man holding childs hand

Redefine success and happiness with Jono Fisher

The stories of how successful authors, speakers and entrepreneurs first began their careers are always fascinating. They’re usually tales of running a business behind the school shed, or being intrigued by a particular teaching even as a child, or a crisis that led to an enlightenment. But never before has someone claimed that being a nanny to two small boys was their turning point in life. But Jono Fisher’s story is different in a lot of ways.

As the man behind The Wake Up Project, the very successful Kindness Cards and Mindful Leadership Forums, Fisher is one of Australia’s — and the world’s — leaders in mindfulness. He has managed to entice some of the world’s biggest names to come to Australia for The Wake Up Project, including Eckhart Tolle, Caroline Myss, Dr Brene Brown and Marianne Williamson. And he’s now working with Google on their Search Inside Yourself initiative.

Speak to the man, however, and you find a very considered, softly spoken, kind individual who is still humbled by the success he seems to be having. “It doesn’t feel like a choice for me — it felt like it came upon me. The way I was feeling physically and mentally led me to this and I am really just the vessel.”

A vessel who is now sharing some of the most important messages of our time.

Finding meaning

So where did this all begin?

“I was in the corporate world for about 10 years and I got to a point where I was quite unhappy and burnt out and slightly depressed, and I knew that I needed to take a break,” Fisher recounts. “I took a break for what I thought was going to be a couple of months and after a few months realised that I actually didn’t want to go back into the corporate world, but of course I needed to make some cash.

“And so I saw an ad in my local paper to be a male nanny and thought I could do that for a little bit while I go and find my feet and find what I am going to do next.”

The nanny role was to look after two six-year-old boy twins in an affluent family in Sydney. “The first night I got there, I was putting them to bed and one of the boys looked at me and said, ‘I am so glad you are here.’ And I thought, ‘Hmm, OK, I think I am going to be here for a while.’ It was one of those moments when you say, ‘This is an important thing.’”

Fisher would stay on as their nanny for five years.

“Don’t get me wrong — it was a painful time for me in many ways,” he says. “I was a nanny in quite a wealthy household and they would often be having parties and cocktail parties with the who’s-who attending. People would often come up to me and say, ‘So who are you?’ And I’d say, ‘I am the nanny here.’ Nine times out of 10, people would just respond with, ‘Oh’, and then move on.

“That was a very painful experience for me. It happened time and time again. And from an identity point of view, I would feel like, ‘Wow, I am a nobody.’

“From a social ladder point of view, I had dropped in the eyes of many people and yet I had this relationship with these boys that felt extremely meaningful. At the same time, my inner life was kind of becoming really important to me. So, although that was kind of painful on the outside, there was something else going on internally, which was very healing.”

Fisher says it wasn’t for some months into his time as a nanny that he finally started to feel good about himself again.

“I distinctly remember walking down to the beach and just looking around … It was like I was seeing everything for the first time — and I felt like a king.”

“I think it was after about a year I had the sense of comfort and ease within my own skin that everything was OK just as it was. I distinctly remember walking down to the beach and just looking around at the trees and everything. It was like I was seeing everything for the first time — and I felt like a king. I don’t mean to be dramatic, but I had a real sense of royalty, like, ‘Wow, I have got everything.’”

From there, the Wake Up Project and the Kindness Cards began. “It really was a time for me to heal and to discover things like meditation, the arts and social change, and things that I never had time to look into. Things that so many busy corporate people don’t have time to look into! And so, after a while, I started to think, ‘Gee, it would be beautiful to bring those things together into some kind of a community.’

And in one of those life-changing moments, he decided to take a chance and book a local cinema for a gathering. He arranged a speaker, a musician and someone to lead a meditation and “hoped that people would come!”

They did.

Since that first cinema gathering, Fisher has gone on to bring some of the best spiritual teachers and authors to Australia and has been able to bridge the gap between the gurus and the everyday person more than most in this country.

At the same time as building the events side of the business, Fisher also had the idea of creating kindness cards: a collection of cards posted out for free in exchange for paying it forward to a stranger in a random act of kindness. Since it started, there have been a quarter of a million cards distributed around the world. When asked about the success of the initiative, Fisher says it’s in the small moments the cards have helped someone that he is most humbled.

“There is a story of a woman who had suffered a number of miscarriages. She was a professional woman who was quite together in many ways, but this experience had really undone her. When we were talking she described to me how she had taken time off after her most recent miscarriage and had finally decided to venture out for her first real outing and go back to her local coffee shop. But after ordering her coffee, she realised that, in the midst of not thinking straight and still being affected by everything, she had left her purse at Home. In that moment she felt so overwhelmed, until the barista leaned over and said, ‘It’s OK. Someone has already paid for your coffee’, and handed her a kindness card. And she said that, in that moment, ‘I realised the world was a safe place again.’

Guiding the way

Due to his own background of burnout and disillusionment with the corporate world, Fisher is also passionate about bringing the corporate world together to discuss the very latest in mindfulness and conscious business.

“Part of the reason we do the events that we do is to let people see each other and see there’s actually a lot of other people who want the same things they do. Often, the only problem is that you can feel like you’re the only one in an organisation or a corporate environment who wants this, yet from my observation there are a lot of people who want this and they just need to see each other.”

The Wake Up Project’s Mindful Leadership Forum events have attracted some of the world’s top companies and businesses, and the business is now an official trainer of Google’s world-leading Search Inside Yourself program.

“Often … you can feel like you’re the only one in an organisation … who wants this, yet from my observation there are a lot of people who want this and they just need to see each other.”

“Google’s Search Inside Yourself started out as a program for Google engineers but quickly became Google’s most popular internal training program,” says Fisher. “When they decided to take the program outside of Google, we became their partner here in Australia.

“I think, paradoxically, the companies that are leading in this area of mindfulness are the same companies that have developed the technology that actually sped things up to such a degree. They’re also the most innovative companies. They are always moving and changing with the times, so they know how important creativity is. They know how important it is to look after their people. And Google has been one of the leaders of this.”

The objective of the training is first to create a community — and acceptance that this type of thinking is OK. It’s the “If Google is doing it then maybe we should do it” mentality. “And I feel very confident that that is beginning to happen,” Fisher says. “We had about 400 people show up to a recent leadership forum and we have had nearly a thousand people doing the Google training.”

The tide is turning within the corporate world, even if it’s a slow-moving tide. Fisher says he can see the momentum building to embrace more of this type of thinking and training for a number of reasons. First, the scientific facts and research are there now; before, this was all “hippy” stuff that had nothing to do with the moneymaking focus of the corporate world. Second, he believes the speed of people’s lives is at a point now where we are desperately looking for some answers on how to slow down and switch off. And, finally, he says there’s now enough people talking openly about this — a lifting of the veil of what stress, long hours and unhealthy life balance really look like.

“Whether it’s the CEO of LinkedIn or Arianna Huffington, our business leaders are starting to speak up about this. At one of our events last year, we had three CEOs on the stage speaking together: the CEOs of Origin Energy, Virgin and Nine MSN. Each shared their personal stories of anxiety, depression and moments of just wanting to walk away. But what held them and what has supported them was these personal practices that they had that they had never spoken about. Everyone was mesmerised — you could have heard a pin drop.

“Here were three white men in suits sharing in a way that was very rare, and there was a sense of relief in that audience. It was like a code had been broken. And the reaction from the audience was so overwhelming because I think they have never heard three men in suits be like that before.”

That’s the Beauty of Jono Fisher’s work. From his own experiences as a nanny and having to redefine his own idea of success and a happy life, he is allowing others to do the same. Even if he doesn’t accept his role in it.

“Our goal is to make the world a little kinder — that’s all. If we wrap up shop now and that woman, that mum-to-be in the coffee shop, felt the world was a little safer because of what had happened, then our job is done. That’s honestly how I feel about it. This doesn’t have to be on any grand scale.

“I feel very humbled. I feel very humbled because I know how ordinary I am and I know how much of this has happened outside of my doing.”

Amy Taylor-Kabbaz

Amy Taylor-Kabbaz

Amy Taylor-Kabbaz is a journalist with more than 15 years' experience, specialising in health, mindfulness and motherhood. She is also the best-selling author of Happy Mama: The Guide to Finding Yourself Again, and is the creator of the website Happy Mama.

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