Rosewell had many questions for Sean as they sat down for the conversation. There were many curiosities surrounding the public and the private, though Sean walked into the conversation with utter openness. Nothing was off topic. Sean believes that vulnerability, at its core, entails the willingness to open up, listen, and talk about anything with respect and empathy. And so he did. In a deeply candid manner, Sean reflected on his story so far, what it has taught him, and how it influenced the creation of The Shaka Project.
Around a decade ago, as a young man living in Victoria, Australia, Sean owned and ran a gym that had an active community. The community organised and participated in fundraising events, contributing to big organisations and raising awareness for matters that lied close to the heart. “It was fun and intense,” Sean shared, “and we could really see the impact that we were making on others and ourselves”. Though one moment changed the trajectory of Sean’s endeavours, as they donated a large sum of money to a big organisation and received a very generic email as a brief thanks. For Sean, this didn’t sit well. Realising that this was something he needed to change, he began the mission of determining whom and where his community could drive impact and start more conversations about mental health.
In personal low moments of life, Sean found it hard to talk about mental health with his male friends. The challenge of starting such conversations lies in the societal conditioning of masculinity - that men “should be able to push through anything, be tough and durable”. “It’s not anybody’s fault,” Sean highlighted, “but it’s how the world has adapted throughout the past 100 years”. Mental health gets put on the backburner for many men; it's become something to simply push through. Alas, everyone has mental health - whether good or bad; and not everyone has conversations about it. It is, then, Sean’s mission to enable conversations about mental health to be as normal as talking about work, football or weekend plans.
“We should be able to talk about those feelings without feeling like we’re putting a burden on each other, and without feeling that we sound a bit silly”.
Talking about mental health was a challenge that Sean faced earlier on in life. Sean came face to face with himself a few times in determining to take his life. Pointing out two pivotal moments that changed his trajectory, Sean reflected on the times when he felt saved by his brother, and a bump in the road.
Sean shared that it was his brother who refused to let him be alone during a tough evening at a hotel, when Sean locked himself in the room with, what he described, as odd peace in the moment. His brother sat in the lobby for the whole evening - looking out for Sean in a way that is now encapsulated in The Shaka Project - by being present, being available to talk to, and providing understanding and empathetic company.
“I didn’t sit there feeling guilty that my brother’s waiting for me. I just thought ‘okay, that’s fine - you do what you want’. Reflecting back, that’s just such an amazing thing my brother did.”
Perhaps in the moment, all the noise gets cancelled out.
“I feel really selfish in allowing him to sit in the lobby by himself for nine hours in the middle of the night, just in case I left or did something,” Sean shared.