#99 Rewriting Your Childhood Stories

Today's Guest: Calvin Niles

Today, I interview Calvin Niles who was raised in Barbados, a small island in the Caribbean. He had a loving environment, but his father was a strict disciplinarian who made sure his children minded their manners. His father’s discipline style instilled in him a need for approval and reinforced a carrot-and-stick mentality. The school system was also quite rigid, and physical punishment was common. The government had a strong intention to provide a high education standard, but sometimes the disciplinary actions taken were harmful, such as being beaten for not knowing timetables or getting a school uniform dirty.

Calvin moved to London as a teenager after finishing his studies, where he discovered a new version of freedom. He was able to attend college and explore his creativity, which was a rebirth for him. He found a sense of home in London and has lived there for more than 20 years. Despite this, he still feels ties to his birthplace, Barbados. In London, he was able to rediscover his burning urge to create and express himself organically. He found his voice through allowing space for things to arise and eventually started to expand.

Calvin is a holistic storytelling coach who helps individuals and organizations discover new perspectives through self-discovery and expression. He also specializes in strategic storytelling, where he assists organizations to use stories to connect with their teams and customers authentically. He imbues his coaching with mindfulness, and all of his work is available on his website, calvinniles.com, where people can find links to his social media channels and access all of his freely available work. His coaching approach is focused on helping people find their voice and validate their expression, and he believes that breaking open and going through a deep self-inquiry is a necessary part of this process.

He has just released his latest book, “Nami and Kai: A Tale of Friendship Love Courage and Truth.” “Nami and Kai” is intended for all ages and is warmly recommended as a gift for adults and parents who love to read with their children.


Calvin is a creative communicator and specialist in transformational and strategic storytelling. He is currently engaging global audiences within the Siemens DISW community. As an award-winning storytelling coach and consultant, he counts some of the UK’s best-loved charity organizations, local government councils and the UK’s Ministry of Defense among his past engagements. He is the author of the novel, The Sun Rises in Eastmoor, the mindful poetry collection Breathe Between the Lines, and the co-author of Mindfulness for Challenging Times.

Calvin’s coaching and communication talents underlie his ability to get to the heart of problems. His vision and penchant for efficiency help businesses get things done. Experienced at both strategic and tactical levels, Calvin sees adaptability as key to ensuring that his supply of skills is transferred to those with the greatest demand, and where the biggest impact can be made. While drive and determination fuel his work ethic, an attitude of good humor makes all the difference.

Watch the episode:

Connect with Calvin Niles

Transcript of Interview

Transcript of Interview


Find Your Voice, Change Your Life Podcast


Podcast Host: Dr. Doreen Downing


Free Guide to Fearless Speaking: Doreen7steps.com


Episode # 99 Calvin Niles


“Rewriting Your Childhood Stories”  


(0:36) Dr. Doreen Downing

Hi, this is Dr. Doreen Downing. I am so excited today to introduce you to a new friend of mine. I’ve met Calvin Niles on the Mindfulness Professionals Network and I have listened to his podcast, I’ve read his books, and I’ve already begun to open my heart and as soon as I saw him on the camera today with a full brilliant smile. I just wanted to spend the whole session just smiling. Hi, Calvin.


(1:07) Calvin Niles

Hello, Dr. Doreen. I’m delighted to be here. And thank you for your kind words, I feel the same. I want to smile at you all day as well.


(1:16)  Dr. Doreen Downing

Well, there’s a resonance there’s a connection. There’s something that we share about life and how people can become more of who they’re meant to be that feels like what we’re both here for. You have a brief bio, I’d like to read it so that people get a little bit of history, but we’ll also let them know at the end how to contact you because you do offer amazing services. Calvin Niles is known as the mindful storyteller, and is an award winning coach and consultant, he is the best selling author of “The Sun Rises in Eastmoor” and co-host of the “Mindful Conversations” podcast, and you can find him at www.calvinniles.com. There was something else before we launched today that I found while reading your website that I’d like to read out loud because it really touched me. And you said “my mission is to enable impactful ways to relate and communicate with ourselves and with each other, and unlock authentic engagement through self discovery and expression.” And that I feel is what this podcast is all about anyway – people coming on and sharing their life story and being an inspiration. But also we get to engage, we have a conversation. And that’s what I think captivates people is the fact that you weren’t just out there promoting yourself. It’s like well, so what does it mean to be you? And how did you get to be somebody who’s a coach and award winning author, but you didn’t start that way? So let’s go back and give us a little bit of the history of your childhood and where you grew up. Is there any kind of struggle that you feel stands out when you look back?


(3:29)  Calvin Niles

Thank you for the warm introduction and for asking. Yes, so I was raised in the Caribbean. I was raised on a tiny beautiful island called Barbados. And that place is where I spent, I would say my first 15 or 16 years of my life. My mother is from another island, a neighboring island, but my father traveled a lot with his job. So he spent a lot of time not physically there, and I’d visit him as a child. We traveled with him as a family as well as his mother was from Trinidad. She’s a nurse, public health servant, and spiritual warrior. My father was a government worker disciplinarian. You know, the man who brings home the bacon. I was raised in a very loving environment and am very fortunate to have that. And I did have a very strict dad too. So he made sure we all minded our p’s and q’s. Sometimes he would be very strict. Sometimes that would cause us to be scared, if I’m speaking plainly, to be scared of the consequences of whatever action or activity we might or might not take.


(5:23)  Dr. Doreen Downing

That makes sense. I heard a lot of stories about well meaning parents, and they have their own histories. And they have their own approach to raising children. I’ve interviewed some people who’ve been children of military parents. So I’ve heard before that this kind of parenting affects us as children. They say “okay, there’s a right way and a wrong way, I better straighten up my back”. And like you said, P’s and Q’s, let’s make sure we get them right. But it’s approval when they say, “Yeah,” to us. It feels like the positive side is we get approval, and that feels like love.


(6:16)  Calvin Niles

I can certainly identify with that. I mean, I think, you know, the school system was quite rigid when I was small. And we were kind of raised in such a way that good boy – this is good behavior. And then bad boy, this is bad behavior. And often the bad behavior would be corrected, with physically being slapped or beaten with a belt, or a stick or whatever. And it was quite normal, growing up in the Caribbean in those days, teachers would whip you and stuff like that. Now, I never told my father that, because for some reason, it was just something you never came home and told your parents that you got beaten at school, because it was so normal. Of course, then, you want to impress your parents, and I certainly wanted to impress my parents. And I think that generation that was raising children probably helped to, you know, reinforce this kind of carrot and stick mentality in how you bring your kids up, right? This is good. So, I’ll give you a practical example. My dad was the kind of dad who would like us to call family meetings in the evenings and ask us all to explain why our grades are the way they are. And everybody would have to answer, one by one, why did you want to get 78%? Why not 88? Why not 98? What was the report from last year and these kinds of really long pauses to make you quake in your boots while you’re waiting for him to say his next word. So he was quite strict like that. But it was a really strange thing to do because he had this potential to be so loving, and so gentle. And the irony is my dad never hit me once.


(8:31)  Dr. Doreen Downing

What you’re just saying, though, is also a presence and words are very powerful. And sometimes the physical is not necessary to actually implant in somebody, “I better be careful.”


(8:47)  Calvin Niles

Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And it took some time. And I don’t want to sort of race ahead, but those early years were like that. I mean, it took me some time to, I guess, come full circle and realize that actually, my dad did the best he could do and, and also, I don’t want to do an injustice here by missing out on all the amazing things he did. He was more loving than not, but he was just a very strict disciplinarian. And that kind of trains you to be looking for that approval.


(9:28)  Dr. Doreen Downing

Yes. So you mentioned school and the harshness that the teachers gave their students. You must have had a couple of times when you were corrected? What were the kinds of outlandish behaviors early on in school? What do you remember?



(10:14)  Calvin Niles

You mean that that would cause some teachers to want to whip you or something? I mean, a lot of it was work related for us. You know, I think one of the things is that it’s really strange. I mean, Barbados is a tiny island with a quarter of a million people. Its reputation outweighs the population quite significantly. So there was a very high education standard from a literacy point of view and academic point of view. So from my point of view, I guess you could say that the government had a strong intention, and people did something right. But what I think they actually did wrong, or maybe a better word would be to say harmful, was things like being beaten for not knowing your timetables, or playing in the mornings and getting your school uniform dirty. Remember, this is a hot country, okay it is tropical. So you would get sweaty quite easily if you started to run around in the morning. And I remember as a kid we would go and play in the mornings, if we were brave enough to forget the potential punishment, we would go around and climb trees or play “Catch Me If You Can” or whatever it might be. And if you broke a sweat, you would see kids literally hoping to dry their shirts off. So before they got to the class, because if the teacher thought you came to school, first thing in the morning, and you’re getting yourself sweaty, is your uniform needing to be pristine? Right? It needed to shine.


(12:19)  Dr. Doreen Downing

You need to again, have that standard of perfection.


(12:26)  Calvin Niles

The seams needed to almost cut you, when you touch them, you know, your socks needed to have the garters in them to hold them up. If your socks were too stretched out, they’d fall and when you’re wearing shorts, if your socks fell, and you looked untidy, you’d get whipped on your legs. So it was all of this kind of stuff that used to happen in school that we considered to be normal, which, as I’m reflecting I realize it was actually abuse, if I’m honest. But that was how all of us were. I mean, I wasn’t unique.


(13:03)  Dr. Doreen Downing

Right, right. I’m glad you framed it, like you just did around. Literally, it was abuse. But you weren’t framing it as a young kid that it was abusive, and only later looking back you went, “huh.” So the idea about voice and finding your voice when you’re a young one, because that’s where we first get that sense of self and confidence. And then we move out into school and other social environments. My sense about you and finding your voice early on is there wasn’t a lot of room for that. And I think about who you are now. And what you’ve worked on is expansion, that the whole idea of having been so contained as a young one, and having some boundaries and some limits. And so I’m feeling the juxtaposition of this early life. And what you’re still not that way, you did not live your life in a container. Because the work you do now is so open. So open hearted, so open minded. Let’s move forward a little bit on your journey. And what would you say happened next part of your self discovery?


(14:34)  Calvin Niles

Yeah, thank you. I like the word you just used “juxtaposition,” because if I would just add one tiny remark is that while all of that was happening there was still a degree of freedom there. That I would say, I was very fortunate to experience being able to wander off from my parent’s house for what felt like miles to a young child without having to be worried, or my parents having to be worried because there was this sense of community that there was always somebody who knew where you were. So, juxtaposition is a wonderful, wonderful word to use. It was a paradox even sometimes. But later I finally finished my studies, and then I moved to London as a teenager. And that was where I discovered a new version of freedom. Had I found my voice? Well, I would say I made a big leap in the right direction. I was able to go to a college and spread my wings in a way that I had never been able to before. I was able to do writing and Media Studies and explore my creativity and do things in a way that actually was a kind of rebirth for me. You know, it was a huge moment for me personally, to start to actually discover things that wanted to emerge out of me without the pressure of anything, anyone else or any other thing saying that this is what you should be or should do.


(16:49)  Dr. Doreen Downing

And you didn’t have to defend yourself. No one’s standing over you with the stick or a gaze.


(17:12)  Calvin Niles

I just find that sometimes it’s so easy to indigenize. We can take some of our external circumstances, and bring them inside. And then we could have all the shoulds and have tos and must dos that we might have heard externally, once upon a time, and carry that internally, until we decide to let it go.


(17:39)  Dr. Doreen Downing

But first, you have to become aware of it. And that feels like you, despite being in a new environment without a lot of boundaries that you came up against, were probably in your own head, but you started to grow there in love. Did you ever go back? Are you still in London?


(17:59)  Calvin Niles

Yeah, London is my home now. It has been my home for 20 something years. I’m in my early 40s now and it has been my home ever since. And I still have my ties to my birth home, Barbados will always be home. My dad’s from there. That region, the Caribbean, will always be home. But London is also home, because I’ve lived here for most of my life actually.


(18:36)  Dr. Doreen Downing

Well, in terms of you stepping into a new environment that gives you way more opportunities to discover more and be more at the same time. Let’s talk a little bit more about you early on, as you’re moving into the world, your voice – what felt like truly you early on?


(19:04)  Calvin Niles

It’s really fascinating. I think being able to express myself became something very important without me realizing it. I never wanted to read a book. I never wanted to do anything that would cause me to explore my creative potential. But when I was really young, and I think this is probably true for a lot of people who grew up in a safe place, I just wanted to express myself, organically. And I think I rekindled that actually. I somehow was able to rediscover this burning urge, this kind of fire to create. So I think the voice started to find itself. I mean, recently, I actually found something I wrote 20 something years ago that I had forgotten that I had written. And I realized that it was one of the first things that I did, where I wrote organically, kind of like a journal, since I had been able to spread my wings. And I think allowing that space for those things to arise helped me to find that voice. Actually, I was always good at writing. When I was in University, I thrived and excelled in it. There was something else that once would have wanted to emerge. And then that started to kind of rise up, and they started to come out slowly, and eventually started to expand. And I can’t tell you exactly when that happened, but it started to happen.


(21:41)  Dr. Doreen Downing

Well, again, people who aren’t watching, you just raised your hands up, and it just felt like the skies were opening up for you. I think the point you just made is that finding your voice isn’t like, oh, there it is. I sat down and I found it. You were really saying that, discovering who you are, because voice comes from who you are, and it was a gradual kind of movement into the potential that had been there. You’re talking about it being remembered, like something that got reignited in your soul.


(22:34)  Calvin Niles

Yes, I like the way you express that. I mean, there’s a part that feels true about it. Without thinking about it, you know, there is a part that emerges. And that just feels good. And there is no kind of requirement for anyone to pass judgment, actually, because you don’t care. And I didn’t care. I just enjoyed this process of discovery. And then I feel as time progressed, more challenges came, and if anybody’s ever looked at my story, they would know that I went through some challenges with relationship breakdown and some really deep self inquiry that came as a consequence of that. But I would say that would probably be another phase of the discovery, maybe a deepening of the discovery or a greater opening came as a result of allowing myself to be broken open. If I may paraphrase Rumi.


(23:48)  Dr. Doreen Downing

Yes, yes, you may you please.


(23:54)  Calvin Niles

Yes, it was literally like a breaking open of my heart. And I feel like that was an essential part of me feeling much more in alignment just from the feedback of my expression and activity. And then that’s how I validate whether I’m actually speaking with my own voice or not. That’s how I validate that personally – it feels true. However difficult it might be to describe what “feeling true” feels like, there is nothing that makes me regret what I express whether it’s in verbal, written or artistic form. There is no strong resistance that is telling me no, and there’s also no burning urge for me to continuously listen back to what I said to judge it over and over again. All of that just disappears and I feel good in the process. It feels true. Just release it like a bird.


(25:13)  Dr. Doreen Downing

The gestures again, really breaking free. Yes. And that idea of breaking free is what I feel you’re all about, right? It is the whole idea about enabling people to relate and communicate. The second was this deeper self inquiry. And you need to have either courage, some guidance through reading or videos or a coach. So I want to make sure we get a beautiful sense of how you coach and where that comes from inside of you, the inner knowing of what it takes to keep on going. And that whole idea of broken nests is not brokenness. It’s the beginning of something new is what you’re saying. So what are you doing currently? How do you reach people? What are you up to now?


(27:01)  Calvin Niles

That’s very kind of you. So yeah, I do a lot of what I call holistic storytelling coaching. I also do strategic storytelling, because the storytelling part of the work that I do is, as you mentioned already, helping us to relate and communicate better with each other through self discovery and expression. And on the holistic strand, it’s all about discovering new perspectives. It is not about being wedded to the story that we create, actually, it’s more about using the story as a way to create new openings. From a strategic side it’s helping organizations use stories to connect people inside their teams, or to connect with their customer base, authentically. And it’s about getting people to tell their own stories in their work. So that’s how I’ve spent many years of my consulting and coaching time, and imbuing all of that with mindfulness, bathing it in the tub of mindfulness.


(28:22)  Dr. Doreen Downing

You have such a wonderful way with words bathing, of all things, you know, bringing in words that have a whole different meaning and a context for us and then putting them with another word that has a different meaning. Well, how can we find you?


(28:47)  Calvin Niles

Oh, thank you. Well, as you rightfully pointed out, calvinniles.com is probably the best way – everything that I have written and talked about is on there, all of my work is freely available on calvinniles.com, including the links to all of my social channels. I was delighted to see you there.



(29:09)  Dr. Doreen Downing

You’re gonna see me there, Calvin.


(29:12)  Calvin Niles

I hope so. I hope to see you again too.


(29:16)  Dr. Doreen Downing

Yeah, we will. This is only the beginning of lots of conversations. Thank you so much. Thank you.

Also listen on…

7 STEP GUIDE TO FEARLESS SPEAKINGPodcast host, Dr. Doreen Downing, helps people find their voice so they can overcome anxiety, be confident, and speak without fear.

Get started now on your journey to your authentic voice by downloading my Free 7 Step Guide to Fearless Speakingdoreen7steps.com.

7 STEP GUIDE TO FEARLESS SPEAKINGPodcast host, Dr. Doreen Downing, helps people find their voice so they can overcome anxiety, be confident, and speak without fear.

Get started now on your journey to your authentic voice by downloading my Free 7 Step Guide to Fearless Speakingdoreen7steps.com.