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


Never Apologise For Your Emotions …

I cry.

I cry a lot.

I cry at films.

I cry at memories.

I cry at just how much I love Otis.

Now I appreciate that’s not the sort of thing you should admit, but that’s what I want to change.

I get why it happens.

From the moment we are kids, we are told not to cry.

To be fair, it’s less to do with any sense of parental embarrassment and more to do with parents hating seeing their precious child being upset, but in my opinion, it’s still wrong.

But it gets worse.

Especially for little boys.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard a Dad tell their little man who has fallen over …

“Big boys don’t cry”.

I totally appreciate they’re not saying it to be mean, but I can’t help but worry for what we are teaching the men of tomorrow.

Especially in America.

I was lucky, I was brought up in a household that didn’t try to hide emotions.

I was taught it was healthy and was encouraged to express how I felt.

Now I know that was pretty rare, but fortunately for everyone else, there was the local pub.

The pub was more than a place for drinking, it was a place for men to express their feelings.

Sure, they did it through banter and jokes, but it was where you could reveal your feelings and fears to other men in an environment that was, ironically, none threatening and none judgemental.

I have no idea if that’s still the case but I know in America it’s not.

Here, you don’t go to a bar to talk, you go to a bar to sit with other men and watch sports.

There appears little outlet for men to express their feelings which means either the pressure of situations add up to unbelievable levels or the response to situations is disproportionate or overly aggressive and confrontational.

OK, so not everyone is like that, but until we teach our children – and especially our little boys – that crying is actually the act of someone strong rather than weak, then we are going to continue stopping people knowing how to navigate the challenges and frustrations that fill our lives. Or said another way, we’ll be stopping our kids from being able to be as good as they can be … which is a crime no parent wants to ever be accused of doing.

Which is another thing we could all learn from the values taught at Otis’ school.


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The NHS Put The Great In Great Britain …

The NHS is 70 years old this year.

While that is a remarkable age, it blows my mind there was a time when it didn’t exist.

The story of its foundation is a remarkable one … one filled with foresight, fight and a governments desire to raise the standards, dreams and potential of an entire nation.

Whether we will ever see something of such audacious good from a government anywhere in the World is debatable.

Obamacare may have come close, but thanks to America’s blinkered fear of socialism [despite having one FBI for example], it means its potential has been destroyed by that criminal, also known as The President of the United States of America.

And all the Republican sheep.

But back to the NHS.

Despite having not lived in England for 24+ years, it’s been a quiet partner throughout my life.

Helping me deal with some of the best and worst times of my life.

And even though there was a time I grew to despise walking along the corridors of the QMC hospital in Nottingham, I was always grateful for it … because it ensured the people I loved weren’t allowed to fall through the cracks at their greatest hour of need.

The NHS has saved my parents life, saved my sight, looked after my dear Paul when he’s undertaken acts of complete stupidity, taken care of my son when he came down with an illness [despite not yet having a British passport] and ensured my parents were given dignity in their final days … it is the single most important and valuable institution the UK has.

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have lived all around the World and while there have been a number of occasions where I have needed the urgent and serious attention of Nurses and Doctors, I’ve paid heavily for that service.

Of course I’m grateful for all they did for me – they were excellent – but I was also in a privileged position where I could afford to pay for it which is why the NHS is so important because the reality is, everyone deserves the right to being looked after, not just those with a healthy bank balance.

Countless UK governments have tried to undermine or strip away the NHS … seemingly ignorant to the fact it’s one of the few things that is the envy of the World and should be treasured, not pillaged.

So to everyone who has ever worked for or fought for the NHS, thank you.

You deserve so much more than just a nations gratitude.



One Of The Best Things In The World Was Born This Day In 1976 …

I’m writing this from Berlin where it is already the 15th June.

This is important because today and tomorrow are the birthday’s of 2 of the most important people in my life.

My beloved wife, Jill.

My beloved best mate, Paul.

While I’m sure they’re happy I’m in Europe on their special day, I know I cannot imagine my life with either of them not in it, which is why I want to mark the occasion with this post.

[Which is also cheaper than a present, despite the fact I’m sure being away from them on their birthdays is the best present of all]

Paul has been there since 4 days after I was born.

Causing me trouble, mischief and immense amounts of laughter.

Literally pretty much every memory I have in my life involves him.

Every. Single. One.

From first days at pre-school, school and college.

Concerts, booze and accidents.

Girls, games and gigs.

You name it, we have shared – and been there for each other – at every significant high and low in life.

Whether that’s being a shoulder to cry on or a person to point at and laugh ourselves stupid at.

Plus he is the only other person I knew when I was growing up that had a Philips G7000.

Paul is, quite simply, someone I absolutely and wholeheartedly regard as family.

Truly.

I am a better and happier person for him [and the wonderful Shelly] being in my life.

So to my dear, wonderful idiot of a friend, I wish you an amazingly brilliant and immature birthday tomorrow. May it be filled to the brim with immaturity and stupidity, which – let’s be honest – we both know it will.

And then there’s my Jilly.

My wonderful, kind, considerate, beautiful, funny, smart Jilly.

What she is doing with me is anyone’s guess.

From the moment I met her 14 years ago, she has been the one.

More than that, she has been my support system … holding my hand and giving encouraging words of support as we have embarked on a ridiculous journey together.

Different countries. Different challenges. Different adventures.

She’s never complained.

Never demanded anything.

She’s embraced every situation and made it something we can look back on with happiness.

Even those points where I was convinced I’d led us astray, she has backed us to come out the other side and we have.

She is insanely talented, creative and just plain wonderful.

And while everyone who meets her recognises how special she is, they often misunderstand one thing.

She is strong.

Stronger than most people I know.

Not just because she puts up with me, but because there’s not many people who would move countries to be with someone they had only met a 6 weeks earlier.

But she did.

Because she felt it was worth it.

Which means she felt I was worth it … which is utterly incredible.

I’ve written before about her unbelievable levels of compassion, support and love.

How it took me some time to come to terms with the fact I had met someone who wanted to take away any pain or troubles I had in my life.

Not just say it, but actually want to do it.

And she did and does … whether it’s the way she gently consoled me as I tried to deal with the tragic loss of my Mum or simply being the person I turn to when I feel lost or unsettled.

As much as I always felt my life was pretty great, things became infinitely better when Jill came onto the scene.

Then she raised the game by giving birth to our beloved Otis.

I always knew Jill was going to be an amazing Mum, but she does it in ways that continues to inspire and blow my mind at the same time.

The way she focuses on what he needs not what others say he should need.

The way she is teaching him to be a good person, not just a good boy.

The way she fiercely protects who he is when others are quick to judge.

And the result is an amazing, cheeky, pink-adoring, kind, chinese-speaking, curious, creative, mischievous, broom-sweeping, loving, Bez-dancing little boy who I literally couldn’t love anymore.

Not a single milligram more.

Which ultimately means I couldn’t love Jill anymore.

Not a single bit.

She makes the best days better and the worst days, less dark … whether that’s a well timed moment of love or an act of Jillyism brilliance.

I don’t know what I have done to deserve her.

I don’t know if I will ever be able to describe how much I love her.

I don’t know if I will ever be able to do enough to show how much I adore her.

But I’ll keep trying, because as much as this was an amazing present … she’s the best gift I could ever receive.

Happy birthday my darling Jilly, I love you so much.

Rx


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What Agencies Can Learn From Otis’ Kindergarten …

So Otis goes to this amazing hippy kindergarten school near where we live.

It’s a co-parenting school which means that the parents have to help with the schooling of the kids, not just with the funding.

It follows a very specific philosophy defined by the founder and it’s a place where kids learn through expressing their creativity.

They even have a ‘mud room’ for the kids to cause mayhem when it rains.

Put simply, we love it.

A few weeks ago, we went there on the weekend to help decorate it during spring break when I came across these 2 signs in the school …

I love them.

It sums up everything we adore about the school.

It captures exactly why Otis feels it’s a safe and happy place for him to explore.

It also addresses something I have been looking into for a while, which is the lack of outlet American men have to express their feelings.

Everything is built on acting tough.

Crying is for wimps.

Hell, even the bars are full of sports TV’s basting out scores, which means people don’t have the quiet to talk to one another – something I had growing up in England that actually encouraged the sharing of feelings and emotions. Albeit often wrapped up in banter.

The macho pride that seems to underpin so much of American male society feels like it’s still the 1950’s … which is why I love that this school doesn’t tell kids to ‘stop crying’, but asks what is wrong and then sympathises with their predicament which remarkably, helps them stop crying far more quickly and in a more positive way than any shouting would ever do.

Now imagine if companies operated by the same ideals.

Listening.

Valuing.

Caring.

Developing.

Oh I know those words appear in a million mission statements, but we all know they’re often used more as an illusion than an action.

In the bid to build office ‘culture’, so many organizations forget it’s not just about what you say – or even what you do – it’s the practiced beliefs that defines what everyone values, which is why companies could learn even more from this school than my dear Otis.



Everything Good Starts At Home …

As I’ve mentioned many, many times, my parents drilled into me the importance of living a life of fulfillment not contentment.

It took me a long time to truly understand what they meant by that, but when I did, it was a revelation.

It is behind so many of the decisions I’ve made in my life.

From moving to so many different countries.

Starting cynic and Sunshine.

Right through to – hopefully – being the father and husband my wife and son thoroughly deserve.

This last one is especially important.

Not just because I love them and want them to know my love, but because at the end of the day – if the things I’m doing away from them doesn’t ultimately benefit them, it’s a waste of time.

When I was a child, my Dad would tell me why it was so important to love the work you did.

His basic premise was that if you’re going to be away from your family so much because of work, you better be doing something you love because nothing would be so insulting than to be away from them doing a job you hated.

That has stuck with me and while I’ve never hated any of the companies I’ve worked for – I’m always aware that once I have more bad days than good [or, in the case of Wieden, more bad polluted Shanghai days, than good] it’s probably time to start exploring what is out there that intrigues me.

Now, through a bunch of luck, these changes have come with greater titles and responsibilities … and I’ve never minded that, but it’s also never been my core motivation. Not because I don’t have ambitions, but I’ve always found the greatest joy being part of something that creates something.

I used to say that if I was to come back again, I’d love to be an architect because that way I could do work that outlived me … then I had my son.

Being a Dad has been one of the most amazing experiences in my life.

I’m ashamed to admit this was not something I was truly aware of, initially.

But now, thanks to the brilliance of my wife, I am able to see that I have helped bring something into the World that will outlive me. Something that can [hopefully] be testimony to the values we value and the things we love but with a life all of its own … a life that can grow and be shaped by the possibilities in the future we may never get to witness.

Which is why as much as I want a career that continues to creatively challenge and excite me at the highest level, my most important ambition is to be a husband and Dad that is present, engaged and full of love and support for the people at home.

It might have taken my wife and son to help me truly appreciate that, but I know my parents would be happy that I finally got there.



Age Is Attitude …

I’m old.

In fact by adland rules, I’m a bloody dinosaur.

That’s not because I’m switched off to contemporary culture – quite the opposite – but because the industry is ageist to the core.

The reality is anyone at my age tends to face an interesting dilemma in terms of how they are perceived …

Be old but think young and the industry sees you as a try-hard.

Be old and act old and the industry sees you as past-it.

Both things are wrong of course and it’s one of the reasons I always loved Wieden because they valued creativity rather than devaluing age. Of course, you have to keep the flow of new, exciting, dangerous talent coming into the place … but in my experience, when people have an open mind, the young learn from the old and vice versa and the end result is something even more potent than it would have otherwise been.

But maybe that’s just me trying to post rationalise my value.

The thing is, as I get older, I don’t want to subscribe to the ‘life’ I am supposed to have.

That doesn’t mean I aspire to living a long-term midlife crisis any more than I want to spend my time gardening, drinking wine or playing golf … if people want to do that, that’s fine, but I want to indulge in the things that continue to fascinate, intrigue and challenge me.

I wrote about this once before, but the best and worst thing about growing older is that you are continually discovering things you want to explore – in fact, the more you explore, the more you discover additional things you want to explore – but underpinning all this is the unshakable knowledge the time you have to do it is more limited than ever and so there will be paths that will be unexplored.

That’s quite the mindfuck.

Years ago a man I met said, “you know you’re getting old when you can’t feasibly double your age”.

At the time I remember laughing but now I’m in that situation, it’s confronting.

I have so much I want to do. See. Try. Explore.

Then there’s the things like seeing my son forge his own path.

While spending more time with my beloved wife.

More memories. Less dreams.

The idea that time is getting shorter can really fuck you up.

And that’s why for me, it’s about trying to ensure my family life a life of fulfillment.

I don’t want to subscribe to irrelevance.

Sure, one day I might be regarded as that for companies, but this is not about them – but me.

My Mum always had a desire live at the speed of contemporary culture.

She didn’t want to feel she was left behind.

That didn’t mean she did things she didn’t want to do, but she also didn’t want to live in a bubble where her context for life was far removed from the realities of life so she was open to the new and actively explored it … not in the bullshit way advertising portrays it, but in her interest in culture, from comedians and artists to music and politics.

That’s an amazing lesson to be taught – one I wholly subscribe to – which is why I think the industry is missing the point when it labels people over 40 as over-the hill. For me, rather than judge individuals by their physical; age, they should judge them by what they bring … what they challenge … what they change … because it’s the one’s who refuse to be labelled who can make exciting things happen.



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.