In this episode, we meet Tim Oberg, CEO of parkrun Australia on escaping the rat race, building a community and dealing with anxiety.
Tim has a background in teaching and travel, having set up his own tour business in London in the early 2000s.
He stumbled upon the parkrun concept in the UK in 2010 and pitched to the owner to be the one to take it to Australia.
parkrun is a free, weekly, timed 5km run at more than 350 locations in Australia and many more globally.
Tim lives in Airlie Beach with his wife and 3 kids.
In this episode we talk about:
- Tim’s epic back story that got him to where he is today – you’ll really love this as it’s one of the most in-depth, interesting and crazy ones we’ve ever had on the Inner Chief podcast;
- The courage he showed in repeatedly escaping the rat race to start his own businesses;
- Growing the parkrun Australia community from nothing to the biggest of its kind in the country; and
- How he has survived and thrived despite having dealt with anxiety.
Connecting with Tim Oberg
On starting businesses
- He started two businesses by accident! He was looking after other peoples’ businesses while they were on holiday, and realised “I can do this myself”. The second was formed while he was supply teaching in the UK, so he hustled on the side and eventually replaced his teaching income.
- The lesson here was that he had found his passion and worked out a way in which to make money, not the other way around.
- The other key point Tim made was around marketing: he built up a database of his pub crawl customers and put them into the funnel of his touring business as they were after similar experiences.
- At the time of leaving the UK and moving back to Australia to start a new life with his wife, Tim wanted to do something related to his original intention in life, which was to work in sport, fitness and health. So when he came across parkrun, he thought it was a great idea, so he reached out to them through the website and got a quick reply from the founder, Paul Sinton-Hewitt. They met up and pitched the idea of growing parkrun and taking it to Australia. After a few more meetings, Paul agreed!
- After arriving in Australia, a connection in Tim’s network helped him get an introduction to Adidas, who became parkrun Australia’s first sponsor.
- parkrun is now in 21 countries, with almost 6 million registered parkrunners taking part at 1,800 venues. In Australia alone, there are almost 100,000 registered at over 350 locations and they oversee Malaysia, Singapore and Japan from here.
- An important part of parkrun is their impact on the community, something Tim relied on heavily in setting up and then also dealing with anxiety. Dogs, children and babies are welcome at all venues, and they’ve just launched in two prisons in Australia where parkrun is part of their rehabilitation programme. And then there’s a series on Sundays just for juniors, which is two kilometres.
On a sense of community
- “I think the thing that had never really been at the forefront of my mind before parkrun was the absolute importance of being connected to your community. I had 10 years in London, but I was part of a community. I was part of the Antipodean community.”
- “As people get older, it’s harder to maintain that sense of community unless you’ve got things like parkrun that are driving that connection. People move out, they lose touch with friends, they lose touch with family for whatever reason. So from a wellbeing perspective, parkrun people are physically active, they run and they walk. But that’s not the driver. The driver is the community.”
- “It’s the connection to other people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds at a parkrun event that keeps people coming back week after week.”
- “Your listeners are probably understanding that I’m a pretty enthusiastic guy, a bit of a go-getter, and have worked pretty hard and burnt the candle at both ends along the way. And that was all fine until it wasn’t.”
- “I was flying down to Sydney for a routine meeting, nothing stressful or out of the ordinary. I walked into the airport, went through security, sat down and fell to pieces. My heart rate just went through the roof. Basically, I had a panic attack and I’d never had one before, so I didn’t know what was going on. I thought I was having a heart attack or something like that. I had no history of anxiety, no history of panic attacks, but I’m sitting there and my world was essentially crumbling.”
- “We sat down and dissected my life. As I said earlier, I had a great childhood so it’s not like I’ve got things rearing up from my past that are coming to bite me as an adult. We looked at my life and said, ‘You’ve been going hard for 15 years and you’ve had the responsibility of working for yourself, no-one’s going to put those dollars in your bank if you don’t do it.’ Really, I’d let my work life consume my whole life.”
- Following this, Tim now doesn’t sleep with a phone next to his bed, his work phone goes off when he gets home. He also spoke with his international colleagues and re-arranged the 2am conference calls to be during his working day. He’s also brought mindfulness into his life with meditation, using the headspace app.
- “My mental health is something that is a daily struggle; not a day goes by when I don’t have moments where I don’t feel fleeting anxiety. So it’s something that I take super seriously – if you picked up my kindle, it’s just got books about anxiety. I’m forever learning from others about what they’ve been through.”
- “For anyone who might be going through something like this, my advice is to talk about it. That might be a trusted person like your partner or a family member or friend, but it could be a stranger.”
Final message of wisdom and hope for future leaders
- “I think it’s all well and good to work hard and make lots of money and all of that. I’m not against that, but don’t be like me. Don’t get to that point where you fall apart, because it’s awful and it’s not worth it. So if you are someone who is working hard, playing hard and burning the candle at both ends, that’s great. I’m not saying don’t do that. But somewhere in your time, be it daily or weekly, make sure you set aside time to look after your wellbeing because if you lose that, the money doesn’t matter. The position you have in your business doesn’t matter. Without your wellbeing, you’re not going to be able to enjoy it.”
Books and resources mentioned in the episode
- Headspace app
- Beating Anxiety – SBS Insight TV show that Tim appeared on
- parkrun, anxiety and me – article posted by Tim after his recovery
- Dare – by Barry McDonagh