Mike Schneider, Mental Health First Aid Training

#53 A life of service – Jon Owen, CEO and Pastor, Wayside Chapel (s03ep9) | Mental Health First Aid

Sep 8, 2023

Jon Owen, the CEO and Pastor of the Wayside Chapel in Sydney, is proud of their continuing mission of creating a community of no ‘us and them’. In his role as CEO, he leads a team of 110 employees and 800 volunteers. Jon is passionate about how the community can play a role in everyone having a better life. He cares deeply about the people he serves and is a passionate communicator. He is not afraid to take on big challenges. Jon has a great sense of humour and has a real spirit for service. His story is inspiring, however he is very humble.
"It's truly a caring leadership culture, and a caring workplace will always assert their humanity, as how we do anything is how we do everything."
- Jon Owen


  • What caring means in the workplace for Jon
  • Jon’s continuing mission of creating community of no ‘us and them’
  • How the community can play a role in everyone having a better life
  • Talk about stepping up


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Transcript from the interview

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Graeme Cowan, Jon Owen

Graeme Cowan 0:04   

It’s a real pleasure to welcome John Owen to The Caring CEO. Welcome, John.  


Jon Owen 0:10   

Thanks, Graeme.  


Graeme Cowan 0:12   

What does care in the workplace mean to you?  


Jon Owen 0:16   

I think the best way to begin to answer that question would be to explore for me what, what care isn’t what better way to do that than to weave in some of the great philosophers of our time. You know, I like a poem by Rumi and admittedly, it’s overused and over quoted, and it’s often got nothing to do with anything other than to people wanting to make love. But you know, where it is, you know, there’s a field, somewhere out between ideas of right and wrong, and I’ll meet you there where two people can ever a human connection. And we also lean on the philosophy heavily. And I also do personally, as well of Martin Buber that, who says that no one’s a problem to be solved, they’re a person to be met. And so when we think about the principles of care and extend them to the workplace is to say that, first and foremost, we are all meaning seeking creatures who have found our ways into structures called organisations that often can strip us of our humanity, get us lost within frameworks of management, and we often collodion our own demise. It’s a truly caring leadership culture and a truly caring workplace will always assert their humanity, as I think how we do anything is how we do everything and often in Wayside Chapel is working in the caring space in the not for profit charity sector is, you know, we can often extend our philosophy saying, you know, we’re here to care for the most vulnerable in our society. And at the same time, as we live that call out, we can often be quite uncaring towards our colleagues, and those around us. And you know, and that, you know, if we have infinite love and compassion for those who need our help, you know, weird way to use that phrase, but then only infinite judgment for those around us, then, you know, we really run the risk of showing our true colors of being a bit of a phony. So, so many organisations believe that love should stop at the front door, even not for profit, so, and this is the antithesis to the kind of culture we’re trying to create the kind of world we’re trying to create to that. We know that if every person who walks through our doors can really feel that they’re working in a loving and caring culture, they will always, as we see in our surveys report high levels of satisfaction and teamwork and in greater affection for colleagues, which, you know, well means we perform better because we are, we’re a part of a tribe that’s trying to change the world. So– We created for connection, right? And what that should extend into the places where we, most of us in our adult lives, will spend more time than we often do some weeks or during the week, at least with our own families. 


Graeme Cowan 3:31   

One of the things that I think might be good to explain for people, especially those that aren’t from Sydney, or even from Australia, could you just give a quick overview of the amazing work that The Wayside Chapel does? 


Jon Owen 3:45   

It all began in 1964 when a bit of an iconic, classic young minister kind of shut the doors on church convention and threw them open to the broader family of humanity, as he called them. And, you know, at that time, King’s Christ was kind of we’ll Sydney is an arrogant place, right? Let’s be frank, and I’ve lived here most of my life, but I grew up in Melbourne, you know, we claim that we are the center of Australia. If we do take that arrogant premise, which we should, we would say that King’s Cross is at the heart of Sydney as well. And so, it’s always held a an iconic space in the place of this state’s heart. It’s also the place that first saw it’s the highest until very recently was the highest density of any population of our nation and it has a naval base at the bottom and a kind of ritzy district at the top. So, it’s the place where you know we heroin first came into Australia, the drugs and heroin crisis of that time, and then the HIV epidemic really was centered around that Kings Cross area and police corruption. It was nightclubs and Bohemians and hippies and everything thing that was happening was always happening in the crust. And right in the middle of that was this young, this tiny little chapel that kept its lights on and its doors open and, without saying more, care for the family of humanity. And it’s a place from which so much not only love and care and compassion, but a place of social protests, not, it’s not, we’re never just content to say, look, you just get on with your business of living life. And if anyone doesn’t fit into that mold, you know, will care for them. It’s saying, you know, the truth about any society will always be found from the edges. And they always will give us a message that if we’re bold enough, we will pay attention to, you know, so we’ve so many iconic things have kind of been sparked from that place that the Freedom Rides with the Aboriginal community left from the doorstep of Wayside Chapel that was a real seminal pivotal moment in our understanding of white and black relations, particularly politically and racially in our country. And, you know, lifeline had its some very fledgling beginnings here then went off to Wesley mission where it really began its journey life education, you know what the joke is, if you’ve ever, if you’ve ever learned about drugs in the back of a, of a caravan from a talking giraffe, that’s a very fuzzy experience, right. And so healthy Harrell began here, because everything started from a reason saying, you know, saying we opened the doors, and people were dying in front of us as the drugs hit, hit, heroin was brought up by the American military through the Vietnam War. And all of a sudden, we had people who were just zoning out and dying and overdosing as well. And so, we always say, so it was about based on the potential of humanity, as well. And the supervised injecting center actually started at Wayside as an act of civil disobedience because we’re sick of opening our doors and picking up dead bodies at the front. So, it’s always held a really edgy space in, in people’s hearts. And it’s a, it’s a quite a daunting, but beautiful legacy to continue to be a part of, and to hopefully push forward. well beyond my time there. 


Graeme Cowan 7:10   

Yeah, that Ted Nos was certainly a rebel, but an amazing man. And funnily enough, about, almost 30 years ago, I was with a service group called Apex. And we had a national fundraising event for life education, and Harold and donated the, you know, nice chunk of money. But then at the same time, I was working for Johnson and Johnson. And Johnson and Johnson through been by lobbying made life education, they made a cause for their children’s area. And as a result, they donated $100,000, which is a lot in those days. So yeah, that’s how I’ve known The Wayside Chapel. But through that, really involvement. But what are the other, what– I know that life education has been separated now? And it makes sense. But what are the range of services the Wayside now offers? 


Jon Owen 8:09   

So, we always, I always say to my team, you know, that’s the programs we run are never permanent. That’s a good lesson for most nonprofits is we have these great front doors where we start everything, but we never actually evaluate them properly against our mission and our vision. And where are we heading? And does this still fit in with that, and unfortunately, we stay far too loyal to where we do this, because we’ve always done it. And you ask the question, well, why do we always do it? And I said, well, well, you know, Moira and Murgatroyd, started in 1934. And, you know, I think they their second cousin twice, removed two comes about once every 10 years would be really upset if we stopped doing it. Why? Well, guys, you know, that we’re not here to be a, you know, we’re our places should be places of life and forward in any kind of health looks at our past and our heritage, but also then looks forward to who were becoming as a way to honor who we were and who we are today. That’s a long setup to say, right now, we’re always at our best when we open the door our doors and embrace everyone who walks through them. So we’re seeing a lot of people who still struggling with, particularly now with these difficult financial times, people who are at risk of homelessness, many who have been working their whole lives just very slowly and steadily at blue collar jobs and all of a sudden, they can’t, they can’t make ends meet their utilities have run out of control. Their rent has been increased and they’re having to make some horrible decisions between do I hate, or do I eat or do I? What if my kid has a medical emergency and, you know, so we’re seeing a significant cohort A lot of people come through who were very angry, angry, not with us but angry saying, I played by the rules. So why am I here? Also, we’re, you know, we’re seeing a lot of with the heightened increase in awareness of what family and domestic violence is. And coercive control, we’re seeing a lot more women starting to present at our centers are seeing a lot of women and all often they have children with them. This sector is reeling, and we’re about to head into homelessness week, soon, and what we’re going to see is a lot of media about how women and children don’t really fit into many of the service models there. And the reason is, we’ve never before had to deal with it. You know, we’ve always assumed that rough sleeping and homelessness isn’t is a male, middle aged to late age problem. Men who haven’t grown up properly and ended up on their own are the ones who front into our centers, but we’re seeing a significant shift in demographic, in fact, the highest represented cohort would be a woman in their, in their 60s, mid 60s Now, which is kind of terrifying. They’re out there generally our mums, and our and our grandmas ages who are coming here. So, we run services or women’s space there, we’re running some work for men, men’s works really needed at this moment. We’re working with our community there, you know, that’s the highest cohort are the people who are taking their own lives and don’t really know who to turn to through difficult times. So, I think it’s really important to acknowledge that, for all the great advances that we’re making, in services to ethnically and gender diverse and coops cohorts of our community is many struggling, struggling with identity. And if we’re not there with them, they often will not only take it out on themselves, but their families and communities. And we also do a lot of work just in creating community building community and helping people get on a journey of housing health, particularly working with a lot of rough sleepers. You know, when you’re on the streets, the statistics about 80% of people have a, an issue with their mental health. But you know, what we see is it’s closer to 100%. You know, if even if you or I were to have to end up on the street tomorrow night, we’d be pretty anxious. And, and then to have just a fall asleep, we may end up, you know, taking whatever, we could find or afford, you know, maybe a couple of liters of cask wine. And those things pretty quickly accelerate and exacerbate each other. And so, a lot of work there and helping people go on the housing journey, which is not as simple as it seems. Because at significant transition points, we often feel very lonely. Just think about it when you are I move home or move state for work, you know, these transition points, having a baby is also correlated with one of the times where you can be loneliness– loneliest in life because of you know, the sudden enormity of the task upon you. And you know, it’s often a full-time job to be a rough sleeper, just to find shelter and food, let alone having to attend to anything else you have to do there. So, we walk with people, but we say we don’t try and fix anyone, we don’t tell anyone what they weren’t there to do. And we said that everyone has a right to make any decision, even bad ones. And as because I’m also a minister, I will say, you know, I often I will just the greatest contribution we can make into people’s life is grief and sadness. So, I sometimes say to people, Graeme, I say, I wish you could see what I see. I wish you could see the potential, but I also acknowledge that you’re being driven by self-hate from forces that were well beyond your control. And– but just let me tell you, I love you. And if you continue to go down that path, I’ll give you a great funeral. And I promise I’ll wait at your funeral as well. But, man, I wish you could just wake up to your potentiality and, and you know I– it’s not a rehearsed speech, but I’ve given it a few times, and I’ve done more funerals than I haven’t. But I’ve also, I’ve seen some amazing resurrections if we want to say through that time. 


Graeme Cowan 14:26   

As I understand that you grew up in a Malaysian family recently arrived in Australia. And as I read it, your mother and father hoped to become a doctor or at least a lawyer. You were studying computer science and you just dropped out and as I understand it, to help in the community. How did you go from that to being CEO of The Wayside Chapel? 


Jon Owen 14:55   

If there’s any theme that’s really apparent in my life? It’s you could call it the I’m the accidental leader. You know, you’re abroad there, I was heading into my final year of University, studying computer science and electrical engineering degree. I often say that the– my favorite, my favorite day of university was my first stayed there. Because it was the day I found out what course my mother had enrolled me into. And most people laughed, because I think I’m joking, right? Whereas if you permit the only son of an Asian family of migrants, you will know that truth, that terrifying reality of it. And yeah, had a year to go and I wasn’t happy. You know, I knew I had the competence and the skills to finish this course. And to get a job and to probably do pretty good. You’ll have to care for families. But, you know, I was lying awake at night thinking, oh, this, there’s got to be more to life than this, right? Is that it? Is that? Is that the point of existence? Well, you know, I know I can do it, but it’s certainly not my purpose or reason for being on this planet. And back in the 90s, that’s when it was campus life was pretty vibrant, because we didn’t have mobile phones. So, at lunchtime, we sat around and chatted, but then the university would put bands on, or sometimes they’d be debates in the amphitheater and public forums and, or a soapbox, you could get up and say whatever you wanted. And this one gentleman stood up, and he basically said, Hey, everyone, guess what, you’re at Melbourne University, congratulations, you are, you’re not going to be you are already in the top 1% of people who have existed in world history, right? In terms of advantage and privilege. And he said, you’re on a path, and you’re gonna have to fight hard to fall off these rails. I said, how about and he said it pretty bluntly. He said, how might you take one year out, he is selfish lives and go off and volunteer somewhere, and then come back and pick up your selfish life where you left off, right? But you know, what’s the worst-case scenario at the end of this is, you would have done something good for you. And I thought, I mean, where do I sign up? And so, a few other people went and signed up and to that, and they all wanted to go off to Africa or something and get a photo with a beautifully brown colored baby or something. And I thought, no, no, I’m already Brown, and my children will most likely be brown, if I have them and someone, I hold a white snotty baby. So I went out to just down the road, actually, from where I grew up, and to a community that, you know, we’re struggling, a lower socio-economic community had a lot of intergenerational trauma and disadvantage, and drug use gangs, you know, it was suffering from a lot of, you know, the resources, and the supports required weren’t necessarily being put into place in this neighborhood. And the policing was pretty out of control, too. So, you know, I sign up to do a two-week kind of volunteer course with this group, and never looked back, you know, two weeks turned into a one-year commitment turned into a 20-year kind of whirlwind. That, as it was getting up to 20 years, where Lisa and I, we threw open our home and partaking in people who were on the streets, and that looked like, in the first few years of our marriage before kids, we taking people men in who were seeking asylum, and then was turned, then we had some kids and we had all girls. And so we started taking him women off of the streets in our little flat and, and then as our kids grew, became, you know, taking a lot of their friends in or teenagers later on, and to the point where at the end, we’re taking in a lot of kids trying to finish their HSC who were being kicked out of home. And you only really know, that reality once you’ve had kids in HSC yourself. And you realise it’s a bit of a tinderbox at times, and so and then, you know, it was going, wow, this is intense. And our kids, you know, at some point looked at us and said, you know, we didn’t have a choice in this, you know, do we get a bit of a say, now that we’re getting a bit older, we wouldn’t mind having to have a bit of a quieter place to care for, to do our homework and to study, which, you know, they were very clever and manipulative, because they knew my Asian heart would say, yes, you need to study more. And we, and also, you know, I’m a raging extrovert and one of my kids is high introvert. And so it was a good chance for her to have a little break and, you know, as things would happen is Lisa and I are saying, hey, look, this is something we need to contemplate and that correlated with one of our kids really having struggles with their own mental health. And that led to pretty dark little season for us as a family that we, you know, we’re working through. And then so we said, now it’s time to kind of create a bit more of a safe and predictable environment. And then, you know, not we handed in our, you know, we made the decision on a Tuesday, we’re going to announce that the national team meeting on the Friday, we hadn’t told anyone and on the Wednesday, my phone ringing between the Tuesday and the Friday, and it was the CEO of the wayside saying, mates, the Board, we’re going to begin my search for my replacement, I’d love for you to consider putting your hat in the ring and said, wow, you know, that’s, you know, unheard of that, you know, the way the universe could operate in that way. And so, we did, threw my hat in the ring. And we had this cutting got the job as the Assistant, we had a five-year cutting plan mapped out on how I take over transition slowly under his leadership. And then then I got there and about three months into being there, he got prostate cancer and the Board panicked a bit brought forward his route, the recruitment to replace him. And all of a sudden, I found myself after six months having to apply for a CEO job of an organisation of about 150, with about 10 to $15 million a year budget at the time. And when all I done was lead a small team with a about a $400,000 a year budget there as well. So, you know, it was quite the leap, but something that’s always driven me as a young kid, I grew up going to church. And I remember sitting through so many talks, you know, they’re called sermons, and just thinking, oh, my goodness, like, you’ve got our undivided attention for about 22 minutes to half an hour, every week, you’ve got a real privilege platform to change our lives, and you just farm for every week. So oh, so if I ever speak to people in public, I’m going to make sure that I don’t waste that time. You know, so I was always driven by this thing of, yeah, you know, if not me, then who? And so when I saw her precious and unique, what was it that everything that was happening at Wayside, its mission of creating community with no us and then the power of healing that can happen when people find themselves caught up in a place where they’re not being worked on, and they’re not being judged, and they’re just being loved and other way out? This is too precious to leave to chance, you know, if not me, then who so you know, that was the conviction I took into putting my hand up. And you know, Steve Bradbury kind of leadership, I looked around there I was, you know, I was suddenly in the lead. 


Graeme Cowan 22:59   

It is a huge leap, though, you know from being a team manager to suddenly overseeing the whole thing that finances the operations, 700 volunteers 100 Plus staff. Do you feel anxious in any time when you contemplated what to do next? 


Jon Owen 23:20   

Ah, you know, officially, I’d say never. But reality was, the moment I got a job was the moment I stopped sleeping a full night. It was the unknown unknowns that keep you awake at night. What am I missing here? And how do I walk into a place where with such a heritage of beautiful strong leaders and people who are loved and revered, and you know, their legacy only grows with time. And, you know, it was, you know, it was an, you know, the last guy had been there 15 years and was quite close to retirement age when he, when he finished up. So, everyone kind of looked to him as a, as a grandfather kind of figure in here. I was half his age, stepping into the organisation. You know, when I think they used to call him grandpa at the end, that’s how loved he was. And grandpa would always just, you know, he’d referee any disputes that were going on and make sure all these grandkids loved each other at the end. And all of a sudden, I’m no, I’m not a grandpa. I’m older. I’m older than half a year like, I need a new metaphor and a new story through which to be able to lead this organisation. 


Graeme Cowan 24:35   

So, what guides you each week, you know, as you tried to contemplate the priorities ahead. How do you sort that out? 


Jon Owen 24:43   

Look, one of the best things that ever happened. I’ve got a very supportive Board, who acknowledged that I had a big learning curve to go on when it came to leadership and executive leadership and organisational leadership. And so, through the development of a you know, I was getting finding my feet in the first eight months. And just when I had worked out what was going to the next few years is going to look like we experienced lockdown through COVID. And so that really was a different set of learnings, a different set of challenges. And so, we kind of just rose to that challenge. We’re fortunate enough through that time also to do some work on our strategy. And looking at where we were heading for the next 10 years. And we’re able to restructure through that time to be able to bring in the right support and the right people who could kind of take these dreams and put some, put some legs on them. So I’m a bit of a raging extrovert and on the Myers Briggs, I’m an ENFP, a raging A, I’m also on the Enneagram, a seven, which is a scale that if you haven’t heard of it, so it’s a fun little tool to diagnose yourself, because it doesn’t tell you what you’re great at, it tells you your deepest, darkest dysfunction, which is, you know, I’m heading in the clouds with the feet, not on the ground. And I think this the seventies called the dreamer. But it’s also called the need to avoid pain. And that’s a long way, Graeme sorry, of setting up that I love having these dreams and these pictures of what the future could be like, and they’re often dreamed up with others. And as a community, that then I have these beautiful passionate team members saying, okay, let’s go from A to Z. But what how do we get to B, and C, and D? And I’m like, what? No, you work that out. Bringing in some general manager who has just stuck by me through thick and thin, you know, we’re, we’re great mates. And she’s, she’s, she’s the one who knows how to get the right work plan through to be able to make sure that our dreams become a reality. And we bring people in a change management way along the way capturing their hearts and minds. You know, if we don’t move, the risk is that everyone will add, I think human nature is to always look backwards and use their memory of the past as a marker of the state that we’re in currently. And as a backwards focus, they’re always saying, oh, you know, we’re changing, and it’s, and none of it’s good. You know, it’s if we can only get back to what we once were. And, you know, I was kind of hoping that lock downs and COVID would disabuse us of the notion that there was a golden past it, you know, it leading there requires a lot of forgiveness, as some Aboriginal elder and friend of mine, Uncle Ray Milliken said forgiveness is, is the hope of giving up having a better past. And so, and helping people be captured by the picture and the possibilities of who we might be and how we might be there for the future. So, our programs will always change, but our heart will always remain the same. So, we’re currently seeing a lot of people who, from the queer community and transgender community who are coming to us for some care and some love through this time, who we’re finding, you know, as the conversations in the broader society kind of roll around about them. No one’s really loving, loving them and the Aboriginal community as well, particularly at this time, you know, a bit like the plebiscite into gay marriage, people mistook that for permission to express out loud their opinions about the queer community in quite harmful ways. I think many people have misread this upcoming referendum as an opportunity. They feel like they’ve been given tacit approval to suddenly voice some incredibly hopeful and often deeply untested, racist comments that, you know, I know a few people who, through the plebiscite who members, proud members of the queer community were against it. And then when the vote came through, a few of them said to me, are, you know, the reason we were saying let’s vote no, is I was trying to self-protect, you know, through that time, and I’m– couple of very good friends in the Aboriginal community who currently have changed from the Yes to the No. And when I’ve really asked them what’s going on, they’re saying, pretty much the same. I’m trying to self-protect, like, you don’t know what it’s like, and I don’t know what it’s like to be an Aboriginal person growing up at this time, but the history that we have of dispossession in our country, and to hear these talking and this opinions going on about you have to offer something up in such hope. I mean, it’s a beautiful statement that we’re being asked to, to think through and read through and invoke in harmony with but you know, it’s an incredibly you know, vulnerability comes with that, that picture of the future. 


Graeme Cowan 29:55   

You obviously, you know, care is a very deep part of who you are on the culture you’re trying to create. Do you ever experienced care fatigue? 


Jon Owen 30:09   

That’s a, that’s a good question. I, I don’t actually, sir, say that. Because I recently over the last few years, so the, with our child really beginning to go downhill and struggle. I’ll share a few stories actually, if you don’t mind. Is that okay? There’s a very little-known story about the founder of Wayside. He’s well known. He’s well revered, amazing man. And a real enigma of a person actually. And, you know, he, when he was at the height of his leadership strength, he was off on a trip to visit the queen. And visit Prince Charles to make life education go international. He suffered a massive stroke on that flight from which he never recovered. And he, he died eight years later, but he was, he was bedridden, and cared for by Margaret, his wife, and very incapacitated, and he could only say, you could only say two words that whole time. And he would say to anyone who came to visit him, he would use his the little strength he had in one hand, and he would grab them, and he would say it over and over. And the two words were, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. And we, what I say is an enigma did so much good. And we don’t– what was he saying? Sorry, for are they the only words he could say, but you know that, for me, the picture is, if you are someone who is called into the position to lead, you’re being called to not only cast a collective picture of what the future could be, you’re asking to invite people along that way with you, which means you’re going to hurt people along the way, you know, and sometimes you’re gonna have to deconstruct old ways of working and moving that people are very bedded with and care for, but and you’re going to break their hearts along the way. And so I take that story as something that really grounds me and humility to realise no matter how, whatever I’m doing, no matter how good it is, and no matter what I could ever look back on and say look at what we’ve achieved together, is there’s always going to be an element of sadness and grief. And I will spend the last 5, 10 years of my life saying I’m sorry, I’m sorry to people. And so that really holds me in a good place there. It also grounds me in a space where I realise I have the privilege of being in the most wonderful and diverse community of love and acceptance, something I’ve craved my whole life growing up as a migrant colored person in a country in a culture that just couldn’t find ways to accept me for who I was and had to box me and it’s a very common experience for a soul, I’m sure. And, you know, that also I with our child struggling is we invested heavily in some therapy for a soul and family therapy. And I’m constantly working with the therapist and clinical psychologist and the trading team, doing the work and commitment to changing the world should if it’s world veer off and to become unhealthy, always Graeme, be accompanied by a commitment to doing the work so often out of blind, unbridled passion, we change the world but we do too much damage along the way. And we’re far more driven by our demons then we are by any sense of generativity, always go with the energy so myself. And some I would always say my best stuff have lived experience. My worst stuff also have lived experience. Why is it but my best stuff with lived experience are the ones that do the work. So, they not committed to this, are they committed to breaking those cycles? See the ones my worst staff have lived experience and are committed to doing the work. So, they will say things like I was neglected as a child. So, I’m just going to be there forever. And what do they do? They take on too many commitments. They never say no, you know, they ignore me when I say that someone’s lack of planning doesn’t constitute their emergency. They need to rescue and save and fix and, and all of a sudden, what do they do with all these relationships? They burn out and they drop them. And they’ve just replicated that cycle of abandonment. That they said was their mission to end Rasma good work as they do the work. They know they can’t take on everyone. They know they need to constantly be unwrapping the interactions and actions through the days and weeks and months that weigh heavily upon them and prevent them from being generative. And so, it’s my responsibility and my honor as a leader to be able to provide everyone access to the right support. They need to go on that journey of generativity to be able to develop not only their professional skills, but who they are, as a human being, which impacts all areas of their life as well. That makes sense. 


Graeme Cowan 35:32   

Yeah, 100%. And I love that term, do the work. Because I remember reading about the comedian, Jerry Seinfeld and his iconic show. And he was always asked by, you know, new, aspiring comedians, what’s the secret how to do it, and that was his response, do the work, you know, you write jokes every day, you, if you write a whole lot of bad jokes, you’ll find a good one somewhere in there. But the only way to grow and evolve is to is to do the work. And it applies to all of us in this time, in particular, you know, I’ve been through these last three years, and all the research shows that it’s been really, really challenging, and it’s still going on, it’s still happening. There was a report that came out from Deloitte, just back in June 2023. And they basically showed that half the half the people, we’re often always feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and anxious. And so, when that sort of cycle is going on, we do have a responsibility to do the things that help us. And, you know, what am I favorite mantras where I present is that self-care isn’t selfish, you don’t, you can’t help others if you’re not in good shape yourself. And I learned the very hard way about that I went through a horrendous five-year episode of depression might have worked for five years. But it’s funny now I do see it not as a traumatic time, although it was at the time, but it really forced me to reevaluate my priorities and my values and, and strengthen relationships around me. And you know, I do, I know that I had that vulnerability to go back again. And so that’s why I’m really very disciplined about doing the things that keep me well, but also those around me, well. 


Jon Owen 37:34   

You can really tell someone who’s doing the work because particularly in our arena, where we’re right on the frontline of where, where a lot of the pain and suffering of this world and in our city resides. And so that can– that’s going to leave a Mac, it’s going to open wounds that we have, you know, I can sit through certain types of conversations and interactions with people and, you know, it’s fine, it doesn’t, it doesn’t hit me deeply, but then others, you know, we all have our little trigger points that we really need to be aware of, you know, otherwise, we’ll quickly get into compensatory behaviors, unhealthy ways of being able to process them and, you know, it can quickly spiral and that can lead to a pretty unhealthy person as well as workplace as well. 


Graeme Cowan 38:31   



Jon Owen 38:32   

That’s important. 


Graeme Cowan 38:33   

What do you do for your own self care? How do you keep your fuel, your tank full with you? 


Jon Owen 38:39   

Yeah, it’s a great question, actually. You know, as we go on this journey of life, I’ve had the benefit of having some great mentors and coaches in my life along the way who have journeyed with me for decades and decades and decades. And one of them helped me identify, you know, what are some of the markers of health for me? And so, whenever we catch up, which we’ve been catching up for nearly three decades, now he’ll ask me, are you doing this? This and this and so for me, it is, am I am I reading for pleasure? That’s one of the things that you know, if I’m just reading for functionality and for work, that’s not a macro of health. One for me is, do I just pick up a book and just read it for the sheer joy of it? The other one is, am I eating properly? You know, I had a really difficult day with two or three things that can always trigger me kind of came up on the one day and I was driving home and next thing you know, went into a haze and I rolled up into our driveway and I had an empty bucket of KFC on my lap. At least it just happened to be at the front. As I rolled up and there was just grease a chicken out all over me and she said, oh tough day love. So, am I eating properly? am I breathing and meditating? And exercising? You know, these are important things for me. Am I spending time with my family regularly as well? For me meditating and breathing. Okay, is where I’m going to rip the lid off who I am, is one is, you know, I don’t just I’m a minister, I don’t sit there and, you know, say my prayers in the same way that many would assume they would. I, for me meditating is and I’m Indian as well, I can’t go to yoga, because I just am– one, I’m terrible at it. very inflexible, which is such a metaphor. But to being Indian, I can’t deal with some 19-year-old, you know, someone named Kelsey from Coolangatta, who starts quoting some Indian scripture to me, I just, I just, I can’t, right? I just, you know, please, by the way, you know, as I get closer to 50, which is very close is a, I don’t want a 19-year-old to tell me that I can do that stretch. Like, please, you know, there’s– so for me meditating is getting my heart rate up to a level where I can think about nothing else other than survival, through breathing. I love being able to run. And I’m very fortunate in that, you know, I started running at the time where the technology improvements in shoes is good. And so I invest in a good pair of shoes, that’s part of my self-care, is making sure I’ve got a good pair of runners, and so I can just hit the pavement, and just get to that point where it’s just– I clear everything out, you know, often you know, I think with Eckhart Tolle a talking about 98% of all human thought is repetitive and useless, is we run those cycles through and we’re really good at running the doom loops that quick, quickly become shame storms, and unfortunate enough, if I can just create a little break, like, like that, in it, I can begin to once again, notice that I’m running along the Cooks River in Sydney, and there’s birds chirping and the sun is shining. And it brings me back into relationship with the you know, universe instead of just the relationship I’m having with this thought spiral. Which is, unfortunately, when it’s unchecked, complete and utter agreement with the doom loop. Right? Yeah. It’s crazy, right? Why do we do it? Oh, yeah, that little voice in my head is always telling the truth. It’s lying to me. So often, it’s telling me how bad others are, how good I am all how terrible I am. Often within a breath, and I’m just like, yeah, yeah, keep preaching, bro. It’s like, come on. 


Graeme Cowan 42:50   

My wife, she loves to run on trails. And it’s, it’s her meditation as well. And she’s had a knee injury really, for the last year, it’s been very, very challenging to do that, because that’s also how she truly turned off. And you don’t just was totally in the present moment. So, it is difficult. I call those things you one thing. You know, for some people, it is running for some people, it’s meditating. For some people, it’s cooking or whatever. But when you’re fully present, and you, you’re enjoying that outcome it you know, it’s what, what is unique to each of us. But we also need to honor it, you have to do something that’s really important to us, it’s really important to do it. Because if you don’t, you know, you’re hurting yourself. 


Jon Owen 43:40   

Yeah. And so, I, I’m a bit sad that it for me, it’s running, right? Because I’m like, oh, how long can you run for? There’s a, there’s a, there’s an expiry date, I’d read it. So, it is getting significantly slower as I get older. But I’m going to keep going as long as I can. But hopefully another practice will, will find its way into my heart that it has to be linked to potty. Because I have always run the risk of becoming incredibly disembodied and not paying attention to where pain is, where my body is trying to send me alerts. And if I don’t do that, I’ll get sick, I don’t get sick very often. But when I get sick, I get sick. You know? 


Graeme Cowan 44:23   

The world is changing really, really quickly. And you know, I’m sure your community is changing very quickly. Do you consciously try to learn new things to be ready for that? How do you keep yourself relevant and vital and present and, and in that moment? 


Jon Owen 44:46   

I think we’ve all got a responsibility as leaders to, and Leadership isn’t just a position. It’s something that’s applicable to all of us in our lives. No matter where we are. We all have the opportunity to influence those around us for the better, and we always have a responsibility to one to step back from ourselves. And we’re just discussed that in some of the practices that we all can make. We all have a responsibility to learn. There’s so much great literature out there. In fact, who, I know I’m not doing well is when I am not reading for pleasure. And often, I’m not just reading literature and novels I’m reading, you know, I watch a TED talk. And I’ll read that book and try and analyse it. And, and the more you get into it, you know, I think Adam Grant recently said, what’d he say recently, he said, you know, if you’re, you’re not developed enough, if you find yourself just agreeing with the last thing you read all the time, we need to, we need to just develop that critical mind where we can continue to work out what’s happening in the world, how we can be of service to it. You know how to breathe with what’s going on, one of my favorite quotes from my favorite author in the world is Arundhati Roy. And she says, on a quiet morning, a new world is on her way, in on a quiet morning, I can hear her brain. And so often. So for me, any practice I have, or anything I do is to try it around centering or spirituality is to try and listen for the heartbeat of this earth and say, how can I be of service to it instead of imposing my will on it, that’s my metaphor, for leading is to. And so, I don’t like to be thought of as an inspirational leader, I’d rather much be thought of as a Conspirational Leader, inspiration is breathing in. But conspirational is to breathe with. How do we create a community of people that can breathe with what’s going on, in this world that can acknowledge that, you know, that breath is the cycle of life, which is we, we take in this beautiful life giving oxygen and we breathe out death, which is that carbon dioxide that we can’t have in our bodies for too long. So how do we, how do we do that? How do we develop that as a stance and approach to life is, is a real joy and a challenge. And that’s really got to keep reading, learning growing. But also, just being with people is a great way of breaking out of our bubbles and our shells. I think for me, you know, I’m not sure if I quite believe in electoral health. And I say that as a minister. But you know, I think there’s a few versions of help one’s probably a strata meeting. The other one is at nonstop strata meeting. The other one is probably to be surrounded by people who all look like you and hold the same opinions as yourself. Can you imagine where you end up? You know, you will only from that position, you would look out on the world and say, there could only be more like us, you know, how do we make ourselves great again, you know, by getting rid of the other. And so, you know, I love that on a daily basis, you know, I’m confronted by a difference and challenge to be a better human being. 


Graeme Cowan 48:07   

It’s been an absolute pleasure to catch up today, Jon, I’ve really enjoyed our chat so much. They always inverse my guest, what would you tell your 18-year-old self, knowing what you know, now as it’s approaching 50 and all your experiences? What advice would you give your 18-year-old self? 


Jon Owen 48:26   

I’d say to my 18-year-old self is blonde tips and not a good ID. And other than that, I would say just chill bro, you’re gonna you’re gonna get most things right. And you’re going to do all right in the things that matter. You’re gonna make a bunch of mistakes along the way. But, you know, all things will work together for good. 


Graeme Cowan 48:48   

Excellent. That’s a, that’s a wonderful way to finish. Thanks so much for being part of The Caring CEO, Jon. 


Jon Owen 48:55   

Thanks, Graeme. We’ve got certainly gone all over the shop, haven’t we? 


Graeme Cowan 49:01   

But that’s good. You know, as I said, you know, their conversations and that’s some of the delight of you know, just where, where it can lead you and yeah, that was I really, really enjoyed it. 


Jon Owen 49:14   

Hopefully that was helpful, though. 


Graeme Cowan 49:15   

Oh, yeah, absolutely.  


Jon Owen 49:18   

Lord Trump. Air crack.  


Graeme Cowan 49:19   

I think it’s, you know, your approach needs to be heard well, people, you know, I’ve interviewed a whole bunch of people from a not for profit, as well as a government and private sector. But one of the, I think, really refreshing things is that people are now recognising largely about the importance of having a culture of care and support, having each other’s back and, and more importantly, you know, enjoying working together. You spend a lot of long time at work, they don’t enjoy it. It’s going to be a very, very tough period to go through. 


Jon Owen 49:55   

Yeah, look, what’s been driving me lately is, you know, my heroes the 10 to 20 years older and they’re all heading into retirement. And one of them said to me recently, he said, you know, and this is from the Bible, he says, you know, 80% of leaders in the Bible finish badly. And he said that, and he said, that’s about roughly what it is out in the world as well. If you left your own devices, you’re going to finish badly. And I’m seeing it left, right and center. And not just, you know, things are being brought up from 20, 30 years ago. But people have suddenly lost this vision of, of how they can contribute to the world. And they start talking about things like legacy. And you can see very quickly, you can just tear down what you’ve built in 30 years, you can tear it down in a year. And how can we finish? Well, how do we realise our power lies in when we really, when we find ourselves necessary, significant, but not central to what we’re doing. So– And how to we leave that out? That’s, that’s my next 10-year challenge. 


Graeme Cowan 50:54   

Yeah, you know, I worked for a long time in recruitment and career, coaching and stuff. And it, retirement can be a real crisis, people, often men have a real crisis when they retire, because it’s all they’ve known. And they don’t have to look beyond that. And so the sooner people can shape some sort of purpose in terms of what they find meaningful, the better it is, because even if you stop work, you know, there’s other things to do, you don’t just stop, you know, you do work in other ways, and in other situations. 


Jon Owen 51:28   

So, for me, it’s the highest depression and death by suicide when I was 18 months post-retirement. And, you know, I told my dad as he headed into retirement, and, you know, he didn’t listen to me. He said, I’ll be right, I’ll find something. And, you know, I think it was about a year in that mom just ripped shreds off him and said, you know, I was waiting for you to retire for 30, 40 years, and I was looking, you know, and I was looking forward to you being around at home, but you completely misread this. She said, I was looking forward, I was hiring into this support services, not into consultancy, make. Get off your ass and those kind of helped dad realise that you don’t really need to work out ways of I mean, he was tempted to go back to work, that would have been a huge mistake, you know, he didn’t know who he was, through that time, loss of identity. You know, boredom with being are just a granddad even though that’s such a huge role. But our culture, our culture is they valued that too, you know, as we say, if you’re old, you’re obsolete, you know, that’s how we’ve, it’s our responsibility yours and mine and– I’m saying now we actually play a huge role in contributing to our families you know, we have kids at the wrong time a life, don’t we? Whilst we got energy and we’re hustling, we got to be there with kids and grandparents is such a key part of that. 


Graeme Cowan 52:56   

I love the catch up, Jon, I really appreciate that chat and hope you ever hopefully we can we will be coming out in about we– were a few probably coming out in about eight weeks, but we’ll make sure that you know when it’s coming out and yeah, we’d love you to share it amongst the your community.  


Jon Owen 53:13   

Oh, love to. Perfect, thanks, Graeme.  


Graeme Cowan 53:16   

No worries, all the best. 

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