What can marketers learn from Dame Kelly Holmes about connection and positivity?

Speaking at the Adobe Experience Makers Live conference, double Olympic champion Dame Kelly Holmes discusses dealing with setbacks, adopting a positive mindset, and the value of communication.

Kelly Holmes

You’ve had an amazing and interesting and journey across your career. Can you tell us a bit about it?

Originally, when I was 14, I had two dreams: one was to be in the military as a physical training instructor and one was to be Olympic champion. I’m so fortunate enough to be able to be one of those people that can say they achieved both those dreams.

I joined the military as a Heavy Goods Vehicle driver before transferring to become a physical training instructor and then throughout my 12 year international career – which half of it was combined with a full-time army career – I won 13 international medals.

I went on to start a charity, the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust, in 2008 and I’m currently a motivational global speaker.

What kind of challenges and setbacks have you experienced over the years?

I’ve had a huge amount of setbacks in terms of my body letting me down. Lots of injuries, including ruptured calves, torn Achilles, stress fractures, glandular fever, tonsillitis, two operations on my stomach, all through my international athletics career.

When I was 33, the year before the Olympic Games, I had a major breakdown and became what we would call a self-harmer and hence why I talk a lot about mental health awareness now.

How have you kept positive and motivated throughout all of that? 

Having a positive attitude generally is something that I think everybody should start to bring in. When you go through setbacks it’s easy to always think of the negatives, always keep going on a low, believing that ‘nothing’s ever going right for me’ and putting yourself down, as opposed to looking back to where you’ve come from and what you’ve achieved in your life that have been real highs.

Because once you’ve been there once, you can get there again. It’s turning around that mindset, which is obviously very hard as well when you are really in the depths of despair. And that’s when you have to start holding on to your dream and your ambitions and not giving up, because giving up is something that far too many people do.

Before they achieve their dream, they gave up on it and yet, the dream could have literally just been the next step. “If only is too late” is what I always say.

I think that you should just always strive to be the best version of yourself, to try and deal with the situations you are in. It’s never going to be easy when things get really tough, but the fighters are the ones that succeed.

The setbacks and the struggles are your teacher and learning points in your life.

You set up the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust to support retired athletes as they transition from sport, and uses their skills and experience to transform the lives of disadvantaged young people through mentoring programmes. How has the charity been able to continue over lockdown?

We’ve been able to do it digitally. We’ve been able to utilise the platforms available to us so that the athletes can still interact with the young people. And that was really important because these young people come from really tough backgrounds and, once you start them on a programme, you want to keep that connection going. You have to get them in their minds to know that it’s about committing themselves to something for once maybe in their lives. So it’s really important that we kept our programme speeding off through this time, and we’ve been able to do it.

The other day I did a celebration event for a cohort of young people that had been on a programme that we do in schools and it was just amazing that they’re still able to get their certificate sent and we’re still able to congratulate them because of the digital platforms we have.

Thank goodness for digital really. We’ve seen how many people have been impacted by digital communities over the past few months and it doesn’t look like that’s going to go away.

I agree. Through this time, it’s given us time to really think about what you can do differently and how you can do it differently so that life can be slightly easier for some people. It’s still very weird and we still want social connection. We still want that interaction with people but I think this is more productive sometimes.

And also the demand, the need that corporates are taking to take care of their employees. It probably plays directly into that, so I expect to see that across more organisations. It sounds cool.

Yeah definitely. It’s something that’s quite special, especially when you’re talking about wellbeing, mental health, fitness and the wider you. The word ‘connection’ is key because, on our platform, we have a system where you can do notifications, so whoever has the app – from anywhere in the organisation – can tag out a message and everybody would get it.

That connection was key for anybody and I think in this time when people are working remotely or at home or it’s kind of a combination now. How do you get in touch with everyone? One minute it’s easy, the next minute it becomes increasingly harder.

It’s important that you think differently about how you communicate effectively with your employees in particular. Especially during this time, keep on motivating people to still feel good about what they’re doing.

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