Wanderful wandering with David Pearl and Suzy Walker

Our very own Street Wisdom guru David Pearl interviews our editor-in-chief Suzy Walker for his brilliant new book Wanderful


Wanderful wandering with David Pearl and Suzy Walker

7 minute read

‘Just imagine that. You spend your life dangling up there in the sky!’

You can tell wandering with Suzy is going to be fun. Even before we begin, she’s asking a window cleaner why he’s wearing climbing gear and he points up to the tower block he’s about to scale. To him, this is probably an everyday task, but after a minute with Suzy he is looking up into the heavens, seeing his work in a different light.

Imagining what other people’s lives are like and sharing ideas to make them better is what Suzy is all about, and her enthusiasm is infectious.

It’s a drab day, but Suzy is a blaze of colour: fuchsia coat and a scarf that’s a shock of yellow around her shoulders. Who could be a more perfect walking companion than one whose second name is – Walker!

‘Greaves was my married name. I got divorced ten years ago and thought about changing but Greaves was my byline and the name I’d written all my books under, so I left it. Then I turned fifty and I thought “I want my own name!” I didn’t want to go back to my maiden name as I am not keen on that tradition of belonging to father or husband. I wanted a new one. I wanted to feel I belonged to myself. So I got all my friends together one evening and made an announcement.

“Suzy Greaves is dead. And Suzy Skywalker is born!”’

Skywalker? ‘Yes. That’s my full name. But the “sky” is silent!’

As her name choice suggests, she’s a Star Wars fan, though she’s less drawn to the mythic hero’s journey than that of the heroine. ‘It’s time for the inner more than the outer quest. The Knights of the Round Table need to serve the Queen, not in a gender sense but energetically. We need to nurture things rather than be saying, “There’s a dragon, let’s kill it!”’

Her own journey to here (today she’s the editor of Psychologies, one of the world’s most successful and popular personal development magazines) has had its dramatic ups and downs.

‘My parents died when I was a teenager. My father died a long horrible death of stomach cancer. My mum’s death was much faster – just four weeks. I’d had this idyllic childhood by the sea. Dog, brother, mum and dad, and all of a sudden it was washed away.

‘I had to figure things out quick. I was in free fall, but I knew there were “ledges of happiness” for me if I could find them. Self-development didn’t exist then as it does now but that’s the direction I headed. Tony Robbins. Therapy. Coaching. To be honest, I was completely sold. When your whole world has disappeared, when everything you knew to be right and strong has gone, then what do you do with the rest of your life? For me, the key to survival was growth…’

We’ve turned into a side road of small, independent shops and Suzy has stopped in her tracks. ‘It is a sign!’ she says, face wreathed in smiles. She’s pointing to the window of an organic cafe where there is, quite literally, a sign, hand-painted with the words: We Grow.

Suzy is laughing. ‘That’s part of my theme for next year. Keep. Grow. Deliver.’

The cafe is tempting but it’s too soon for a cup of tea. We decide to wander but commit to returning here at the end of our walk. Watching Suzy carefully, I notice she’s not deciding a route but, at every corner and junction, letting the direction suggest itself.

But, as I am discovering, that’s very Suzy.

‘I love editing a magazine like ours, which is about all the different ways you can survive and flourish. There is no one way to do that. There are millions. My personal path was through therapy, self-development and coaching. I got really evangelical, but I had friends who’d say “I’d rather stick pokers in my eyes than go to a self-development workshop”. Instead, they’d climb a mountain. Or go wild swimming. Or walk a dog.

‘Some magazines are really preoccupied with conventional – and that usually means financial – success. You know the story: “once I was poor and now I am rich”. I am more interested in people who are making success on their terms. That’s about valuing yourself not based on how much money you earn but the quality of the life you lead. Personally, when I see someone really walking their talk, doing it, making it in the world; I turn round and look at them. That’s got my interest.’

Growing up in a Yorkshire mining village, Suzy is used to being considered a bit of an eccentric. And her fascination with human development hasn’t always been as acceptable as it is today.

‘When I first started editing the magazine, everyone used to tell me Psychologies was their “guilty pleasure”. Like development was something to hide. Things have moved on. For example, mental health is a huge conversation now and we make sure we always carry stories for people who are struggling and need to find their own “ledges” to rest on. In my experience, no matter how dark things get there is always a way to see and think about the world which is healthy. How do you manage to balance the light and the dark in your life?’

We’re so engrossed in the conversation I don’t notice that Suzy has turned the tables and is now interviewing me! Before I know it, I’ve talked about my own brushes with depression as a younger man – about how darkness is part of wholeness. I am sharing things I haven’t spoken or talked about for a while. But Suzy is so easy to talk to and no subject is off limits.

‘If you came to one of our features meetings it’d probably look like a therapy session. I’ll be encouraging people to really say what they think and feel. Because the work is only ever going to be authentic if we have those conversations about what’s really going on.’

Suzy’s warmth for her team is palpable, and I sense it’s mutual.

‘When I first came to Psychologies I was a journalist but I had never edited a magazine. It’s a real skill. Flat plans. Choosing cover stars. I had never done any of that before. They said we love your vision and we’ll show you how to do it.

‘I am the personality type that’s always coming up with the next thing and the next and the next. The team will often say to me “great idea, but maybe not right now”.’

I experienced Suzy’s torrential creativity for myself at the very start of this walk. As we prepared to set off, I spent a few moments fumbling to get my recorder working. In that time Suzy suggested I turn this interview into a podcast, gave it a name, suggested a podcast platform, proposed some equipment I should probably invest in, mentally sketched a design and strategised a plan for creating and reaching an audience.

So no shortage of ideas there. Which is probably why Oscar is so important.

‘Oscar is the office dog. He is fundamental to the team and to me. He’s what keeps us all sane. We’ll be crazy busy and the team will say to me, “You are just being too nuts. Will you please take Oscar for a walk? And come back when things are clear.”’

So many people are looking to Suzy and her magazine to clarify how they negotiate their future. How does Suzy navigate hers?

‘I have to be a bit careful here. I do feel like I am entering my Third Act but that can sound a bit too Bono (love him though I do). I used to be all about goals and making them happen. Now I don’t set goals. The universe just laughs at me when I do. Instead I set an intention and stay open to receive the signals. That’s what’s so important about making time to wander. Life often whispers the invitation and if we get busy, we miss it. Then it really has to bang on the door, usually with some sort of crisis, as though it’s saying “do I have your attention now?”

‘I use my heart to help guide me. I’ll ask the world “show me!” And then wait for what I call a heart leap. We all know those times where you are in the place you think you are supposed to be, surrounded by important folk and all the rest, but your heart is sinking. I am constantly looking for people, places, work, where my heart leaps. Where I sense we can help the world be a better, more loving, kinder place.’

Tea is calling. And we’re nearly back at the cafe with that We Grow sign.

‘All my friends make fun of me for seeing signs everywhere. But the truth is I constantly feel the environment is chatting with me. I am constantly looking for meaning in the world and seeing how things are patterned. Star Wars jokes aside, I do believe there’s something like the force – a kind of thing that knits us all together. OK, it might just be that what you focus on expands but when I step back and slow down and stop thinking about the “should”, I do get the answers I am looking for. I’ll find myself asking what comes next and suddenly there’s a bing-bong on the doorbell and life delivers an answer. It’s really magical. Scarily magical.’

Now we’re both laughing. The instrument store we’ve just passed featured a drum kit with the word ‘pearl’ emblazoned on the front. And the bookshop we find ourselves standing in front of specialises in witchcraft.

Scary. And magical.

David is the founder of social enterprise Street Wisdom. His book Wanderful: Human navigation for a complex world (Unbound Digital, £9.99) is out now.

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