#28 – April 2022 “Travelling, never arriving” | SASIG
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I found this handwritten speech in my archives the other day. (Actually, “archives” is a rather grand description of a long-forgotten box in the garage.) I can’t recall to whom in 1993 I imparted this trite little piece or why, but it provides an uncomfortable time-warp snapshot into a much younger and hugely naïve me. I was 40 at the time – I’m 70 next birthday so it’s nearly half an allotted lifetime ago now. Clearly, I thought I knew it all, but with 20-20 hindsight it’s now painfully clear that I knew very little indeed. Embarrassingly so. Toe-curlingly so. My God, how insufferably smug I must have been.
The full text is reproduced below. Whilst the underlying sentiments are worthy and hold good, this rosy view of what I’d achieved by then and what I believed the future held for me was way off the mark. This optimistic tripe was followed over the following decades by divorce, financial ruin, and betrayal. The world around me served up financial crashes, pandemics, and now violent war again in Europe. But it also saw my seven beautiful children blossom into amazing adults, presented me with wonderful grandchildren, and allowed me a second chance for love. I had to adapt constantly, with a huge amount of learning of new skills and several changes of professional and personal direction. Those dual imposters of triumph and disaster vied with each other with monotonous regularity; sometimes I was riding high and other times I was lost. I found my soulmate and made new lasting friendships, but also I made huge mistakes and dangerous enemies. Oh, and the midnight oil still burns.
Never have I found life boring at home or at work, nor in the slightest bit as predictable as I expected all those decades ago. It must be so for everyone, I presume. We never actually arrive, as I believed then that I had; we’re always travelling and always learning. Nothing was ever (or still is) certain in this volatile and changing world. Things for me are good at the moment but this can and probably will change in a blink. Life will take each of us to where it wants; I hope for at least twenty good summers still to come but all we can really do is ride the rollercoaster with hope, and with faith in ourselves and those we love.


Some of the points I made are immutable – loyalty, courtesy, and sense of humour – but the rest were found only to be ideals. Wishful thinking rather than reality. But I can now confirm that hard work, optimism, discretion and good grace will take each of us far.


So I reproduce my thoughts from all those decades ago with genuine humility. I wonder what are (or were) the things you think you should have done by now (regardless of your own vintage). How have your goals and standards changed (or not) over the years? Comments on a postcard, please…


Interestingly, my handwriting has hardly changed in 30 years. The text was as follows:


Gentlemen, I was 40 last Sunday. It seemed appropriate for a gathering such as this that I should choose this as my theme – my reflection on things I should have done by now. They form part of a 10-point plan. I wonder how many of these you have sorted out, even after 4 decades (and more in some cases in this room).
    1. Do your homework. Learn everything you need to know about your business and profession before 40. Burning the midnight oil is OK at 20, maybe even at 30, but nobody should have to learn something new at 40.
    2. Develop your own style. Learn what you are comfortable with, whether its in the way you dress or simply the small touches that set you apart.
    3. Put your emotional life in order. It’s hard enough to succeed without taking on personal problems that sap your energy and divert your attention. Besides, unhappiness is like a disease; it gradually eclipses interest in everything else.
    4. Know your weaknesses. Accept the things you don’t do well, can’t stand, or won’t do.
    5. Make a start at 40 of putting away your “I quit” money. Nothing is so depressing as absolute dependency – the knowledge that you are stuck and can’t afford to take a risk.
    6. Establish a network. If, by the time you are 40, you haven’t built a network of friends, or at least people who rely on you and to whom you can turn, you are in trouble. A network is not something you can establish overnight, it takes decades of nurturing.
    7. Learn to delegate. Many people don’t – or can’t – do this and are condemned to subordinate positions. Delegation is half of success, and it means picking the right people and trusting them.
    8. Learn to keep your mouth shut. Learn to keep quiet and look wise. Don’t gossip, and don’t talk about your plans. A reputation for keeping secrets outweighs the popularity that spreading gossip may win you.
    9. Above all else, be loyal. If you haven’t established a reputation for solid, 100% loyalty by the time you’re 40 you’ll be haunted by this defeat for the rest of your career. Before 40, loyalty is its own reward; after 40 it pays off.
    10. And always, keep your sense of humour.
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Thank you for reading my blogs. I’m getting quite old now, and hopefully I’m a little wiser than I once was. I have enjoyed a fascinating career full of fascinating people, and made many great friendships. I’ve made huge errors in my lifetime, and enjoyed great success too – it’s been the ultimate game of snakes and ladders - up and down, round and round. It is my privilege to share some of my stories with you, and describe some of the lessons I’ve learned in the hope that it may both save you from falling into the same holes, and help you in your careers and lives. Good luck and good fortune.

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