman | OYNB 104

One Year No Beer Podcast Episode 104 – No Labels with Clare Freeman

Does making one big change make other changes easier to make? For example, can changing your relationship with alcohol also make it easier to make other healthy lifestyle choices? Can it give you the confidence to follow your passions professionally or personally? In today’s episode, you’ll hear from Clare Freeman. Clare has reached 775 days entirely without alcohol at the time of this podcast recording. She’s also built a successful business and hosts a popular podcast of her own.  

In today’s interview, Clare talks about where she was just three or four years ago. She describes herself as just drifting and existing amid a turmoil of stress, grief, heartbreak, and exhaustion. While she outwardly looked like she was doing well as an award-winning BBC producer, but internally, she was making unhealthy choices like drinking excessively and overeating to avoid her feelings. She’d even begun to ask herself if she was an alcoholic.

“What I was stuck with was I knew I wasn’t an alcoholic, but I knew there wasn’t something right.”

Clare concluded that she wasn’t an alcoholic, and she decided that a group like AA wouldn’t be right for her. She believed that alcohol was part of her problem, but she didn’t want to be labeled as an alcoholic for life and she didn’t believe that the AA approach would be useful for her. She attempted to moderate her drinking, but she didn’t feel as if that approach would work for her either. Then she found One Year No Beer through Catherine Gray’s book, The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober. She explains that the difference she saw in the ONYB community was that the people were really moving forward, thriving, and living their best lives. Clare believed that that was the kind of community that she could do well in also. 

Clare shares how she felt when she reached the last day of her 365 day challenge, and why it wasn’t the grand event that she expected it to be – but also why she felt driven to keep going. She also talks about how she handled challenges to her sobriety, and how those challenges still present themselves, even after close to 800 days of being alcohol-free. She goes on to talk about her work and even explains how she came to give her podcast consulting business its distinctive name, A Small Furry Bear Productions. Listen in to the episode to learn more about Clare’s journey, life, and work. 

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Episode Transcript

Chris: Welcome to another episode of the OYNB podcast. I’m your guest host, Chris Laping. In case you haven’t tuned in for a while and you’re wondering, who is this Chris Laping guy. I originally jumped in to help Ruari and Jen a few ago as a guest host. I’m excited to say that I’m now joining the regular rotation, so you should be hearing a lot more from me in the future.

This week, I have another awesome guest on the show, Clare Freeman. You’ll soon learn there are several dimensions to her story that I think is so relatable and so inspirational for all of us in the OYNB community. We’re going to cover a lot of topics today, a lot of my favorite topics. Topics like following your passion and quitting your day job, weight loss, romance. And because of Claire’s background, I’m actually hoping to get a few tips on how to properly host a podcast.

Without further ado, let me formally introduce this week’s guest, Clare Freeman. Clare has built a consulting business called A Small Furry Bear Productions where she provides podcast coaching to brands and coaches around the world. Now, you may have heard from Clare before as she hosts one of the top 20 podcasts in the UK for health and fitness—the Slimming World podcast, which I highly recommend. It’s been downloaded more than a million times and of course, Clare is a part of our One Year No Beer community. Welcome, Clare.

Clare: What an introduction. I might say that this podcast lark is suiting you well. Congrats on getting the full-time gig.

Chris: Thank you. I felt like I needed one of those little audio clips in the background where it starts clapping, cheering, and then getting out Andy’s maracas when you’re here. It’s so exciting to have you here. I feel like I have a celebrity on the show with me as you’ve got a podcast that is so massively successful.

Clare: The thing with podcasts, you only ever feel like there’s just two of you talking and there may be one person listening. You don’t ever think of numbers, do you? I feel strange because I have listened to the One Year No Beer podcast for years. There are some of my favorite ones. I remember one that I listen to in the back catalog with people to join in like, Nick Littlehales talking about sleep with Andy. It was absolutely a game-changer. I must have listened to that podcast episode three times because I just couldn’t get my head what he was saying. It’s bonkers for me too.

Chris: It’s funny because a year ago, I didn’t even listen to podcasts. Kristine, my wife, she’s always listening to podcasts and she’s waxing poetic. The format never worked for me, so here we are. I can’t believe that I’m actually guest-hosting a show.

But I’m excited to have you on this week. I originally met you in the MasterMind Plus group a couple of months ago, and Clare, I really, really love your story. You’ve accomplished a lot. I’m so inspired by it. I can’t wait for everybody listening today to learn a little bit more about you. Let’s jump right into our chat. Here is where I’d love to start the conversation. It’s basically where I’ve been starting the conversation for the last few weeks, which is here and now. I’d love for you to tell the audience where you currently are on your alcohol-free journey. How many days have you been alcohol-free? And if you had to use—and don’t make fun of me now because as a podcast host, this seems so cliché for me to ask this—2–3 words to describe exactly how things are right now, what would you say?

Clare: Oh. It’s funny because like Dominika said a couple of episodes ago, I had to just go and check this. You do get to a point where you don’t look anymore, and I have an app that logs it for me. I operate on two numbers. I have the day since I started my alcohol-free journey, which is 937 days ago. And then I actually have the day since my last alcohol drink, which is 775 days ago.

I have these two numbers because I originally started my alcohol-free journey on my own without the help of One Year No Beer, and I bumbled through for about three or four months. Then I tried moderating. I didn’t get drunk, but it just didn’t work for me. I decided no, I really want to give this a go, and 775 days ago is when I officially joined One Year No Beer.

Chris: That is awesome. So 2–3 words to describe exactly how you feel right now. I know, isn’t that tough?

Clare: I could only cut with four words, which will be relieved but not finished.

Chris: That’s great.

Clare: Can I get away with that?

Chris: Yeah, I’ll give you that. Relieved but not finished. I do love that. I thought you were going to give me the longest run-on sentence—those words that have all the hyphens in it. I thought you were going to do that.

Clare: No.

Chris: If you were to go back a few years in time, would you have ever expected that you would be in this place? By the way, I’m not a math person. When you give the numbers, I can’t even calculate how many years that is, but it sounds like two or three years. Would you have ever expected to be in this place?

Clare: No, not at all. Just got in 2020, the end of August was two years since my last drink, which is easier to get the numbers around your head. There’s no way I ever thought the things that I have achieved in the last 2 ½ years would ever be possible. People see me now as someone who is quite positive, upbeat, full of energy, bright, and colorful. But if you’ve met Clare three or four years ago, I was quite hit or miss emotionally. I was incredibly tired. I weighed a lot more than I do now. I would often wear black clothes, leggings so they stretched as my waistline stretched.

I was trapped in a cycle of just drifting and existing. I had so much complexity of emotions within me of years of bereavement, grief, stress, and heartbreak that I didn’t quite know where to begin. It was the late-night googles of am I an alcoholic? Is that what the problem is? Where I was going through these thoughts thinking there’s something wrong with me, but I don’t know how to fix it.

Chris: Did anybody ever suggest that you were an alcoholic, or is this just something that you were doing in the trappings of your own mind—trying to explain why you were feeling the way you were feeling?

Clare: Externally, people will be surprised to know that that’s what I was actually feeling. Because if people knew me back then, they would’ve known me as a high flying BBC award-winning producer. Externally, I looked like I was doing well. What I was stuck with was I knew I wasn’t an alcoholic, but I knew there wasn’t something right. I started to think, it’s not really just one thing that I’m struggling with here. What I was doing was being a classic avoider.

I would do anything, any kind of short-term fix to avoid feeding any sadness or pain. It might be that […] spend up a bunch of money. I would change jobs, I’d move house, I’d move cities, I would overeat, I would stuff myself physically with food, I would drink to excess. I just couldn’t sit with my own emotions and mind. What I recognized was there were addictive behavior qualities and my behavior. What I was doing was affecting my life and my happiness, but I couldn’t stop.

That’s where I felt like, but where is this one place that’s going to help me? Because I knew that somewhere like AA wouldn’t, but I knew that alcohol’s a part of the problem. Do you see what I’m getting at?

Chris: Yeah. Explain a little bit more about the conclusion you reached that an AA wouldn’t help.

Clare: I’m someone who likes to be solutions focused. I don’t like to look at problems. I like to say, right, here’s a challenge, what do I need to do? How do I need to change? I’m a big ethos about being positive, about being optimistic, but the heart of me—underneath all this black cloud—I was like, but I want to feel like I have a choice in my life. I don’t want to feel like I have a problem, that I’m labeled for life, and I’m deprived.

The ethos for me—I’m not religious, so it just didn’t sit right with me […] for AA. It works for some people, and if that works for you, that’s cool. Just like there’s not just One Year No Beer, but I suppose there are lots of different avenues. It’s not just […], but there are different avenues. You find what works for you. But when I joined the One Year No Beer community, what I really, really was amazed at—and it still astounds me to this day—is I just saw so many people who were moving forward in their life, not round in circles. They weren’t labels. They weren’t muddled down with problems. They were moving forward, they were thriving, and they were living their best version.

I just looked at that and thought, I want some of that. I don’t want to be stuck down in the dark here. I’ve got to try something different. This is going to be hard. I’m going to look towards those people as my role models. Let’s just see where this road can take me because if I do the same thing, I’m going to get the same result.

Chris: Clare, what was specifically going on in your life at the moment that you decided to make a change? You mentioned that you tried to take a break a few times on your own and moderate, but will you give us a sense of some of the specifics? Was there something going on at work? Was there something going on in your personal life? What was driving you to say, okay, I really want to make a change right now.

Clare: It was a slow creaking of me really getting there to say enough with the alcohol. I had already quit my day job, which I guess we can get into. I’d already started to clear the canvas of my life and say none of this is working for me. Let’s just wipe it all clean and then just start adding what I want to keep. I’d already gone through the process of starting to lose weight, of which that was going to be an epic journey. It was going to be a six […] lost.

I started chipping away at that. I was thinking, what else because I still didn’t feel happy. It’s quite personal, but I went to a family funeral. At that time, I was drinking. I was in a bad place. We’ve all been there when we’re broken up, completely hungover, and you just feel that sense of shame, of guilt, you can’t remember what you said. I just really felt like when I went home after that funeral, the combination of emotion, family, and death—I was just a tipping point. I can’t deal with sadness anymore.

I looked into this kind of future and I thought, this is where I’m heading, I’ve been here before. If you’ve been depressed, you’ll understand what I’m talking about. If you’ve been lonely, you’ll understand what I’m talking about. But it’s like a black hole, there’s a cliff edge, and you just feel yourself going down there. It wasn’t the first time that I’ve been in that situation. I’d learned my lesson. I've been down and up and down and up probably for about the last 10 years. 

Each time I went down, I went faster and harder. I felt myself at this choice point. I thought I can either keep doing what I’m doing and I will go down this path, but this time, I’m not employed—as in I’m self-employed—so I don’t have sick pay. I need to keep my health up. I’m trying to lose weight. I need to keep my finances together. I can’t afford to go down faster and harder than I’ve ever done before. I got to stop this.

It was just quite a simple fix there, but I thought alcohol's got to go. That day, I went and signed up to work with a counselor. We started working through some of the fundamental issues behind what I was doing and why. I would definitely say to anybody who is struggling with depression, never be too proud. I was too proud for too many years to ask for help, to admit that I have a problem, to go and get medication for my GP. I couldn’t even say the word depression. I called the d-word because it felt too painful to admit that I have that.

I was always someone who just said, oh, never mind, just move on. You’ll get over it. It really was a crunch point for me that I thought, I can’t continue this way. The problem is when you reach that point, it’s quite scary because you know the what but you don’t know the how. For those six months, I was a bit in no man’s land where I was dating, I was in a new relationship, I was building a business, and I was not drinking, but I didn’t have the support network.

Then when I found this world of One Year No Beer, ironically, by reading a book, Catherine Gray’s The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober. I just felt like I found my people. I was like, thank God, I’m not the only one. And then I worked out the how. Sometimes, what you need to do is a part of it, but the how comes a little bit later. Taking the first step is difficult, but never expect that you know how straight away. It comes to you with the right people, the right tools, and the right book. It will all just unfold, just take those first steps initially.

Chris: It’s so relatable what you’re talking about. I can think about so many conversations I’ve had with people where they say, I can visualize where I want to be. It’s putting these steps together to be able to do that. You said one of your initial steps was to work with a counselor, I wonder, as you jumped into that process, what kinds of things were you learning about yourself that you knew were perhaps the root cause of the drinking or feeling the depression that you had?

Clare: I don’t think I’m alone in this. There’ll be people who will be nodding listening to this, but we’re not always equipped with how to communicate or find the language of what we’re feeling. f I have a very different relationship with my family now, but growing up, we didn’t talk about these things. We never express this kind of confusion or love.

I had to relearn what it was I was actually feeling. Andy Ramage talks about the learning that you get. If you’re someone who signed up for a 90-day challenge or 365-day challenge, you’ll probably understand this more if you do it 30. The sticking point for me was between days 40 and 90. Because that’s when […] quit anything for 30 days. I would challenge you if you’re listening to this, just do it for 30 days. You can do that. It’s the middle bit because then, the novelties wore off, and that’s when for me the emotional wave started happening. I felt for the first time, I was living life in technicolor and it was like, whoa, I need to turn the contrast down. I don’t know how to deal with this.

What therapy was able to work out with me is—the analogy I use is like when you get those elastic band balls. Where there are loads of elastic bands, they’re all tied together and it gets bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger. You’re like, where’d you even start picking this. My life felt like that.

At the time I joined One Year No Beer, I went through heartbreak, another relationship ended, another fast-lived thought, he was the one, and boom poof, it was over in a matter of months. It wasn’t just the heartbreak that I felt for him, it was the heartbreak of all the heartbreaks, of the hopes that I’d had to finally find my one, my prince. That’s what I mean about sometimes with these complex things, you just don’t know where to start.

What I was able to do is say to this person, here’s what’s going through my head, what should we talk about first? Give me some structure. I’m somebody who likes science, who likes theory, who likes doing quizzes, who likes reading. Tell me, what is this thing that we’re talking about and I will go and note out about it. I’d like to understand the why behind what I’m feeling. When you get stuck into a situation where you’re only thinking about it emotionally, it’s too difficult to engage words. Whereas when you can step back and take a wider perspective, you can begin to defrag your own computer, if you know what I mean.

Chris: Yeah. If you think about the world change and transformation, there’s this concept around discipline fatigue. What happens is, when we take on new habits and we try to take on too many habits at the same time that are new to us, we can get exhausted and tired. What looks like laziness or to us we feel like we don’t have the grit and determination to do something is just exhaustion. 

I think when you’re reaching out to a counselor or you’re working in the One Year No Beer community, the focus is how do I break this up into smaller components? That if I can just get 1% better every day, 1% stronger every day, I can win.

If you don’t have somebody working you through that process, it can be really, really overwhelming. I think about mentoring and coaching in general, the value of mentoring and coaching is that people sometimes have a limited toolbox, and I think more importantly, they have limiting beliefs. We need to get help from somebody who can help us overcome those limiting beliefs and hopefully fill our toolboxes up.

You talked about this how and that’s what we’re revolving around now, when did One Year No Beer then officially come into this journey, and how did you learn about One Year No Beer, to begin with?

Clare: The book caused the catalyst for me with Catherine Gray. Brilliant book—The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober. It’s quite easy with the Kindle isn’t it that you can read these things? If you listen to this podcast and you don’t really want to know or let other people know that you’re thinking about doing this, books and podcasts are a great way to dip your toe in, but nobody knows. This Naked Mind as well, Annie Grace. I just started reading this stuff and thought wow, there’s a different option here. People just get me.

I signed up initially for the 30 days with One Year No Beer, as most people do. Let’s just see what these guys are about. I remember, within a week of signing up, at that time—feels like many years ago now, isn’t it? We did meetups. There was a big meet up, which was 10 minutes from where I lived. It all felt quite soon. I’d been spending (bear in mind) for the last six months, I’d been living in quiet, solitude, shame, terrified to tell anybody, even my family that I had quit alcohol because I was worried about what they would think about me. 

And then I would see that there’s a power-up 10 minutes from where I live. And it’s going to be 100 members from One Year No Beer in the room. I turned up on my own. Andy and Ruari are on stage, getting everyone dancing and making everybody move tables. I was like, I just want to sit at the back and just figure what this is all about.

But it was incredibly powerful and a baptism of fire because there, I met some incredible people. Met two ladies called Lauren, both are 365 legends. One lives in London, one lives in Manchester. We’re still friends. In fact, we went out for a drink—mocktail—early this year. The connections that you make in that community of people who are about the same day as you or on the same day. 

I met women who had been in a story similar to me but let’s say 200, 300 days ahead. I got to speak with them one on one and say, hey, I’d been reading your posts on Facebook. I just wanted to say, I relate to what you’re saying. You’re really inspiring me. At that point, I was obviously like day 7 or something. It’s really funny how it goes around because people who have been listening at the start of their challenge now, but you’ll be amazed to see that now I could be inspiring people.

Chris: Totally.

Clare: It could be, I heard from you on the podcast, but then they’ll be inspiring other people in 700 days. That’s what I like about this kind of community. That it’s very cyclical—it’s give and it’s take. That’s really powerful.

Chris: In fact, it’s not that you can. Clare, you are absolutely (no doubt) inspiring somebody who’s listening to this right now. I think that what you’re talking about is so much truth. It’s like this perpetual cycle of new people coming into the community, getting stronger in their journey, becoming the model citizen to help others. And yet at the same time, we’re also distinctly human. We’re reminded all the time in this community that it’s okay to fall down. That in fact, you are going to fall down. That just because we’re going on this journey together doesn’t mean we have a bulletproof vest and bad things aren’t going to happen to us.

Here is a question for you, was there a turning point? Clearly, there was because you made it so far in your journey. When or what was the turning point or moment where you went from being wobbly in the knees on not drinking to just full-fledged, you are all in saying, wait a minute, I’m going to create the kind of life I want to live? When was that for you in the journey?

Clare: Oh. I think because I’ve tried to dip my toe in and failed on my own a few times. When I actually really truly joined One Year No Beer, I was ready for something else. I felt quite in a dark place, that I knew there needed to be drastic change otherwise the only way is going to be down. I think, in a way, I joined a good place anyway. But what I think was really interesting was when I completed my 365 challenge, I didn’t really get this sense of yes, amazing.

Chris: I have arrived.

Clare: I’m cured. I was really, really peeved off. I was genuinely like, oh, this is it? This is a bit annoying. Yay. Shake the maracas. I felt a bit frustrated with that. Because the thing that I had thought, I’d put this 365 on a big pedestal. It’s like, if you do this 365, when you get to it, life is going to be amazing and there’s going to be fireworks. Your life will be the best it’s ever been. When actually, it’s just another day. 

But I would say, by the time I got to day 500, I was just a bit more at peace. I know that’s a massive number. If you’re early on in your challenge, you’ll listen to this and you’re like, jeez, day 500, I’ve got to wait to get that feeling. It’s different for everybody. Some people get it at day 100.

What kept me going is I’m fiercely competitive. I love a streak. You don’t want to ever play Scrabble with me. You don’t want to play any kind of board game because you are not going to win. If you do, you better exit quickly. When I commit myself to a streak, if I lose a day streak, I’d have to go back to day one. I am so angry with myself. I just kept saying, but what if I don’t was a phrase I kept saying to myself, or at what cost?

Don’t get me wrong. It was not all plain sailing. In that first year, in fact, it’s still not plain sailing now. Day 775, I still sometimes have days where I’m like, should I have a drink today? This would be the time where I would have a drink. If I was going to have a drink, what would I have? 

Even in my second year of no drinking, I went out with clients. It was all you can eat, all you can drink. There were bottles of champagne being brought. They were putting them right in front of me. I asked the waitress to move the bottle of champagne because I wanted space. She couldn’t understand me. That it became a big hoo-ha of oh, you don’t drink? Why don’t you drink? I was just absolutely mortified. That was in year two of not drinking.

There will always be challenges, but eventually, you just give less of a […]. You recognize the benefits. It was brilliant (in some ways) the timing that we ended up doing in this conversation because I think I needed today to hit stop and just think about rather than what’s on my to-do list of life and my goals, I needed to stop and just think, what have I actually done in the last two and a half years? I wrote down a list—the small things, the big things, the huge life-changing things, the things that don’t really matter anything to anybody else but they do to me. I was amazed.

It’s just incredible to think that’s even possible because I felt like five years previously, I was very much stagnating in my life. I was going round in circles like I said. In that sense, you eventually get to a point where you recognize, actually, I could have a drink because there’s always a choice. You always can at any point if that’s what you choose to, but then I think, but why? You just get to a point where that balance becomes easier.

Chris: Let’s talk about that list of things that you have accomplished and some of the things that you have learned along the way, some of the successes that you have enjoyed. By the way, before we jump into that, I just have to say, if you’re even in Denver, Colorado, it’s […] Donkey Kong, I want to take you on and Scrabble because I pride myself in that. It sounds like you’re a competitive Scrabble player too.

Let’s talk about right now, and again, this list of wins. Clearly, on this journey, lots of important things have happened to you that will contribute to long-term happiness and fulfillment. If we fast forward to today, an example of a huge win in your life is you have this really successful podcast. You shared with me that this was something you started in your kitchen with a friend two years ago, and now, look at it. Did you ever imagine in a million years that you’d be so successful?

Clare: No. It’s weird because I don’t think of myself as successful. It’s just something that I do. I suppose I’d always thought that in order to have more than a million downloads on a podcast, you needed to be a celebrity or you needed to spend a lot of money. I have learned a lot about the community. 

I have learned a lot about consistency. A big part of me starting out doing the podcasts and establishing what is it that I want my business to be? What is my niche? How can I really focus my energy, my time, find work that makes my values actually was initially from doing the mastermind courses of One Year No Beer. Because that allowed me to put some time and thought into who am I, what do I want to achieve, and what do I want to do in my life.

Initially, podcast was something that I did for play. It was my passion project. Then, I started to think, ah, there’s something in this. This seems to be something that is a demand. I saw a space in the health and fitness market a couple of years ago wherein the podcast world, I think there was anybody that was in the trenches with me. I could see lots of experts telling me how to lose weight, but I wasn’t hearing in an audio world people that sounded like me, that looked like me.

I think […] get this in alcohol. For me, the alcohol and the food journey (amazingly) really went together because a big reason why I overate, why I drank too much were actually similar reasons in avoiding pain, running away from sadness, not being able to cope, not knowing where to start, and feeling overwhelmed. 

The thing that I really believe in is that we often just see the before and the after pictures. We see day 0 or day 1 of the challenge, and we see the day 365. But very often, we don’t see the gray bit in the middle. The bit where you fall over, where you trip up. Maybe you do end up moderating. A bit where you actually gain weight instead of losing weight, but it’s all part of your learning. It’s all a journey. It’s a process and a lifestyle that you’re working towards rather than a diet, a quick fix, or a competition.

I wanted to have a podcast where we could openly talk about this. I didn’t just talk about food. Actually, there are several episodes where I talk about my One Year No Beer journey and the day that I celebrated my day 365, I recorded a podcast—you’ll laugh at this—it was in my bed. From the kitchen to the bedroom. That’s how things progressed in my household. 

Actually, on that podcast episode, it was called A Milestone and a Moment of Clarity. I cried my eyes out recording that episode. I wasn’t crying with sadness, but I cried with pride because I was amazed at what I have achieved. I couldn’t believe that I had done it, I had done this thing, I had found this space where life was lighter, all these mini-steps, these consistent streaks I’ve been working towards, they had amounted to something that was huge.

What I thought was incredible—because there'll be people listening to this who want to lose weight. That’s perhaps one of the reasons that they’ve quit alcohol. It’s a part of the solution, it’s not the only solution. I never really thought (more importantly) the number of listeners is how many people write to me privately late at night. 

Sometimes people are writing these emails at 1:00 AM or 2:00 AM in the morning and they say, I realize I’ve got a problem with alcohol. I realize I probably drink too much. You’ve inspired me by sharing your story that I’m also going to take time out from alcohol. You’ve made me realize that there is no shame attached, actually, it’s a choice, and I’m choosing not to drink for a little bit.

That matters more to me because if I think back to the Clare that existed three, four years ago if I heard a podcast with someone who told that and said that to me that was a possibility, it would have helped change my life. I see it as a duty that I want to almost say to those people who are just like me three or four years ago, there is choice, hope, possibility. Just try this new thing and do it for you. Don’t do it for anyone else and don’t have to do it with shame. That is liberating.

I think because me and my co-host who doesn’t drink for health reasons, because we offer this kind of alternative and we’re very open about the fact that we’ve had nervous breakdowns, struggle with depression. We’ve built our own business, left jobs, and had our hearts broken. I’ve even shared some terrible dating stories, which is probably quite painful for my mom and dad to listen to, but it’s about being real, isn’t it? That wasn’t happening in the very polished, perfected podcast world. Now, it’s time to be different.

It’s nice to know that in podcasts, it’s a place where good conversations can happen. That’s a little motto of mine where you can hear that real authenticity. I read your story, Chris. I am equally inspired by you. You are someone who’s super successful at what you do, and in fact, I don’t think you share enough about who you are and your story on the podcast. I’m amazed that I get to talk with you because I think your story is equally inspiring for me, and that’s what this community is about. It’s about you could be a police officer, a millionaire, or a toilet cleaner, but in this journey, we are all on the same level. We are all in this together.

Chris: Totally. I’m not going to let you talk about me. This show is about you. I think everything you’re saying is so relatable in terms of being able to listen to a podcast from someone who’s walking a mile in my shoes. And someone who is maybe struggling along with me and willing to talk about those struggles out loud just so I don’t feel like I’m the only person on the planet who doesn’t have enough passion, will, and determination to meet the goal. That someone there is saying, hey, it’s going to be okay, and hey, this is really normal.

Whereas sometimes, not always, but sometimes, you see the experts seemingly have it figured out. They’re beautifully put together and they find all the right words. You’re like, it must be nice to be so perfect. One thing in the storytelling is important, Clare is you saw this opportunity and you went after this passion project, but tell everyone a little bit about what your background was. There was more to it than you just saying, hey, I’m going to start this passion project. It’s going to be this podcast, and it’s going to be on the subject. You had experience in the field of journalism, and I think people should know that.

Clare: Yeah. I had worked at the BBC for just under 10 years. I worked in news, current affairs, I’d read the news. I still do sometimes for Radio 5 Live, worked for TV with BBC Breakfast. I’d been a reporter on the night of the Manchester Arena bomb. I’d been in the world of high flying news. I’d really chased my job at the BBC for so many years. I’d really built myself out. 

Actually, my job at the BBC was my third career since I left university. Before that, I worked as a recruitment consultant—recruiting accountants. Before that, I worked in finance. I’ve even worked at McDonald’s, been a barmaid in Massachusetts, and all kinds of different things. I’ve tried a little bit of everything.

Ever since I was a little girl, I always wanted to be working in radio. I chased this big job for this big organization. It took me a long time of wrestling. But when I got there, while it was a fantastic opportunity and I will never knock that, it just wasn’t quite what I thought it was going to be or there was something missing. Everything can be great in paper, but there’s something that just isn’t quite right in your heart. I’d always had a bit of a longing to be my own boss. I’m quite an independent, free-living, and free spirit kind of person underneath all the black clouds. I just felt like my wings were clipped.

I didn’t quite know how you do this. It came to a bit of a pinch point actually where my boss had said to me, look, we’re going to change a shift pattern. You’re going to move to a different part of our station, and it means you’re going to be working weekends starting at 5:00 AM. I think I just got to the point where I was like, no, I can’t do this. 

I sat on it over a weekend and on Monday morning, I said, thanks for the opportunity, but I’m not going to take you up on it. Here’s my notice. It was a two-month notice period. That weekend, I went and got by. I got an undercut, and I dyed my hair bright red as well just because I was ready to just take the coat off. I just thought, do you know what, if it goes tits up, I’ll go back with my cuff in hand and say I’m really sorry, but can I get my job back or can I get back as a freelance.

I just felt that there was something else. It wasn’t quite a switch that flicked. It was a bit more of a slow process. Again, Andy is a great example of this—Andy and Ruari actually—because of the way they did One Year No Beer. Quite often all you ever see is that moment where she quit her job and then she became a high flyer podcast coach. It’s not how it works. 

Five years before that, I started doing courses. I was single. I had a lot of spare time. I lived on my own. I loved learning and training. I’ve been going to courses for women on how to start your own business, but I never had the balls. I didn’t quite know what my business was going to be. I was just like a sponge absorbing all of this information.

When I made that jump to, let’s just see, I need to find another way. Let’s just go for this. I didn’t quite find the answer. I’d say for the first 12 months, I bumbled my way through. I was still freelancing at the BBC. I still had one foot in my old life, but just dabbling, working out what the new life was. The answer didn’t come to me straight away.

Again, I will say it wasn’t until I joined the MasterMind course. Probably some 18 months later that I was at a point where I was like ah, okay, this is what I enjoy. How can I do more of that? Now, what do you need to do there? I started meeting more people in real life, going to networking, hearing more stories from One Year No Beer. A lot of other people in One Year No Beer go on to be coaches, don’t they? It seems to be the coaching curse. If you quit alcohol, you’d become a coach. It’s hilarious.

Just hearing the experiences of those people just helped and the book recommendations, the TED Talk recommendations, the podcasts recommendations. just really investing because I was doing the for Alcohol-Free Me courses at One Year No Beer, the meditation courses. I was doing MasterMind, Live Life Better. I did every course that was going at the One Year No Beer. I think I know more people in One Year No Beer of people across the world that I’ve never met than I do in real life.

It was a slow process. I don’t think enough people talk about the fact that you try something, it doesn’t quite work. Then you try something else and then that kind of works. You’re like, uh, a bit bored of that now. Let’s try something else. That’s the real process about setting up, tweaking, finding your passion in life, and what your business is going to be. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think enough people share the reality of what that is actually like.

Chris: Yeah. My dad recommended a book to me that I read that I loved called Be a Free Range Human by Marianne Cantwell. She’s basically talking about when you go to a steady job—getting a steady paycheck, you’re almost like a caged human, and what does it take to be freelance and to be a free-range human. The book really builds a great case for getting the courage to do what you did—which was to leave a very reputable employer and go about it on your own. 

What Marianne Cantwell says in the book—and I’d be curious to get your response to this—is when you go to leave that day job, it’s not about the work you want to go do. It’s about the life you want to live in. It’s the life you want to create for yourself. It’s more than the decision around employment, it’s finding something that is a reflection of who you really are. Do you agree with Marianne Cantwell’s advice on that?

Clare: Yeah, definitely. I think this is what’s really interesting because whereas we’re here on a podcast, which is talking about a year of not drinking beer. When you get deeper into this challenge and you stick with it a little bit, you start to get curious about what else? What else can I change? A big concept that kept reappearing was what you’re talking about. You have a chance to design your life. We’ve all been sleepwalking into a prescripted life of you sitting at a desk every day, Monday to Friday, 9:00 AM–5:00 PM. You have weekends to play golf, mow the lawn, and wash the car. It doesn’t excite everybody.

I realized that I was one of those people. I think the lockdown has created that seat within a lot of people that I don’t have to do this anymore. I could do this instead, or I can have my life like this. Definitely, because over the last three years, I really have done that blank canvass. Okay, which friends do I want to be a part of my life? There were friends who couldn’t support the fact that I didn’t drink anymore. They just couldn’t handle it. It made them think about all kinds of things about themselves, it made them feel uncomfortable. Gradually, they just faded out.

I looked at the exercise routine. I looked at my finances for the first time ever. I really put myself a strong path out of debt for the first time. That was actually inspired by reading a post in the One Year No Beer Challengers’ Facebook group by a guy called Karl who talked about his journey to become debt-free since he quit alcohol. 

You start to investigate what else. I looked at the diet. For ages. I resisted the idea of doing any kind of extreme in my mind like going plant-based or going fasting, but I’ve settled that I am vegan and it really works for me, and the ethos really works for me.

You just look at all these different avenues to get to a point. But the thing is, you don’t really ever reach an end goal, you’re constantly tweaking. This promotes something curious. We talk about this in the MasterMind Plus, don’t we? We’re looking at challenges that constantly make us tweak, think about things from a different perceptive. It kind of launches this conscious living, this curiosity of maybe I should change this. It’s almost like looking at everything and saying, why do I do that? Why do I do that? Where did I get this idea that this works?

That’s a big thing of why do we drink? Why do we have to have a drink to celebrate, to commiserate? The sales jobs that I worked in, it was like champagne Friday the last Friday of the month. We’d be drinking from midday. We’d bring bottles of wine. It was the norm. You just think, where does this come from? Why do we do that? That I think is a seed that will be slightly terrifying. Everybody around you will be like, wow, I can’t believe who you are anymore. They’ll be amazed because it just ripples. It starts with that call and then it becomes these other things.

That’s exciting. You don’t know where you’re going. I cannot believe that A) I’m vegan, alcohol-free, I own my own house, I run my own international business, I have a podcast listened to by a million people. I found love, people. I found love.

Chris: Love and romance. It’s amazing. I’m getting so fired up listening to you talk about this. Because ultimately what you’re describing, Clare, is getting out of bed in the morning, putting your two feet on the ground and it’s about intentional living. What would happen if I intentionally focused myself on these things? By the way, those things don’t have to be this big pie in the sky goals or objectives. We don’t have to go climb Mt. Everest to prove something to ourselves.

Sometimes, intentional living is just remembering the basics. It’s about the food we put in our bodies and nourishing ourselves so that we’re strong enough to do all the things we want to do. It’s about getting a good night's sleep, it’s about taking 20 or 30 minutes a day to have a quiet time. All of these things signal an intentional life. Instead of being a small boat in the middle of the ocean being beat around, we take control.

You and I, we were having this interesting conversation before we hit record on this podcast, which in some ways I wish we had recorded. It was talking about when I was in college and in a rock band and hoping that my band was going to get picked up and then I wasn’t going to have to finish college. 

The one thing I learned at that young age is that bands at that time who were big like U2, Nirvana, and Radiohead—those bands look like accidental tourists. They look like they pulled their clothes out of a corner of a closet. It’s all balled up, wrinkled up, and probably isn’t even clean, but the reality of it is for people to achieve these things in their life, this level of success, it’s because they were very intentional.

We may think that they just showed up, they were just naturally talented, and it just naturally worked out. That is not the case. I want to talk about your business for a couple of minutes here because the name of it is so intriguing to me. When you and I started corresponding via email, you have an acronym in your email address. Of course, I was curious and nosy. I was trying to figure out what this acronym is, and you had the letter F in there. I was convinced that you had the F-bomb in the name of your company.

I go out to your website and I start poking around, and I find out that your company is called A Small Furry Bear Productions. You actually have a picture drawn by a child—I hope I don’t insult you when I say that because I don’t want you to say, no, actually, I just drew that last week. It looks like it was drawn by a child. Can you tell me a little bit more about the name and the background of A Small Furry Bear Productions? Got to be one of the best brand names in the history of brand names.

Clare: One of the things when you do decide to go out on your own, the hardest thing is what do I call myself? I didn’t really want to use my name. I love my name—don’t get me wrong—but it didn’t really work for me. It’s really funny because sometimes the answers you’re looking for, you’ve already consciously decided or put them down the pen to paper years gone by.

I found an old diary that I had written when I was a child. I used to make my own radio shows with my brother in my bedroom. We used my recorder to do the news tips. We used to do a phone-in where I put on a variety of Birmingham accents actually. My brother came in to do the Sega Mega Drive games. In my diary at the time, I had written, “I want my own company called A Small Furry Bear,” and I drew a picture of a bear.

As soon as I saw that, I don’t know why I just flipped on to that page. I was like, that’s the name of my business—A Small Furry Bear Productions. My brother said, oh God, that sounds so childish. I was like, let’s just make an acronym, and then people can ask me. It’s funny it’s the thing that people remember. 

That idea of I have an idea of what I’m going to do, but I’m not sure the how, why, or the details. These things come to you. I was on a holiday with my mom five years ago. I just had a Post-it note and a pen, and I did a what-if dream. What if I run my own business, who would I want working, how would it be, how would it look, how would I work, what type of work would I do? I threw that Post-it note in the corner of my room, and again, I found that a couple of years ago. It’s really funny because essentially, this business that I’ve built is kind of that vision.

These dreams and things that we’ve had, often they’ve been just bubbling onto there for a long time. But getting to grips with your story, it takes time. I would say with my journey through doing MasterMind Live Life Better, Alcohol-Free Me, it’s allowed me to take this time out because that’s one thing that quitting alcohol does. It gives you time and energy like you’ve never had before. But it gives you the time to really think about the little quizzes that we do, the little challenges, tasks that we set, or what was set within the group. The conversations we have in Zoom allow you to get deeper about who you are and what your values are. That was what enabled me to get back to the true story.

Sometimes, we can cloud our life with all these things of what we should be, our expectations, and being an overachiever—we’re going to win an award, we’re going to earn this much—but we lose sense at the heart of what we are. Often, when we were a 9- or 10- year old, when I was that little girl in my bedroom doing a radio show, that was who I am. My advice to you as a new podcaster is we sometimes as adults try and perfect everything. We try and make it all perfectly polished. You look back to the Chris when he was 10 years old learning to play the guitar. You didn’t give a crap if you didn’t play bar chords within three months.

Chris: So true.

Clare: You still had a bloody good go even if it hurt his finger and he got blisters because his dreams are too hard. I didn’t care that nobody listened to my radio show when I was 9 or 10 years old. I didn’t care that I had a microphone that was probably $2.99 from some toy store down the road. We build all these things like, oh, I need to have this, I need to do this, I need to know this. Just put that aside. Just take those first steps. Don’t worry about all the noise. You’ll figure that out as you go along. Just get started.

Chris: I think what you’re talking about is test and learn. For many years, I worked with companies around innovation and how do you ignite innovation in an organization, how do you create new ideas. People get two things mixed up. There’s the 0–1 thinking, which is you have a problem or an opportunity, but there’s just no solution. What could we do? Pie in the sky, what could I do with my life right now, as an example.

But then there are issues of 1–1000. Hey, once I build it, how do I scale this thing? How do I make this so that thousands of people can enjoy it? What happens is we go to the 1–1000 stuff way too often, and it constrains our thinking because we have this idea and we go, well, that’ll never scale. Well, that’ll never work. But going from 0–1 is such an important step to just get it out there. Just test, learn, get feedback, and just continue to make it better.

As you’re saying, you’re over perfecting it can be the enemy. If we wait for every light in town to turn green before we pull out of our driveway, we’ll never pull out of our driveways. I love this whole test and learn philosophy and concept. It seems like—in my conversation with you—you have always been willing to be someone who will at least try everything at least once.

Clare: Yeah.

Chris: Or is that not true?

Clare: I think if you said to my friends, describe Clare to you, most of them will probably call me fearless. But that’s not necessarily true. I’m not here to say, I fixed it, it’s all great, it’s all brilliant. Even today, I feel overwhelmed. I feel burnout as a freelancer working in 2020. I got the weekend off, and I cannot wait. I am so tired, my brain is frazzled. Sometimes you don’t have the answers. I say this just take those first steps, you’ll be good. I need to take my own medicine sometimes about that.

Even if you just go for it on 2 of the 10 big ideas that you have or 1 of the 10 big ideas, you’re going to be a little bit further ahead than you would if you didn’t do anything. Someone had said to me some great advice. Actually, a former coach had said, what one small thing can you do today to get closer to your goal? That is sometimes what you have to do. Because when I was in the real pit of depression, I remember there were six weeks straight where every day I cried. And then suddenly, it was a couple of days. I was like, today I didn’t cry.

I remember it was like, I have to just deal with hour by hour. I couldn’t deal with tomorrow. I can’t deal with next week. I couldn’t deal with this afternoon. I was hour by hour. You have to break it down to that okay, what little thing can I do right now to just get closer, get a start. For the people who fall over a lot early in the challenge, it might just be I just need to not drink today. That’s as simple as it needs to be.

Chris: Yeah. I read this blog one time. The subject line was Goals Don’t Matter. It got my attention because of course, I was like, goals do matter. What do you mean goals don’t matter? The person who wrote it is basically writing blogs that teach people how to write books. At the time, I was writing my book and I was using his advice. The punch line of his message was goals don’t matter, it’s habits that do.

What he said was, for nine years I had a goal to write a book and nothing happened. And when I changed my habits to write 400 words first thing every morning, I wrote 2 books and 400 blogs in the same year. That’s exactly what you’re talking about. What are the one or two things we can start doing on Monday that can change our lives?

As we wrap up this podcast, I’d ask you, Clare, what advice do you have for people listening who are perhaps people that are early in their journey. They’re dealing with triggers, they lack the self-confidence that they can be successful. Maybe they hear a story like yours and they’re like, well, that’s nice, but that’s not in the cards for me. What would your advice be to those people?

Clare: Some people might take this as a bit harsh, as a bit of tough love. I would probably say that if you’re thinking that quitting alcohol for 365 days is the solution to your problems, then I would say, hold on a second because it’s not. There won’t be a happy ever after a moment—that’s what I learned. Different for different people. 

But I don’t think if I had the challenges—the Alcohol-Free Me courses, the MasterMind courses—that actually you do get to buy yourself the time and space to just have a deeper look at who you are, where you’re at, and where you’re going. That’s what the key is to developing these better systems, these better habits that you talk about, these better processes, and how we get to interact with life in the place that we’re living in, in the people who we love, and really connecting with them.

That is not just a quick fix challenge. But actually, we get to have this life where you truly live. You don’t drift in, you’re not existing. That you are connected with who you are, and you are thriving. Just to know that that’s a possibility, and for someone to say, all you need to do is take a break from alcohol? Do it.

Chris: That is awesome advice. Clare, I was so honored to have you on the podcast today. Thank you for letting me put a microphone in front of you. Even though you spend so much of your week doing that already. And for all of you listening today, I want to encourage you to check out Clare’s podcast, which again is called the Slimming World podcast. I learned about it a few weeks ago when Clare and I started working together in MasterMind Plus. I’ve been listening to it and totally enjoying it. Again, I highly recommend it.

Thank you to all of you for tuning in to another episode of the OYNB podcast. As a newbie to the OYNB podcast team, I’ve been so humbled to be a new host, and to all of you, I hope that you make it a great day. Bye.


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