In this episode I interview social impact entrepreneur, investor and EdTech pioneer Nick Novak, who spent years working intensively in high profile and high-growth EdTech platforms including Schoolnet and Arbor Education Partners. Nick had figured out his personal values some years before, but his Unlock Moment was the realisation that knowing was not enough – he had to take action in order to combat burnout and create the happy and fulfilling life he craved. It’s a powerful story that will resonate with anyone who is feeling stressed, overwhelmed and burned out, with guidance on practical steps you can take to change the narrative.
Find out more about Nick at: nicholasnovak.com
Nick Novak 0:06
I was so caught up in my, in my own self-confidence that, Oh, I’d done it, I’d figured it out, I had the formula for my happiness. Now I’m, I’m continuing this startup journey, this, this entrepreneurial hustle, I’m building things, it’s exciting, you know, doing the, doing the late hours, grinding it out, doing, doing cool stuff, the stuff that the world needs is really cool too! I, you know, I thought I was in such a good place. And the reality is, is I was, you know, completely burned out. We’re driving through this. And honestly, she gave me a bit of a wake-up call, you know, she was pointing out the impact to my health, the impact to my friends and family, the things that I was, the things that I wasn’t investing in. It was just very clear to me that I had to make a change.
Gary Crotaz 1:12
My name’s Dr. Gary Crotaz. And I’m a coach and author of The IDEA Mindset, a book about how to figure out what you want, and how to get it. The Unlock Moment is that flash of remarkable clarity, when you suddenly know the right path ahead. When I’m in conversation with my coaching clients, these are the breakthroughs that are so profound that they remember vividly where they were, who they were with, what they were thinking when their Unlock Moment happened. In this podcast, I’ll be meeting and learning about people who have accomplished great things, or brought about significant change in their life, and you’ll be meeting them with me. We’ll be finding out what inspired them, how they got through the hard times, and what they learned along the way that they can share with you. Thank you for joining me on this podcast to hear all about another Unlock Moment. Hello dear listener, and welcome to another episode of The Unlock Moment podcast. Today I’m so pleased to be joined by my good friend Nick Novak, dialling in today from Scotland. Nick is a social impact entrepreneur, investor, non-executive director and consultant. With over 15 years of driving growth for social enterprises across the UK, US and Africa, Nick is passionate about building customer-centric organisations that deliver positive impact. Despite living in Britain since 2012, he’s still no closer to losing his American accent or his love for baseball. I love talking on The Unlock Moment to people I know well, because I always learn so much that is new. And I’m sure today’s conversation will be no different. Nick, it is my great pleasure to welcome you to The Unlock Moment.
Nick Novak 2:53
Gary, it is fantastic to be here. Thank you so much for inviting me!
Gary Crotaz 2:57
How do you indulge your love for baseball whilst in the UK? Is there baseball in the UK? Or do you have to watch American baseball?
Nick Novak 3:04
So first of all, I was delighted to learn there is baseball in the UK. I was not expecting to find it. But, so we’ve been here, we’ve been here 10 years, actually 10 years as of yesterday, believe it or not, to the day. But shortly after arriving, we found a pickup game that has been played in Hyde Park every Sunday morning for something along the lines of the last 50 years. And it’s a, it’s a collection of expats and other people who are passing through and anyone’s welcome to join. I think we honestly just walked past them on a Sunday and I saw people playing baseball and I couldn’t believe my eyes. So I went over and had a chat and went to a couple of games. And they educated me on baseball in the UK, which is not not very far reaching, it, there isn’t, there aren’t really too many teams or leagues. The equivalent in the US would be something like a minor league team. But there are, there are, there are teams that play and I think one of the, one of the guys who joined on a Sunday was an umpire in one of those teams and it was just it was such a delight. So, so that is, yes is a little bit of baseball in the UK. I think when I talk with people about baseball here they say something like Oh, yeah, rounders, right? We played that in school, right? Something like that.
Gary Crotaz 4:18
Exactly. That’s, that’s what we played, rounders! And you have no idea what we’re talking about! I was quite good at rounders actually but I probably finished at the age of, I don’t know, 11 or 12, something like that.
Nick Novak 4:26
I got pulled into a game of rounders a few years ago, and I think I played it a tad too aggressively because I was bringing my baseball face to it. I was super into it. But it was good fun. It was good fun. So, so that and yes, I still follow my local team from the town I grew up in, which is Cleveland, Ohio. I have the Major League Baseball app. I subscribe to the games. I’ve watched them every now and then and for having a Sunday picnic, let’s say in a park somewhere, we might often just tune into the game on one of our phones and kind of just listen in live. So yeah, we stay tuned in. It is one of my happy places. First of all, Gary, I love that you’re asking about baseball because it’s so rare that I get to talk about it. It’s, it’s actually quite a joy. I’m sort of racking my brain of what do I say about baseball. I grew up going to baseball games with, with my my mother in particular. And sometimes my grandfather. At the time they were known as the Cleveland Indians, they’re now they’re now the Cleveland Guardians as of this season. We would go to these games in this giant stadium in Cleveland, Ohio. It was one of the largest baseball stadiums in the country at the time. But they were a terrible team. So there was never anyone there, you had all these empty seats. And so, so we’d get seats that were close to the field. And, and I would have enough space to kind of wobble around. And I learned, so I literally learned how to walk at a baseball stadium.
Gary Crotaz 5:59
How old were you? When you when you first went to baseball do you think?
Nick Novak 6:01
Yeah, I was, I was probably two or three when I first went to my first game, I don’t know. As I’m thinking about it, I must have been younger now. But my mom has this great story about how, when I was entering into the stadium one time that they were asking me how old I was. And if you were three or under, I think you got to go in free or something like that. And you know, I’m a toddler, my pronunciation isn’t that great. So I was, either I knew that I could say that I was free, or I was actually three years old. But all they were hearing was I’m free, I’m free, I get to go to a baseball game! And then, so…
Gary Crotaz 6:39
And you played when you were growing up?
Nick Novak 6:41
I played a little bit of baseball, played a little bit of softball, I played in the local rec leagues as they would call them. So this is just the the teams that aren’t tied to a school or anything, but anyone in a community can join. And I think like a good American kid, I played catch with my mom, most summer nights in front of the house and, oh, oh man, Gary, you’re putting me in my happy place now, this is wonderful. I never get to talk about this stuff.
Gary Crotaz 7:10
And it’s interesting, because I know we’re going to come and talk all about, you know, finding that life that you love. But it’s interesting, what you say there, is something I think I talk to a lot of people and they say that, that they’ve got a place when they know that they’re happy. And they’re not always, they don’t always get to find that spot.
Nick Novak 7:31
It’s challenging, it’s challenging, because there are things that have been tied to me since my childhood like baseball, where I can draw a very clear narrative on why it makes me happy. You know, I can, I can see the lines from childhood, to connections to friends, to memories with family. And it’s something that I can check in with when I watch a game or listen on the radio or, you know, it’s it’s a very, it’s a very simple straight line. And, and yet, you know, it is such a really small part of my life. And I think the challenge for for me over the past 10, 15 years has been really understanding, Okay, yes, that’s one little thing that I spend maybe an hour of my time on every week, maybe less. But clearly, that’s not the the entirety of things that make me happy. That’s not the entirety of things that bring me joy, that certainly doesn’t give me purpose. And going on the journey of understanding what are the things that make me happy and, and intentionally investing in those has been, has been the work over the past decade plus. And I’m so glad that you know, we started down that path. My wife and I started exploring this shortly after we were married, coming up on 15 years. And it was, it was something we kind of very intentionally stepped in together as we were thinking about how do we build a marriage? How do we build a relationship? And it is something that we continue to check in on and continue to work on together. And it’s, it’s been really enlightening.
Gary Crotaz 9:18
So today your career is, is what you might term a sort of pluralist or portfolio career, you do many, many different things. Was it always like that? Or did you start out in your career more sort of focused in, in doing one thing?
Nick Novak 9:34
Absolutely focused on one thing, yeah. So I think I had a much more traditional career at the start. So my, my background is in psychology and computer science. And I very, very quickly after university jumped into a career in IT because that’s kind of what I knew, that’s what I had been doing. I had some internships, it just very naturally went from one thing to another. So I worked in a, worked in a university system in, in tech, for a brief time worked at the University of Michigan in their Department of Psychology, sort of working with faculty and staff and helping them to manage the tech in their labs, which was a, for me a really interesting combination of my, of my tech and psychology backgrounds, because it’s one of the premier psych departments in the world. So that was, that was kind of fun. But it was very much I think, like a lot of people, moving organically from one thing to the next, you know, I had a plan, I wasn’t exactly, you know, stumbling forward and just living passively. But it was, in many ways, kind of the path of least resistance, and probably around 2007, when my wife and I were thinking about getting married, and we’re looking at what was coming next in life, and she had always had a dream of moving to New York, and we just started looking for jobs and just sort of, sort of hunting, see what was out there. And I was really grateful to connect with a team working in, in the education technology space, really doing some, some leading edge work with lots of the largest cities and, and several states across the US deploying this learning management system. And I, you know, jumped in with them, we moved to New York, we kind of made the jump and I was working in this rapidly expanding edtech space, which, you know, now this, this space has absolutely exploded, especially on the other side of the pandemic, but, but even then, it felt like it was just growing so rapidly, and thrilled to be a part of it. But it was, you know, very much a linear path. I continued that path in London, and we can kind of talk about what that, that story has been as well. But it really wasn’t until probably about 2017 that I started thinking about, again, those values, and how did I, how did I serve them? And was I serving them? And what, you know, I sort of sat down and told myself, at one point in my life, you know, these are the things that are important to me. But was I actually investing in those things on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis? And I think the answer very clearly was No. And so the portfolio career that emerged, I think was a product of investing in those things that made me happy, investing in those values. So the things that I do today cover a range of topics. So I’m involved on the edtech investment side, I’ve worked with a fund called UFI Ventures. And we’re investing in really kind of adult skills development. So sort of edtech for adults. I’ve worked with a range of startups in the primary and secondary side, whether it’s a bit of mentoring, or kind of even jumping in as part-time co-founder, let’s say to help them get a product off the ground, and kind of everything in between. But then in addition to that, because I’m choosing to spend time, not just in that edtech space, but, but invest in those things that really get me excited and bring joy. I’m also doing quite a bit of volunteer work, I’m kind of working in the wider world of impact and kind of getting a little bit into housing and homelessness. And I think because I haven’t boxed myself into solely working on a nine to five job Monday through Friday, it’s certainly given me more options. Yeah, there are days when I wonder, Am I you know, am I doing the right thing? Maybe it’s a little bit scary. But what I’ve very, very intentionally done is said, I’m going to trust that if I’m investing in these things that are core to who I am, that it’s going to work out. And, you know, I’ve been doing that for a little over five years. And so far, so good.
And I think I hear when you’re describing that, a phase in your career where your identity was something around, you know, psychology and computing, IT pre when edtech was a thing, maybe, I don’t know, is it through that edtech journey that you’ve transitioned into more of this identity as a, as an entrepreneur mindset?
Definitely, I think I had the great fortune of working with some amazing people early in my career. So when I moved to New York, I joined this team called Schoolnet and worked alongside a few individuals who were growing that business, Jonathan Harber, Luyen Chou, several others that have become major names in the space today. And I was able to support them in this journey we were going on, it was absolutely, you know, it was incredible. And so I think a little bit of their entrepreneurial spirit rubbed off on me, but also I think I was able to see what the journey looked like firsthand, I was able to understand what it meant to grow something, what it meant to kind of be that scrappy team that’s trying to trying to build something, to introduce something new to the market. it and it was, it was such an amazing education, I was so grateful for it to join at that point. And yeah, I think it absolutely just set me up for the startups that followed.
Gary Crotaz 15:09
And when you started in that, in that role in the US, did you know then what you were getting yourself into?
Nick Novak 15:14
I had no idea, I was terrified! I think, I think I showed up at that company the first day, and I was coming from a university setting, I was coming from very comfortable, well funded massive institutions, and jumping to a scale up, and they were, you know, they were doing okay, they weren’t in the early startup days, you know, they had, they’d been running for a few years. But it was still a massive shift for me. And I remember, I remember, I think I was wearing, you know, a tie my first day. And I remember showing up at, I think, eight o’clock at the office. And, and, first of all, not only the only person wearing a tie, but also the only person in New York showing up at work at eight o’clock, and colleagues are fumbling it around like 9:30, 10 or whatever. And, you know, I’m there, I’m showing up at 8 and I’m working till 5. Isn’t this is what everybody does? I don’t understand! And, you know, everyone was, was really delightful. I can look at that, look at that kid now and see how naive he was, just the whole experience. But I was so grateful also to be welcomed by everyone and sort of be being taken under their, under their wings, and just taught so much about what it meant to build a tech company. It was a great journey, a really great journey.
Gary Crotaz 16:34
And you were open in your mindset then to learn and to do things outside your comfort zone?
Nick Novak 16:40
Absolutely, I think I was able to jump into that partially because of the great community at that, that company. And also, I think I just bought into the whole energy of New York City to be honest, the, the hustle culture, the whole thing, and for better for worse, I loved stepping out into the, into the energy of the city after work. I, you know, would often, we lived in lower Manhattan and the office was in Midtown. And I would often step out and, and walk home from there, which would take an hour plus, you know, just soaking in the energy of the city the whole way. And, and oh, yeah, it was just, it was the perfect thing for me at that moment in my life. And I don’t think I appreciated how transformative it was at the time. But I can look back on it now. And I can just see the entrepreneurial hustle energy of New York City just seeping into this 27 year old as he’s figuring out his life. And it was great. I’m so I’m so glad that I had that.
Gary Crotaz 17:45
Jumping in with both feet. And, you know, you’re describing that sort of being fully immersed in the New York, whole New York culture and environment, you know, in work, out of work, the whole, the whole 24/7 thing. Tell me about how you got your first job in London?
Nick Novak 18:05
Yeah, so you’ll be familiar with the story a little bit, it is interesting. So I was living in New York, first of all right? Working at this company, loving every minute of it. We were doing quite well, you know, I was spending 100% of my time travelling domestically across the US. I was running some of our biggest projects, helping us to close some of our biggest deals, it was, it was a company where I had, you know, I’d started as very, very junior and then risen through the ranks and just was having a blast running some really big, impactful stuff, working with state governments, meeting with elected leaders was just absolutely brilliant. So I’m kind of riding this high. And my wife, Allison is, is in London every every month for about two or three weeks. And at some point, we said, you know, we’re married, we’d like to see each other. How do we make this work? And so we started thinking about, Oh, well, maybe we should, we should make the jump. Her company been itching to relocate her for a little while and right about that time also, our company in New York was acquired by Pearson. So it felt like we were over the scrappy kids to finally made it. We had all this resource, we had options. But also it was a nice time for me to reevaluate, you know, where do I want to go next? And so, so we gave her company the, the green light and said, Yep, we’re going to do it. We reached out to you guys, reached out to you and Mildred. And I think, I think we had lunch at some point with you. We hadn’t even moved yet. We’re just having lunch and sitting down saying, Hey, I think we’re going to, we’re going to do this, we’re going to, telling you what we’re kind of looking for. And then I get a call from Mildred or an email from Mildred a couple of weeks later, saying, I kind of met these guys because they’re moving into our old office space and as Mildred’s moving out. And, and they said they’re, you know, they’re looking for some sort of education technology guy. They’re kind of hard to find, and, and I believe as Mildred tells it, I think I know a guy, and she brings up my website or something and she’s like, No, no, no, really actually, this might be the guy. And one thing leads to another, I connect with, with this brand new team. They had some designs and, and some ideas, a bit of a business plan, very, very early-stage product that they were working on. And I was, I was brought in effectively on what kind of felt like day two with the business. You talk about jumping in with both feet, and just saying, Hey, this is an interesting opportunity. I’m going to see where it goes. It was exactly one of those moments. You know, I met up with, with the co-founders, had a, had a quick lunch while, while again, we hadn’t even moved to London yet. I think we were just still, we were still working on the move. We were still just trying to get the logistics ironed out. Sat down with these guys, had a great conversation, we got on really well. And before I knew it, I had a, had a contract signed up, before, actually before we even officially relocated. It was just, it was clearly meant to be. So yes, I owe, and will forever owe Mildred a huge thank you for that connection. But it genuinely was one of these things where, you know, it felt like I was, I was being led somewhere. And I just had to trust that and I just had to, to say, hey, here’s an opportunity, things are clicking, I’m going to try to show up as myself. And if, if it works, it works. And if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.
Gary Crotaz 21:57
It reminds me of that great quote by Sheryl Sandberg. If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat, just get on.
Nick Novak 22:05
It was a little bit like that. More than just being offered the seat, it was very clear that, that I was ready to sit in that seat, that everything had just aligned, I didn’t feel like I was in over my head, it felt like everything in my career had led me to that point. And it was, it was just fun to say yes to it. When you see the rocket ship in front of you, and you just go for it, it can be quite a rush.
Gary Crotaz 22:34
When I’m working with my coaching clients, one of the first things that we talk about is values. Because if you don’t know what your values are, and, and when I say values, I mean not only things that are important to you, but things that are so important to you that you change your behaviours as a result of them, you start to do things you weren’t doing before, you stop doing things that don’t fit with your values. If you don’t have that then it can be quite difficult to make these kind of decisions. And I’m, I’m noticing in your, in your story that I think the time when you first thought, thought about with, with your wife, mapping out what those values were, that was before you started in that, in that role. So, so how did that help you to be able to make that decision to jump on the rocket ship?
Nick Novak 23:27
I’m not sure I, I fully, I fully knew what to do with my values. In 2007 we… this was in 2008 rather, sorry, we were just married. And we had sort of sat down at some point and said, you know, we hear, we hear money’s this thing that can really, really get in the middle of relationships, it can tear people up, like we should, we should read some books, we should kind of get our house in order on this. And again, a very naive exploration of, of just what what it meant to tackle that issue in a marriage. And so we picked up a whole bunch of books. And one of those was… and I cringe every time I think about this title, but you know, it is what it is! It’s by David Bach. It’s called Smart Couples Finish Rich and, oh boy, I know, I know! If only your listeners could see that you’re laughing! Oh, my God, this title! But, aside from any of the financial advice in it, it had this exercise which was quite transformative. And it’s one that I often come back to. And it was something that he called the Value Circle. And there’s, you can get into the complexities of, of the actual Circle itself and weighing things up and blah, blah, blah, all that but it really just boils down to this. It’s understanding what are the five things that make you happy, you know, not ranking them, just what are sort of five pillars of your life? That bring you joy, that make you happy. Asking yourself what those are, mapping it, and then investing in that. You know, not just saying, Oh, I like to go camping, I like to do this, or whatever. It’s, it’s, it’s saying these are the, these are the things that really, not just make me who I am, but really bring me joy on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis. And then doing something about it together, whether it’s as a couple, how you spend your money, or spend your time, or whatever it is, it’s it’s truly just making sure that you invest intentionally in that. And so we read this book, and we go through the exercise and I, and I, and I think I very quickly rattle off my, my five. Freedom, and that isn’t like in an a Go America way! Freedom for me meant owning my time, you know, being able to spend my time the way I want. The second one, which was quite abstract and, and Allison gives me a little bit of grief for, understandably. Second one is is Energy. And for me what that means is doing things like this, is new experiences, new people, jumping in and trying things, and you know, that was one that was kind of difficult for me to wrap my head around. I think when I first said it, I was equating it to skydiving or something like that, just you know, I grew up as a very introverted kid, or at least I thought I did. I was, I was a very nerdy kid, still quite a nerdy kid! But, but that, but that, to me meant, meant introvert. And I think what I’ve discovered over time is actually I do get my energy from being around other people, I am an extrovert. Understanding that and leaning into that matters, you know, it means that, you know, I’ll want to do the podcast with Gary, or I’ll want to go get a coffee with someone, you know, or I’m just gonna ping that, that CEO on LinkedIn and say, Hey, how can I help, I’m just gonna sort of reach out and do things, have new experiences, and new people. Values three and four were our Friends and Family. Maybe self-explanatory, but for me it’s something that has always been, always been important. And that, that can mean not just spending time with people. But if, for example, when I was in New York, saying that family was important meant on that walk home from, from Midtown, from time to time, or if I’m getting off the subway, or whatever it would be, I would just take out my phone and pick one of the family or friends favourites and talk to someone for 15 minutes or an hour or whatever it would be. But I would just, in my mind, mark that time as my sort of friends and family catch-up time. And that may sound like a really minor thing. But it meant that I had this discipline of doing it every week. And that discipline of investing in something that, that I know brings me happiness. And then the fifth one for me is Service. And, and this value can, can take shape in a number of different ways. Sometimes it, it overlaps quite a bit with, with faith, but it, but I’d say the more abstract version is, with my whole life, I’ve just wanted to help. You know if anyone ever said what I wanted to do in my career, with my time, I would almost always respond with, Oh I just want to help people. And I didn’t really know what that meant for a long time. But I knew that it was something that I was called to do in some capacity. And I think it was this which drove me to social enterprise very early on in my career. Freedom, Energy, Family, Friends and Service. And I mapped these in 2008. Some of them were pretty clear to me. So the family and friends thing, getting on the phone with someone, giving them, giving someone a call from time to time, that was clear. Freedom, Energy, I’m not sure I totally understood how to make that work. But that’s where it started. And then it was about going on this journey over the following nearly 15 years to look at, Okay, well how do I really, intentionally invest in these things? How do I make it more than just a phone call from time to time? And when I’m feeling low, when I’m feeling unhappy, when I’m feeling beaten down by something, taking a step back and saying, am I investing in my values? In almost every case, I can look back and I can see very clearly my unhappiness with work, or life, or whatever it might be. There’s a clear correlation between that unhappiness and a lack of investment in the things that I’ve said make me happy.
Gary Crotaz 29:47
It’s very interesting.
Nick Novak 29:48
It’s so clear. And what’s so funny about all this is, this doesn’t sound overly complex. It’s not. But you know, we get so caught up in the whirlwind of life or get caught up in doing that thing that we think we’re supposed to be doing, or just trying to get that project over the line or whatever it is, that, you know, perhaps in some cases, because we’ve jumped in with two feet to try to do that one thing, to just do it really, really well, we sometimes forget the, actually you need to jump in with two feet to the next thing, you need to take time away, you need to understand when it’s time to step back from something, those have been hard, hard learned lessons.
Gary Crotaz 30:30
It’s why I really wanted to, to bring you on to tell the story, because, so where The Unlock Moment came from, was when I was doing my first work with with coaches a few years back. And actually, episode number one of the podcast is with a guy called Samuel Haughton, who’s an actor, he was one of the first people I worked with. And what I figured out was that knowing is a different point in the journey from an Unlock Moment, or the Unlock Moment. So knowing is, I give you a piece of paper or give you an exercise, do you want to think about and write down what you think your values are, and what that means and how it manifests. And you can do the homework, and you can write it down, and you can read it through, and you can go, Yeah, that makes sense. There’s a different moment, which is the Unlock Moment, which is when it suddenly becomes clear. And that can be any time of day or night. It can be when you’re doing the work. But it could be when you’re doing the washing up, it could be when you walking the dog. It could be when you’re in the shower, it’s the moment where you, it sort of all lands. And I remember with, with Sam, it was probably five or six months after he’d done the work to evaluate two particular choices. And he was in, he was travelling, he was in Korea on a project. And he texted me at four o’clock in the morning my time and some crazy time for his time. And he went, I figured it out. I think this is the answer. And I was like, I don’t know whether that’s the right answer or not. But the fact that you’re texting me at four o’clock in the morning implies that it’s probably quite important to you. And there’s something similar in this story, because that, when you did the work was a long time before what you describe as your Unlock Moment. So bring us into that time where, you know, it’s, it suddenly became clear what you need to do with this thing that you’d created years previously.
Nick Novak 32:39
Yeah, absolutely. And it’s very clear to me when that happened, because I, I was so caught up in my, in my own self-confidence that, Oh, I had done it, I’d figured it out, I had the formula for my happiness. And now I’m, I’m continuing this startup journey, this, this entrepreneurial hustle, I’m building things, it’s exciting, you know, doing the, doing the late hours, grinding it out, you know, doing doing cool stuff, the stuff that the world thinks is really cool, too! I, you know, I thought I was in such a good place. And the reality is, is I was, you know, completely burned out. As I think happens to so many people who are, who are building their own things, you, you can kind of get caught up in it, and you can lose part of yourself. And I think I really did. You know, if I look at how I was spending my time, it looks so much like any other startup leadership, team member, where you’re doing the long nights, and you’re, you know, you’re maybe not seeing friends and family, but you’re, you’re getting that thing rolled out that’s getting lots of praise. And it’s seems like it’s going well, but I you know, I feel like I genuinely kind of had blinders on for the rest of the world for a couple of years there. I think I became aware that I had cut people and other special moments out of my life. And that was kind of shocking to me. And so I decided to take a step back, to really look at the values that I had laid out for myself and to ask if I was investing in those things, if I was doing the things that I say are so important to me. You know, did I have freedom to spend my time the way I wanted to? Was I getting energised by going out and having new experiences with new people? Was I investing in my friends and family? Was I of service to others and the answer across the board was pretty much, No. I took a step back. And I remember kind of getting advice from friends, from my wife, and saying, you should just take a few months off and just, just kind of just, just sit and play video games for a few months, something like, just decompress. But I think once I realised what I wasn’t doing, I just got so excited about doing it right, about investing in myself again. So it started off with going to the gym every day, having breakfast with my wife every day, and you know, making her breakfast and, and enjoying that time together. And I’m happy to say that’s a tradition that we’ve kept pretty much every day since, which has been wonderful. And then I started reaching out into my professional network, I started getting those coffees with other entrepreneurs, just to, just to say hello, or pick their brain or, you know, help out in a project here and there, whatever it might be. I started volunteering more, I started getting, you know, getting a pint with, with someone, you know, during the week, during the evening, you know, I started being able to spend more time with, with family, and I just started doing these things. And, and every week, I would be asking myself, Okay, what did you do this week that fed freedom that fed energy, family, friends and service? Organically from that process, this portfolio career emerged where I have more freedom. Yes, it’s a little bit scary sometimes, because I don’t have the nine to five job. But I do have the freedom, which I say is important to me. And I have to continue to remind myself of that. I get energy from all these new interactions. And, you know, I’m, I am, I’m just, I just found myself doing it. I had a consultancy that that emerged from all those conversations, going up, having those coffees that people, had peers in the industry pulled me into various projects. And I had sort of told myself, right, well, let’s kind of go down this path for a month, maybe two months, let’s see how it goes. Let’s see if I can replace my income with, with this new way of doing things, and if I can, great, then, then maybe this is, this is going to work. And then we’ll try it the next month, and the next month, and so on and so forth. I got to a month later. And actually, the pieces were coming together, and then got to two months later, and three months later, it just, it worked out. And it was such an amazing thing to see because I was making these moves intentionally. But I wasn’t trying to just focus on one traditional path. I wasn’t trying to just chase after one thing in particular, I was just really genuinely every week just trying to say, am I living my life in accordance with my values? I’ve just tried to keep doing that since. And the journey is evolving. But that was, that was really, that was that Unlock Moment for me, when I saw the fruit of investing in myself in this very, very short term, very focused, very intentional way, just immediately started paying off.
Gary Crotaz 38:29
So I want to bring you back up a little bit. So, context for the listener, so you joined Arbor, you know, one room. Which number employee, were you?
Nick Novak 38:43
Actual number employee, probably something around five?
Gary Crotaz 38:47
And at the point that, that you finished with, with that business, paint a picture of what, what that business was?
Nick Novak 38:54
So when I joined, we were, so first of all, it’s an education company. And so they were building a database for, for schools, and it’s an oversimplification. But if you think about, if you think about Salesforce or something like that, you know, schools all around the world have to have their own version of that. But traditionally, it’s only been used to collect data on who’s here, who are the staff that are, that are here today, basic attendance, and then that information is submitted to the government. And it, it has, you know, over time, it’ll maybe process some academic information too. But it was really used as a compliance tool more than anything else, it wasn’t really being used to drive instruction. So informed decisions on policy and it wasn’t being used to engage parents. It wasn’t really being used to address the the day-to-day challenges of the school. And so we were building a challenger product. We were working with one very, very patient, alpha client, and the time I left, they had a footprint in one out of every three schools in England.
Gary Crotaz 40:11
It’s amazing, isn’t it? From those small beginnings?
Nick Novak 40:15
Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. So I was, again, really excited about it, put a lot of energy into it and kind of built my life around that thing for about five and a half years.
Gary Crotaz 40:24
So when when you’ve had, you’d had that experience, it’d been very intensive, very successful. Very intensive, you describe that you, you’d reached in your sort of whole working life, this, this, you know, a point of burnout. When was the moment when you knew that you needed to apply your values in a different way, you need to think about them differently? Do you remember the trigger where it was a particular moment when you thought this becomes real?
Nick Novak 40:53
So I don’t know that I’ve really ever told this story, but I remember very clearly. So we were back in the US, my wife and I were back in the US. And we were taking a drive in this area called the Emerald Necklace in Ohio, which is essentially a, it’s called the emerald necklace because if you look on a map there’s a string of parks that, that sort of form this shape around Northern Ohio. And so we’re, we’re driving through this, and honestly, she gave me a bit of a wake-up call, you know, she was pointing out the impact to my health, the impact to my friends and family, the things that I was, things that I wasn’t investing in. It was just very clear to me that I had to make a change. And we came back from that trip. And in my mind, I had you know, I had I decided to step back, and we kind of got the ball rolling on that. But it was a, it was a very clear moment for me. It was entirely about me actually, nothing about the company at all, it was purely just, How am I living my life? And what are the, what are the things that I need to be investing in? It took me, I think it took it took me several months to take the jump to do it. But that was very much the moment when I realised that I needed to make that change.
Gary Crotaz 42:22
I talk to quite a lot of people about the concept of a post-it note moment. A post-it note moment from my own background, and I’ve told the story in a couple of other episodes where, I had a particular situation in, in a role I was in, where I decided coming out of a meeting that I was at some point going to move on and I walked past my colleague’s desk, wrote on a post-it note, “I’m leaving,” and put the post-it note on her desk and carried on walking. And she said, Where are you going? When are you leaving? And I said, I don’t know, I haven’t decided that yet. All I’ve decided is that at some point in time I’m leaving. So you know, as we talked about, there, there can be a, quite a significant gap in time between knowing what your values are, and figuring out that actually, you’ve got to do something differently to align with them. Equally, there can be a gap in time between having your Unlock Moment that I know this has got to change, and then you described over the next few months, you actually go through the process of starting to make that change happen. And I think a lot of people that I talk to, they, they can’t move forward because they feel that that’s all got to be the same. But actually, I’m not sure it does. I think that, that you’ve got to find that Unlock Moment of clarity. Once you have clarity, the strategy, the plan, putting it into action isn’t easy, but, but it’s going to happen. Because you’ve got that clarity.
Nick Novak 43:48
Absolutely, absolutely. It’s just the decision to do it. It’s deciding you’re gonna go to the moon, but you don’t know how you’re going to get there. But you’re just deciding to do it. And then you start working on it.
Gary Crotaz 43:59
And what was it about the environment for you, and I say environment in a very holistic way, that made you able to hear that message from your wife, and find that Unlock Moment of clarity?
Nick Novak 44:13
I think when you’re sitting down with… this I would hope for for most people, for most of us… when you’re sitting down with someone who’s one of the most, if not the most important people in your life, there’s a certain way they can say something that really makes sure that you’re listening. It’s not about getting into a fight or a debate. It’s just you know when someone you love looks you in the eye and and they know that they have your attention and they tell you a truth about yourself. I think it was that simple. It was that simple. And then it was, Okay, now what am I going to do about it? And once I heard it, once I received it, once I understood what it meant for me that I needed a change, the decision was made, the decision to do something different was, was, was made, then it came to me to figure out what does different mean? And, and I knew it had, had to be significant, I knew it had to be drastic. But it was just about then putting into action, as I say, trying to figure out how to get to the moon.
Gary Crotaz 45:40
And when you look back now, with the benefit of hindsight, what what have you learned about yourself, having gone through that experience?
Nick Novak 45:52
I’ve learned that therapy is great. I recommend it for everyone! I think I have learned to listen to, listen to my body, probably more than I ever have really. So when I’m, when I’m tired, when I’m exhausted, trying to understand why, when I’m frustrated, when I feel stuck, just being able to take a step back and try to understand why. You know, like some people will get that from from meditation. It certainly has its parallels there. But even if you’re not doing a formal meditation, just being able to just observe what is happening in your mind, what is happening in your body, trying to understand what action you need to take to change whatever’s coming next, I think that, that’s something I learned. And not to get, you know, too, too sappy on you Gary, but I think the other big thing that I have learned over the last couple of years truly, is just to understand what it is to be loved unconditionally, you know, to know that I can make mistakes in my life, and it’s okay. And then I’ll still be loved tomorrow. I can continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. And it’s okay, you know, that, that my, my choices, my successes are, are not the thing that will, that will decrease or increase the love in my life, you know, I just, that I just am loved as a baseline, you know, by people, by God, that it’s there. I think that has been probably one of the most significant revelations for me over the last couple of years. So that, so basically love, God and therapy, those are the three things.
Gary Crotaz 47:53
So bring you right into the present. And you’re sitting up in Scotland looking out the window at the beautiful Highlands of Scotland. What does that represent for you now in terms of this life you’ve created?
Nick Novak 48:05
Um, yeah, yeah, this, I think it’s interesting. This is another one of these, you just jump in with two feet. So, so we are avid mountaineers, as you know, we you know, we try to get out whenever we can, bit of hiking, hill walking, bit of rock climbing. And that’s been great fun. It’s something that we’ve, we’ve invested more and more in the past few years. So we have for the longest time thought we should, we should have a place in the Highlands. And we had debated it and we weren’t sure when, but you know, we could casually be looking and we were away for, for New Years. We’ve had a tradition for, for many years of going to a small farm outside of Fort William. And it’s right on the edge of the, of this range called the Grey Corries, which is not too far from, from Ben Nevis. And we were just sitting there, sitting around the fire on another terribly stormy, rainy day, we were up there for 10 days, we had two days of good weather. So we had lots of time to reflect on life and priorities and all that. And as part of that we, we found ourselves just thinking, Oh, well, you know, it’s got to be here. We’ve thought about Wales, thought about some other places, we just, we love this space. We love being in the outdoors. We know how healthy it is for, for us, we know that we want to share it with people. We know that we want to be more active in the outdoors. You know, there are all sorts of ideas around professional things you might do in the outdoors as well. Allison, a couple of years ago picked up her mountain leader certification. So we’re really thinking about stringing that together in a few different ways. Really just came down to sort of jumping in that we, we decided that we were going to do it. And so we, we once again started looking at places in January, this place popped on the market, we saw it. And I think over the span of a week, we went from seeing this listing to putting in our offer. And that was it. And here we are, we’re now stripping wallpaper for the next, you know, couple months, assembling furniture and all that. But it really was one of these, these, these moments of clarity, we just, we knew that being up here was good for the soul, it was going to be good for people in our lives, we want to share with them and, and in, in a way kind of following, just following the formula that we’ve seen in other times in our lives, when you see that, that opportunity that comes up, you go for it. And then if the pieces are falling into place, you keep following it, it’s that sign that you are where you need to be. And actually, since we showed up here a week ago now, it feels like, you know, every time we go find a piece of furniture on Gumtree, or we you know, go to meet a neighbour or, whatever task we’re trying, it just feels like every little piece is falling into place and giving us the signals that we’re in, we are where we need to be. So trying to jump in with both feet and make the most of the opportunity. And we’ll see where it leads us.
Gary Crotaz 51:29
I think it’s an amazing story. And I love how that sort of closes out the story. Because that, that common thread that runs all the way through in terms of, you know, sort of following your heart, jumping in with both feet. And, you know, taking a chance on things leads you to a place that enables you to live, live life with values. The Unlock Moment is that flash of remarkable clarity, when you suddenly know the right path ahead. For Nick, it was the realisation that knowing your values is not enough, you have to start living intentionally by them to truly create the life you love. Shifting from knowing to doing changed everything and enabled him to shape a life with a deep sense of purpose, impact and authenticity. Nick, thank you so much for joining me today on The Unlock Moment.
Nick Novak 52:16
Gary this has been so great. Really just thank you for the opportunity to share and, and I hope that we will pick up something useful from this.
Gary Crotaz 52:25
Thank you so much, Nick, and for people that want to find out more about you, where can they find out, find out more about you?
Nick Novak 52:30
So you can find me on LinkedIn, Nicholas Novak. Or you can go to NicholasNovak.com That’ll connect you to all the social channels and, and my consultancy and everything else that I’m doing.
Gary Crotaz 52:41
Fantastic. And we’ll put all the links in show notes for listeners as well. Thank you so much for joining today.
Nick Novak 52:45
Thank you, Gary.
Gary Crotaz 52:48
This has been The Unlock Moment, a podcast with me Dr. Gary Crotaz. Thank you for listening in. You can find out more about how to figure out what you want and how to get it in my book, The IDEA Mindset, available in physical book, ebook and audiobook formats. Follow me on Instagram, and subscribe to this podcast to get notified about future episodes. Join me again soon!