“The self-talk I had was that I'd lost the ability to do anything else.”  

Image of Nate Thomas
From Theatre to Facilitation

Exhausted from overworking while battling long-term anxiety, Nate Thomas knew that something had to change. Taking time out not only helped him heal, but also led to the discovery of a new career direction. Here's how he discovered lasting transformation on the way to work he loves.

What work were you doing previously?

I was a stage technician in theatre for about twelve years. 

Towards the end of my theatre career I spent two and a half years in London’s West End on a major show, then moved to Australia to work on internationally-travelling shows.

What are you doing now?    

I’m now Head of Live Experiences at FLOWN, a startup that provides tools and spaces for achieving ‘flow state’ (distraction-free focus) while working . 

When I first started with FLOWN, I was a facilitator, hosting ‘Flocks’. These are online deep work sessions designed to free participants from distraction, fill them with motivation and help them get more done than they thought possible, even when working remotely or alone.

Now I'm the Head of Live Experiences. This involves designing, planning, curating and overseeing live sessions and events for our members. Alongside this I lead the team of people who host Flocks, and still continue to host Flocks myself.

I am also the in-house Breathwork Coach and lead regular breathwork sessions called Airflow.

How did you feel in your work before you decided to make the change?

I was in a bad headspace at the time. 

I'd started to talk to myself very badly in my head. I went on a mental health journey throughout all of my shift, which was one of the drivers for making the change.

It wasn't the job or industry that made me feel that way, it was myself and I'd allowed self-talk to talk me into that. 

Having said that, the industry is hard. It’s long hours, it's physical graft, you miss a lot of things in your personal life – family occasions, parties, Boxing Day and New Years. I'd got a bit tired of the hours, and it was quite repetitive. 

But I really was at a point at the end of theatre where I just didn't want to be there anymore because I didn't trust myself. I remember we were building a show and I'd lost the confidence to drill a screw into the floor (and this is someone who's been building for theatre for twelve years). My mind was saying 'I'm going to break it, I'm going to do something wrong'. I was completely overwhelmed by anxiety.

I was depressed as well by that point as it had been going on for so long. It was horrible.

When was the moment you decided to make the change?    

Towards the end of my time at the West End, I decided to go to Australia, with the idea to get out of theatre work. 

But when I arrived there I ended up working shows in Sydney. I started having really bad problems with anxiety. It had started while in my previous work in London, but it got worse in Australia, to the point where I was wrecked. 

Work had become my way to hide from my anxiety, so I added more work on top, doing more jobs.

At the worst point, I was working four theatre jobs. One was full time which was every evening and all weekend. Then I'd work sporadically at Sydney Opera House from 5am to 1pm. Some days I would do freelancing in the middle, so I'd squeeze work in between leaving Sydney Opera house and going to the evening theatre job. 

I worked out that there was a time where I hadn't taken a day off for something like 64 days in a row, then I took half a day and went on to do another 30 or more days without a break. 

I was completely wrecked. My sleep was horrendously small. I could feel my personality was no longer there and I felt totally disconnected from what was happening around me. 

Imagine living life behind frosted glass – that was me.

How did you choose your new career?    

I went to a yoga class to help with my anxiety and it was a really amazing, high quality class. 

It blew my mind and gave me a lease of life that I hadn't felt in a long time. I'd been looking for a light or path to follow, and after just a handful more classes I had an unexpected moment of realisation: ‘This is so powerful, I think I want to teach this'.

There was a bit of a swapover period. I was still working in theatre in Australia and had over a year left on my visa. I continued to battle anxiety for the entire duration of my stay, it peaking around a year after this moment. 

After taking on a six-week contract in Melbourne, I flew to Tasmania to meet an old friend. Within minutes, she saw my situation for what it was, something I couldn't see from the inside. I had booked my flight home within 24 hours.

So I went home, started therapy, and at the end of that I did my yoga teacher training, which was hugely transformational. That ended the theatre chapter.

From that point on it was all about trying to make money in a sector that doesn't pay well, in a location with not many yoga studios. Some days I'd be spending more on fuel mileage than I'd be making from teaching, but just before Covid hit I was getting to the point where I was practically teaching full time and it was becoming almost sustainable!

Covid was a whirlwind! It was a bit difficult to transition from something I was still learning to do in-person, and take that into an online environment.

I was super lucky as my partner and I had moved in together on day one of the first lockdown (thinking it would be a couple of weeks...). She practices and teaches yoga too so together we were teaching online. While it was difficult it worked really well, for the first month or two it was more lucrative, more hours and more interest than in-person. But then it just died.

As we went through Covid, I became more interested in breathwork and undertook breathwork training. I started to realise that breathwork was probably more where my passion lies than yoga teaching (even though I love it too).

As we started to come out of the pandemic, a friend of a friend's fiance messaged me saying 'I work for this company, we're looking for people to host sessions, I think it might be up your street'... Enter FLOWN.

Are you happy with the change?

Yes, very happy.

It's the culture of the company that I love. It's supportive. I get to express myself on Flocks, I get to be creative in a unique area of expertise in Airflow, and I get to support others in expressing themselves. I get to coach, train, and strategise.

The internal team is small, so most decisions everyone is in on, or at least you get to pass your opinion, and I find that incredibly rewarding. I feel close to the growth. It’s a job where I get to see the power and effectiveness of what we're doing.

I'm very lucky – somebody wants to pay me a salary to do breathwork, and they also want to support me, train me, and give me a community.

What do you miss?

I miss the people in theatre, without a doubt.

Whether it's crew, cast, people who float in for a day… there’s just an energy about the people, who are there to work hard and enjoy it. There’s a real sense of enjoying your work, at least that's my experience. You're in it together, there's a real camaraderie to it. 

There's also an amazing essence to theatre, it's eccentricity and personalities that you just wouldn't meet anywhere else.

How did you go about making the shift?

When I received the message about potentially working for FLOWN, I had a look and wasn't really sure if it was for me or not but I applied, not really expecting anything to come from it.

And then there I was, facilitating nine sessions a week, then a few months later I was working with them full time.

When I started at FLOWN I said to them 'I’ve never sent an email in an office environment, I've never hosted a meeting or ever even been in a meeting. I trust that I have the self-awareness to do it and be absolutely fine, but there'll be things you might think are standard for people starting to work here that I just don't have. I've come from the theatre space where you don't have sit-down meetings or discuss the next quarter.’

But there was something in the company, and particularly speaking to the CEO and former COO that I was immediately sold by. They were very open and supportive of the fact that they would help me along with those aspects that I didn't have that much experience of.

And I've since just gone from strength to strength at FLOWN.

How did you develop (or transfer) the skills you needed for your new role?    

The majority of the things that I learnt teaching yoga are what enabled me to do well in the facilitation aspect of my current work.

Prior to the yoga teacher training, if you'd have asked me to stand up in front of people and speak in front of them, I instantly couldn't speak. I hated it. Everything would just clam up.

So to go from that to hosting workshops or yoga classes of around 30 people, to hosting Flocks of 75 people sometimes, that journey in itself has been huge.

In terms of carrying across skills from theatre, I have an eye for detail, an ear for the nuances of presenting, and knowledge of what it means to put a 'show' on. I'll pick up on things that people don't notice because that's what we did in order to put on the best show possible.

Now I'm more in a kind of leadership and strategising role, I think there's elements of my job that use remnants of those skills and experiences from being in the theatre.

How did you handle your finances to make your shift possible?

I didn't do any planning.

I came home with a decent amount of money from my time in Australia due to all the overworking. The irony of working ridiculously hard to save money and then spending it on therapy is not lost on me!

I also reduced my expenses and lived at my parents house for a while, which took some humility to stay with them in my late twenties and start over again.

There's a t-shirt company that had just started down the road from me that my friend worked for, and they took me on. This brought some income in and was enough to tide me over whilst I was going to therapy.

That's all I did for a while, work for them, attend therapy, do my homework, because my only goal at that time was to get my head sorted out.

What was the most difficult thing about changing?

In both changes (from theatre to yoga, then yoga to FLOWN), for me there was a sense of guilt. 

I had this sense that I'd failed the people that had trained me, or I’d failed myself, almost in that I hadn’t been able to 'succeed' in that industry.

I definitely felt guilty of reducing my yoga hours. I had guilt towards the teacher that I trained with, guilt towards my students. It's like walking away from a community that you're very close with.

And I think it's the same with theatre. You get jobs through friends who work on other shows, it's a very tight industry and you leave those friends behind. 

But I think that's probably been dealt with now. For example if my time at FLOWN was to come to an end, I don't think I’d have the guilt that I didn’t give it my all.

What help did you get?    

I’m a Movember ambassador (a men’s health charity), and I posted about my mental health challenges for Movember online.

The people I was working with at the time in Australia saw it, and were really supportive, including my manager who said 'if I can do anything, please let me know'.

Having posted about it publicly online there was a massive amount of support from everyone on social media, including a lot of people messaging me to reach out and say "I never would have thought you'd be anxious", "You're so outgoing" etc. 

Being open and vulnerable had a hugely powerful effect on others who would definitely not be that open and vulnerable in a public space, so that was kind of weirdly supporting in its own way.

I’ve had help all along the way – the friend in Tazmania who told me it's time to get home and get help; CBT was life changing for me and super effective; my yoga teacher training trainer.

And then Alicia Navarro (Founder) and Cat Navarro (the former COO) at FLOWN have just been phenomenal, along with the rest of the team who I’ve felt very supported by. Cat's been pivotal in helping me to learn, understand and problem-solve in areas where I felt like I didn't really have the experience. 

I never expected to be able to go to work and be so honest about what you're struggling with, or where you need help, and get 100% support back.

Underpinning all of that I have a super supportive partner, friendship group and family network.

What have you learnt in the process?

That I’m capable of learning.

The self-talk I had at the end of the theatre career was that I'd lost the ability to do anything else. The job had become quite repetitive and therefore quite easy. I vividly remember the words 'I can't learn anything new anymore' in my head. 

I'd got stuck in a headspace that was telling me that I was becoming stupid. I'd been essentially bullying myself inside my own head for two years.

Going to yoga teacher training was a whole world of learning new things, then starting to teach my own classes and having that be well-received gave me that validation of 'oh hang on a minute, I can do new things and I can do them well'.

Then coming to FLOWN has been like that but on steroids – learning how to facilitate, then learning how to lead, then learning how to manage, and all along the way feeling that I'm doing a pretty good job of it.

I definitely feel like that belief has been proven wrong, which is immensely powerful.

What do you wish you'd done differently?

I wouldn’t have pushed myself to the point of breaking, although I also believe it’s a sad fact of human nature that sometimes we need to hit our rock bottom to generate huge change.

What would you advise others to do in the same situation?

Find something that you think 'that’s a bit of me', and then go all in and see what happens.

For me I wouldn't be able to plan a career change all out, I'd overthink it and get stuck. 

Set your sights on a target and go for it!

Thank you to our friends at FLOWN for this story.

What lessons could you take from Nate's story to use in your own career change? Let us know in the comments below.

Plus, if you know someone who's made a successful shift into work they love, we'd love to hear from you. Drop us a line at [email protected]. and you could win a £25 / $35 voucher in our monthly draw.