Climb ep 6

What If You Lost The Career You Spent Years Building? An Inspiring Story Of Purpose & Redirection

By Ivan Meakins with Stevie Ward

This blog has been taken from Episode 6 of the Climb podcast, a show that was recorded for the Climb23 event, hosted by Gordon Bateman and Investor Ladder.

Find the full conversation with Stevie Ward here. 

The heights of success

At just 18 years old, Stevie Ward was dubbed rugby’s Wonder Kid. Just two weeks after he collected his A-level results, he was named as standoff to play in the Champions Cup Final at Wembley Stadium in front of 80,000 people.

And just eight years later, at age 26, Stevie would be named captain of the Leeds Rhinos.

Many entrepreneurs know that uniquely addictive euphoria that comes with seeing everything you have laboured over come to fruition. All the discipline, sacrifice and hard work finally coalesces into results, wins and a sense of dazzling achievement.

But what if, just at that moment, it was all snatched away?

The dark side of sport

It was the first game of the season in early 2020. Stevie had been captain for a few months, and as he led the team out onto the pitch the sense of pride was overwhelming. Devastatingly, this game would be the beginning of the end for Stevie’s time on the field.

In that year Stevie suffered two brain injuries close together, and severe concussions forced him into early retirement.

Stevie: “The thing  with concussion is, you just don’t know what knocks are going to affect you. I’ve just had to pick up the pieces. Basically what I’ve got now is a migrainous concussion, which just means I have migraines and vestibular [balance disorder]… It means I have balance issues, vertigo and nausea.”

Evidently, these issues are not conducive to a career in professional rugby. But, Stevie had been building this career since he was 12 years old and first received his scholarship to the Leeds Rhinos. It was his passion, his gift, and his purpose. 

So what now?

More than one purpose

Any entrepreneur will agree that purpose is what drives them. 

Entrepreneurs more so than anyone else rely on their sense of purpose as the thing that fuels them. But what if the thing you had identified as your purpose, as your gift, was no longer an option? 

For Stevie, no time was wasted. It’s testament to his character that he did what, to me, marks him as a true thought leader: he found a new purpose.

Stevie: “I say I’m lucky that I had injuries. And people will look at me like ‘how do you mean you’re lucky?’, but I say that because I had to work stuff out. I had to try different stuff. I had to become more of myself through the injuries, otherwise it was just depression and anxiety.”

This isn’t to say that Stevie didn’t experience those things. He speaks of the grief, the confusion, the anger and the depression that impacted his relationships. 

Remembering the Sky Sports documentary, Living With Concussion, that Stevie filmed back in 2012, I was curious as to whether he thought having an “invisible injury” added any extra difficulties as opposed to a more overt physical injury. 

Stevie: “We live in a world where we want to measure stuff, we want to see things, we want to see the material, that’s just how we make sense of stuff. When it comes to an invisible thing like this it’s hard to comprehend, and hard for people to emphasise as well and understand it. You only feel like it’s a problem when it’s your problem.”

The healthy delusion of leaders 

Stevie speaks of a “healthy delusion” found in both extreme sports and entrepreneurship, one that can be distilled into a single sentence: it won’t happen to me. My business won’t go under, I won’t face bankruptcy, I won’t suffer concussion.

All humans, whether entrepreneurs, elite sports players, or neither of the two, require this “healthy delusion” to live without being crippled by fear. Stevie describes two halves of life: that first initial foray into adulthood, full of wrestling challenges to the ground, competing, gaining, proving yourself and coping with pain – which I’m sure many entrepreneurs can relate to. 

Stevie: “But the next part is admitting that there are parts of yourself that you’ve closed off in doing that. I closed off that emotion – that creative, that playful side of myself – during my career.”

And when his career path abruptly changed in ways he could never have predicted, Stevie was left grappling with intrusive thoughts and anxieties, unsure how to solve the problem that had been presented to him: what to do next.

It was then that Stevie realised: it wasn’t that complicated. All he needed to do was to reconnect with those parts of himself that he had shut off on the pitch and forgotten to switch back on in his personal life. 

Stevie: “When you reintroduce it, when you integrate it, that’s when life really starts to open up.”

The guiding light

I’m sure many entrepreneurs will relate to disconnecting from the more vulnerable parts of themselves when doing business and struggling to switch them back on in their personal lives.

So how, exactly, did Stevie do this?

The first thing Stevie stresses is the importance of a support network, specifically that of his long-term partner. 

Stevie: “I think as human beings, whatever we want to go and do in life, the first foundation is to feel safe.”

This feeling of safety from his support network allowed Stevie to go where he needed to: inward. This journey led him to meditation and the power of breathing to overcome fears and anxieties in the body. 

I’m aware there have been two recurring threads throughout my conversation with Stevie: the tenacious warrior spirit from his rugby days, and the more reflective approach that got him through his darkest times and is the foundation of his business, Mantality. I was curious as to how the two align with each other. 

Stevie: “It’s all integrated. That’s what I talk about in the Authenticity Game Plan  – reconnecting these parts of ourselves whilst we have the safety, whilst we have context, connection and choice around us is the thing that will allow us to do what’s best for us.”

A change of game plan

Stevie launched Mantality in 2016, years before the injuries that forced him into early retirement. Even back then, he wanted to inspire other men to live their full potential. To push through the barrier – the defensive line – and overcome fears of judgement, of failure, of being perceived as weak.

The message Stevie leaves us with is Mantality distilled: a message for anyone struggling to find their guiding light, to connect with the parts of themselves that they feel they’ve lost. 

Stevie: “I’d say there’s nothing wrong with you. I’d say it’s all good. It’s all good. These are messages for you to become a greater potential, a greater version of yourself. Or maybe that version of yourself that you’ve tucked away and hidden away a little bit whilst you’ve progressed and you’ve smashed through and you’ve shown that warrior spirit, which is so integral to who you are. But there’s also more. There’s also more to you, and you just don’t know it.”


More information on Mantality can be found here. To connect with Stevie, head over to his LinkedIn.

To hear Stevie’s full insight, find him on Episode 6 of the Climb podcast, sponsored by Investor Ladder. To find out more about Investor Ladder and upcoming events, click here.

If you enjoyed this blog or listened to the Climb podcast and wanted some advice on how to create regular thought leadership content for your business, get in touch with Write Business Results today.  

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