Death of a brother

I’m not sure about writing this. It feels a bit… I don’t know… self-indulgent somehow? But then I can’t help thinking that the fact that we don’t talk enough about this could even be one of the reasons why it happens so much. Plus, there are things I want to say. So, here we go.

We buried one of my oldest friends yesterday. He had taken his own life.

First, I’m really not sure if that’s the best phrase for it. “He killed himself” feels too blunt and visceral. The idea of “committed” suicide brings with it the idea that it was a crime for much of history. I don’t know what to call it, but you get the idea.

He was someone I’d known since I was 8 years old. We were close friends right through high school. Played rugby together for years, and then even ended up (coincidentally) at the same university. One of my close gang from then right into our 40s.

“Never dull” is how I’ll remember him. In some ways he was always a bloody handful to be honest. The one who would get lippy in a bar or club and get us into a scrap or two. Not a hard nut – just cocky and never backed down.

But God, he was good company. A force of nature. Irrepressible, high energy and energising to be with, and full of love. Part of my life for as long as I can remember.

In the same way as you don’t choose your family, you don’t really choose your school mates either. They just happen to go to the same school as you at the same time and you end up with them. So over the years the ones who stick around end up more like family than friends. So he was kind of like a pain in the arse brother who was kind of exhausting sometimes… but a brother nonetheless. And did I mention bloody good company?

Looking back, I think he was always quite erratic, and always very intense too. But he was most intense about his friendships and about his love for them. He was someone I knew that if I called, in the middle of the night, and said I needed help, he would drop everything and come anywhere in the world. That’s quite special, isn’t it?

Over the years, we’d not seen each other as much, particularly since I’d been married and had kids. He was still free and easy (or seemed so to those who didn’t know him) and our lives were very different. He was buying a new Porsche when I was buying a new buggy. But he was always “there”. Whatever that means.

Shit happens, right? Sometimes you can control things, and sometimes you end up in the middle of things you never wanted to be in the middle of, and didn’t want to get dragged into. I won’t go into the details, because to be honest I don’t really think I know the real details, but suffice to say I’d been sort of “estranged” from him for the last 4 years or so. Shit happened. Complicated and painful for everyone involved. We’d had a couple of touchpoints along the way, but always strained and difficult. I cut myself off in self-protection in a way. I couldn’t be what he wanted from me.

I know that hurt him. I know that he really wanted everything to just be okay. Like it used to be. And maybe one day it might have been, after the dust settled. But the dust hadn’t had time to settle.

In a weird kind of self-flagellation, last week I looked back at the last messages I got from him, from a couple of years ago. I said he needed help, and that I couldn’t be the person to give that to him. I told him to take care. He said the same.

As I sit here, I’m feeling guilty as hell. Guilty that I cut myself off, and guilty that I could have done more. Before you think “oh you mustn’t”, I’ve learnt in the last few weeks that actually it’s okay to feel whatever I feel. Guilty, sad, angry. Fucking angry actually. But mostly sad.

That’s the point of writing this I think. Not to just unload, but to acknowledge the feelings.

As men, we’re conditioned not to feel things. We’re taught resilience from the moment we fall and skin a knee and are told to be brave. Boys don’t cry, remember? As a result we don’t talk about our feelings or address them. The only feeling men are “allowed” to have is anger, and that’s how so many things come out.

It’s a commonly quoted statistic that suicide is the leading cause of death for men under 40. As someone who studied statistics that annoys me a bit, because for all the shock factor of it, I can’t help wondering “what else would be??”. Too young for heart disease or cancer really. Maybe road traffic accidents? It’s information without context or insight.

But when I’ve put the pedant in me away, it’s still real.

In the last couple of weeks, there are so many men I’ve spoken to who have told me about a friend of theirs who killed themselves too. Most times we’d never spoken about it before. Everyone had an element of guilt for what they didn’t do. That feeling again.

I’ve mentioned Grayson Perry’s amazing, life-changing book, “The Descent of Man” previously in these pages. I encourage you to read it. It’s about all of the expectations of masculinity and all the issues they create for individuals, societies and ultimately the world. But one bit sticks out for me:

Grayson Perry – The Descent Of Man (read it)

I am all these things. The last one is the most difficult of course.

I told my 2 sons that a friend of mine had died, and that I was going to a funeral. After a silence, my eldest son (11) asked how he died.

What to say? Do I tell them or do I hide it? I really wasn’t sure, and I looked over a my wife who was sitting with us. Without breaking gaze with me, she said that he’d taken his own life.

We then had a conversation about how people get to a point where they think that is the best thing for everyone. How talking about how we’re feeling is so, so crucial. How being all the things above takes guts, actually. A massive part of setting them up for success in life is in giving them the rights of man – that they see them in me, and see that it makes our relationships stronger.

By all accounts, the last couple of years have been extremely tough for my friend and those around him. Those who didn’t let go, or refused to be pushed away. And honestly, talking about feelings was never a problem for him. But fuck, if he’d seen the sadness in the faces of the people who came together at his funeral, he would have known that it wasn’t better. For him, or us, or anyone.

So there we are. It would be arrogant for me to think that me being connected would have made the difference, so I won’t put that on myself, or on you as you may think of the person you have lost touch with, for whatever reason.

What I will say is that, as men, the more we talk and share the better we will be.

And however bad things may seem, you have ‘family’ who love you. Even if they aren’t there to tell you.

Time waits for no man – part two

A good while back* I talked in these pages about my first trip into London since before all this happened. How the familiar felt so alien, and how whilst so much had changed, so much other stuff was just as it always had been.

And the thing that I really can’t stop thinking about, which keeps on popping back into my mind, is the thing that felt like it hadn’t changed at all. And that’s the homeless guy I mentioned, sitting in the place he always sits, just along from London Bridge station, next to the back entrance to Guy’s Hospital.

His stop is by the building on the right, and he’s only there until mid-morning.

Every day for as long as I’d made the trip to our office near the Tate Modern, this guy had been there. Always sitting on the floor, surrounded by old copies of the Big Issue in plastic covers, talking to himself a bit and occasionally saying hello to the regular people who walked by. Sometimes people would stop and squat next to him to talk, but more often than not he was there on his own. Every day.

And there he was when I went into London for the first time… and there he’s been on every day I’ve been since. sitting as he always has, like nothing has changed, still asking passers-by for if they can spare some change for him.

He’d been there every day for years, so why was it so surprising to me that he was there again on the day that I decided to come back into London for the first time in 14 months? Just because I hadn’t been there, why wouldn’t he? Yet it did surprise me, because whilst the whole experience was so very different for me his presence was so very familiar, like the gap from then to now simply didn’t happen. Like Covid was some kind of dystopian daydream I’d had on the train.

And now, it’s become less surprising and is becoming more and more an expected part of my journey to our office. I think I’d be more surprised if he weren’t there. But I’ll never forget the surprise of that first time for as long as I live.

I’ve talked in these pages before about the way that your time and mine aren’t necessarily the same – that perhaps we experience time differently to each other, and even our own experience of time changes depending on what we’re doing. You think this cricket match is fascinating, I think it’s taking longer than the whole of history. This day doing something I love has flown by… this day doing something I find dull will seemingly never end.

On a micro level, that’s self-evident to me – objectively something we all experience.

But this was different. Time was playing with me here, surely. How could time fly and stand still at the same time? Make it feel like yesterday, but with the knowledge that the last time I stood here I was two birthdays younger.

And how did the last year feel to him? Did time drag or did it fly? Did it feel any different to any of the other years he’s had?

Time flies. Yet some people have time to spare, but never any spare change.

We have time and we spend time. We waste time, and we save time. It’s the same language that we use for money – hell, “time is money” remember? Precious time. We recognise its importance.

And you can tell from the phrases we use that unconsciously we understand our one-sided relationship with time too – our reliance on it but lack of control over it. Time flies. Time waits for no man. We’re on borrowed time, and ultimately only time will tell.

It would be conceited and condescending for me to begin to suppose anything about this man’s life, or about his experience of the last 20 months. Like so many of us I’ve worked out my recent history based on lockdowns – how far I could go from my house; what places I could visit or shop in; whom I could see or hug, how many could be where at any time – and all of those denote privileges and freedoms that this man does not have. For all my insignificant worries, I know where I am sleeping tonight. I know who will hug me in the morning.

What I do know about this man is that it’s doubtful that the few quid he might get from the throngs who pass by will change anything other than the few hours ahead.

Even more than that, I know he doesn’t need my pity, or the thousands of embarrassed half shrugs which mean “sorry I don’t have any change” he gets every day. I know that every time I catch his eye I give him a nod and a smile, and he does the same back, and every time I feel like I should do something more fucking useful, but besides giving him money every day I have no idea what that might be. Maybe the smile is that thing?

Lastly, I know that if there’s a better demonstration of how you might consider someone else’s experience of the world and measure it against your own to see an impossible myriad of differences then I haven’t come across it before, and I’m not sure I ever will.

Perhaps to give myself a purpose from this whole thing – to give it context, beyond just contemplation – I’ll commit to consider other people’s experience of the world even more than I have. Because there’s no question that however they experience the world, it’s unlikely to be anything like the world of which I’m in the middle.

*With noting that yeah it’s been a long while since my last post. If you’re a regular reader then I hope you haven’t missed out too much. If you’re new to the show, then I feel like there might be lots to come in the coming weeks so stay tuned!

Three lessons from a Zen Taxi Driver.

Driving in London isn’t fun. Sometimes it’s bearable, but most of the time it’s crap. Too many cars, too many vans, too many bikes, too many humans. Unending lines of traffic, all trying to get from A to B, perhaps via C and D; all in their own heads and all wishing all the other people would just disappear and leave the roads to them and them alone.

In one of the opening scenes of Danny Boyle’s 2002 zombie classic 28 Days Later, the main character walks across a deserted Westminster Bridge and around a London without a single vehicle. It’s meant to seem like some unreal and eerie waking dystopian nightmare, but for anyone who’s driven or worked around London much it’s an exquisite daydream.

Looks bloody perfect

I drove the streets of London myself for a while in the late 1990s, working as a medical sales rep. Every day I would hammer around the North West of the city trying to speak to doctors about some drug or other. They gave me five minutes of their time; I’d give them some branded tissues, or a car-care kit, or a pen.

I hated it, to be honest. I wasn’t very good at it for a start, because the whole thing – for me at least – seemed so fake. I pretended to be cheerful and chirpy [I know, not really my vibe] to the receptionists who pretended (sometimes) not to hate everything I stood for, hoping eventually that I might be allowed a few moments with doctors who were only after the branded foldable halogen desk lamp. Sometimes they pretended that they would try the drug I was talking about if they got the chance, and I’d pretend to believe them. I was talking to people all day, but not one conversation was authentic. I don’t think I’ve ever been so lonely in my life, and it ended up being quite depressing really – ironic as I had a load of sample anti-depressants in the boot of the Vauxhall Vectra 1.8 16v LS [that’s correct, I had the wheels to match the vibe]

Oh yeah, and the traffic.

On top of everything else, I had to pick my way around Kilburn and Camden, Neasden and North Farm, Holloway and Hampstead, Edgeware and Islington. Traffic everywhere. Every main road blocked, every back road full of people like me, desparately trying to balance a map on their knee as they checked the road signs. For this was a time before Sat Nav or GPS – I had a paper copy of the London A to Z, thumbed to death, covered in the fluff from Wotsits mixed with my own hot, despairing tears.

Okay the late 1990s wasn’t that long ago but this was the same tech

And I guess for a long time I carried that frustration with me whenever I drove around London, the tension I held in my shoulders and chest making my neck ache and my head pound. And I assumed everyone else did too.

And then, one evening, I met a man who changed all that. I met the Zen Taxi Driver.

It was a few years back now, not long after I’d joined CDM. After a long day of authentic and open leadership, I got a taxi back from the office – a car company taxi rather than a black cab – and struck up a conversation with the driver that has stuck with me ever since.

It started when he stopped for a young couple at a zebra crossing, and they moved like aged tortoises actually getting across the road, without acknowledging or even seeming to notice the fact that he had stopped to wait for them. I remarked that this kind of thing must be frustrating for someone driving all day, and rather than giving me the (probably expected) low energy agreement, he disagreed, for three very clear reasons. You may even consider them lessons, if you like…

This is a zebra crossing

The first lesson the driver talked of was about empathy, and honestly I felt a bit embarrassed that he had to point out the very obvious to me: that I had no idea what was going on in the lives of that couple, or the driver who was desperately trying to overtake in those one way, two lane roads through Hammersmith, the lady dithering about whether to turn right, or anyone else you could mention.

Maybe the couple had just had bad news about someone in their family.
Maybe the guy in a hurry was trying to get to his wife who’d gone into labour.
Maybe the lady was trying to remember the road where she had lived during the war.

Or maybe none of those big things. Maybe they just weren’t having the best few minutes, or hour, or day.

Whatever it was, none of them even realised that for that fleeting moment your lives intersected, and you were never relevant to any of them, any more than they should really be relevant to you. You have no right to judge them, nor should you feel the need to do so.

Which led on to the next lesson. My guide had hundreds, perhaps thousands of these micro-meetings every day… ephemeral encounters between people who may well never, ever cross paths again. And his philosophy on this was simple – that none of these people should willingly be given the power to influence your mood or feelings. You have it in yourself to decide what you will allow to affect you and what you will not. So have some respect for yourself, and don’t be so keen to give every passing person access to your emotions and the ability to affect your day. They have no right to affect you, any more than you have any right to judge them.

The third lesson that our teacher talked to me about was the individual experience of time. The way he put it was simplicity itself: “everyone walks to a different beat”. Some people’s internal metronome runs really fast – you’ve seen them doing a walk-jog-walk-jog thing down the pavement just to be half an hour early to work; you’ve seen them frustrated when things are ‘derailed’ or not going fast enough for them. And other people move at a much slower pace. Strolling rather than marching; always time for a ‘by the way’. Everyone has their own pace, one no better or worse than the other: just… different. Except for you, of course: just perfect in the middle, right? Hmm. Perhaps the truth is that to some people you seem incredibly impatient, and to others you’re glacially slow?

Empathy, and acceptance. People walk to a different beat. It’s not for you to judge.

By the time I got back home, I’d had one of the most in depth, introspective and interesting conversations I’d ever had. There was nothing I didn’t already know, as such, but damn if it didn’t make me consider how I was moving through the world.

I won’t say it was an epiphany, because there were so many other things happening in my life at that time which had such a profound effect on me too – new job, new baby, newly without a mum, to name but three [those and many others are in some of the blogs here too, somewhere, if you care to have a look around].

But here I am, probably seven years on, and I’ve decided to sit and write about that man, and the zen-like wisdom that he patiently and clearly articulated like it was all so very simple.

Lessons of self-control, self-respect. Of acceptance, of humility, of empathy. Crucial lessons for a life lived well, and I don’t know about you but I’ll take those with sincere gratitude from wherever I can get them.

In that spirit, I’ll leave you with a couple of thoughts which I’ve carried with me from that moment and likely will continue to carry with me for as long as I wander (and wonder) around this planet of ours.

First, I still have to catch myself sometimes, so I let myself off about that. We are all in our own minds, our own worlds, and so it’s human nature (literally and figuratively) to be wrapped up in what we’re doing and where we are going. We are all the lead actors in our own biopic, and those people whose paths we cross are the extras [and given special effects techonology nowadays they could actually all be CGI and you probably wouldn’t notice]. But still, I make the effort to catch myself; to remind myself that they are in their own world too, that their fleeting actions shouldn’t influence my emotions, and that my beat (at that moment) is different to theirs.

And it’s a simple, kind of daft thing… but since that day, I’ve never said that “I’m in traffic”. Because I’m not in traffic, I am traffic. Okay, it’s not life-changing. But I promise you, it does change one’s attitude to all the other cars around. They’re not deliberately in your way, making you late, any more than you are deliberately in theirs. You’re together, at this moment, just trying to get somewhere.

And here’s the [probably quite obvious to you, dear reader] next bit… none of this is really just about traffic. I don’t think I got that at first, so I make no apologies for holding your hand through it.

Because the truth is that we are all traffic, of course. Human traffic, thrown together into lives that we often don’t really understand and certainly aren’t evolved to be able to manage. But together, fellow travellers, all just trying to get somewhere. Along the way you try to surround yourself with the people and situations that help you along and give you energy, and avoid those which drain you or bring you down. And thus you make your own way, making it up as you go sometimes, but hopefully with some broad idea of where you’re heading, and you criss-cross with other people doing the same. We are all traffic.

Who knows, we might need to ask one another for directions one day. In the meantime, safe travels. Make sure you text me when you get there, okay?

Time waits for no man – part one

So there I am. Poised, ready. Coiled like a leopard ready to leap out onto an unsuspecting prey, every muscle tightened in anticipation. I know I’ve planned everything just perfectly, nothing left to chance after weeks – months even – of analysis and adjustment. And as the moment approaches, I can see the people around me shifting uncomfortably, the realisation dawning on them as slowly yet inexorably as the sun rises, that I am the one whose preparation has paid off; who will, today at least, be triumphant. And almost like it was written in the stars, inch by inch the world seems to shift around us all until the inevitable happens.

For in that moment, I am the man who is standing on the exact spot directly where the train door opens. I need not take a single step to my left nor to my right, but simply step forward and in and find the double seat (the golden ticket!!) that my diligence and meticulousness have earned.

Just a few more metres…

And if you’re thinking that is any train door then bless you, dear reader, but you are naïvely mistaken. For that is the train door which, on the other side of the train, will also be the train door nearest to the escalator when I arrive at my destination station.

Prized seconds have been saved ladies and gentlemen! Perhaps even as many as 30 seconds! That’s half a minute!

Until the world stopped last year, this was only one tiny part of my daily military operation.

Every single second accounted for.

If I leave the house at this time and take this route, I can make the station car park in around 16 minutes (depending on traffic, with 14 minutes as my personal best), then park here rather than there because whilst it’s a little further away from the entrance there’s more space to park quickly so it’s actually quicker. Then, if I have 90 seconds or more before the train is scheduled to arrive, that’s just enough grab a coffee from the coffee shop because the guy recognises me and starts making my “flat white, two sweeteners” as I walk towards him and then I tap and go and still make ‘my spot’ on the platform, this time walking up as the train slows to a halt and almost nonchalantly hit my mark so it looks like it’s coincidence (ha!) but you know, dear reader, that this is anything but.

From the train station to the office I pick the route with the least potential for human traffic, and my pass is in the pocket of my rucksack that I can reach without breaking stride and I’m through the revolving door, quick hello to the security guard and through the gate thing and before I press the button for the lift I see if I can check to see if one of the lifts has my floor illuminated so I can just jump in at the last minute.

Another 40 seconds saved! Hallelujah and praise be to the master of time!

All this in order to get to our office space about 45 minutes before the start of the official working day. Nice to be one of the first in, to say hi to the early morning crew and get myself settled in before the rush of the day to come.

And on the way home, I do it all in reverse.

I know that from the time I come out through the doors I can be on a train (not at the station, actually on the train) if I have 13 minutes. Any less than that and I’m into a weird walk-jog-walk-jog thing which I’m not fond of but will resort to if needed because the next train isn’t for twenty minutes or something monstrous like that and time waits for no man and time flies and yes of course time is money people time is money.

(Yeah, but is it?)

The week before last, I went into our offices in Central London for the first time since the 9th of March last year. Exactly 1.2 years since I’d done the trip which used to be my daily grind. Something that felt so familiar and so alien at the same time.

To be honest I’d forgotten some of the timings, and I didn’t know how long it would take to get a ticket at the station (season ticket having run out last year of course) so this time I left myself a bit longer.

I drove the same route, but without one eye on the clock.

I parked closer to the entrance because the car park was pretty empty. No need to do my weird walk-jog-walk-jog thing anyway, because I had a bit more time.

It was the same guy at the coffee shop as it had been 14 months and 12 days previously, but as I had more than 90 seconds we had time to chat about how long it had been and laugh about how he’d forgotten everyone’s “regular” because no one came in regularly any more.

I didn’t bother walking to “my spot” on the platform.

My home station on May 18th, 1961 – exactly 60 years and 2 days before my most recent trip on May 20th this year. Honestly hasn’t changed that much really.

The train ride itself was somewhat dystopian but then it was always going to be wasn’t it? The weirdest bit was coming into London and seeing all the landmarks which in times past would have told me precisely where I was and when I needed to get up to get to the doors at the right time, but not really being sure of the order of them. And it didn’t really matter anyway, because the train was empty of course.

Then from the station to the office, it was like nothing had changed.

That massive building still not finished – not that anyone is going to want Central London office space anyway nowadays…
That human traffic zigzagging across the road and pavement, magically avoiding each other like it was a film and we’d all rehearsed our marks and movements to avoid being within the magical (coincidental or conditioned?) 2 metres of each other…
That homeless guy re-selling copies of the Big Issue. In the same place as he ever was. Wait, has he been there every one of those 438 days…?

[Can that be right? That the world stopped for so many, but for so many others it just… didn’t? I think I’ll come back to that one another time…]

My experience of 10 days back brought something sharply to mind, which I’ve been thinking about a lot since. It’s probably obvious to you, of course

What the hell was I thinking, putting so much self-inflicted time-related stress into my life? So much unnecessary tension thinking so intently about the seconds here and there? So much pressure to get it all so tight that the smallest distraction, diversion or delay would scupper the whole thing?

The car driving too slow on my route, the kids taking my spot on the platform by fluke not by hard graft and painstaking preparation; the tourist with the rolling suitcase going across the flow of human traffic. All purposefully messing with my time.

Turning me into the walking tension headache that needed 45 minutes in the office before work started just to unwind, right?

I’m embarrassed at my own stupidity. I know that anxiety can take hold of me sometimes, yet I created this perfect recipe for stress and gobbled it down willingly every day. I guess it took 1.2 years of not doing it to make me realise that I’d been doing it, in some way or another, for the previous 20 years.

Joni Mitchell once sang that

Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?

Joni Mitchell – Big Yellow Taxi

Too true Joni, too true. And once in a while you notice that the thing that’s gone shouldn’t have been something you were holding onto so tightly in the first place.

So from here I’m going to take the pressure out of my own relationship with time. Less saving and making up, and more ensuring I have a some to spare, so if I lose a little here and there I’ll still have enough.

They say that time waits for no man, but it’s waited 20 years to work that out I probably have as much as I need, and more than I gave myself. I’d love it if you could learn from my mistakes a little quicker than that.

Post-COVID uncertainty and the Rumsfeld Paradox

Okay, before I go on, I’m not going to be able to solve all the uncertainty that we all have about the world that will emerge from COVID, like a young polar bear emerging for the first time from the only home it has known, born through a winter of hibernation and squinting at the sunlight reflecting from the pure, blinding nothingness of the frozen tundra tumbling off as far as the eye can see… and further than the mind can imagine.

If anything, I’m going to add in another level of uncertainty. Sorry.

Anyone who tells you they know how these things are going to play out is a charlatan or a confidence trickster. Or possibly a ‘futurist” [I wonder how many of them predicted this eh?]. We’ve never been in anything like this (obviously) and there has been too much change (obviously) and so even if you’re in the “we’ll probably go back to pretty much how things were with maybe a little more working from home” then sorry, but you’re making it up too.

Right now, I probably have about three or four conversations a week with someone about what we think might happen. I don’t mind having them because each one helps me a little to work out what I think I would like to happen, and perhaps give me another couple of questions which I need to ask or answer which would add to the information I’ve got.

But I’m also okay with the fact that I will never have enough information. I can read every article out there and listen to every bit of gossip about what so-and-so agency are doing (most of which turn out to be nothing more than gossip) and do another loads of employee surveys and fill in a thousand templates for the network [true story] and I’d have all the information and it still won’t be enough. Because it won’t be relevant to me, and my team, because we’re not anyone else. As the Smiths once said:

“This one is different because it’s us.”

The Smiths, Hand In Glove

I don’t know about you, but I think a good segue from a 1980s indie band from Manchester would be to immediately cut to a former two-time US Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld. Let’s do it!

I’m not going to comment here on the politics of old “Rummy” (as he was affectionately known by people who knew him affectionately) because I don’t know much about them and I’m too lazy to find out. I’m also not going to comment on the fact that between serving as the youngest ever Secretary of Defence under Gerald Ford he worked for various big US pharma companies (my particular niche area of advertising) before then becoming the second oldest Secretary of Defence under George Bush. Again, I know not enough, and care not to find out.

What I am going to pick out from such a busy boy is a comment he made to the US press about the existence of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq.

[Bear with me we are getting somewhere I promise.]

Rummy said the following:

As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns: the ones we don’t know we don’t know.

Do me a favour and read that again. I grant you, it’s tough not to get dragged down by the context and by the fact that it’s another politician avoiding answering another question. But give it another read for me.

There’s actually an incredibly astute, and almost philosophical point. And it’s something I’ve been coming back to quite a lot in the conversations about the future world [you remember, the baby polar bear thing].

Because yes, there’s stuff we know.

We know we can work remotely, and do bloody good work. Arguably we’re more efficient, and if we could all have got rid of the real estate sitting dormant in every major city, we’d have been a shitload more profitable.
We know that we can build, nurture and maintain authentic relationships, with each other and with our clients, despite not being (sometimes never having been) in the same room.
We know that this has taken a toll on people’s mental health and wellbeing and boundaries and the flow from home to work (I don’t like “balance”, but that’s another blog).

And there’s some stuff we know that we don’t know

We know that we don’t know how we’ll feel on inevitably crowded public transport.
We know that we don’t know who’s going to want to work where, and how that’s going to affect how we work as teams together.
We know that we don’t know how we’re going to react to the polar bear situation

But hell, if there isn’t also a load of stuff we don’t know we don’t know.

There are problems that haven’t happened yet.
There are opportunities that we can’t imagine yet.
There might even be new kinds of feelings which come about precisely because of this meta-uncertainty.

We’re not good with uncertainty. It causes stress and as animals we’re not good at dealing with that because the society we’ve built up around us is bigger and more complex than, as animals, we have evolved to deal with.

But I think the existence of the “unknown unknowns” can actually be a source of calm. Forget about the things I don’t know about, there are things that I don’t even know I don’t know yet! Yes it demands that we “adjust the sails” and deal with ambiguity, but is there anything more ambiguous than the year we’ve just done?

Yes it was hard, and remains hard, but we did do it. We made it this far, battered and tired but still we made it. And that tells me that we’ll make it again.

It won’t be how we think it’ll be. But there’s a bit of me that’s interested in finding out what I don’t know.

Not drowning, but waving

There’s a wonderful poem by a British poet called Stevie Smith called “Not Waving, But Drowning”*, about a man swimming out of his depth and his friends on the shore thinking he was mucking around. The feelings of the man in question are too horrific to think about, but imagine for a moment the feelings those friends they must have gone through, waving to him as he panicked, laughing to each other about how daft their friend is, then realising one by one that they had it wrong. We can all imagine the blood running cold, the hole in the pit of the abdomen which seems to have some kind of gravitational pull for the rest of the body.

That feeling of realisation – specifically realisation of something negative – is something we’ve all experienced. Forgetting someone’s birthday gets you a little hit of it. Remembering you promised to do something or [in the olden days] actually physically be somewhere [remember that??], it’s all part of the same realisation. When the brain catches up, the body stays still and cold and heavy. On varying levels of seriousness, in my mind it’s the “oh…bollocks” [Please feel free to insert your own geographic or linguistic alternative here] moment.

Okay, let’s park that for a moment.

This time of year is always a weird one for me. My mum died nearly seven years ago, and it’s this time of year when the empty space she left in my world is felt most keenly. Actually, perhaps not ‘felt’ the most, but certainly brought to mind the most.

My work anniversary lands on March 8th, and I know it’s then because it was meant to be the 1st but I moved it back a week so I could go back home to go with Mum to a hospital appointment. Then her birthday is (was?) March 13th, and Mother’s Day [sorry to my arch pedant father for not calling it the “correct” title of ‘Mothering Sunday’ but I do not give enough of a shit x] is usually around the same time, then my birthday on March 20th [very nice thanks, my second in lockdown yet I had a lovely time and felt very spoilt], and then my wedding anniversary is April 5th and that’s the day she had her first round of chemo and then after that we’re on to May 4th and that’s the day she died, and the reason I remember that date so clearly is because it’s my wife’s birthday on May the 5th.

I can’t help connecting those dates, any more than you could. Take a moment and say your mum’s birthday out loud. We both know that if someone happened to say that date, your brain would automatically, without you asking it to do anything, pop up and go “that’s my mum’s birthday”.

[While we’re on that, isn’t it funny that you simply cannot help saying that very phrase out loud if someone else happens to mention that they have their birthday on that day? “Really?” you exclaim excitedly, “That’s my mum’s birthday!”. And they always say “really?!” and somehow from that moment on you’ve got a little connection with that person that you didn’t have before.]

So for around 8-10 weeks of every year, there’s a constant little reminder round the corner. Those are the dates and every day they will always be connected to a time in 2014 when my Mum went from a bit ill to very ill to very not here any more in the space of 3 or 4 months.

Okay, let me guide you back to the waves.

When my mum died, a friend of mine who runs another healthcare agency [hi Ed!] called me to “offer his condolences” [what an odd phrase we all use there. It’s the only time, just like the only time we talk about “legal tender” is when we end up with a Scottish tenner], and in our conversation he said that in his experience grief was like swimming in the surf. As you go out from the beach you jump or dive through each wave, but occasionally the waves are too close together and before you’ve got your feet or your breath you’re hit by another, and suddenly you’re under the surf and the bubbles are in your face and BANG you’re panicked and your heart rate shoots up and you just get your breath before the next one and so on.

But if you keep going, the further you go the smaller the surf becomes, until bit by bit you feel calmer and more able to ride the waves as they come. And sometimes a big one will hit you, but you have time to adjust after and so it’s not as overwhelming.

It was almost a “by the way” story, but I found it incredibly helpful in enabling me to believe that what I was in the middle of would get easier. No, wait, that’s not right. Not getting easier, but me getting more used to it and thus better at understanding it and riding the wave. It’s been so helpful that I’ve also shared it with friends who have lost someone [through death or also through break-up – the grief that comes from the end of a relationship is just as real and just as powerful as any other].

I’m talking about grief here, but honestly I think this is true for most things we’re going through. Churchill said:

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

And whilst that may seem a little glib, there’s damn good advice in there too. This too shall pass, and if you keep going out the waves will calm.

But here’s the hack for you.

Because I’ve learnt that at this time of year there are some chunky looking waves building on the horizon, I’ve also learnt to tell people I care about, and who care about me, that they’re coming. Not to excuse any behaviour, but because talking about the waves actually makes them a bit smaller when they arrive.

The people around you, who care about you, would want you to talk to them about your struggles, just as you would listen with love and care and consideration if they were to talk to you. It’s not always easy, but then nor is getting smashed by waves.

As for me, well I’m doing okay thanks. Surrounded by the right kind of people.

Definitely not drowning, but waving.

[*If you want to hear Stevie Smith talking about the poem and then reciting it (and I encourage you to do so), then you can find a recording here. It’s also in Loyle Carner’s recent album which shares its title with her poem, and if you like poetic, socially conscious hip hop then I also encourage you to check that out too, here on Spotify (and available on your music streaming choice too I’m sure) as I seem to be in the encouraging mood.]

Routine, in every sense.

Our little habits and routines are crucial parts of our lives. Once we’ve done something the same way a few times, our brains create a kind of short-cut, low-energy running mode which means we can do things whilst only using the minimum of our internal working brain. Brushing your teeth, making a cup of tea, packing the dishwasher. It’s all done on your brain’s equivalent of standby mode.

This can even kick in when we’re doing quite complicated things, too. I’m sure you’ve experienced driving a route you know well “on autopilot” and arriving at the station or your Mum’s house or wherever and thinking “I didn’t really concentrate through any of that” and wondering how it all just happened.

But just happened it did. We’re actually bloody good at it, and it’s really useful, because if we had to think about everything all the time our overworked little ape brains would, without any shadow of a doubt, explode within 30-45 minutes, maximum.

30-45 minutes later…

That routine, that habit, just doing something without thinking – that does more than just save our brain power. It’s that same sense of being on ‘autopilot’ which can bring an element of stability to our lives. The familiarity of getting a coffee at the station every morning, standing in the same place on the platform, walking the same route to the office: yes it’s because “who wants to think about that stuff”, but it’s also familiar, and comfortable. We like that, us humans. We’re simple animals, and we like things to be the same. Same is simple. Same is known. Same is safe.

Ooh, hang on. SAFE. That’s quite a big word, isn’t it? [And I don’t mean just because I put it in ALL CAPS, although I concede that does indeed make it bigger, well done if you spotted that, you get a cash prize of 10p please contact me on MySpace for details].

Feeling safe is really basic to us as animals. Right down towards the bottom of good old Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, it’s a foundation of the pyramid, something we need before we can start to think about more lofty ideas. So much so, that once we have that safety, the idea of giving it up can actually make us feel very uncomfortable, very unsure.

Perhaps, when the world is so uncertain, it’s even more important? Because when the world is uncertain that means nothing is the same and won’t be the same again. And if same is safe and the world will never be the same again then that means…

Especially when the world – that place out there, full of masked strangers and signage and arrows and rules and fear – is actually full on proper actually scary in its own right.

So we close in. Our new routines, our new habits, become our new safe. Get it right and it can actually get quite comfortable really. At a stretch you could even convince yourself that it was your decision somehow. A smaller life, more constricted. Habits that keep you safe when the world cannot.

And so we lower our expectations, to the point when the only expectation is to make it through the day, the week. To cope, somehow. To get to the weekend… where we do the same things, in the same places. We stop living and we exist from day to day, week to week. We drink too much, or stop drinking completely because we worry about drinking too much. We wait for something new on Netflix but and we feel the grief of TV bereavement when we finish something we like because that was a habit for a bit and habits make us feel safe.

We didn’t get any snow last week. Not a fucking flake. My social media feeds were full of bloody snowmen and sledges and sublime scenery and we got drizzle, for two days. I was livid. Not because I’m desperate to throw a snowball which by chance hits my younger son Jack right in the face so he starts crying immediately and we have to go home and everyone hates me for the rest of the day (true story) but because it would have been different. A break from the norm. A break from coping, getting by, managing.

Oh brilliant, snow selfie is it mate? Yeah yeah whatever

But then, the same day that every other bugger in the whole country got the snow, we had a power cut. A proper, old fashioned, 1980s power cut!! I was genuinely giddy with excitement! The strange “oh my God where are the candles??” excitement of a power cut! What would we do? Maybe read by candlelight or play a board game? Is it out all over the village – yes look it is, not a light anywhere, I wonder what’s happened…

And then, in the time it’d taken me to find a match and light the first candles, it all came back on. The TV hummed into life; the lights all over the house [All together now: “It’s like Blackpool bloody illuminations in here!”]. Like a cruel joke, the house lights of normality chased the dramatic darkness of difference into the corners and away under the chairs.

And there we all were again, all the people in the village, suddenly right back where we started. In the old routines.

Coping. Getting by. Managing.

Is this life in 2021?

I say this is not good enough.

I say we deserve more than just coping.

I say that the habits we have built may keep us safe but they limit our expectations of life.

If we let our routines become our lives then we let our lives become… routine.

But make the choice to break your habits, to bend your routine, and that life can rush back in. Because it’s always there, ready for you. Life’s dependable like that.

If you’re a regular reader [what, nothing better to do with your time than read the latest emanation from my fragile psyche? You’re very kind, thank you I do appreciate it.], you’ll know that last week I went for a walk in the woods with my friend Joe. Well since then I’ve walked most mornings – this morning with the good doctor once again [hi Joe!].

I don’t go every morning, partly because sometimes it’s pissing it down and I’m not a total maniac, and partly because it’s the lack of routine to it that makes it so refreshing. As well as filling my lungs and getting my blood pumping around my increasingly corpulent carcass first thing [still proudly “Gym Free Since ’93”], it allows me to see the world at a different time of day, in a different light, with different smells and sounds. It makes me want to paint a picture or write a poem [neither of which I can do, but a boy can dream, right?]. It’s pulled me out of my routine, and made things less routine.

And in case you’re wondering, I haven’t done the same route twice.

Listen, I can’t tell you how to live your life. What I can tell you is that those new routines, and habits – the ones that aren’t just about keeping your brain free but more about keeping your soul safe – they will need to be challenged at some point. Because whatever comes next [and trust me when I tell you that although everything seems uncertain, this too shall pass] we both know it will need you to let go of some of those new things… just like the situation we’re all in at the moment forced us to let go of all the old things, in a single moment.

We didn’t have a choice before. And we didn’t have the chance to prepare.

Now we do have a choice, and we do have the chance.

So, tell me: what’s today going to be like?

[As a small post script, I just want to say how much I fucking love our crazy language. That one word – “routine” – can as a noun mean those commonplace things we regularly do, and as an adjective means dull, conventional and unremarkable is fascinating and joyous to me. I love the idea that our language is so furtile and full that we can push it around and play with it, like a cat toys with a ball of string, lost in a world of simple pleasures. Sorry if I lost you in the double meaning anywhere – I couldn’t help myself.]

Hope, optimism and faith

First thing yesterday morning, for a change of routine*, I went for a walk with a friend who lives down the road. We walked and talked for an hour or so before the working day began, through the woods, down the hill, round and back up; squelching through the mud and breathing in the cold, damp air as the day woke up around us, the mist lifting from the ground, as the sun strained to force its way through the early morning cloud.

The woods over the road

[* The ‘change of routine’ was, in and of itself, so important, and made such a difference to my mental state. Worth diving into that in more detail another time for sure. Watch this space.]

My friend happens to be a clinical psychologist, which always makes for a fascinating and introspective conversation. So as we walked we talked about the world and how, as simple, habitual creatures, we’re uniquely unable to process or handle the situation in which we find ourselves. Like many domesticated animals we have become defined by routine of one kind or another – and we build our lives around those routines.

Day by day and week by week we have the commute, the office, that place we go for lunch, the coffee shop, the takeaway on a Thursday night, the drinks after work, the visit to the Grandparents, the pub lunch on a Sunday.

Those fit within a more expansive set of routines, too. A couple of weeks somewhere in the Summer, a camping trip with friends, maybe a festival, gigs and plays and birthdays and traditions, getting together for the holidays.

And we’re so caught up in these routines we can’t help but hope and even plan for their return, despite the fact that this planning is a pointless and possibly damaging exercise. Because every time we plan, we create too much hope, and hold that hope tighter and tighter as the plans threaten to break apart once again.

Wondering if the plans for the wedding will go ahead. Plans to visit the family for Christmas. Plans to get the kids back to school. The holiday postponed from last year to this, and now… who knows?

Each time we hope that this milestone or that will be the one. We’ll be out of this by Easter. We might be back in the office by July. Surely it’ll all be over when the kids go back in September. Christmas is still a way away, surely…

And now we’re wondering about half term, and bloody Easter again. Do we just go round again? Keep on rolling the dice? Keep on predicting the future, and feeling so disappointed when we get it so wrong. Perhaps even feeling a bit stupid and bit naïve for thinking it’d be that simple…

As we walked through the woods [perhaps a little out of breath on the big hills] my psychologist friend told me a tale of an American airman by the name of Jim Stockdale, who was shot down over Vietnam in 1965, captured and sent to the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” – a prisoner-of-war prison where American prisoners were held through the Vietnam War. Stockdale was kept in a windowless cell with a bare light bulb on 24 hours a day. Routinely tortured for information, during his time in captivity he had his leg broken twice. Every night he was locked in leg irons.

Yet where many of his fellow POWs died, he survived. For 8 years until his release, he refused to give up hope. In his words:

“I never lost faith in the end of the story… that I would prevail in the end”

Stockdale, L-R: just hours before his ill-fated flight; being greeted by his son on his return; and later in his career as a highly decorated war veteran

But this isn’t a story about keeping hope. It’s a story about how to keep hold of a kind of hope that doesn’t destroy you bit by bit; piece by piece.

Because when asked in an interview with author Jim Collins about those who didn’t make it, Stockdale was quick to reply:

Oh, that’s easy, the optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart. This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.

US Navy Vice Adm. James B. Stockdale

Personally, I don’t mind a bit of optimism. When we all went to festivals back in the day I was always the one who would always look up at a cloudy morning sky and say “I reckon the sun will burn this off”. Sometimes I was right, too. But I didn’t pin all hope on it, and so if it didn’t that was okay. We had a lot of fun dancing in the rain.

But having the discipline, the fortitude and conviction, to confront the brutal facts? Right now, I think that’s as true for us as individuals as it is for any of us as family members or business leaders; as simple, social animals, desperately missing our connections in ways we cannot comprehend.

Maybe the brutal fact is that this, in some form, is going to be part of life for longer than any of us could possibly have imagined, and rather than predicting the future we must accept the situation as it is and make the very, very best of it, keeping faith that we will prevail in the end.

Maybe the brutal fact is that those most valued friendships will just have to be nurtured over video calls. Yes, young children you’ve known so well will be growing up and changing and you will miss some of that. Maybe the wedding isn’t going to be able to go ahead this year, either; at least, not as it was planned. But remember that you can stay connected, that love is patient; and keep faith you will prevail in the end.

Maybe the brutal fact is that the work will suffer in some way, or change in a way you weren’t expecting, or develop into something that you don’t understand. But be authentic and genuine, keep your integrity, stick to your values. And keep faith you will prevail in the end.

As a leader in times like this, getting the balance right is really important. Mentioned in these pages before, Harvard professor Nancy Koehn ran a webinar last year [when we thought we were in the middle of things but in retrospect perhaps were only at the beginning] about leadership in crisis. In this she talked about getting the balance between brutal honesty and credible hope.

The brutal honesty [interesting that it’s the same visceral, violent word – brutal – as Stockdale used] is that we cannot be certain. That we are at the whim of an enemy we cannot see. That predicting the future is a fools errand, as it always is. That we may yet find even darker days.

The credible hope comes from our dependable dedication to the values and ideas we hold most dear. We show up, every day, in service to the mission we have set. And yes, we can paint a picture of the future, whenever it may come, that has meaning and, yes, even brightness.

Because a bright, fresh, new dawn will come, as sure as day follows night. Perhaps not the one we imagined, or hoped for. But it will come.

So keep faith in the end of the story. We will prevail, in the end.

Decisions, decisions.

I once heard about a checklist for making decisions consisting of three simple, sequential questions. Does a decision need to be made? Do I need to make that decision? Does it need to be made right now? If the answer to any of those is ‘no’, then you’re off the hook, decision-wise.

I’ve always thought it was a slightly flippant way of looking at things, but hey, I’m a slightly flippant kind of chap so I kind of liked it. Sometimes there actually doesn’t need a decision, and rarely right now. So when I have considered it, it’s usually to get more information or opinion so the eventual decision can be more informed and, as a result, better.

But the last one – does a decision need to be made now? – brings danger with it. Because in a dynamic, fast-changing situation every delay could mean another potential option has been lost.

Imagine you’re driving down the motorway. Every time you pass a junction, you’re ruling that way out as a potential part of your journey for the day. A lot of the time that’s because you know where you’re going, so that’s a considered, thought-through and sensible decision. If you want to get to South Wales from London, stick on the M4 and you can’t go wrong.

But what if you’re not sure where you should be going? What if you were thinking of maybe going on holiday for the weekend but every time there was an option you bottled it? On past the junction signposted Oxford, past the Cotswolds, not sure about Dorset and couldn’t decide on whether to pick up the M5 down to Devon or Cornwall. And before you know it, the Severn Bridge is looming into view and you’re going to Wales not because you decided to but because you didn’t decide anything else and now you’re on the bridge and Wales is on the other side and you can’t stop or turn back so guess where you’re going on holiday…?

Wales here we come!

[Apologies here to anyone who isn’t familiar with the geography of the UK – please find details here – suffice to say my wife is from South Wales and it’s probably the trip I’ve done more than any other so it’s etched into my mind. Feel free to transpose your own well-worn road route.]

My point is that if you leave every decision to the final point then actually you’re not making a decision at all. It’s an illusion of decision making served up as leadership, when it’s actually just indecision for starter, procrastination for main course and inevitability for pudding. All followed by a cheese board of bullshit when you claim that the end decision was the only option.

Of course it was the only option in the end, but that’s because all the other possible options whooshed by one by one.

Taken to a completely ridiculous theoretical endpoint, in the current world, that’s how someone might end up having to close all schools the day after the first day of term! I mean, just imagine!!

Copyright @MattCartoonist

Decisions, therefore, come down to a exploration of the information you have in front of you, and a judgement on whether it’s enough.

Yes, bring other people into the decision-making process if you like. People you trust; people who might offer a new perspective; people who’ve experienced something similar perhaps.

By all means check if there really needs to be a decision made right now or whether there’s more time to gather more information.

Perhaps even try it out in a small way, like putting a splodge of paint on the wall to see if you like it as the light changes in the room through the day.

But for crying out loud, at some point just crack on with it, okay? Otherwise you’ll be sitting in Wales on holiday, wondering if you can find somewhere who’ll do a Devon cream tea.

You’ll never have all the information you need to make a decision.  If you did, it would be a foregone conclusion, not a decision.

David J Mahoney, Jr.

Yes, well said sir.

On Incompetence

There I was, all ready with an uplifting, Happy New Year, “things can only get better” post- something to clear away the cobwebs of 2020 and look forward into 2021 with renewed hope and excitement, eyes wide with the freshness of opportunity that only a brand, shiny new year can bring.

Then, like a young faun stumbling into a forest clearing and for the first time seeing the unlimited expanse of the sky above, suddenly I didn’t feel excited and fresh with anticipation; I felt overwhelmed, stunned into inaction by the vastness of the world, by things I couldn’t comprehend much less control, the sudden realisation of my own helplessness weighing heavy. The weight of another national lockdown on my shoulders, shoulders that slumped still further as I sat wondering if I was watching the beginning of the end of Western “civilisation” on 24-hour news from across the pond.

Gill Scott Heron was wrong, it appears – the revolution will be televised. It’ll even be selfied and streamed live on the social media channel of your choice. Who knew it would involve such a lot of milling around?

I’m not going to get into the politics of all this, you’ll be pleased to hear. You’re probably about as interested in my political views as I am in yours, so let’s keep those to ourselves.

But you won’t be amazed to hear that I find myself sitting and considering the idea of ego, self-assuredness, entitlement and narcissism, and how these can so often quite happily co-exist alongside such rank incompetence.

Incompetence on it’s own isn’t the worst thing in the world, and I’m not against it per se – in fact I’m very comfortable with it. We all have it, to some degree or other, in some areas. Either you’re good at something or you’re okay at it or you’re a bit rubbish at it.

The key is knowing which. That’s the really, really important bit. Having the self-awareness and humility to admit to yourself, and to others, when you really don’t know what you’re doing.

If you know you’re crap at something, that’s conscious incompetence, and that’s okay. I happily accept the idea that I’m consciously incompetent at some things. I know what I’m not good at, and I do one of three things about it…

The first (and let’s admit the least mature) is I deride it as being “crap anyway”. Things that fall into this category include golf (can’t play, don’t want to anyway because it’s crap anyway, crap clothers), ice skating (can’t do it, bloody cold, potentially dangerous, crap anyway), DIY generally (waste of time, total crap), and ballroom dancing (I love to dance but I don’t follow steps as I refuse to wear the chains of conformity on any dancefloor. And it’s crap anyway).

Some crap things

The second is a lot more grown up than that, but it also takes a bit more time and effort and energy. Because the next thing I do if I’m not good at something – or not as good as I think I could or should or want to be – is that I work on it, bit by bit, moment by moment, day by day.

In this bucket goes things like being a better human being. Being the best dad or husband I can be. Being a good friend, a good neighbour. Being a good leader, a kind and thoughtful boss. I sometimes ask myself a simple question which gets to the heart of this.., thinking about all the people in my life, in every facet, and asking simply:

If they could choose someone, would they choose you?

Big question, right? But a challenge to get a bit better, every day.

The third thing I do to overcome my conscious incompetence in an area is perhaps the most sensible, and there’s no coincidence that it’s the one that’s proved itself time and time and time again. If I can’t do something, or can’t do it as well as it needs to be done, then I’ll find someone who can.

That sounds obvious with something like DIY – I’m much better getting someone to fix something than mess it up myself first and then pay someone to fix that whilst openly judging me for the horrible mess I’ve made as I make them a cup of incredibly sweet tea.

Perhaps it’s less obvious when we’re talking work stuff. I mean, who wants to openly admit – to themselves, let alone anyone else – that they’re a bit crap at something?

Well, me, actually.

By admitting that to myself and to others I can surround myself with people who can do stuff I can’t do – or who can do it better than I could – and then let them get on with it. In fact my role then becomes very simple. I’m there to make sure they can do their best work. To remove any barriers that might make things harder for them. To make sure they feel valued, and trusted, and supported to do the thing that they’re so good at doing. It’s become maybe the most important thing I can do.

But to do any of these things – perhaps apart from the first – you have to first admit to yourself that you don’t know what you’re doing. And that takes self-awareness and humility in equal measure.

And if you’ve got the opposite – someone with a refusal or inability to know or admit that they don’t know what they’re doing, coupled with self-assuredness, rampant ego, unconstrained entitlement, misplaced confidence… well then we’re in trouble my friend. Especially if they surround themselves with other people like that too.

Not that anyone like that would ever get in charge anywhere. I mean, imagine a situation where your country were run by people like that?! Imagine how poor the decision making would be?

[Sorry I did say I wouldn’t get into the politics didn’t I? Whoops]

Imagine where it could end up.

Happy lockdown to my UK friends, with the hope of an end on the distant horizon.

Love and peace to my US friends, with the knowledge that your wonderful country will come back even stronger.

Happy New Year folks. It’s been quite a trip so far, right?