Who Dares Wins: Real World Lessons from Connor Smyth, the Winner of the Channel 4 Series

Posted in : Supplementary Articles NI on 15 October 2021
Legal Island
Legal Island
Issues covered: Resilience; Thriving in the Workpace

From professional dancer to winner of the toughest course ever on Channel 4’s ‘Who Dares Wins’, Northern Ireland’s own Connor Smyth has shown he’s got what it takes. Strength of character, resilience, and the ability to keep going, when the going gets tough – everything we need to survive and thrive in the workplace.

Connor explains where he gains his inner-strength, how he maintains it, and how lessons from the series translate to real-world, and real-business situations in this exclusive webinar.

The Recording

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Transcript

Christine: Good morning, everybody, and welcome to our webinar this morning, "Who Dares Wins: Real World Lessons from the Winner of the Channel 4 Show".

So, first things first, let me introduce myself. My name is Christine Quinn. I am one of the Learning & Development Officers here at Legal-Island. For those of you who don't know me, I am a qualified employment law solicitor. I am qualified in England and Wales and also Northern Ireland. But more importantly, let me introduce you to our speaker today.

So today we have Northern Ireland's own Connor Smyth, who was crowned as the winner of the latest season of "SAS: Who Dares Wins". After completing his degree in criminology and criminal justice at Ulster University, he went on to join Rhythm of the Dance where he toured for two years in a lead role. In 2012, Connor joined Michael Flatley in his Feet of Flames tour of Taiwan and achieved his lifelong dream when he joined the cast of "Lord of the Dance" a year later.

He has recently spoken out about how being ridiculed for years as a professional Irish dancer played a huge part in his success on "Who Dares Wins". He said, "My cause was to try to show any young upcoming male dancers, or anyone who does a sport or discipline that isn't perceived as manly, that you can be strong, tough, and overcome obstacles that are put in front of you, that it doesn't matter what other people think. If you have a passion, then pursue that passion with all your strength and heart".

So today I'll be talking to Connor about his resilience. How did he do it, how can we do it, and how can it be applied to the world of work?

But first things first, we have a video to show you all just to give you a taste of what Connor has been up to. So just give Katie a moment and she'll cue that up for us. Thank you.

I think we're having an issue with the video, are we, Katie? Doesn't seem to be any sound on my end. We'll see if we can resolve it. And if not, we can move on.

While Katie is doing that, Connor, we'll maybe come back to it in a little minute. Do you just want to tell us . . . I mean, when I have watched "Who Dares Wins", my immediate thought is, "Those people are crazy", but your thought when you watched "Who Dares Wins" was, "I could do that".

 

What gave you the confidence to go for it?

Connor: Absolutely, Christine. I just want to say thanks very much for organising this and giving me the opportunity to speak to you today. But yeah, I've watched "SAS: Who Dares Wins". I've been a fan of the show for a number of years, and I've always just thought, "I could do that". I don't know what it is. I just feel like I had something inside me where when times really, really get tough, I can just push through and I will not give up.

So yeah, I was applying for the show last year whenever . . . I was actually on tour with "Lord of the Dance" and we were coming up to a period where we were going to have little to no work, so I thought, "Well, I'll apply for the show and see what happens".

Then COVID came in and brought us back home sooner than we probably should've been at home. So I was sort of at a spare end, and so just continued with the application thinking that I might get through a stage or two. But it just sort of snowballed from there.

And then with eight weeks to go until I was flying to the Isle of Skye, I got a phone call saying that I was in the final pool of recruits. And it was all or nothing then. It was like, "Well, you've been forthright in your application. You've said how fit Iris dancers are. You've said how resilient they are.

You've talked about your robustness. And do you know what you want to prove? Now is the time. There are no hiding places".

So, yeah, let's just say when I applied for it, I certainly didn't see myself getting on the show because over 44,000 people applied. But I was just so glad to be given that opportunity and sort of that platform to try and tell my story and, hopefully, inspire others.

Christine: Yeah, and you touched on the fact . . . So in your application, you outlined Irish dancers are resilient, strong, robust.

 

How do you go about tailoring a CV of a professional dancer to, "I can win a show about the SAS"? How do you do that?

Connor: Basically, I just talked about lots of attributes and characteristics that I've built up through the years. And Irish dancing has been kind of a staple of my life. I've done it since I was a young boy, since my mum dragged me by the ear.

Even now, I teach kids at the moment and I tell kids, "When you're at Irish dancing lessons here, you're going to learn stuff which will stick with you throughout your life". Simple things such as having the confidence to walk into a room with your head held high, I feel, really sticks by you. And getting on stage as a youngster and performing in front of maybe 100, 200 people is really quite daunting. But being put out of your comfort zone and really pushing your boundaries from a young age is something that will only carry you further forward once you grow older.

So yeah, I was forthright about my fitness and discipline and resilience and robustness, but I certainly didn't think that I would go on there and be the strongest or be the fittest. I sort of thought that I had a pool of characteristics which would put me as a "Steady Eddy", as I called it, when I was going onto the show.

But thankfully, I trained so hard for the eight or nine weeks that I had in preparation before it and put myself under so much pressure because I felt like I was representing the Irish dance world on my shoulders. And I sort of thought, "If I go on here and within one day or two days I have to leave because I'm not up to it . . ." I really felt that pressure and that fear of failure.

I was, thankfully, able to turn that from a negative into a positive and I used that fear of failure as a fuel to ensure that my preparation was unrelenting before the course.

Christine: You mentioned your mum dragging you by the ear to Irish dancing. Do you think that your robustness comes from her and her encouraging you?

 

Where do you think your resilience comes from?

Connor: Definitely, 100%. Part of the reason why I wanted to do "SAS" was because I had a really supportive family. And through the hard times when I was being bullied and ridiculed for being a dancer, my mum was able to put her arm around my shoulder and say, "Connor, you could make a career out of this. You could potentially travel the world and perform to thousands of people. That would be a dream to make your hobby your profession".

And I just often think about if I didn't have that support network around me, how much of a shame would it have been to not go for those opportunities because of what other people thought? I'm so thankful that my mum and my elder sister were there for me.

And my point was to try and . . . If there are any kids out there who are doing Irish dancing or they're doing acting, or whatever it is which isn't seen as manly, if they maybe don't have that support network around them, if they can just take some sort of inspiration from somebody else like me on that TV show . . .

So my whole thing was if I can try to positively impact one person's life, then hopefully I'll have done my job.

Christine: Yep. And I think, just leading on from that really, you're talking about turning kind of the teasing into a positive thing. And I've heard you say that your first day on "SAS: Who Dares Wins" you weren't very impressed with yourself. You weren't happy with your performance.

 

A lot of people in a work scenario, if you make a mistake or something goes wrong, the head goes down, you start to almost doubt yourself so much that more stuff starts going wrong. So how did you turn that around? How did you say, "I'm not doing great now, but I can do it"?

Connor: Yeah, great question. I think I was probably talking about Day 3. I sort of had a bad . . . not a bad day but a bad task on Day 3 where I really kind of was upset with myself.

We had a certain task where we had to travel through these dark tunnels and dark caves. And it was a really tricky task where we had to get to a point and retrieve equipment and ammunition and then take it back through the tunnel. Once we got to where the ammunition was, the ammunition was underneath the light. But bear in mind, we were through this dark tunnel, couldn't see a thing.

So, when we got back, the directing staff asked us why we didn't take the light. "Why did you not use that light?" But for us, in that environment, in that high-pressure environment, we weren't able to see outside the box. We just thought that that light was showing us the ammunition, which we needed to take. And I was so annoyed at myself because I would think that I would be good at something like that, but in the moment, I just wasn't able to grasp it.

And like you said there, I almost felt as if I could shy away here and start to do worse because of that failure. But I promised myself that I was going to learn from that failure. I was now better equipped to go into another task knowing that if I see anything at all which is going to be beneficial to me, whether it's a piece of equipment or anything at all, that I was going to keep my eyes peeled and that I was going to take that to make me better equipped to take on the next task.

Failure is something that we're all afraid of. Everyone has a fear of failure. The thing with failure is that's how we learn, that's how we grow, and that's how we evolve.

And I was very fortunate then in a couple of tasks previous to that. We'd had a chemical warfare task where we had to save a hostage whilst taking on the CS gas. So CS gas was going into our bodies. Our lungs were getting absolutely stung to bits by this gas. Our eyes were streaming. Our nose is streaming because your body is trying to get the gas out of you. And it was a horrendous task.

But I spotted a pair of scissors, which were in the room, which actually weren't supposed to be there. They were there by pure coincidence. But I had learned from the other task where I didn't use what was available to me, so I went straight for the scissors. And although that wasn't part of the task, the directing staff acknowledged that I had learned from the previous failure.

And I was just really kind of happy in myself. I had to accept that I had failed that task, that I wasn't my best. I had to acknowledge it, but I can't change it. You can't change what's in the past. You can only focus on what you can change in the future. And thankfully, I was able to use that as a learning experience.

If you look throughout life, so many successful people talk about being successful because they failed so many times over and over and over. So, certainly, failure is something that we need to embrace and something that we should be never afraid of.

Christine: Yeah, it's a tough thing to do, though, isn't it? I've got a great question here, which kind of feeds into what you've been saying. So you were an Irish dancer, and then you prepared for this TV show, a very, very extreme TV show.

 

How would you recommend people prep for a big role that they're about to undertake?

Connor: Well, I think knowledge is really, really important. Whatever role you're going for, can you talk to somebody who's in a similar role or somebody who has experience of that role? Going for "SAS: Who Dares Wins", there's a lot of unknown going into it. So I talked to my sister who's a personal trainer and she kind of said to me, "Can you really prepare for it?" And I said, "I'm not sure if you can prepare 100%, but we need to do whatever we can to prepare as best as possible".

So, in terms of gaining knowledge about what you're going to be doing, what you need to do, do your strengths align with that? Do any weaknesses that you have align with that?

So, in my case, with "SAS: Who Dares Wins", I knew that we were going to be cold and wet. So, straightaway, I started getting into the sea, which was not a pleasant experience and something that I wasn't quite used to.

With "Lord of the Dance", we get into ice baths every night because we have such an intense schedule for our legs every night. But that's only up to our waist, so I was completely fine with that. But once I started getting into the sea and fully submerging myself, that was something that I really had to work on because it wasn't a strength of mine.

So I think it's about acknowledging any of your weaknesses and thinking, "Right. What can I do better? I need to work on that for a big role or if it's a big job interview or whatever it is".

And definitely knowledge, if you can speak to somebody who's been there or who's done it. I didn't get to do that for "SAS", but it is a TV show, so I was able to watch the shows. I was able to read the books of the directing staff to try and find any ounce of information that I could.

I knew that we would be doing lots of hiking up hills. So the first thing we started to do in my training regime was to put weight on my back. Boots on. I was wearing work boots because that's something that I definitely thought would be a contributing factor to injuring yourself if you're not used to wearing boots, and started to get up hills.

So I think if you're going for a big role, it's just about understanding the role, try and get as much knowledge as you can, and then in preparation for it, focussing on not only your strengths but also improving any weaknesses that you may have.

Christine: Yeah. Thanks, Connor. There are a few questions coming in. If anybody else has questions, please just pop them in the question box and I'll put them to Connor as we go through it.

So I suppose what you've been talking about really is overcoming impostor syndrome. I know a lot of people, myself included, feel that way. Do you feel you have?

 

Do you think that you've suffered from impostor syndrome? How do you overcome that?

Connor: Impostor syndrome? Definitely. I mean, even being here with you today and having this chat is a challenge for me. This is outside of my comfort zone. I have been doing some public speaking recently and I've talked about that feeling of fraudulence, stood before people and talking about my experiences. We all know our own story inside out. We've all been there, we've all been through it, but having that confidence to talk about it and talk to other people is something that is really, really quite difficult.

Not so long ago, I was actually working in a call centre from home in the height of lockdown. I was really struggling because I had no routine. I had just been thrust home from my professional dancing world. We didn't know when it was going to end. I was just kind of a bit lost. The gyms were closed. You could only go out for a walk for an hour a day.

So I took a role. I'm very hard-working in nature, so I took a role doing customer service for ASOS actually. So maybe some people watching were in touch with me asking why their ASOS parcel hadn't arrived. That, for me, was a mind-numbingly boring job but it was something just to give me a routine, to give me a focus, to give me something to get up for in the morning, and it tide me over for a couple of months just to give me that kind of focus.

And then, a little over a year later, I've been on "SAS: Who Dares Wins" and now I'm stood talking to people in a public arena. So I definitely felt that impostor syndrome.

I think sometimes you just devalue yourself and what you can offer. But I think it's just about having that self-belief. Certainly, when you get up there and you know you're doing something that is outside of your comfort zone, you think, "Do I really deserve to be here?" But you've got to just do it because if you don't do it then and there, if you don't take that opportunity, you're not going to grow. You're not going to evolve.

At my very first public-speaking event a couple of months ago, I said to myself, "I'm a confident guy". But doing something outside of your comfort zone, you don't necessarily know how it'll go. My feeling on it was just, "Let's give it a bash. And if I'm not good enough, if it goes down like a lead balloon, then at least I'll have learned something. At least I'll maybe have learned that that's not for me". Or maybe I'll have thought, "Well, it could be for me but I have to do this, this, and this to get better. I need more experience", like anything.

Ant Middleton talked about it over and over in "SAS: Who Dears Wins". Exposure, exposure, and repetition, and repetition. Literally you can align that with anything, whether it's a fear, if you're afraid of something. If you keep exposing yourself to that fear over and over, you're then better equipped to deal with that fear.

Now, you might not necessarily overcome that fear, but the more you expose yourself to it and if you do that repetitively, then the better equipped you will be able to deal with it. And failure is exactly the same.

So yeah, impostor syndrome, I think it's something that we all suffer, but it's just about having self-belief in yourself. And really, if you're following your heart and following your passion, if you've something to tell that you're passionate about, then I think that you will get there despite the failures. You'll get there in the end.

The impostor syndrome is just a negativity from your own mind because your mind doesn't want to put you outside your comfort zone. So you always have to push against that.

Christine: Yeah. I mean, a huge part of the show is almost mentally breaking down the candidates. So, before you went on…

 

Did you literally sit and write down and brainstorm your strengths and weaknesses? Did you try and second-guess what they were going to try and put you through and the stuff they were going to try and do?

Connor: Yeah, I did. Because "SAS: Who Dares Wins" is seen as such a physical thing, in my preparation to get physically fit, I was also training my mind. This is something that really resonated with me when I was going through it, because say, for instance, you're out for a five-mile run with

weight on your back. You have a lot of time to think. Going through all of that training, I had so much time to think, like, "What will I be doing in four weeks' time? Where will I be? Will I be able to cope?"

So in my training, I spent a lot of time going through my strengths and weaknesses and almost sort of second-guessing myself as well, which is one thing that . . . Going into it, I was like, "If I think that's a strength, I might get there and it's actually not a strength". I think that was the interesting thing. It was like, "Well, we'll really find out once we get there".

They asked me on the interview before the show, they said, "Will you give up?" and I said, "I don't think I'll give up but there's no point in my saying here now I'm 100% not going to give up if I get in there and have to give up". So I said, "For me, the interesting thing will be when I'm there, the chips are down, you'll find out".

I was sort of sure of myself, but at the same time, there's no better test than actually being there and doing it. But certainly, in terms of the mental side of things going into it, I feel like because I'd worked so hard physically, I was training my mind and . . .

The exercise scientist Tim Noakes talks about the central governor, and he talks about how, whenever you're doing a marathon, your Mile 18 will be slower than your last mile. Why is that? It's because you know that you're coming to the end.

This theory talks about how your mind will tell you that your body is hurting in ways that it really isn't, and you can push on beyond that barrier. But your brain is wanting to keep your body alive. It's a defence mechanism, and your mind doesn't want you to go into that state where you really start to damage yourself. But as soon as you get to that last mile of the marathon, your brain knows that you're coming to an end.

So whatever you're doing, whatever training you're doing physically, once you keep getting to that point where your mind says, "I want to give up", when you battle against that and when you say no to your mind saying, "Give up. Look, you can't go on any further", you become better equipped to then not give up time after time after time. Like I said earlier, that repetition.

So, for that, I felt as if I was good. If we're doing something physical and it's really, really tough, I can grit my teeth and I can keep going. And that mental side of things will kick in. I've said no to giving up over and over, for weeks upon weeks.

But for me, the unknown was the mental side of things once we got to resistance of interrogation. So that was where we were held in stress positions. We were listening to horrendous, searing noises. There was white noise. There were babies crying. There was glass screeching. And so that mental test was really an unknown for me.

The physical stuff, I had been there and done it, and I knew that, in a sense, I was mentally strong. But the resistance to interrogation was just a whole other kettle of fish. So that was really one point where I thought, "If I can get to there, see what happens". But resistance to the interrogation is just such an unknown.

Even holding the stress positions, it is a physical and a mental battle. But it's more you can't see anything, you haven't eaten in hours, you're very cold, you're very wet. And then the interrogators are playing mind games with you because they start to play you off with your teammates. You don't want to let down your team. So it's really kind of a battle of your own mind and can you get through it. So that was a big unknown for me.

Christine: Yeah, the interrogation, that is one of the most interesting episodes I think. We know about people using different anchoring techniques to try and get through tough situations. You think of kind of a happy place and you do a repeated action over and over again until the next time you do that action it triggers it in your brain.

 

Did you have any of that stuff set up before you went in? When you were sitting on the floor hooded and the baby is crying, what was actually going through your mind? What were you doing?

Connor: Very interesting. This is actually something that I didn't really prepare for going in. I sort of just thought I'll either be able to deal with it or I won't be able to deal with it. And for me, my drive and my purpose of being there, to try and inspire others and to try and show young kids that it doesn't matter what you do and it doesn't matter what other people say, just be you. I wanted to kind of be a force of good for Irish dancers and dancers and male dancers. So I thought to myself my passion was so strong, and I thought, "Is that enough to get me through?"

But when you talk there about anchoring techniques, I had read a little into that, but I wasn't sure what I would be able to do. And it just seemed to come naturally then once I was there. I was trying to get my mind to be distracted from the noises, from the baby's crying, from the drill noises, from the white noise, and also from the pain, from the stress positions.

Even holding your hands out like that for five minutes is horrendous, sitting down upright. They changed the positions every 20 minutes or so, and if you weren't holding the positions, you would've been pulled off the course.

But it just came naturally to me. I thought, "What can I do to try and distract my mind?" And I started going through Irish dance steps, the choreography from "Lord of the Dance", and I was able to just distract my mind by going through that.

This was really the toughest moment for me. And being in that interrogation for 12 . . . 12 hours it lasted, but for us, we sort of didn't know how long it was going to end. We had no concept of time. We didn't know how long we were there because you can't see anything. They took our watches off us. So it's all just, "Have I been here for two hours or have I been here for five hours?"

That kind of sense of unknown was really quite difficult, so distracting your mind became really, really important. And I'm just glad that that kind of came naturally for me. I never thought, "Once I get in there, I'm going to start going through Irish dancing steps". I was thinking about maybe trying to get to a happy place, but certainly not dancing, and it just came to me naturally and . . .

Christine: I suppose that . . .

Connor: Sorry?

Christine: I suppose that must be your happy place in your mind then. You went there to escape the reality of what was happening to you.

Connor: Evidently. Throughout that period, I just kept thinking, "Let's go through each dance over and over and over", because I thought that as I would go through each dance, the minutes were just ticking by.

In a challenge like that or a task like that or going through something difficult, you have to have faith that it is going to end, but at the same time, you have to be accepting of the reality that you're going to be there for a long time and it's not going to end soon. So I had that in my mind.

So I just thought, "Well, if we just go minute by minute by minute by minute, eventually we'll get there. And as each minute goes by, you're getting there closer".

That's one sort of takeaway from being on the series, is whether you're climbing a huge mountain or whether you're having to carry a boat for three miles, no matter how big that task is, you can't let that overwhelm you.

But at the same time, you have to be accepting that it's going to take time. And whether you're working on a huge project which is feeling like it's overwhelming you and it's getting you down, you have to be able to break it down into small chunks because that's the only way where you can then start to get through it and it doesn't feel like such a huge task. "Okay, we've broken it down. We've got through these chunks. These are the next chunks that we're going for". That's something that I was able to kind of implement through that resistance-to-interrogation phase.

Christine: Well, Connor, we've talked a lot about how you've the resilience to get through what happened during the show, but also I think, both as a dancer and in the show, a lot of teamwork goes on there. But at the same time, if you're going for the big role in the big show as a dancer, you're competing with your friends and colleagues. Likewise, in the show, they kind of had moments where you were working together and the next minute you had to kind of excel on your own.

One bit that sticks in my mind is during the interrogation, you were brought in, in a hood, and you found your mates sitting eating chicken and chips. And the look on your face of "He sold me out" was absolutely unreal.

 

So how do you deal with that switching between being solo and then working as part of a team? How do you marry those two together?

Connor: That's a very, very interesting question. You were saying there about my experience with "Lord of the Dance" where it is all about teamwork, unless you're maybe auditioning for the lead role. But for me, I think it just boils down to dimming someone else's light doesn't make you better.

So throughout "SAS: Who Dares Wins", there was so much camaraderie there. We were all just thrust into this crazy experience. Everyone was there for their own different reasons. It was such a mix and such a diverse group of people. But we were all there going through this crazy experience together and that created bonds for life.

Now, the TV series, whatever way the producers wanted to do it, they kind of played me out to be not a team player, which is actually . . . I would say me as a team player is one of my greatest strengths. And certainly my colleagues in "Lord of the Dance", I feel like they would back me up with that there. But TV is TV and they'll want to show it whatever way they want to show it.

But certainly, from a team dynamic, I feel like I'm a very good motivator and I'm good at being enthusiastic and encouraging others. And that's something that we had to do a lot on "SAS: Who Dares Wins". It was split into two teams. We were carrying boats, or whatever it was that we were having to do. It's, "Let's use each other's strengths. If somebody is particularly good at something or somebody has a weakness with something else, then let's accommodate that". And then, at other times, of course, you were scaling a mountain, and it was an individual effort.

But for me, I think it was just trying to be the best version of myself in whatever it was that we were trying to do. So whenever it was an individual effort, it was all about me trying to be the best and trying to be the quickest. But then whenever we were carrying a boat or when we were on the run, it was just trying to be of that value to the team in whatever way possible.

So we were actually on the run and there was one guy who was our leader of that task, but he was quite forthright in that he didn't want to listen to any of us and he just wanted to take his own views and, "This is what we're doing"

I think, in that respect, whenever you are leading a team, you want to be, "This is what we're doing. Boom, boom, boom". You don't want any sort of indecisiveness. But at the same time, if somebody has a suggestion or if somebody has a good idea, take that idea and then use it, even if you want to make it your own. So sometimes I felt like, in that respect, that guy didn't do that in the best way.

But for me, just going back to either being a team player or doing it for your own good, I feel like it's not about dimming other people's lights. And for me, it was just trying to be the best that I could be every day. And if it's in a team environment, then how can I contribute? How can I be of my best service? And in an individual environment, I guess it's just about trying to be your best.

Christine: You touched a wee bit on leadership styles there, Connor. So, obviously, you've got the leadership of the former "SAS" members who are your bosses, so to speak, and they use techniques that . . . Well, they're best described as not really for the workplace, I suppose.

 

But how did their example show you what a good leader is? What is a good leader to you?

Connor: Great question. For me, leadership is all about using what you have to your advantage. So we're talking about strengths and weaknesses there. I think it's a balancing act. And if somebody is particularly good at something, then put them in that role and they're going to thrive in that role.

And also, being able to take . . . I said earlier about suggestions from others. I feel like a good leader has to be able to take some sort of suggestions or ideas rather than just knocking everything down and, "We're going to do it this way". You have to have that openness to it.

Now, I'm not saying that you should be able to be a pushover or you should let somebody else come in and take over, but I do think you have to have that openness.

And then for me it's also about respect. I think respect is something that is earned. If you give respect, you'll get respect back, which, for me, is really, really important.

And in terms of characteristics as well, I feel like you have to be able to encourage and motivate others. I think whatever it is that you're doing, whatever the task is, you have to be able to give a little bit of praise when need be and then be able to encourage and motivate to get your team really pulling in the right direction.

Christine: So since winning "Who Dares Wins", it must have been an absolutely massive high. But sometimes when we achieve something that we've been really striving for in our career, once we achieve it, then there's this dip. Did you feel that at all after you got to the top of the summit, literally, I suppose?

Connor: Yeah, definitely. So this was filmed about this time last year, at the end of September and October. The TV series is really quite good. They have psychologists who were keeping in touch with us right up until the show aired. And they did say to you straight away, "There's going to be a low after this and this is going to be something that's hard to deal with. So try to give yourself something else to strive for, something else to focus on, rather than just coming home and going back into working, mundane kind of stuff. Try to give yourself a challenge, whatever it is".

So I was very fortunate that "The Lord of the Dance" last year actually had some work. In the middle of a worldwide pandemic, we had a short tour in Taiwan last December. And that involved a 2-week quarantine period because there were 100 different people flying in all over the world.

So that then meant that I came back in October and I was then aiming towards getting back to work. We hadn't danced in nine months, and that's something that you really quite have to prepare for.

Obviously, I was fit because of my "SAS" escapades, but at the same time, dance and fitness is a lot different. So I was really kind of fortunate that I had something to aim for, a focus, and that meant that I was back training for that.

And then in November as well, I also took on a 10,000 press-up challenge as a fundraiser for teenage cancer. And so that was actually . . . I think when the tour with Taiwan came up, it was a bit iffy because there were so many moving parts to getting a show on the road in the middle of the pandemic.

So when the doctor had said about maybe doing some sort of challenge, I thought, "Right. What can we do?" So the challenge was 3,000 push-ups. But I decided to take it that wee bit extra to do 10,000. So that was a huge challenge in itself, but it was also a force of good and I was able to raise some money for the Teenage Cancer Trust. And that kind of gave me a focus and that meant that I wasn't going to just dwell on what had happened.

Of course, after the journey, it was nice to sit with my family and have a couple of drinks and celebrate and just take in what had happened and what we had done. But at the same time, I kind of try to use "SAS: Who Dares Wins" as . . . not a stepping-stone but it's not the be-all and end-all, hopefully. I'll try to use it to just kind of keep going forward and keep doing new things, keep trying to grow my comfort zone, and push my boundaries.

I feel like we're all defined by our jobs and what we've done. I'm so much more than the guy from "SAS" and "Lord of the Dance". We get to adults and we feel like we've completed life, or society tells us that you get your job and that's it, you know how life works. But we're always growing. We're always evolving. We have to keep pushing ourselves. And without that, then we'll just kind of stay on a plateau rather than trying to go forward.

Christine: And you seem to always be moving forward. So I suppose what I was saying is I thought you'd achieved what you wanted to achieve, but it's just a stepping-stone to the next thing. So I know at the minute you're running a dance school.

 

What lessons from "Who Dares Wins" can you translate into running a dance school for small children?

Connor: Quite a few. Well, one thing that really stuck with me on "SAS: Who Dares Wins" was the directing staff constantly talked about doing the small things to a high standard consistently. And they remarked that the consistency part is where most people fail. They said, "No matter what you go to do in life, whether you want to be a builder, you want to be a doctor, or a solicitor, whatever it is, it's that attention to detail and that kind of pursuit of excellence on a daily basis".

And that's actually something that's sort of been ingrained in me from a young age, but I just didn't quite know it. My granddad is a big influence in my life. He's an 89-year-old at the minute and he's still working as a driveways contractor. So I've been fortunate enough to work with him since I was a kid.

His attention to detail . . . He's literally cut from a cloth that they don't make anymore. Whatever you'd done, he would tell you that you'd done it wrong. He drilled it into us about cleaning tools and making sure everything was done the right way time after time. And growing up, he was really a pain in the backside, but he's a big inspiration because he drilled that work ethic into me, that discipline, the pursuit of excellence, which is what the directing staff talked about.

The directing staff noticed everything on the course, and I was actually quite taken aback because they said to me, "You must have military experience. You're more than a dancer". And they remarked that whenever I let my Bergen down, which was our backpacks that had to weigh 40 pounds, they said that I set mine down nice and carefully, whereas all the other recruits threw their bags down. And they said, "Why did you do that?" And I said, "Well, that's my kit, that's my equipment, and I want to look after it".

Our dinner and lunch tins were in the front of the bag along with our coffee cup, whenever we were able to have a cup of tea with our dinner. And if you threw that on the ground, that was going to get smashed up.

So it's the little things, and that's what they talk about, doing that on a consistent basis and not giving in. So once it comes to the Irish dancing school, it's all about the attention to detail and doing the small things right consistently.

I said earlier about exposure and repetition, which Ant Middleton talked about all the time. And that's something that's really just quite stuck with me. It's simple. It's a simple theory, but it's so effective no matter what you do. If you're practising your Irish dancing, if you're doing it repetitively over and over and over, but not only repetitively, you need to do it on a consistent basis. So that's what I'm trying to drum into our dancers at the minute.

And like I said earlier about Irish dancing instilling many characteristics, the discipline is in Irish dancing. Irish dancing teachers are renowned to be really strict. I'm not quite as strict as maybe my original Irish dance teacher, but times are changing. It is 2021 now. I don't think I could get away with some of the things that Irish dance teachers would do years ago

But you're told from a young age, "With your shoulders back and your arms down by your sides, with your chin up to be proud". And that's something that'll stick with you, whether you're going for a job interview or you're entering a room, you're able to shake someone's hand. Simple things like that is something that will really stand by you throughout your life.

Then there's the robustness. As a professional dancer, we have to perform at the highest level six nights a week. And again, this is sort of the pursuit of excellence. I've been very fortunate to tour with "Lord of the Dance", and Michael Flatley is the guy who sort of created this industry. And he's our boss, so naturally, he expects the best of the best.

There are no hiding places on the live stage for us. On a Thursday night, whenever your legs are feeling a bit sore, you can't put in a substandard performance. It needs to be 100% night after night.

That robustness is something that we've been used to as dancers growing up because we have to practise five, six times a week over and over. And it doesn't matter if your legs are sore. You need to be able to go again.

Christine: Well, that's really interesting, that "SAS" can translate into teaching young kids. I have two myself, and I can totally see that you do want them . . . One thing I want for my kids is robustness and being able to have resilience, and all those lessons would be great for them.

Believe it or not, Connor, we have come to the end of our webinar. We're just a wee bit over the time. But it's been really, really interesting. Thank you so much for coming along and sharing your experience with us.

I think I have a few slides there, Katie, if you want to pop them up there. Hopefully, there's no glitch in the matrix. Apologies that the video didn't work too well.

Okay, there is a glitch in the matrix. Essentially, if everyone looks out for the post-webinar email, there will be some information on a course that Legal-Island is running on wellbeing and some of the themes that we explored in the webinar today, mental health, resilience, and all of that for your workforce. So look out. There's a special offer for that.

All that remains to be said, really, is thanks so much, Connor, for sharing your insights. It's been really interesting. It's been something a bit different. It's been nice to talk to somebody who's not a lawyer for a little change.

There are our contact details, if you'd like to get in touch. Thank you all very much for listening.

For anyone in Northern Ireland, I will see you again on 5 November for "Employment Law at 11". And the next webinar for the Republic of Ireland is "The Right to Remote Working" with Caroline Reidy and my colleague Rolanda, on 22 November. So we'll see you there and we'll also see at the Annual Review.

Thank you so much for listening, everybody, and have a lovely day. Thanks.

This article is correct at 15/10/2021
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The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

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