“Everybody wants things to be better but nobody wants to change”

Resilience Ninja Jaz Ampaw-Farr on relinquishing control, overcoming overwhelm and why gratitude beats guilt.

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director Creativebrief


“You tell me that you care about my wellbeing, but you send me emails at 11pm at night.”

Jaz Ampaw-Farr, the inspirational Keynote Speaker, Author and Resilience Ninja is articulating the gap between rhetoric and reality when it comes to wellness in the workplace. “These small actions are how you undermine leadership,” she adds. 

At a point in time where many in the workplace appear to be running on little more than fumes, resilience has never been more vital; not just to success but to simply existing in a state that is not constant panic mode. An always-on way of working which leaves you equal parts disconnected and overwhelmed. 

In the midst of a pandemic in which we experienced so much loss, of ourselves, our loved ones and our belief in our biggest institutions, it is clear that we are on the cusp of a once-in-a-generation reset moment. One that demands the kind of critical thinking and self-belief that Ampaw-Farr delivers with a side of humour. Ahead of her keynote talk at Creative Equal’s flagship RISE conference, Ampaw-Farr set out a compelling vision of the power of both workplaces and individuals to make progress towards what she describes as a ‘human-centric revolution’ in the workplace. 

You tell me that you care about my wellbeing, but you send me emails at 11pm at night

Jaz Ampaw-Farr, Keynote Speaker, Author and Resilience Ninja

A human-centric revolution

As organisations and individuals alike seek to bounce back from the pandemic, inclusive leadership is rightly at the very top of the business agenda. Yet what becomes clear from the expertise of Ampaw-Farr is that this new era of leadership is not so much a series of articles and broad statements; instead, it is a consistent series of micro-actions, supported by an underlying trust and respect for your employees. This is leadership by doing. 

Ampaw-Farr believes that businesses have the ability to see an individuals ‘heart and humanity’ first and foremost. A consistent approach is not always easy and there is no question that companies are getting it wrong with their tendency toward one-size-fits-all approaches. Ampaw-Farr shares her experience of working with a client who launched compulsory yoga for staff every week. “Enforced yoga is no one’s idea of wellness,” she quips.

Instead of such one-size-fits-all imagined ‘solutions’ Ampaw-Farr believes that leaders should shift their thinking and focus on how they can be ‘with’ their employees. This ‘withness’ is something she describes as key to showing employees that you care and that you are trustworthy.

Pointing to the example of a client whose company has a ‘dream day’ where employees can talk about what they really want - whether on-site childcare or piano lessons - this act of listening (and the subsequent actions) shows employees how valuable they are.

It's a key difference in the approach of leaders who ask Ampaw-Farr how they can ‘appear’ authentic. A question which, somewhat understandably, she has very little time for.

Moaning is not a strategy to succeed in the post-pandemic world

Jaz Ampaw-Farr, Keynote Speaker, Author and Resilience Ninja

Overcoming Overwhelm

“Prior to the pandemic everyone thought they were resilient, but people have been working to their fullest. People have sacrificed their souls in the service of work,” explains Ampaw-Farr. Pointing to the rise of overwhelm in the workplace, she urges people not to fall into the trap of following the same behaviours and expecting different results.

“Overwhelm is like going to see the Mousetrap every night for the past 47 seasons and expecting a different story,” she explains. Whether it's thinking that you just need to get through to the next promotion, or simply the nearest weekend, she believes the key to success is to recognise when something isn’t working. 

This means recognising, as she explains that as individuals we are not special, “Everybody deserves to have a life and to have the space for our work.” Understanding what is valuable to you and ensuring that you live in that truth is key to this approach.

As is holding yourself to the same standards to which you would hold others. As Ampaw-Farr explains: “If you have a tendency to be people pleaser and make decisions out of fear you have to remind yourself you deserve the same grace as everyone else.”

If you have a tendency to be people pleaser and make decisions out of fear you have to remind yourself you deserve the same grace as everyone else

Jaz Ampaw-Farr, Keynote Speaker, Author and Resilience Ninja

Making radical change

At a time when across the industry employees are choosing change, Ampaw-Farr recommends mentors, mates and a positive mindset as crucial to making such radical change.

She points to the fact that resilience is one side of a triangle, with purpose and wellbeing (or way of being as she frames it) on the other. “It is not all about our ability to withstand rubbish, it is the time it takes us to bounce back. I can bounce back and pivot in minutes but you have to have the right things in place when it happens,” she says. 

In effect, this is an approach that is not about expecting your life or career to be either linear or without challenges but setting yourself up to withstand those choppy waters.

Own your narrative

The ability to reframe your narrative and tell your own story is fundamental to Ampaw-Farr’s approach. Having been in foster care and having had the experience of living on the streets as a teenager, her guts, grit and gratitude shine through.

“Everybody wants things to be better, but nobody wants to change,” she explains, pointing to the fact that it’s the small things; the power we all have as human beings, that can make a huge difference.

“When I was living on the street and someone smiled at me I felt seen and that made a huge difference to me,” she shared.

Now she writes her own story; in her own work and in creating and collaborating in vital spaces such as Creative Equals’ RISE conference. She explains: “I am a brown working-class female. I am not in need of other people’s validation to speak. Yes, you can still fail, but if you speak up you have not existed in an echo chamber.”

I can choose guilt or gratitude at this moment. Guilt is easy, but gratitude gives you the power to pivot

Jaz Ampaw-Farr, Keynote Speaker, Author and Resilience Ninja

Grace in gratitude

In the wake of a pandemic that placed so many aspects of life and work outside of the traditional realms of control, the risk of focusing on regaining that control at the expense of compassion is clear to see. Ampaw-Farr says the opportunity lies not in trying to get back to normal but instead in going forward to something new. Ultimately rather than seeking to  regain control, smart leaders recognise the importance of getting to grips with greater complexity in how, where and why we work. 

As organisations and as individuals we face a unique opportunity to do things differently. As Ampaw-Farr explains: “I can choose guilt or gratitude at this moment. Guilt is easy, but gratitude gives you the power to pivot.”

Rather than lamenting the challenges of the ‘great resignation’ Ampaw-Farr views this unique moment of our collective history through the lens of reinvention. “Reach out, imagine something outside your garden of possibilities,” she says.

When we start telling different stories about ourselves we have the ability to create change without being overwhelmed by what we have come through. “The truth is you have more control than you feel.”

Jaz Ampaw-Farr is speaking at the Creative Equals RISE conference. The flagship conference is back in real life with a stellar lineup of speakers. Don’t delay, get your tickets here.