Movember with Mo Islam
Mo Islam always wanted to help put his country on the map. He found his calling with "The Mo Podcast Show", a podcast that sheds light on life and culture in Saudi Arabia through personal stories. In our interview with him, Mo speaks about the importance of mental health, our awareness on the topic, and therapy.
1. Walk us through your life and background.
Mohammed Islam, 39 years old from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Recently began a new career as a podcaster (English podcast) in Saudi Arabia. Before then I was in the oil and gas sector for 12 and a half years and I decided to start my new career in podcasting in the middle of corona when I had some time to myself.
Fast forward to 2 years and four months, we are on the verge of publishing episode 72 this weekend. We have been averaging about 35 episodes per year and we have been fortunate enough to land some of the guests who we only see on TV or hear of.
It is an encouragement for me and my team to continue doing what we are doing and to just strive to get a little bit better. A motto I like to go back to every so often "Just try to get a little bit better, everyday." So, just to get a little bit better, work on your weaknesses, capitalize on your strengths. It is rarely pretty in the beginning but with time and consistency, you get confidence and encouragement, then the outcome will start improving, like Homegrown for example.
2. What are your top 3 hobbies?
I don't know if this is a hobby but spending time with family. For me that is the time what I'm most at peace and ease. I'm just at a very happy state of mind, spending time with family I think it's the most important thing and we're big on family and hospitality in our country and region. I think if the world all operated in a way where we took care of our family and the people closest to us, the world will be a better place. That will solve a lot of problems.
Before I started the podcast I would do like restoration jobs on cars. I’d take a car that's just thrown on the side of the street, take it to a workshop and change it. I did it with a classic, loved by many, car which is the old Toyota FJ from the 1970's. It went viral!
I think I always wanted to put my country on the map in some way so I started Saudi restoration. I did it for a few years and then COVID hit. That's when I started the podcast.
Third one is the show, the podcast. Yeah, it gives me peace and happiness. I'm so fortunate that something I built, was and will always be my source of happiness.
3. How do you pick your guests? And how long does it take for you to prepare?
Anas Bukhash, episode 62. God bless him. We had an hour to prepare for that.
I met him at Formula 1 and we had a chat that went like:
Mo: "Hey Anas, since you’re in Jeddah, why don’t you come over for a cup of coffee in my studio?"
Anas Bukhash: “Ok Mo, oh so you’re at Jeddah?”
Mo: “Yeah I live at Jeddah.”
Anas Bukhash: “Ok, how long will the episode take?”
Mo: “An hour!”
Anas Bukhash: “Ok perfect, I will be there in an hour with my team.”
Mo: “Ok, great.”
Like a crazy person…paper, pen, laptop, team came in preparing cameras, mics, what do we need to do, etc. I didn’t have any time to panic about overthinking and that’s why I think Anas’s (episode) was one of the best episodes. It was really one of the best episodes! So, that was an hour to answer your question in terms of preparation. Normally, it’s not every day you get someone like Anas’s episode.
We go through Instagram and we get a lot of recommendations. People recommending themselves. There is so much talent in our country that I don’t think there will ever be a situation where I’ve covered everyone.
Look at the artists you have here in Homegrown. Everyone is doing something amazing; really like what was built...what Tamara built at Homegrown is pretty much how I think Urban Outfitters started. You have this function, this product right here, you put it in London in a high street it will sell!
3-5 days in advance how long it takes to prepare for a guest.
4. Tell us one thing that people do not know about you.
When I was growing up from the age maybe 6 till 22- 23, I used to play football as goalkeeper and my dream was to play for Saudi to represent my country. That was really my dream. I even drove my parents crazy!
I took a step back at the age of 18-19 when I started university and I was playing less. That is when I lost my opportunity.
When I started doing the podcast, I felt a little bit of how I wanted to feel growing up representing Saudi. The podcast gave me the opportunity to represent my country. The number of messages I get from people all over the world, “Thank you for showing us the real Saudi.”, “Are you really Saudi?”, “What can you tell us more about Saudi?”. I feel like a representative of Saudi. It scratches the itch of wanting to represent my country in some capacity that I am realizing today and I am so grateful for that.
5. Why did you decide to do the Mo Show? Did anything specific influence you?
Yes! my life in the west.
Back when I was there, I always used to face the question of “Are you really from Saudi Arabia?”, “Is it true you guys ride camels to the office?”, “Is it true it’s a desert?” All these questions that were so unrepresentative of our country and region.
I didn’t have a chance to respond to everyone back then. But now through the technology of decentralized media where anyone with a microphone, internet connection and good content can reach the world.
When I was home for 30 days in COVID during lockdown, I was watching an episode of Joe Rogan and it just was like an "Aha!" moment for me and I told myself “We don’t have that in Saudi.” So, I thought if I fail at this (The Mo Show), it's fine I'm not a stranger to failure. I can accept it. I have done it all my life and that's where I really realized that life or success starts outside of your comfort zone.
Nobody, could’ve told me 3 years ago "By the way, in three years, you going to have 72 episodes of you in YouTube talking about yourself or life." It was a calling and it is kind of like a building. You know you can't build the second floor before you build the first. So, one at a time…one at a time.
Now I look back 72 episodes hosting HRH Princess Reema Bandar Al Saud, HRH Prince Abdulaziz Bin Turki Al-Faisal , HRH Princess Lamia Bint Majid Al Saud, Husein Alireza, Anas Bukhash…people who I looked up to. They all gave me their time which was the most validation I think I can ever get.
“The best validation you can get from someone is them giving you their time. You’re obviously doing something right!”
As my country was being misconstrued and misunderstood, I wanted to do my part to attempt to set the records straight as to what our country and region is like. It’s not what your news channels are showing you, that we are that! No, we are something more and through the power and technology of independent media or decentralized media, like podcasting, we have the opportunity to showcase our skills and talents to the world. That’s really my drive and mission.
6. How did you find your passion?
I swear it found me. I swear it's so cliché!
“What you seek is seeking you”. – Rumi
The idea just came and I did an episode or two, then I was like I really enjoy this, why didn't anyone suggested this to me? For something that I can do and I feel that I can get good at it, I feel like it's an opportunity for me to be me. Oil and gas industry is not me and wasn't me for 12 years but it was a job and this doesn't feel like a job and it really gives me an opportunity to be me.
My closest friend say that you are the same person in real life as you are on the show, which really makes me feel good, because it shows me that I didn't have to be someone else I didn't have to wear a different hat for this, I can just be myself.
“There is nothing more tiring in life than pretending to be someone else. Being comfortable in your own skin where you are being yourself. It's just one of the best feelings in life, to be accepted for who you are.”
7. What is your favorite moment on and off The Mo Show?
Honestly the conversation I had with Anas, especially when he flipped it on me and started asking me questions. I think it was amazing. He brought up my son and then I fixed my sitting posture, I really got into it and my voice raised a little bit and I told him that “I never realized that I started this because I wanted a little bit more in life, because I have this child and obviously my wife to support and I wanted a little bit more"
So, I work double as hard because I know if I work double as hard, it will just be more beneficial for me my family. I look at my son and I want him to be proud of me, non-monetary. I wanted the show to be as big as it can be; because I want my country to win. The bigger the show is, the more reach and exposure and the more my country is showcased in the light that it deserves to be shown in. And the prouder my family would be of me.
So I think that was the moment because I never realized that until he asked me the question and I said that to him in the episode. I told him: “I’ve never realized that my son is the reason why I work double as hard on that.”
My favorite moment off the show, is when HRH Prince Abdulaziz Bin Turki Al-Faisal called me a few days after the first episode asking me when he can do the second. After his call, I was like; “I can retire right now”. Because it obviously meant that I was doing something right.
He loved it so much, whether he meant it as a joke or not, it proved that I'm on the right track.
8. To you, what is the importance of Movember?
It’s very important. I know it’s an initiative that started 18-19 years ago and it sheds light on prostate cancer. I know that it requires me to grow a mustache and I didn’t. I have a couple of years but this year I did not. I think it’s a great opportunity to bring awareness to a sickness or disease that many people face.
And I am just lucky that you guys asked me to be part of it. And I want to support a little bit more and I know that mustaches are grown around the world during November but next month I will do it, out of spreading the awareness on the subject.
9. Do you know any men who are suffering from mental health issues?
Yes, so many people through my show, they have opened up about mental health. I think we would know a lot more if people felt that it was okay to talk about it and that’s the problem.
It is actually a vicious cycle because the more you don’t talk about a problem, the more it festers and strengthens in your body like a hurricane. That’s where therapy comes in. You take it off your mind, put it on a paper and you’re no longer dealing with what’s on your mind.
I, myself suffered from mental issues, anxieties & panic attacks and Alhamdulillah I don’t anymore. I did a bit of work on it. I didn’t know what on earth it was, when I was feeling those sensations. I’d resist it and the more you resist it the stronger it comes.
I’ve spoken to therapists about it and I decided to live a healthier life by doing an activity once a day. I think it’s important to break a sweat once a day and to find an activity you like, it combats anxieties. It almost jumpstarts your body when you get your heart rate up. For me, it helped with my anxieties and feelings of panic attacks.
Having a healthy diet, communicating with the people around you or completing jobs gives you the feeling of accomplishment, such as making your bed in the morning. You will continue your day wanting to complete jobs subconsciously. Also, nature and sunlight things contribute to eradicating or lessening the powers of anxieties.
10. Have you been speaking to a therapist about your anxiety / mental health?
Yes, I have been speaking to two or three over the past three or four years. I am actually working with one right now. It’s amazing how your life can change when you do something as simple as having a conversation with a professional in the field of physiotherapy.
Just having that conversation, because a question that they can ask you can change your perspective on something that's been bothering you for the longest time. So they will ask proper questions where your answer will tell you a lot about yourself then you ever thought. I mean everyone has a different interpretation of therapy but that was mine.
She asked me questions that when I answered I was like "Wow...ok, so that's why I do that and so that's why I was bothered by this." And I started learning what I need to do now.
So therapy for anyone who's suffering from any kind of mental health issues. I will be the first to say "Yeah, it worked for me." Therapy helps you to understand yourself better, grow and unlearn things. It’s important not just to learn but unlearn things; things that don't serve you anymore.
There is no way you can go through life not wanting to change, adapt, evolve or grow. You have to learn and unlearn things or else you'll never get to that next level that you're trying to get to. I was never a philosopher but these days, the books I read are way more into philosophy than anything else I used to read like; car magazines.
11. Give us three habits to maintain good mental health?
- Get your heart rate up thirty minutes a day and every day.
- Eat like a healthy diet, where you're getting all different food groups.
- Sleep well.
Sleep alone can completely change your mental health.
Also, find a way to do something that brings you happiness and something that you're passionate in doing, that will give you self-gratification. You'll feel complete, and that you're purposeful.
"The only way to eliminate FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) from your life is by finding your purpose." – Jay Shetty
I suffered from FOMO so much, I would look at people and wish I had their life or I wish I worked harder at school so I could get that job in company X. When I started my podcast I don't even know what FOMO is anymore, because I found meaning and purpose in what I do.
12. Have you ever experienced a panic attack or severe anxiety? How did you cope with it?
Yes, I thought I was going to die. Because I didn't know anything about it.
This is something that needs to be taught in schools, biology class or whatever class. Call the class mental health, the reason why I thought I’m going to die because I wasn't told that one day you might get a panic attack.
If I knew the sensation and started to feel it, I would've been like: Oh! this is what I was told of when I was in school...relax, breath, pull over. I really feel strongly about mental health being taught in school I don't know what year but it should be and it must be taught at school.
So it was a horrific feeling, what happened after the first one? I spent the next two or three days reading up on it and educating myself on it. Guess what happened two weeks later? I got another mini one but guess why it was mini, because I knew how to handle it when it came. I educated myself and that's all I hope that we can do going forward with the next generation is to educate us on the power of understanding mental health and what to do if you are getting anxious or you're getting a panic attack.
It is a shame that you have to go to a therapist specifically so that you can learn about it after the fact. We don't have to deal with the problem after the disaster has happened.
I feel very strongly about it and my next episode 72 with Mishaal Tamer, he struggled a lot from panic attacks, anxieties and mental health issues.
Life is hard, let’s not make it harder. That’s all I have to say.
13. How would you like to be remembered?
All I can think about is Princess Reema's answer to it which really the best answer I had to any of my questions on the podcast.
She said: "To prepare for when you move out of your position and to basically lay the ground for the person coming after you."
You need to know when to leave and it is time to hand over to the next person.
I love it when people reach out to me saying "Mo, the podcast, how do I get started and do that?" I had someone reached out and he wanted to start a podcast in French about Saudi Arabia. I was like whatever you need from me I’ll help you.
So, I don’t care what I’m remembered by as much as I care about what good I want to do for those who want to provide the truth on the misconceptions that are anything. It doesn't have to be your country it doesn't have to be anything.
So I just want to encourage, motivate and push anyone who's thinking about it, to go out there and do it. It’s going to be ugly on the beginning but we only improve when we find tune and work on our craft and build and get a little bit better. “Rome wasn't built in a day." until eventually you have something that you can look back and say I’m very proud of my creation.