Looking back across those seventy years most of the things that kept me challenged and awake at night have completely disappeared. Despite all the angst and perspiration, they are as nothing today. It is certain people and events that stand out, time spent with family and friends, and the unexpected encounters that became the milestones to my life.
If you had asked me at any stage of my life where I was headed, or where I saw myself in five years’ time, I could probably have come up with something that sounded credible. But I was never in fact pursuing a course of action or belief. I was never focused at working on building a CV towards some goal. I believe that my approach was to be constantly aware and took in anything I found useful and walked on by those that I did not. I sought out any changes that could help and seldom compromised in my pursuit of these.
There was a mnemonic I was taught for buying motivations – SPACED. This stood for:
- security – a change that can make your situation more certain, safer;
- performance – a change to improve an action, task or process;
- acceptability – to offer a new action or outcome more palatable or smoother;
- convenience – to simplify or speed up a process or situation;
- economy – a the new approach that can save on costs;
- durability – a change that would last, or was applicable for, longer.
The mnemonic was invaluable to assess your proposition of the various appeals that might apply to a potential customer. But there was a seventh that you could inspire – FEAR. Fear of missing out on an opportunity, or of losing money, or loss of progress. (Do also look above at a KeyMed sales training exercise, where three objects I presented had no monetary value, but had sincere benefits – to me.)
I am not a believer in huge To-Do lists. I always felt that if something needing doing, then you should do it now, don’t prevaricate and delay. Once started you do have to apply all of your attention and skills to it so that is done to the best of your ability and resource. You must finish it, anything unfinished lurks out there and has to be revisited. But finishing it may only mean that you have organised and documented something so that the next person who confronts it does not have to repeat your learning curve, they can land running.
By completing any task, you too will be better placed, you will have filed away good and bad outcomes (a la Nolan Bushnell). You are therefore better equipped and experienced for any future tasks. Tomorrow you can concentrate on new tasks that have come your way.
I did my day’s work at least as well as my colleagues, but always set aside evenings and weekends to go the extra mile, to analyse what I was doing in some detail. This included reading widely and visiting the reference library to expand my horizons as to what might be possible. As mentioned above, often this might be as simple as getting better contact data.
There is always time and energy if you care about the topic. Early in family life, I would come home collapse in an armchair, apparently spent for the day. But if someone called me to ask me to play squash, backgammon or bridge then I was readily able to summon up the mental and physical capacity. So, I realised that I needed to make the analysis and planning just as interesting. While pursuing this, I looked out for any improvements or better approaches, detours of ‘tricks’ and was quick to grasp all opportunities that came my way.
I am not a believer in having graphical or cross-stitched maxims to direct your life, and I give little-to-no attention to the plethora of these that appear in Facebook posts!
Do dream, but make sure that you do pursue those dreams. As a number of writers have said to potential writers when asked for advice, the trick to writing is to write!
I believe that it is important to keep on the move, physically and mentally. That way you can’t help coming across new ideas and new issues – and meeting new people who challenge you with both! This is also implicit in what is claimed as a quote of Charlemagne or a Czech proverb (take your pick) that says, ‘To have another language is to possess a second soul’. Although I can appreciate that this is probably true, I only ever flirted with other languages so cannot confirm its veracity. But even blundering around in another country with a few apposite and useful phrases puts you at risk of new issues, ideas and intellectual development. Lack of movement is something I can espouse when I’m dead!
Given our (Jane and I) particularly focus on moving house so often, one maxim that does seem to apply perfectly to us was William Morris’s advice, ‘Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.’ You will come to fully appreciate that whenever you have to pack up your house and move.
Still trying to get to the heart of that belief, I guess it is about challenging yourself. I believe if you are not currently being challenged then hurry up and find one. If you can’t find one then go hang over a cliff,to focus your mind. Some may ask why should I keep putting myself through the wringer, but it’s only when challenged that you operate at your best. Never let that inner robot take over, never slide back into a quiescent acceptance of your lot.
For example, losing the first game at squash used to made me focus and get back my edge. In warm-up sessions for rugby and squash I found that if I kept dropping a pass, or couldn’t find the racket’s hot-spot, then I would be sure to have a good game because I would sharpen up. If that warm-up went perfectly then I would probably go off during the match.
I guess it’s the triumph of hope over experience. But then I’m reminded of the John Cleese character in ‘Clockwise’ when told not to despair said, ‘It’s not despair, I can handle that. It’s the hope that’s killing me!’
Be aware of what’s going on around you, in other world keep aware so that you can keep yourself out of any trouble.
Someone said, ‘If you work with or for idiots, then how does anyone know that you’re not one’. So, if you become aware of this, move on.
Keep questioning the ‘rules’. As mentioned above, while working in Sweden in the ‘70s my employers had a set of massive tomes, rules for setting up and running one of their stores. And they love rules, in the UK if you walk on a patch of lawn with a sign saying ‘Keep off the grass’ you might get applauded for doing so. I stopped to buy an ice-cream in Stockholm and left my engine running – within seconds someone tapped on the window and told me the rule was that you should switch off! But each of the KF manuals had the same cartoon on the front, which translated said, ‘If we all live by the rules, who writes the next rule book?’
Of course, I accept that none of these thoughts are terribly cerebral or particularly new – and it’s quite a short list – but these principles served me well. I know my grandchildren well enough to know they will be unwilling to listen to this old fart anyway!
Oh, and do keep on the look-out for those spiders!