Graeme Millar, our Global Customer Service Manager, is a confident and charismatic leader with a contagious sense of humor. He’s also passionate about making mental health less taboo and letting others know it’s okay not to be okay. We spoke to Graeme about his journey to becoming the person he is today – why he’s a big believer in accepting help when you need it, and what R U OK? Day represents to him.
Graeme, as well as being a friendly point of contact for our CargoWise customers, your colleagues know you as an energetic leader who loves telling jokes and making people smile. How would your friends describe you?
I think my friends would see me as being funny, I guess – and outgoing, honest, and genuine. I think what they would call me is an “introverted extrovert”. So, I’m quite quiet until I find my way out of my shell… and then you can't shut me up!
I’m also quite young at heart – and I see it as an advantage to be able to adapt quickly to different situations and boost the morale of other people. I think jokes are part of that experience, and I believe it's my job to deliver those on a fairly constant basis!
What motivates you every day?
The sun coming up is my first motivation. That might sound silly, but it's actually true. I’d probably want to stay in bed if it was dark all the time! At the weekend, what motivates me is the generous amount of sunlight we get in Australia – just being able to get out and experience life and really soak it up. And simply being alive also motivates me – enjoying that feeling of existence.
During the working week, my motivation is my team. I love the people at WiseTech. I love mentoring the rising stars, and I love the interactions. As a leader, I don’t want my team to feel under pressure or stressed – I feel responsible for making sure I’m available to help and support them.
As part of creating a strong sense of team, you’re also passionate about normalizing mental health conversations and encouraging people to accept help when they need it. Why is that so?
I’m passionate about mental health and helping others to see that they’re not alone and there’s hope for them, because I’ve gone through my own struggles, learned a lot, and come out the other side stronger. The way I see it, mental illness is no different from physical illness – something is not quite working correctly, but it's fixable, it can always be fixable.
I think talking about mental health, which can be a taboo topic, and making it normal, is important. It’s something people often don't talk about because they either don't feel comfortable or don’t understand it. I believe sharing experiences of mental illness lets others know it’s very common – it doesn’t make you different to everyone else.
If you’re experiencing mental illness, I think it can be powerful to know somebody else who has been through something similar. This is why I am happy to share my story. People might think I'm happy all the time because I often use humor as a tool to cover-up when I’m feeling low. I don’t mind people knowing that I’ve gone through some dark stuff too. It was a challenging time, but there was a really positive outcome from it, because now I actually understand myself better, and I’m in a position to help other people through their challenges. Sharing my experience, I hope helps to plant a seed in their mind that they have the power to pull themselves out of the situation they are in if they need to, and there’s support out there for them.
Can you share a little about your personal journey with mental health?
On and off throughout my life I've suffered periodic depression. Most of it's been undiagnosed because it can be hard to tell the difference between sadness and depression. Throughout 2020, I got hit by a number of personal and professional challenges. I was already experiencing some stressful situations at work and dealing with some family issues when the COVID-19 pandemic brought lockdowns and solitude. All these things hit me within a two-to-three-month period, and I lost my adaptability and my perspective, and my view on things became very biased towards the black, not the white. And once I’d slipped into the dark side, it became very difficult to pull myself back out again.
I knew something was wrong, but at first, I didn’t know why. I just knew that something wasn’t right, and I wasn’t happy. For a while I felt like nothing was going to fix that, but the thing is – it was fixable, I just had to work out how to fix it, and I needed some help to do that.
What helped you through this challenging time?
There were a lot of things that happened in different stages, and many peaks and troughs – it didn't happen overnight. Perhaps one of the most powerful things for me was talking to a friend who had been through a similar situation to me. Hearing them explain what they went through showed real similarities to my own experience, and it helped me to calm my frantic mind and realize I wasn't alone.
When I was feeling low, I tended to distance myself from other people. But another thing that really helped me, was a close colleague regularly rocking up at my door and saying, "I'm here, get your kit on, let's go for a ride." It encouraged me out of the house – even when I didn’t want to leave!
I've had the most amazing help from people at WiseTech – and part of that has come from me being open about how I’m feeling. Last year I said to some colleagues I felt I could confide in, “I'm struggling at the moment. I'm not 100%, I'm going to need you to carry me a little bit, and I'm going to have to ask you to understand. If you put your trust in me, then I'll deliver, but I’m going to need your support”. And they did trust and support me, and I recovered and delivered. As a leader myself, I know that not everybody is going to feel 100% all the time, and if someone's struggling, then I expect them to let me know about it. I would encourage them to take the necessary time they need to recover, and my team would cover for them. We’re all part of the same team, and we all help each other out.
Seeing a psychologist and doing my own reading also helped me to understand what I was experiencing, and that it was transitory. I also received a thoughtful text message from a family member I hadn't spoken to for many months, which came at the right time. It was a series of interactions with different people I trusted, and small steps, that helped me to recover. When I started to pick up momentum, and understand what was happening, things started to get better. I've gone through that experience with help from others, and now I've also been able to help others through that situation.
Reflecting on your experience, what have you learned about mental health?
I learned that mental health is dynamic, and we aren’t alone in our challenges.
When I couldn't motivate myself, my motivation came from other people. Everyone’s experience is different, but when people are struggling, things like keeping up the contact and checking in with them regularly, trying to open them up and showing support by just being there, can be really powerful. While lockdown might prevent us from being able to physically 'turn up' at their door to check in, using technology, especially video-calling, might help.
I learned that comments like, “cheer up” or “you’ll be fine” didn’t really help me when I was at my lowest, as I would think, “I don't want to cheer up” or, “It’s not as simple as just being fine”. If people said, “Hey, I know you're having a hard time, give me a call to talk – it doesn't matter what time of day or night it is, just give me a call” – I wouldn’t call them. It's easy to ignore a text message, but when someone video-called me, I was more inclined to answer – or at least contact them back.
For me, anecdotal information and personal, practical examples shared by people I knew and trusted resonated better than theoretical ones. Still, seeing a trained professional helped. They enabled me to uncover and understand what I was experiencing and gave me tools to use. And what I found was, the best tools that helped me to get better were the ones that I was involved in creating for myself.
I also realized that sometimes, it helps to break down the months into weeks, weeks into days, days into hours. Following a healthy routine and setting small goals helps too – simple things like making the bed, taking vitamins, going for a walk with a coffee, and making a nice breakfast. The little things make a real difference.
R U OK? is a harm prevention charity that encourages people to stay connected and have conversations that can help others through difficult times in their lives. Why do you think R U OK? Day is important to get behind?
To me, R U OK? Day represents belonging, togetherness, teamwork. It brings people together. There is a 'U' in 'US'. It's a reminder you don't have to do it alone. You don't have to do anything alone; that's what it's all about.
From a corporate perspective, at WiseTech one of our mantras is, "Anyone can talk to anyone at any time for any reason”. It’s about being open and staying connected. We're all human, and irrespective of our professional title, we're all the same; no one is devoid of the frailties of being human. The more we fight this and avoid appearing as though we aren't as strong as we think we're "supposed" to be, the harder things become for us. As a leader and a colleague, I think we gain trust and respect through honesty and openness. I think R U OK? Day really helps to back this up and spread the message that we aren’t alone.
What are your tips for staying healthy?
For me, routine is good. A set routine, even though it can be a bit boring sometimes, stops me from overthinking! And a big part of routine for me is exercise. I can't tell you enough about how important it is to exercise daily. I dedicate a significant proportion of my existence to keeping fit, and there're a lot of good reasons for that. Not only does it help keep me youthful, and mentally and physically healthy, it forces me to get out and be active, even if I don't really want to. It’s a big part of why I like being active with others – it creates an obligation to show up for someone else.
Food is also incredibly important. It's all interlinked – if you’ve got an unhealthy gut, then that can exacerbate the way you’re feeling. So, eating well – and often – is important. I’d also recommend staying in contact with the people who give you the best energy and meditating regularly. Clearing your mind is really helpful. Once you get into meditation, it’s actually pretty cool – you can zone out, and your troubles seem to fly away for 10 or 20 minutes a day!
And finally – what would you tell your younger self, given the chance?
As a younger person, you absorb stuff without realizing it – so if I could, I would give my younger self more self-awareness, because it helps you to better understand yourself and other people. I’d say, “become more self-aware, because you will be able to support yourself and interact with others far, far more effectively.”
I’d also remind myself, “allow people to help you” and, “know that there's always a positive outcome”.
This article talks about mental illness, so speaking to a trusted support person, or contacting a helpline, may be helpful for you. For those in Australia, there are support contacts available on the R U OK? website. If you are concerned for your safety or the safety of others, seek immediate assistance by calling Triple Zero (000).