Episode 02 – Sam Watling: The Extraordinary Ordinary Series.

Sam is a successful chairman of the York Film @ The Folk Hall (a local independent cinema which last year was nominated for several national awards), Neighbourhood Enforcement Officer for York Council, a brilliant blogger, and DJ.

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What makes Sam so extraordinary? I wanted to interview Sam because from the moment I met him, I was blown away by his complete and utter love of life, resolve to do good, and his natural ability to support, cherish and encourage everyone around him whilst also succeeding himself. He’s the chairman of a great charity organisation, and has taken it from strength to strength since leading it.

Sam is the friend who will be there at all your important milestones, cheering you on. Sam is the chairman who will encourage his volunteers to do bigger and be better. Sam is genuine. Sam is the person giving up most of his weekdays, weekends and evenings to make things happen for his community. Furthermore, I have honestly never met someone with so many genuine close friends.

I still to this day don’t quite understand how he does all he does in the same twenty four hours as the rest of us. I hoped this interview would give me some insight into this, and the rest of his infectiously ‘can do’ outlook on life.

So here’s Sam’s answers to my core twelve questions:

What makes you happy?

My niece and nephew! The ability kids have to find fun in everything and remain completely present in the moment is astounding and kind of contagious too.

Which book had the biggest impact on your life?

I haven’t read consistently since I was a child if I’m honest.  I love it but it’s always the thing that gets sacrificed to make time for everything else.

‘The End of Mr Y’ by Scarlett Thomas caught me off guard though, and reminded me why I love reading.

It came recommended by a dear friend and it sat on my bookshelf for over a year until I went on my next holiday. It’s a mysterious story of a cursed book, time travel, philosophy, science fact, fiction and fantasy all wrapped up in a bonkers little masterpiece. It’s like a thought experiment in a book.

What quote, or saying, do you live by?

More and more it’s become:

‘FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT!’

Initially it was because I started to realise just how much most people are essentially blagging their way through life. We’re all just making it up as we go along to different extents.

It’s ok to not really know what you’re doing and just to learn as you go. Every mistake or failure, provided it’s acknowledged, is an opportunity for growth. So rather than shying away from a challenge because it’s the easier thing to do, or for fear you might fail, better to have a go. It will either all be ok or, at the very least, you’ll be better for next time.

More recently the phrase has taken on a slightly new meaning for me. I’m currently training to be a coach and there’s been some interesting discussion about the idea that when we articulate a desired change in behaviour and then take small steps in that direction, our thoughts and feelings can and do eventually follow suit. Say it, act it and it will be so! You can literally fake it till you make it!

How do you remain or gain your focus?

Focus is a tough one. I’m not sure I’ve ever been truly focussed although I’m working on getting there. I tend to take on a lot, and then procrastinate by doing the smaller, more manageable tasks first. I often feel like I’m going a million miles an hour.

A few years ago I started to lose faith in my memory and since then I put everything that needs to get done in a list in my phone calendar. Those that don’t get done get bumped onto the next day and so on. It thankfully means I rarely forget things I need to do these days, but it does highlight which jobs I am putting off as they can be in there for weeks sometimes.

There is something uniquely satisfying about deleting tasks done and watching the list get smaller!

What inspires you?

People. Friends, family, colleagues. My mother, my sisters, my girlfriend.  People going through hard times but still being good to their fellow humans. People who aren’t afraid to be completely themselves. People who lead by example. People who teach. People who build. People in love. People are the most extraordinary thing in the universe and I’m yet to find one that doesn’t have something to teach me.

What are your top three priorities?

I definitely used to think it was stuff/money/ status based. I must have that high paid job so I can afford the nicest car and biggest house. I need to make my mark on the world. I need to be famous. I wrote a list many years ago of the ages I wanted to have certain things by. Own house by 21, £25k a year job by 25, kids by 30. It felt like it really mattered that I achieved them.

Setting goals is still important to me but since I started to volunteer and dip my toe into the world of coaching, I’ve become increasingly aware that the journey to wherever we are going is by far the most important bit.

Humans have a curse called hedonic adaptation. We get used to the stuff we think makes us happy. That’s why the longer term happiness levels in lottery winners don’t stray much from the long term happiness levels of people badly injured in accidents. So, in the last few years, my priorities have become a lot harder to define and sound a bit more wishy washy!

Positivity, development and contentment are up there. Can all three exist in harmony? We’ll see!

What is the biggest misconception people have of you?

That I’m always super positive and have things together.

I’ve got extremely good with my ‘Fake it till you make it’ attitude and it has massively helped me get through hard times. I’m more positive now than I ever have been. But I still struggle with nagging self-doubt and a tendency to care a too much about what other people think of me or what their motives are. I’ve identified those traits though and keep them in my mind so that they don’t define me, I define them and as such, I can work on them.

What two purchases this year do you value most or have had the most impact?

Lots of the purchases I make these days go towards progressing Film at the Folk Hall, my little passion project. We recently bought a new projector lens. It was funded by four local organisations who all chipped in after hearing about our community cinema and wanted to help us improve!

It’s awesome to have something bought by the community that we know will make what we do open to more of its people.

I have also just bought a proper camera. I’ve wanted one for years but never taken the plunge. Being able to capture the moments that mean the most to me is sure to make this a very important purchase. I just need to learn how to use it now!

Top tips for someone who wants to do what you do for a living?

I’m not sure it’s the sort of job anyone thinks – ‘THAT’S what I want to do when I grow up!’

I’m still not sure if it’s what I want to do when I grow up if I’m honest!

Dealing with the public and helping improve things in the city I love is a privilege. But very few people want to speak to us. For the most part they have either done something wrong, or they are complaining about someone who’s done something wrong which can make finding positivity difficult at times. I think it’s important that you make it a priority to treat everyone fairly and with respect regardless of who they are or what they may have done. Not taking things too personally is the toughest thing but it’s really important to try and keep a thick skin.

Don’t get sucked into someone else’s negative mindset. If you let someone get you down then you’ll be off your game and the next person gets a lesser level of service. Most importantly, work hard on your relationships with colleagues. They are the ones who make your day, every day!

What are you most proud of that you’ve achieved?

Film at the Folk Hall has to be my proudest achievement to date. I had been going through some hard times with a belief that I was in a rut I couldn’t get out of. I blamed work because I felt like that was the only thing I could find negativity in. A great friend asked me if I spent any time doing anything for other people and I didn’t. It made sense immediately and within days of looking for volunteering opportunities I found a struggling community cinema five minutes from my house.

Since then my friends have got involved and we have grown and improved how we do things. We have built up a lovely community of people who want to get together and enjoy great movies. In the process my positivity at work has improved and while I’m busier than ever, it’s doing something I’m passionate about and believe in.

An unusual habit of yours?

Annoying people. I just love it. I like to jump out on people. I like to sing as loudly as possible in terrible voices. I like to click and clap and drum beat on things. I like to whistle badly. I click all of my knuckles. Basically all the things that really annoy people. Also, if someone tells me to stop I have to do it at least 2 more times.

What do you do every single day?

I review. Sometimes I can’t help it and I might go over and over certain things I could have said or done better. Sometimes it’s an internal high 5, like ‘Good work today, you did it!’ but there’s almost always something that’s happened that’s worthy of reviewing. I think something coaching has taught me is that I want to also have a ‘So what?’ and a ‘What next?’ to make sure all that reviewing isn’t going to waste. A plan for tomorrow built upon today’s learning.

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Thanks Sam, the answers are brilliant, though I am not sure I could give up reading to fit everything else in like you do! You’re a serious self-sacrificing guy.

His key advice:

  • Fake it til you make it
  • Review each day to make next day better
  • Volunteering give you a stronger sense of purpose, self and happiness
  • Don’t compare yourself to others or let yourself be influenced by their negativity
  • Family is really important

You can discover more about Film at the Folk Hall here, and perhaps go see a show or two! They’ve got an outdoor event coming up this Bank Holiday, and you’d get to then meet the brilliant Sam in person.