The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]


My Friend Paul Is A Hero To Me …
March 1, 2018, 6:15 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Attitude & Aptitude, Comment, Confidence, Family, Paul

As many of you know, my oldest and dearest friend is Paul.

We were born 4 days apart and have spent all our lives together.

Through school.

Through our teenage years.

Through the best of times and the worst.

Through moments of stupidity where we should have immediately denied knowing each other.

And while we have physically lived far apart from each other for over 20+ years, that bond is still there and it’s one I treasure so much.

Now, if you ask my wife or Paul’s wife what we’re like when we’re together, they would probably say we become our 9 year old selves.

Cheeky. Mischievous. Daft.

There’s definitely a lot of laughing.

And while we have only really had a couple of genuinely serious conversations in our life – forced on us due to tragic circumstances that was going on in our lives – I’ve always taken our friendship, and him, very seriously.

Put simply, Paul is a bit of a hero to me.

There’s a bunch of reasons for it, reasons I choose not to share as they’re very private and personal, but his attitude to life is one we should all aspire to, exemplified by the fact that at 47, he’s decided he wants a career change.

Now wanting a career change isn’t that unusual, but actually doing it – without circumstances dictating you have to – is.

You see Paul, a printer and part-time bouncer, is starting his own business.

A coffee business.

A mobile coffee business.

A mobile coffee business called The Frothy Coffee Man.

He’s bought a van with all the machinery, he’s done his training, he’s got his council approval and he will soon be located around parks in Nottingham helping tired Mum’s get their desperate hit of caffeine as their kids run them ragged.

Are their risks?

Sure – he knows that – but there’s far greater risk if he doesn’t.

For the last 20+ years, he’s been doing the same job in the same company, and while he enjoys it, he doesn’t want to be someone who has fallen into ‘comfortable’. He wants to challenge himself. He wants to be more in-control of his destiny. He wants to feel alive.

I think it’s wonderful.

I also think he’ll do brilliantly.

He’s cheeky, charming, kind and – at 6 foot 5 – a walking billboard for his company, so on top of buying a coffee if you ever find yourself in Nottingham, raise a glass for my best mate Paul … who is doing something the majority of us only wish we were doing.

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The Future Has Different Rules …

As I’ve written before, I didn’t go to University. I knew pretty early on that I didn’t want to continue my formal education.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t/don’t like to learn, it just means I find it far more powerful when it’s not in an academic environment.

I still remember telling my parents my decision and being slightly scared.

They desperately wanted me to go so I was worried they would see this as a slight on them – which is absolutely not what it was meant to be.

They asked for my reasons and when I told them, they said that they would support my decision as long as I applied in case I changed my mind.

So I did.

And I got accepted.

But I was still sure not going was the right thing for me, so my parents – while obviously disappointed – supported my decision and never brought it up again.

Looking back now, I feel that must have been very hard for them.

At that point, going to university was the fast track to a career and yet – as another act of their love and confidence in me – they pushed me to follow the things that genuinely interested and excited me and hoped it would all work out.

I’d say it did.

But now I’m a dad and while Otis is only 3, the thought of education looms large.

Would I do the same thing as him?

Of course I want to help equip my son in the best way possible for the life he wants to lead and one of those ways is to provide him with a good education. But the fact is I’m vehemently opposed to private education and while general access schools can be very good, the reality is private tends to offer better opportunities simply because of the funding and the facilities … which leads to an interesting conflict.

What’s best for my son versus what’s true to me?

Given Otis is so young right now, the decision will ultimately be mine and his Mum’s, but once he’s older, what do I do if he chooses a path I feel is not in his best interests.

Sure, it worked out for me, but the World was different back then and then I saw the ‘god’ instagram above – a sentiment that was absolutely reinforced by our recent America In The Raw research – and realised that by the time he has to make some choices, he will be far more aware of what he needs to do to increase his odds of success than his Mum or me.

But then I realised something else …

It’s not just about acknowledging their view of their World will be better than yours, it’s also backing your parenting.

When my Mum and Dad supported my decision, they were ultimately supporting how they raised me.

They believed the values and smarts they’d instilled in me were the right ones to enable me to make the right choices … and while I know they would have been there if it all fell down, that sense of confidence and belief probably enabled me to go to places I might otherwise not have done. Places I might not otherwise have felt I deserved to be.

And that’s why backing your team is everything.

Of course you have to instill values and standards into them, but once that’s done, you have to back them including what they think is right – even if you don’t – because if that doesn’t happen, you’re literally stopping their potential rather than liberating it.

Thank you Mum and Dad. Again.



A Picture Releases A Thousand Emotions …

It’s Monday.

I know that’s pretty shit for all of us so I thought I’d do something nice for a change.

OK, I’m not really doing any of it … my son is … but if it affects you 1/1000th in the way it affected me, it will make your day a little sweeter.

Otis has a friend called Elodie.

Her parents – by pure chance – are English and we met them at our kids school.

Elodie adores Otis.

And Otis adores Elodie.

They operate at the same speed and frequency and while there’s the odd moment where one of them goes slightly off the rails, their affection for each other is obvious.

A few weeks ago we were all at the beach to celebrate another kids birthday [this is my life now]

Living so close to the beach is a real privilege and even though both kids are there most days, they still act like it’s their first time.

Anyway, we were there for Jack’s 3rd birthday and in-between birthday cake and opening presents, I saw Elodie and Otis walk to the gentle tide.

As they chatted to each other, I followed them from a little distance to give them space to continue playing in their own World when suddenly they did this …

There are many beautiful things in my life that have taken my breath away, but this was one of the most powerful.

Innocent.

Heartfelt.

Friendship.

Which is why as much as that lone surfer in the distance may believe they are riding upon life’s purest joy, I would like to say to them they are wrong and point them to the embrace of my son and his dear Elodie.

I think they would acknowledge I am right.

Happy Monday.

Thank you Otis and Elodie.



What Planners And Police/Military Interrogators Could Have Learned From My Mum …

For a long time, I’ve talked about the importance of empathy.

In fact I regard it as the most important trait I look for in a planner.

That’s right, empathy … not curiosity.

As my Mum used to say, ‘being interested in what others are interested in’ is the foundation of forging real understanding … understanding that lets you gain real insight that leads to work that doesn’t just resonate, but is both authentic and sincere to the core.

I recently took my team through the original ‘Thank You Mom’ work I was involved with at Wieden for P&G.

In essence, there were 2 roles the planning departments of W+K had.

The first was to find a point of view for P&G’s Olympic sponsorship that was authentic rather than falling into that trap of being ‘the proud sponsor of razor blades for athletes’ etc etc.

However, once it had been identified that P&G could genuinely claim to helping the Mum’s of athletic hopefuls in their role of being supportive Mum’s, the rest of our job was to ensure the work we produced was authentic to the regions we were going to cover … the UK, the US, China and Brazil.

It took a long time, a lot of meeting, watching, listening and chatting [in fact the little film I made from it all to help the client and creatives really understand our Mum’s is still one of the best things I made at Wieden] but it made all the difference because while some elements of the film may be lost to viewers of other nations [ie: Westerners thought the Chinese Mum who watched her child win via a TV in her home did it because she couldn’t afford to go to the event, when the reality is we had learned parents wouldn’t attend key events for fear of afraid of adding extra pressure to their beloved child with their presence] the fact is those within each culture we featured connected to the little nuances we were able to reveal which led to work that felt part of the culture rather than just being an observer of it.

The reason I am saying all this is because I recently read an amazing article about interrogation techniques, or more specifically, how the interrogation techniques favoured by the Police and military are wrong.

Now I am not suggesting interrogation techniques are anything similar to how we find out our insights about people … but the learnings are.

You see what a team of scientists discovered is that rather than intimidating individuals in the hope of getting them to reveal their information, the secret was to show genuine empathy towards them.

Not in what they did or tried to do.

Not in their cause or their ideology.

But in why all of it was important to them.

In essence, they discovered empathy – rather than intimidation – was the closest thing we have to a truth serum.

Or said another way, be interested in what others are interested in.

Another reason [for me] to say Thank you Mom.

[Read the article here]



Perfect Days In My Mind …
November 3, 2017, 6:15 am
Filed under: Dad, Daddyhood, Family, Fatherhood, Jill, Mum, Mum & Dad, Otis, Parents

Today would have been my Mum’s 85th birthday.

Eighty Five.

I would have flown in to see her. Probably, surprise her.

I did that a couple of times.

Once when I was living in Australia and once when I was in Singapore.

And on both occasions – when she went outside supposedly to help my best friend Paul bring something into her house, and when I hid behind a huge bouquet of birthday flowers – the surprise on her face was utterly adorable.

And because of those occasions, I know what would have happened if I surprised her today.

First she would have stopped dead in her tracks … trying to work out how I was in front of her when she thought I was on the other side of the planet.

Then she would have had a huge smile on her face as she walked towards me to give me a huge hug and a big kiss on the cheeks.

Finally she would tell me how happy and surprised she was, before saying she had to go and make up my bed immediately.

And even though it would be her special day, she would want the focus to be on me and we would have a little back-and-forth as I would insist I was there to celebrate her, not the other way round.

And I would win – not because she liked having a fuss being made of her, in fact she hated it – but because she knew I was happy when she let me make a fuss over her and me being happy made her happy too.

Just to be clear, her version of what ‘a fuss’ was, wasn’t a fuss at all.

I’m talking about having dinner together and talking and just enjoying each others company.

And while Mum would love it, I know she’d be thinking she was taking me away from other things I could be doing so I’d have to remind her I was there for her and we would laugh and hold hands and say how lovely it was to be together.

I would give anything to have that happen today.

Especially as this time, I would have Jill and Otis with me.

And that would make her think it was her best birthday ever.

Because she would get to watch Otis run and laugh around her little garden.

And get to hold his little hand while she went around telling him what all the flowers were.

And get to hear him say “thank you” after he’d wolfed down the pasta she would have lovingly made for him.

And while this all happened, I’d see her radiate with energy and love.

Filled with a spirit that only meeting your grandson for the first time can give.

And while she would desperately try to stop herself kissing Otis’ cheeks over and over again for fear of making him uncomfortable, every interaction would provide her with a joy she would not have felt for a very long time.

I wish this was how today played out.

I wish this was not just happening in my mind.

But it is and while I’d prefer the real thing, I am happy I can picture this in such detail.

It makes me still feel close to my beloved Mum.

The kindest, most generous and considerate person I’ve ever met.

And while I know she can not read this, a little part of me wishes she could.

Because I want her to know the love I have for her is as strong as it ever was.

And this is a small way of showing her that.

As will be the little thing I’ll be doing at work today in her honour.

Happy birthday my dearest Mum.

I miss you, love you and hope Dad is giving you an extra hug today.

Comments Off on Perfect Days In My Mind …


We Are All The Same. We Are All Different.

So for the past 2 days I’ve been writing a lot about equality.

It’s a subject very close to my heart.

To be honest, it always has been but being a Father has raised it’s importance.

In some ways, having Otis grow up in China made things easier as it meant he was exposed to different cultures from day 1 but I didn’t want to take that for granted, so when we knew we were going to move to the US, I spoke to a friend of mine – a Brit, who is black and lives in the US – about the [thankfully small] issues his kids faced being in the US and what he thought parents should teach their kids to stop that happening.

His response was phenomenal.

In essence there were 2 parts.

The first was the obvious one – treat every person from every culture the same way – with respect, appreciation and consideration.

So far so good … but it was the next bit that really made an impact.

Don’t tell Otis different cultures are all the same.

Don’t ‘whitewash’ our differences, acknowledge them … enrich Otis with understanding about different cultures history, struggles and values.

Or said another way … celebrate the differences but treat everyone the same.

Brilliant.

Absolutely brilliant.

In a World where so much hate is built simply on ‘being different’, helping break down those walls through knowledge and understanding is even more powerful than just saying ‘don’t see the colour, see the person’.

Of course it’s vital to treat people the same, but understanding the background isn’t just a mark of respect – it’s a way to celebrate strengths and understand behaviours that you may otherwise judge for no other reason than your own in-built prejudices.

So among Otis’ books on animals and dinosaurs and Peppa fucking Pig, he has books that explore the cultures associated with Africa [‘Africa Is Not A Country’ & ‘Sundiata’], Mexico [‘Tequila Worm’] and the Middle East [‘My Fathers Shop’].

Now I appreciate some people may think we are going a bit over-the-top with this.

After all, Otis is only 2 and a half.

But, as I have written before, I’ve learnt not to care what others think.

I’ve learnt people often mistake being a parent with being an ‘expert’ on kids.

I’ve also learnt kids develop so many of their behaviours by being masters of mimicking how their parents behave.

[Jill hopes she can stop him fall victim to ironic t-shirts and Birkenstocks]

At the end of the day, we believe we have a responsibility to him – and society as a whole – to encourage the values and beliefs that can enable him to be a good human being … someone who doesn’t just contribute to society in terms of what he achieves, but in terms of what he helps others achieve.

Of course we know he will face challenges.

Peer pressure. Unexpected circumstances. The allure of mischief.

And while we can’t dictate how he handles those things, we hope we can prepare him to deal with them in a way where he can hold his head high … which is why on top of being loving, supporting parents, we will buy him books on understanding different cultures, give him dolls to play with and encourage him to play with his beloved pink kitchen.

Being a Father is one of the most amazing things that has happened in my life.

I feel embarrassed to admit I had no idea how good it would be … and while being a good parent is basically a matter of trying things with good intent, I want to say a big thank you to Karrelle Dixon … because he may not realise it, but he made a big difference to how my little boy will grow up. Not in terms of respect, but in terms of understanding … and when you think about it, that’s one of the most wonderful gifts you can give anyone.

I hope my parents would think we’re doing good with their grandson.

I think they would.



To My Beloved Otis. Always Run Towards Happiness ….

Following on from yesterday’s post, I want to talk about the dismay I feel about the Australian government asking for a referendum on whether gay marriage is acceptable.

What offends me even more than the fact this shouldn’t even be an issue is that when there are issues that should have input from the nation – from immigration to military intervention – the decisions are made without any level of consultation.

It makes absolutely no sense, unless the government think gay marriage is more dangerous than defending Australia’s shores.

Actually, they probably think it is.

One of the reasons this issue bothers me is that on top of everything else, my son Otis has an Australian passport.

OK, he also has a British and Canadian one … but should he wish to settle in Australia when he’s older, I want him to have all the rights heterosexuals have, which is why I hope, should he ever need reassurance, he see’s this message that I wrote about marriage equality a while back and knows his Mum and Dad love him and will always support him in his quest for happiness and fulfillment.