I have a couple of friends, a married couple, who I hugely admire. I not only get to be their friend, but I’ve also been able to witness them become business owners, first time parents, launch a charity and generally demonstrate how to live a life you’re proud of. It’s not come without a massive commitment, a change in lifestyle and priorities, and a determination that is often rare to find in people. Once these two discovered the recipe to unlocking their passions they made it happen. It’s a collaboration that caters for individual expression as well as a sense of equality and how to support one another.
Oli and Ellie Mistry took the time to welcome me into their dining room. Over a tasty meal they shared both their individual point of view as well as how they support one another to live a passionate life, or dominate, as Oli says… Oli founded the charity SoundSchool 3 years ago, raising money to supply musical instruments to kids in under-developed countries. Ellie has embraced her passion for cooking by turning it into a successful business, At Your Table, where top-rate private chefs come into your home to cook fine-dining style. All this has been achieved alongside their personal goals and starting a family. Here is some insight into how couples can support one another in chasing down their own dreams and keeping their shared momentum intact.
L: So Oli, I usually start with this question, how do you define passion?
O: For me, it means the things that you think about daily and spend most of your life following. The things that take you to your happy place, take your mind off anything that might be bothering you. Often you love doing them so much that it just flows. Your mind is working hard, but it doesn’t feel like work.
L: And Ellie?
E: It’s just something you love doing and you think about it all the time. It’s more than an interest.
L: So would you say a passion is about what you’re doing, or more the feeling you get, Oli you mentioned a happy place and flow. What does that feeling mean to you?
O: Lots of people have different passions in life, so it’s definitely a personal thing. If I only had one passion then life would feel limited. It’s definitely a mix of something productive, something creative and something personally fulfilling for me.
L: So what are some of your executions of this productive, creative and fulfilling formula?
O: SoundSchool is a big one for the last 2-3 years. It’s three things for me, combining my love of music, something that links me back to my cultural heritage in India and something purely for other people. At times I can be quite self-focused and this was predominantly about doing something that wasn’t for me.
L: When did it become apparent to you that playing guitar was something you enjoyed doing?
O: Revisiting my playing later in life. On weekends I found it was the only thing I wanted to do – hang out with friends and play. I don’t enjoy playing on my own as much, but I love playing with others and improvising, it’s like a different type of conversation you have with someone, it’s a rare joint creative outlet.
L: And how about the giving back and connection to your heritage?
O: That was a combination, Ellie and I went to India and I took my guitar. I had this need in Varanasi to hit the streets, I had these weird feelings I’ve never had before, spiritual feelings I guess, as it is a crazy, full on place with huge spiritual importance to my past. I enjoyed going out to the street and playing, all these kids would come out, watch, and ask about it. I was suddenly having more fun teaching them. Prior to the appearance of the guitar they were hawking, and for the hours I sat there they put the postcards down and had no interest in selling. I got this crazy sensation that I had to DO something, at the time I wasn’t sure what it was, I just knew the feeling I had. When we got back I was telling Ellie, and that was when the initial concept came and developed.
E: You felt guilty taking the guitar away too!
O: Yeah, that’s right, I wanted to leave it. That really spurred on the idea to get instruments to the kids in India. I didn’t just want to donate money, they are asking for money everywhere. I wanted to create something, to know where it’s going, it didn’t need to save lives, but it was about creating a happy moment for the kids.
L: So what about the actual experience of delivering the instruments once the fundraising was done?
O: I had made a promise to the Salaam Baalak Trust members, and I knew I had to deliver on it. There was no way I could NOT do it. It became a definite goal. All the way through the stages to make it happen it was about keeping my word. When it actually came to fruition it wasn’t like an amazing moment, it didn’t seem like the end of it, it was just a really fulfilling experience but just the beginning.
L: So on a larger scale, would you say that when you commit to something that is the motivation to make it happen, whether it is to yourself or others?
O: Yeah, there is a lot of self-testing. Like the charity boxing I did last year, that was purely self. I kept saying to myself that I wanted to prove I could be disciplined and focused enough, to really do something quite scary and difficult, to stretch myself, to dominate.
L: Oli you say it all the time, it’s like your personal motto, to dominate!
O: Yeah it’s about committing to myself, about following through and knowing I did it to the best of my ability. Whether I’m good at it or not, I know I haven’t let myself down. A lot of it is about proving it to myself first, even if the outlet is also proving it to others.
L: That is one of my observations of you, a very determined person, if you say you’re going to do something you follow through.
O: Yeah I do. I never used to be like that, only in the last four to five years.
L: So what do you think changed?
O: Suddenly I was really driven to do things.
E: You changed almost overnight, it was really noticeable, your approach to money, yourself and what you wanted, your career and our relationship.
O: Around that time I did some coaching with a friend. We sat down and set goals in different parts of my life, then the smaller milestones to achieve them. It was a framework that worked for me, it just sunk in and I now apply that to EVERYTHING in my life. Literally, writing down goals, setting out the milestones, tracking things in spreadsheets. In work, health, saving money, getting a new job – that same framework.
L: Would you say that structure allowed you to apply yourself and excel?
O: Yeah it really works for me, having direction. Through just having a little step each week I noticed in a year I can end up somewhere ridiculously amazing. But, it needs to be something you want to achieve, intimately, then promising yourself and making sure you get there. Visualising stuff – that was a big part of it for me, actually seeing what my outcome would be, seeing myself achieving that goal, I’m a massive fan of visualisation.
L: How do you use it?
O: I form a mental picture in my mind of me achieving it, what the goal would bring and using that in my head. I even do it for visualising getting a car parking space.
E: Yeah he gets cranky when it doesn’t work for a car space!
O: I do, but it usually works! I also use it for work presentations, doing a best man speech, winning a boxing match, basically if I can visualise it – it is definitely going to happen.
L: So what fuels your commitment to a challenge?
O: I can’t progress or achieve unless there is pressure. I put myself under pressure to challenge myself in all my passions, especially at work. The fear of getting the shit kicked out of me in a boxing ring was one hell of a motivator! I need a deadline.
L: So what else have you leant about yourself in the past couple of years, in this domination zone?
O: Having a really balanced set of goals is important. Not to have too many – from different sides of equation: career and money, health, spiritual, and family. If they’re really well balanced they won’t compete with each other. It stops you being lopsided.
L: How do you prioritise them?
O: I can get tunnel vision on a priority goal. I’ll head towards one like a freight train and take little steps on others.
L: So Ellie, what would you say your passions are?
E: It’s on your plate in front of you! Cooking and food. I always knew I loved it.
L: So when did you discover it?
E: I loved it as a child, my mum is really into cooking. I love making something out of nothing, I love that challenge, when there is not much in the house and you have to make it tasty. It’s like a game.
L: I can see why you two bond – you both like a challenge!
E: Yeah! Oli bought me a world cooking challenge, it was a weekly course and the class would go for five hours straight. I had a partner and we’d compete with others in the class, being led by a professional chef. Everyone would have the same recipe and it was amazing how people could get it so wrong. You were against the clock, kind of like Masterchef, it was really hard unless you knew how to cook. The end result was judged. For those 6 hours I was alive, other people were tired, but I was energised. It’s when I knew I had more than just an interest. Cooking is all I ever read about, I was addicted to Gourmet Traveller, I had so many recipes in my head, I knew what to buy at the markets, what was in season, and how to do it from all the research I did.
O: It’s also about people and entertaining, being able to combine it all. Being at the hub, not in a ‘look at me’ way but organising it all. Making sure everyone is having a good time, enjoying the food after all the time and love she has put into it, receiving the feedback and having bought everyone together to have the best time. That’s when Ellie is in her element.
E: I do love it when I get the thanks and the feedback. Makes it all worthwhile.
L: Do you think you could get the same feeling you have from cooking doing other things?
E: Yes, snowboarding, and teaching something I enjoy, like snowboarding. Seeing people succeed and feeling good about themselves. I couldn’t work somewhere when people aren’t seeing progress, like a parking inspector and people being angry with you!
L: So what keeps your momentum?
E: Doing something I love. When I started I didn’t have that much confidence because I felt I was competing against experts. The feedback from all the bookings is what built my confidence. I knew I could prepare the amazing food, but often felt bad charging.
L: So getting the confidence to charge for something you loved doing?
O: You’re selling more than just food Ellie, you’re selling an experience.
E: Yeah I know, but it takes time to build the confidence and know your worth. Being pregnant forced me to re-think my business as well. I was a bit of a control freak and I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it when the baby came along. I view my business in many ways as a massive learning curve, it’s helped it expand and grow to a place I would never have imagined.
L: If you had a friend who was a bit lost or feeling directionless, is there something from your experience you’d share with them, some advice?
O: I’m going to use Ellie as an example, when she got made redundant in the GFC she didn’t know what to do, all these jobs she applied for she wasn’t getting. I was sick of hearing her talk about all these jobs she didn’t want, going for them, and not getting them. I questioned why she was doing it. I said forget about all those jobs and think about what you really want to do. What is it that you actually love doing? I think people need to stop and consider this. What are your passions, what things excite you, when you’re doing them they don’t feel like a chore, you just want to do them all the time. Ellie’s is cooking. Just knowing this you can do anything with it. Nothing feels like hard work and you’ll achieve because you want it. You’re constantly thinking about it, talking about it, immersed in it and enjoying it, listening for things out there, on TV, books, newspapers, opportunities arise because you’re aware of it, whether it’s a goal or a passion. Identifying what those passions are is key.
E: It’s so true. I always recommend this to friends, based on my experience. So many people don’t know what they love. It took me a while and I know a lot of my friends are always changing their minds. It just takes time, and following your interests, and believing in yourself.
O: I think they do know. They are just too scared sometimes.
L: So guys what is your point of view on your passion having to be your work?
E: It has to be it. I really can’t see how it can’t! Really, you need to love what you do. It’s made a difference to my life, working in my old job it felt a bit like a crumb. Now I have an amazing sense of control and like I can guide my future.
O: If you’re not passionate about what you’re doing you’ll never do your best, so there is no point. You’ll end up hating it, not wanting to get out of bed in the morning and feeling a bit rubbish. I’ve always been passionate about my career in the marketing, digital and technology space. It’s the creative and people side of business and I made the switch from pure management early in my career. So it may take getting made redundant to make you realise that, or having someone else to support you along the way to make it happen, while you start again.
E: I was very fortunate in a financial sense that Oli could support me with my business. But he also supported me following my passion. By losing my job, Oli gave me the freedom to do my cooking. Money was a big influence. I’m not sure if I could have done it on my own.
L: How has parenthood changed your perspective?
O: I have no time any more! I think about them in a different way now, I would rather spend time with Loki and helping Ellie with him and her business. As I have way less time so I have to prioritise, this means losing some of the purely selfish goals like boxing. I also can’t dedicate 100% to SoundSchool, so things will move a bit slower than the last couple of years. I know what I can give and have set the expectations, so it’s not letting it go, rather it’s about making the time I do have effective, not getting overwhelmed to the point where I do nothing.
L: I’d just like to wrap up by asking how important is the support of your partner in pursuing your goals?
O: I’m not sure if Ellie knows deep down what the purpose of me doing what I do is, but it’s very supportive. Our relationship has always been very 50/50, it’s all about balance and equality. You can sense when the other one really wants to do something and you help make that happen. Then it goes the other way, we build each other up by supporting what each other wants.
L: As a sweeping concept, what should a partner do to support the other around their passions?
E: Don’t forget your own. Don’t have the same passion, create your own interests and then you can get why things are important to each other.
O: Yeah, support as much you can but not to the detriment of your passion, don’t neglect your own. Some people might like being following around, but I wouldn’t like that.
E: We always try to encourage each other. We have different mindsets, so we compliment each other and help each other out a lot. I have so much patience and can take my time on things, where as Oli needs the pressure.
O: If it is complimentary, know what both your strengths and weaknesses are, each of you can do the things that you’re good at. With At Your Table Ellie is so good at the food and people, and I can do the marketing and business planning side.
So that is the wrap up of a supportive couple kicking some goals together. Can you consider ways you can support your partner better after reading through how Ellie and Oli make it happen? I’d also like to suggest visiting the SoundSchool website to see the wonderful work they have done delivering instruments across India and Africa. Ellie’s business, At Your Table is a fantastic way to host a dinner party at home, I hosted one for my girlfriends and it took the fuss out of cooking so as a host I could kick back and enjoy. The menu is delicious and if you’re a real foodie you get to speak to the chef about the preparation, how to perfect recipes, and hear all their tales from their cooking adventures.