From being on the point of suicide, Pat Falvey clawed his way back to achieve the kind of success many would envy. Now an adventurer, . businessman and motivational speaker, he tells Ciara Dwyer of the thrills, satisfactions and costs of a life that has had ups and downs, but has always been lived to the full...
writes Ciara Dwyer for Sunday Independent Review 29th August 2010
WHEN Pat Falvey was 29, he tried to commit suicide. The Corkman could see no other way out of his money troubles. Having started as a brickie, he had worked his way up to becoming a developer and an auctioneer. Now he had hit rock bottom. He was broke. A millionaire no more, the bank trying to get his family home. He had a wife and two young sons and he knew that he had failed them. With a heavy heart, he drove in the direction of the River Lee and accelerated. Just when his car was dangling four inches over the edge of the pier in Cork city he thought of his mother and stopped.
As he sits opposite me in The Four Seasons Hotel; bursting with vitality and good humour, his voice quietens as he talks of his near suicide. It is clear that telling the tale still moves him. Now 53 and solvent with an outdoor adventure company and a new career as an expedition leader and motivational speaker, Falvey knows how close he was to ending it all. He is lucky that he came through.
"It was one of the most disappointing periods of my life. I went into a state of depression. I was very angry, blaming anyone and everyone. I was lashing out. It was the bank's fault, it was the economy's fault and it was the government's fault: Finally I realised that it was my own fault. I went broke because I was greedy. I lost my self-esteem and confidence because I no longer had money. I didn't have 20 pounds in my pocket to put petrol in the car. My mother gave me a poem called Don't Quit and the words of that poem came back to me, as I was trying to end it all:"
He pauses, then quotes from it a little:
When things go wrong as they sometimes will,
When the road you're trudging seems all up hill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit, rest if-you must but don't you quit.
Success is failure turned inside out -
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you can never tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems so far.
So, stick to the fight when you're hardest hit -
It's when things seem worst that you must not quit.
Reciting these lines, it's clear that they still give him solace. They saved his life.
"It's part of life to fail and part of life to make mistakes," he says. "My father gave me a Dale Carnegie book and it said that the first thing you have to do is accept where you are now. So I took up my trowel, the one that I had when I was 15 years of age and I went back to being a brickie. I ate humble pie."
This was not an easy thing for him to do. After all, this was the same man who had left school at 15 and announced to the world that he was going to become a millionaire. And that he did eventually. Although he had six siblings, Pat lived with his grandmother, who had been alone. She was a tough woman who taught him the art of sales and instilled in him his core values to this day - you have to work hard and keep coming up with ideas. She literally beat her philosophy into him - "If you think you can, you will and if you think you can't, you won't:" Under her tutelage he was selling second-hand clothes and later he branched out and bought a lawnmower with his savings. A self starter, Falvey had always worked hard and created his opportunities. He did everything in a hurry.
They used to call him "the galloping major' and "JR', such was his ruthless style. One year, he sacked 200 people in his company because he thought they were idling. Another time in the early days, when the bank manager refused to give him a loan for what seemed to be a good business deal, Pat called him a b*****ks and then stormed out. Nothing would get in the way of his success. He was hyperactive and hungry to achieve his goals: Along the way he married his childhood sweetheart Marie Horgan when he was 20. They had met in an athletics club when he was 14. "Your first love is an amazing thing," he says. Theirs was a happy life and very comfortable financially until Pat blew it and was on the brink of ending it all on the pier. That very same week, a guy called Val asked me to go hill-walking," he says.
Accepting that invitation changed Pat's life. Initially he had no interest in heading up the mountains, especially in his stressed state of mind. The only reason he relented was to get this man off his back. He had asked him several times. Walking in the mountains Pat forgot about his troubles. When he came back down, he was better able to cope with his disastrous situation.
"The hill-walking was therapeutic. Then all of a sudden I started to come up with new ideas:"
He figured out ways to fight back and finally he did. Sometimes these notions would sound harebrained but there is a genius in Falvey's madness. He tells me that Marie was a very patient woman but she often wondered what he would come out with next.'When I went broke, I said, `let's set up a bank with no money.' Marie asked me how I was going to do it. I told her that it didn't matter that I didn't have any money. In the end I set up a finance house and that's how I got back: Falvey cleared off all his debts and then he closed down his company. He tells me that if he was still in that business he would probably be in Nama now. But the business world no longer gave him the same thrill. He had other fish to fry. Since that first day hill-walking, he was hooked. After work he would climb Carrantuohill and then marvel at his energy afterwards and his fresh zeal for Iife. This was how he summoned the strength to get back on track. He went up the mountain a broken man and came down rejuvenated. The day he climbed Carrantuohill he swore that he was going to climb Everest.
These days, Falvey leads a thrilling life, living his dreams. The dynamic Cork man has climbed the Seven Summits, including Everest, twice, and been to the North Pole and South Pole. At the end of next month, he is bringing a bunch of celebrities, (including actor George McMahon and 98fm's Teena Gates who was 23 stone until she went into training last year) to Everest Base Camp. It will be part of an RTE programme and will raise funds for the Hope Foundation in the process. "The big thing is to show people that if they want to do something, they can do it. People need an objective:' He shows no signs of slowing down. When I ask him about his next trip, his blues eyes brighten with excitement. "It's going to be 10 times harder than climbing Everest," he says. And he should know. "I'm going to walk to the North Pole with Dr Clare O'Leary. It's the equivalent of 120 consecutive marathons. We could be skiing on four inches of ice with 10,000 feet of water under us:" Why? "Because I can and because I love it:" Falvey is a charismatic man and listening to his take on life is intoxicating. His optimism is relentless. He refuses to refer to our current economic climate as the recession - instead he talks of this as "a pre-boom era"; but he doesn't know how long it will last. He also thinks that people have stopped borrowing large sums of money and now they are all trying to have a reserve of cash. He believes that tightening our belts and not going on four holidays a year funded by a credit card is a good thing. It's about taking responsibility for our actions. When he gives his motivational talks, he often has a powerful influence on his listeners. One female executive told him that she was packing in her job. He had taught her that she only had one life and that she had better live it by being true to herself. One of his favourite lines is: "Life isn't a rehearsal, it's a performance." "I think motivation is common sense. What people need to hear is that you can succeed and to succeed you got to believe in yourself." Self-belief and determination got him through his many expeditions, which were in excrueiatingly difficult conditions. As part of his talks, he tells them his stories of these trips and how he kept going It's about survival. But it's not all hard graft. Falvey is all for fun too. He has set up a club for anyone aged between 50 and 90, called the Forever Young Club. The idea is that adults take their life savings out of the bank, put the cash in a rucksack and spend their children's troubles, just as he did when he inheritance having adventures around the world in a jeep.
For all his optimism, Falvey's life is not picture perfect and well he knows it. By the time he hit 40, he was spending almost six months of the year away, off on expeditions, sleeping in tents, studying different tribes. While he was fulfilling himself, his marriage was suffering. Thirteen years ago, he and Marie separated. Pat now lives in a mountain lodge in Kerry, where he runs his courses, and Marie has her life in Cork. "A lot of the time success has a cost. One of the greatest costs was my marriage. It hasn't been easy to be what I wanted to be. You wouldn't call me a perfect father by any stretch of the imagination, yet my kids love and respect me. And Marie said that I couldn't have done what I have done if we had stayed together. I have to have total and utter freedom. "My life is a very demanding life but you've got to get a balance. Maybe if I had got a balance in my earlier years,which I know now i could get, maybe things things would have been different. Successful people are very focused, a lot of the time at cost to others. But my life has changed from wanting to do things for myself to mentoring others." These days Falvey gets a great thrill from introducing people to the mountains and watching their joy as they achieve their goals. And he enjoys seeing people forget their trouble just as he did when he first went hill-walking. As he says, sometimes you have to stress a person so that they can destress.
"I've had an amazing life but I've f**ked up on an awful lot of things. People ask why I am successful. I tell them that it's these grey hairs. It's my age. I still make mistakes but I don't make half as many. Maturity has made me a nicer person." He points to his balding head and says that he is getting fat. Now he has liver problems and a bad back, but after 60-odd expeditions, these are simply the inevitable result of wear and tear. But still he fights back with his training and going to the gym. Falvey has been true to himself and achieved his ambitions. "I have done everything I said I wanted to do. " While away, he thinks about life and dreams up fresh plans. "When I'm out on an expedition it gives me time to reflect on my good and bad points. Some people can meditate under a tree - I need to be moving:'
He tells me that he isn't in a relationship. Is he lonely? "Loneliness is a state of mind. I haven't been without meeting people along the way but I'm not going to be at home. I have a very privileged life. Everybody leads their life their way. I could try to change my life and settle down but I choose not to change it. I'm selfish about my life and I live my life selfishly. I pay the ongoing consequences of that selfishness:' He shrugs and smiles. "You can't have everything," he says. He is content with his lot.
original article by Ciara Dwyer for the Irish Independent newspaper
You can download the article as a PDF see below.