People with purpose: The power of positivity

Posted on 30 Jan 2024

By Greg Thom, journalist, Institute of Community Directors Australia

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After enduring many challenges in his life, resilience speaker Barnaby Howarth believes he has some valuable lessons to share.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your attitude to life.

I am a former AFL footballer for the Sydney Swans, a diabetic, the host of the podcast Everyday Greatness, a stroke survivor, an autocue operator for ABC News Australia, a widower, and a deacon in the Coptic Orthodox church.

I have been a keynote speaker on resilience for more than a decade, telling audiences to try their hardest and be proud of themselves.

I try to be a “real” human being and live the messages I promote to audiences – that just being a good, solid human being is enough to live a life.

You've endured some tough challenges in your life. How have you managed to stay positive and learn from those experiences?

I have stayed positive by remembering how much I must be thankful for in the communities around me.

I lived a blessed life until I was 25, so to wallow in self-pity after my stroke would have felt like I was slapping all that goodness in the face.

Instead I have reminded myself of how lucky I am, which has meant that I’ve never got too far down.

"Don't get overwhelmed by adversity – just treat every disappointment as another challenge, and if it’s a big one, feel proud of surviving despite it."

How did you come to be a supporter of people with juvenile diabetes and the DANII Foundation?

I met Donna and Brian Meads Barlow, the parents of Daniella, a young diabetic girl who died in her sleep due to a low blood sugar level.

I had not long started my keynote speaking business and Donna came and had a look at the speech I gave for a youth leadership group. She booked me to speak on the DANII Foundation diabetes education cruise not long after.

The cruise was attended by several young diabetic kids and their families, so it was nice to let those kids know that the strength they needed to get through their diabetes was inside them the whole time.

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Barnaby with some of his former team-mates at the Sydney Swans.

As a motivational speaker, you seem passionate about helping others to build up their resilience in life. What are some of the ways you try and make a difference in this regard?

I feel like a lot of people think resilience is a mystical X-factor that only the chosen few possess, but I like helping people to realise that everything they need to be the person they want to be is inside them right now.

I host a fundraiser for Chris O'Brien Lifehouse called "Give it a Crack", a night where brave people get on stage and perform something.

They aren't sure they are going to be any good in front of a live audience, but when you see the look in their eye while they are up on stage realising that they can do this, it’s a bloody nice feeling.

I also host an interview-based podcast called “Everyday Greatness” where one of the most pleasing things is seeing the penny drop as guests describe themselves. They come on telling me that their story isn’t that interesting, and then I see it in their eyes: they’re thinking, wow, I didn’t realise it, but I am pretty bloody good!

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Given your own experience in life, what message would you give to people struggling with adversity?

Rain falls on the just in the end, but there comes a time when you just have to get over it and go and play in the puddles.”

Don't get overwhelmed by adversity – just treat every disappointment as another challenge, and if it’s a big one, feel proud of surviving despite it.

If it’s a little one, “Shake it off!” as Taylor Swift said.

More information

Listen to Barnaby Howarth’s 2015 speech at Communities in Control, Our Community’s annual conference, here.

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