Where Did You Say We Are Going?

As a child, I am sure I asked this question many times – especially on a Sunday afternoon – when my parents would take my brother and me out on a “drive in the country”. So often, (at least during the football season) all I really wanted to do was sit in front of the TV and watch The Big Match.

I am now wiser and older, and well aware that those country drives almost certainly distilled in me a desire to simply get out and about, and I can say I owe a debt of gratitude to my parents for facilitating a genuine love of the countryside.

So when it comes to going anywhere, I almost invariably get pretty excited and nowadays, if there is any ‘non-essential sport’ on the TV, I can record it!

As I write, I am preparing to go an another XCC (Extreme Character Challenge).

Many of you will recall my epic adventures in Scotland last year that I aptly called The Hardest Thing I have Ever Done in My Life.

Well, in just a few hours, I shall be meeting up with a friend I made on that trip last year, and we are going back for more…

Thankfully, not more of the same. No, this time, we have been told to meet at Liverpool Street Station at 18.00 today. That is all we know for now. No destination details, nothing. We have been told to bring our passports but I suspect that it is a ruse to throw us off the scent – who knows?

This is billed as a Leadership Extreme Character Challenge with the heading – ‘Develop & Deploy’. We know there will be water involved at some point – hopefully looking down on it from the side of a boat as opposed to looking down at it from fifty feet above, before being told to step off backwards a la SAS Who Dares Wins!

Either way, I am truly excited, simply because of the inevitable anticipation that begins to brew in my belly. I love the sense of adventure, without necessarily having to be braver than I think I can be in order to enjoy the experience. The guys who are leading us know what they’re doing, and one of them is more than eighty years old!

Having said that, if you don’t hear from me in a week or so with a review, then send out a search party, beginning at Liverpool Street Station…

Dress For Where You’re Going Not Where You Are

Like all good, reasonably experienced Brits, I pride myself on being prepared for any weather eventuality. It feels like a huge risk to me to travel anywhere without a jacket or jumper – even if the current weather forecast is very warm.

Yesterday, I was in Edinburgh to see a client, and as usual, I expected the weather to be decidedly cooler than it was going to be in my native Brighton. For the first time ever, we sat outside and sure enough, it was truly warm – and I wished I had worn a short-sleeved shirt!

We spent our entire meeting in the beautiful sun – a first for me in Edinburgh.

As I relayed my slight regret at not wearing a short-sleeved shirt, my client had a familiar tale to tell about needing to grab a raincoat to avoid getting drenched on the way to the airport recently, knowing that it was very hot (with no rain!) where he was travelling to.

All of this reminded me of a long weekend trip I took several years ago, with a business partner at the time. He arrived at the Virgin Atlantic check-in desk, only to be told that his wife’s French passport wasn’t valid for travel to the U.S.

Agonisingly, they had to miss the flight, go to the French embassy and apply for a new biometric passport and hope against hope, get it issued the same day.

Just before they arrived at the embassy, he took his wife aside and they found somewhere to get changed. He told her they needed to “dress for where we’re going, not where we are.”

The shift in their mind-set – merely through dressing smarter – gave them the confidence boost they needed. In fairness, it was only his wife who needed the boost as my friend is an outrageously confident person almost all the time!

It was literally impossible to get the passport issued the same day – given the lateness of the hour but due to their persistence and sheer determination, they did receive unique favour and got the new passport first thing the following morning, and showed up at the conference we were all travelling to just a day late.

How about you? How does your dress code impact your behaviour or attitude towards others?

What do you think about when you get dressed to go somewhere?

Perhaps take a minute next time you’re preparing to go out and consider if you are focussed on where you’re going as opposed to where you currently are.

If you don’t tend to ‘dress up’ unless it’s absolutely necessary, why not turn it up a notch and see how it affects your outlook. If you’re looking for some extreme inspiration, then check out this interesting article on how men dress.

Conversely, if you feel lost outside of your suit or other, formal dress code, how about seeing if dressing down for the day injects a little more of a relaxed attitude.

Whatever your preference or style, why not simply take a moment to consider where you are going as opposed to where you currently are.

An Adventure in Albania

Since October, last year, a friend of mine and I have been delivering a rolling leadership development programme, every quarter, to two teams at a micro-finance bank.

I love every minute of it, and it is my privilege to help business-minded people become even better at what they do.

Our most recent trip took place last month and it was a bit different to all the other trips we have taken. For me at least, it was more like an adventure in Albania.

I arrived late on Saturday night as my usual Sunday afternoon flight had sold out.

One of the bank’s drivers, Ershan, met me at the airport and off we went for the usually half hour drive to the hotel in central Tirana.

On this occasion however, once we arrived near the outskirts of the hotel, there were police roadblocks, lots of noise, and people wandering around in a not very organised fashion. By the time we got to the hotel, it was way after midnight and the journey had taken twice as long as normal.

The hotel we tend to stay in is situated right in the middle of the part of Tirana that contains all the government buildings. What I did not know until the following day was that there had been anti-government protests raging since February and another major march was planned for the coming Monday night.

I was given strict instructions to not leave the hotel under any circumstances, as the march could turn violent as people were becoming increasingly angry with the government as the Prime Minister, Edi Rama, faced accusations of corruption.

On previous trips, I have walked from the office back to the hotel and it takes about twenty minutes. It’s a pleasant walk, and I love taking in the sights, sounds and smells of a very different, foreign city. Walking back today was not an option. Plus, the rain was relentless.

I got into the car and we set off for the hotel.

The driver, Baksha, is a pretty old man I would say but very alert and as it turned out, very fit. He was becoming increasingly frustrated with the road blocks, hindering the normally straightforward journey to the hotel.

Then I saw something I have never seen before in all my various travels.

A man was riding a bicycle but because of the rain, he had one hand on the handle bars while his other hand held on to an umbrella! Then I saw another man and another. Clearly, this is something they do in Albania.

(This is another man on a bike with an umbrella, taken while I was eating some lunch. It’s actually a screenshot from a video I made – hence the poor quality!)

We went round and round the various blocks, trying to find a sides street that wasn’t blocked.

Eventually, I suggested to the driver that he drop me off anywhere and I would happily walk. I had a rough idea which direction I needed to go in. He nodded but I had no idea how much he understood my walking fingers.

He found a car park and then got out with me. I tried to explain that I would be fine.

He was having none of it. He took off in front of me and I had to walk very fast just to keep up. The main roads were deserted – due to the roadblocks and the impending protest march coming down them I imagined. The rain was cascading down and bouncing off the retail awnings but he wasn’t interested in getting even a minor bit of cover under the new but admittedly, small umbrella I’d only bought the day before.

We passed some familiar cafes and I once again, said I would be fine from here but no. I was beginning to realise he must be under strict instructions to deliver me right to the door of the hotel.

We came to the government buildings that had black marks all over them, where Molotov cocktails had been thrown on the Saturday night, when I had struggled to get to the hotel. TV crews were everywhere, with their OB (outside broadcast) vans strewn with cables and booms all over the place. We went round the corner and the driver turned to look at me with a big smile and said, “Hotel!”

“Thank you so much!” I said. It is a very humbling thing when you want to express genuine gratitude but are severely restricted by a language barrier.

I hadn’t realised quite how close my hotel was to all the action. It was literally about thirty yards from where the march would be commencing.

Later that evening, all I could hear were the loud hailers no doubt condemning the Prime Minister for his alleged crimes. Firecrackers kept going off. At least I hoped they were firecrackers and not gunfire. I’ve been within close earshot of gunfire before in my life but that is another story.

We delivered the workshops later in the week at a different hotel in the coastal town of Durres, which was lovely. Amongst other things, we taught them the importance of story-telling as leaders. I modelled this for them, revealing some very personal things about me that none of them knew. I wanted to demonstrate that vulnerability is a strength – when the time and place is right.

After they had been given some time to prepare, they followed suit. They were honest, vulnerable but triumphant in the midst of what could easily have been written off as tragedy for some of them. There were some tears, laughs and by the end of the two days, my friend and I were emotionally exhausted.

The two teams had bonded like never before and loved the challenge. We had loved facilitating a safe environment and I don’t mean simply away from the protests of Tirana.

It was a wonderful time. The sun even came out for us during those two days in Durres, where before it had been as rainy as elsewhere. We shared a drink on the terrace at the end of the day and I took a moment to reflect on how very fortunate I am to meet and work with the wonderful people of Albania.

“I Didn’t Know I Had it So Good.”

You may have heard about the extraordinary story of the mistaken bottle of wine last week. In short, three businessmen were dining out at Hawksmoor – a steak and seafood restaurant – in Manchester. They decided to compliment their food with a pretty expensive (I would say) bottle of Bordeaux, that was on the menu for £260.

Incredibly, a trainee manager accidentally picked up a much more expensive bottle and served them that instead.

The price of the ‘wrong bottle’? A cool £4,500!

Apparently, the diners did not notice the difference. Why would you, unless you really are a true wine connoisseur?

The mistake only came to light when the businessmen asked for another bottle and another member of staff spotted the difference. You can read the remarkable story in its entirety here.

Anyway, it got me thinking about how easy it is to either forget or be completely oblivious to all that we already have and fail miserably to appreciate that which we have become familiar with.

It may not be the £4,240 price difference in a bottle of wine we get to savour.

It is much more likely to be about the people in our everyday world.

Or the possessions we do have.

The places we have been to.

The work we do get to do and get paid for.

The list could go on.

The list of people I know who have muttered to themselves, “I Didn’t Know I Had it So Good,” is far, far longer than I wish was the case.

May this story serve as a small reminder for all of us to savour the things that perhaps we are guilty of taking for granted.

In the meantime, in my home county of West Sussex, some lovely people I know have produced another award-winning sparkling wine.

The Wiston Estate won “Best in Show” for their Blanc de Blancs Brut 2011, which was awarded only to those from among the Platinum winners. Overall, English wines won 138 medals at the Decanter World Wine Awards.

The price for this excellent sparkling wine?

£42.50. Compared to the £4,500 Chateau le Pin Pomerol 2001, it’s a bargain!*

*I do realise they are very different but you appreciate the thought I’m sure.

p.s. I read about the “wrong bottle of wine” story whilst working in Albania. Next time, I will tell you about my adventures there but for now, here is a photo of the view from my hotel for the second half of the week. The ‘view’ for the first half of the week was of relentless rain, roadblocks, angry protests and Molotov cocktails!

 

“I don’t think it’s possible but because it is you, we have a chance.”

If you haven’t worked out by now, I am sorry but my pet theme, call it my ‘life message’ if you like, is always this:

Never, Ever Give Up!

Overcoming enormous obstacles, outrageous odds, seemingly insurmountable mountains is the stuff that makes us uniquely human.

One thing you will definitely have worked out by now is that I simply love stories in sport where a team or an individual overcomes all expectations to triumph in their chosen field.

Normally, I would be happy to devote this illustration to the extraordinary exploits of Liverpool football club alone, who overcame a 3-0 deficit on Tuesday night to beat the red-hot favourites, Barcelona and win 4-3 on aggregate in the semi-final of the Uefa Champions’ League.

But that would be somewhat unfair.

The following night, another team, who I have always enjoyed watching – Tottenham Hotspur – performed their own amazing comeback to earn their place in the final.

The headlines read after the ‘Miracle on Merseyside’, this is ‘Amazement in Amsterdam’ as Spurs also reversed a 3-0 deficit and won on the away goals rule that count for double in the event of a draw.

For only the third time ever, a major European football competition will be contested in the final by two English teams.

In some ways, I don’t know where to start for the obvious lessons for us mere mortals but here’s what I love the most and I humbly offer it to you…

After the game was over, and everyone who had witnessed the enormity of what Liverpool had achieved, my real hero, Jurgen Klopp said this, “I said to the boys before the game, ‘I don’t think it’s possible but because it’s you, we have a chance.'”

They were without two of their first choice three strikers. Their captain, Jordan Henderson was hobbling on an injured leg for half the match, and one of their very best players, Andy Robertson, had to withdraw at halftime, after effectively being kicked out of the game by that well-known, gifted street-fighter (sorry, ‘cheat’) Luis Suarez.

But before I get carried away with endless words of adoration for my team, let us return to those magical, prophetic words of Klopp’s.

“I don’t think it’s possible but because it’s you, we have a chance.'”

That my friend, is all you need to remember from this blog, that night of football (regardless of who you support or level of love for football).

Because it is you, we have a chance.

Take the ‘we’ out if you prefer and meditate on this…

Because it is You, You have a chance.

Whatever your circumstance. Whatever you are facing right now.

You may feel a bit battered and bruised from time to time. So close to defeat that you’ve almost forgotten there could be any other outcome.

I remember someone using Rocky 3 as a great illustration and it goes like this:

Rocky and his opponent are both on the floor inside the ring – utterly depleted of energy – having given all they had and so much more. Rocky’s coach is screaming at him, “Get up! Get up!”

Sometimes, even when we feel like we have nothing left to give, all we have to do is get up and stand.

And after that, stand. You don’t even have to walk after such a battle.

Because the enemy, the opponent of your life – however that manifests itself – is down and out.

Or at the very least, complacent. Even asleep.

Just like some of those Barcelona players were near the end of match on Tuesday night.

A fourteen year old ball boy – who had been encouraged before the match to feed the ball as fast as possible to the players – so that every single second would count. He did just that when Liverpool won a corner.

Then another local, young man of just twenty – Trent Alexander-Arnold – came up with a ruse that fooled his far more experienced opposition and stunned the world with his ingenuity and cheekiness. It led to a winning goal – the likes of which no one has ever seen before.

A little bit like when David used his slingshot to defeat the seemingly undefeatable Goliath and became the icon for all underdog victories ever since.

Now it’s your turn…

 

 

When All You’ve Got Are Flip Flops And Heels

Last week, my wife and I went away for a cheap holiday in the South of France. Whilst there, we ate delicious food, met some very kind and friendly locals (more about them in another blog perhaps), enjoyed some lovely sunshine and saw some stunning scenery.

We decided to visit what had been billed as the “most beautiful beach in the South of France” and for some reason, got it into our heads that as with one or two other beaches we had visited on this trip, we would be able to park up, walk for a few minutes perhaps and buy some food and drink in the cafe that would surely overlook the beach.

The destination for said beautiful beach was Port Pin, via the calanque of Port Miou just outside the beautiful coastal town of Cassis. The man at the car park told us to simply follow the green arrows. It didn’t take us long to realise this was not going to be as simple as we had hoped.

My wife was wearing those platform, summer sort of heels and I had my trusty flip flops. Neither of which are even remotely appropriate footwear for what we were about to embark upon. The pathway quickly turned into a steep, gravelly descent with a variety of rocks that were simultaneously tricky to avoid slipping on and at other times, handy to hold on to.

A good number of other people were making the same pilgrimage to this unique beach and most of them took the time to glance down at our footwear with an unsubtle grin or amused comment. We heard one or two mutter, “Touristique!” Whilst I had probably had the slight advantage when it came to dangerous footwear, I volunteered for the absolute humiliation of carrying a plastic bag with our towels and a solitary bottle of half drunk orange juice.

We had accidentally left our daypack at home, which ordinarily would have taken care of everything we needed to bring with us. This was one reason why we had not bothered to bring a packed lunch – assuming there would be a cafe ready to take our Euros – like all the other places we had visited thus far.

Alas, when we arrived after almost an hour or more perhaps of walking, trekking up and downhill, gripping the rocks and/or the gravel in that way that forces your toes to push down as if they’re hanging on for dear life!

The beach itself was indeed beautiful but I’m not sure I would even call it a beach at all. It looked more like a cove, surrounded by rocks, with the water leading out eventually to the sea. You can judge for yourself…

Once sat down, we instantly regretted not packing a lunch as you’ve guessed it, there was no cafe to be seen anywhere. We enjoyed the space and watched the young children enjoying the beautifully turquoise, albeit, still rather cold water, as well as a couple of dogs trying to come to terms with maybe their first swim of the season.

We took a different route back (given that the one we opted for earlier had signs saying “Danger of Falling Rocks”) and appreciated the truly stunning scenery looking out across the water from higher ground.

The lessons for us were obvious…

Remember to bring the day pack – on the holiday itself – let alone, the day trip!

If in doubt, bring trainers or anything more appropriate than what we had.

Never assume there will be a cafe.

Most of all however, despite the looks from what felt like every other human being we came across with their hiking boots, mountaineering daypacks, with water pipes feeding through to their lycra tops and velcro pockets, we still made it.

And the truth is, not with that much effort.

It just felt at the time like we were severely disadvantaged by comparison.

In fact, given the footwear we found ourselves in, we did pretty well.

Better than most people might have expected.

So, when all you’ve got are flip flops and heels, keep on keeping on anyway.

How to Deal with People Judging You

“I’m not interested in who judges me, God will judge me one day. That’s the only thing I’m interested in. What other people say about me, I couldn’t be less interested in.”

This is what Jurgen Klopp, said recently during a press conference, after being asked what he thought about being judged on how many trophies he may or may not win at Liverpool Football Club.

As you know, I am interested in football and the various lessons we can learn from it.  I have loved watching Liverpool since I was  a young boy. Now I find myself not only enjoying their highly entertaining brand of football but also loving the things that their manager, Jurgen Klopp, says at press conferences.

What I love the most however, is the way he treats his players, staff and the incredibly loyal, passionate fans.

He is famous for his exuberant celebrations, his sprints down the length (and on one occasion across the pitch) in order to embrace his ‘boys’ who play their hearts out for him, week in, week out. I think he acts like a wonderful father towards his players, who looks for any and every opportunity to celebrate what his children have achieved. He alway protects them, even when they make a mistake. He never exposes them or publicly rebukes them, unlike how Jose Mourinho would often do…before he got fired.

He does not deny that he will be judged. He doesn’t deny there is pressure in a high profile position like his. His secret I believe, is he doesn’t let it get to him because that is not where he places his focus.

“For me, it’s no pressure (to win trophies), it’s only opportunity.”

So my question to you as you think about this is: How do you think God (or any other word you may choose to use) will judge you? And then, how can you allow that knowledge to liberate you from the fear of judgement that may and often does come from your fellow human beings?

 

When You Need a Hand…

I am alive! It’s been a good few weeks (ten to be precise) since you last heard from me and I am sorry for that gap.

I was having major problems with my website as well as the connection it has with the platform that sends these emails out.

The good news is that this has now been fully resolved!

You can even visit the new website now if you like and feel free to tell me what you think. I can’t promise to implement any changes you may suggest as I rather like it a lot – after much deliberation and polishing.

I did a lot of the original layers myself and my wonderful daughter took all the profile shots of me (except for the one of me by the swimming pool!)

But then I hit a wall. A rather large wall or so it felt like to me

I tried one thing and then another to scale it but it just wouldn’t allow me to climb over.

I began asking around for any help but none was forthcoming.

I got desperate and asked a small group of people who had been coming to our house to attend The Marriage Course if they knew anyone who knew anything about WordPress websites. Lo and behold, one of the guys had a friend, and long story short, that friend then introduced me to someone who specialised in exactly what I needed.

His name is James and he has been simply brilliant! He was at once, able to sort out the technical mess I found myself in and helped me get over that seemingly insurmountable wall that was threatening to defeat me.

So, I am very happy and I was reminded the other week of how much difference it makes when someone gives you a hand. My wife and I were in the supermarket and looking for something (I honestly can’t remember what it was now) like a packet of our favourite nuts or something similar.

We couldn’t see them anywhere – the top shelf where they were normally displayed was empty. Just as we were about to give up, a fellow shopper came alongside – a very tall woman – and realised we were looking for the same thing as her. She was able to see that in fact, the nuts were on the top shelf but some considerable distance away from the front and therefore out of our sight.

She then did something I’ve never seen before…

It wasn’t that spectacular but it was worth remembering.

She pulled the shelving display – one of those built-in metal contraptions, not a mere cardboard box, just so you know – and dragged it forwards to the front of the shelf itself. Suddenly, the nuts were in clear view and even we could reach them!

A trivial example perhaps but between James, the extremely helpful web developer and the tall female shopper, I have been reminded once again, that it is a wonderful thing to help and be helped.

 

It Really is Better to Give Than to Receive

I confess I have been a bit slack over the Christmas period, as well as not jumping straight on to the New Year’s message bandwagon. I have however, enjoyed reading other people’s insights and experiences.

One of my favourite stories to have emerged over this time of giving and receiving was about the couple in Northern Ireland who won a record-breaking £114,969,775 lottery prize. You may well have seen the headlines and realised that the story is not about how much they won but how they plan to spend it.

They are going to give the vast majority of it away to friends, family and a few favourite charities.

Wow, what a way to begin the year!

Whilst it is of course, always lovely to be given a beautiful gift by someone you love, it is surely true that it is even more pleasurable to be the giver of the gift and watch the recipient’s face light up and often be overcome with emotion at the sheer thought that has gone into such a gift, or the effort it must have required to produce it.

So, if I am going to yield to the temptation of giving you a challenge for this New Year, how about this for size:

What could be the best thing you could give to someone else?

It may be a gift that costs you a fair bit of money but it could also be something that requires your time, energy and thought.

Or simply means giving your very best in such a way that will truly bless that other person.

The Day Mobile Phones Stopped Working

Last week, I travelled to Edinburgh to visit my client who lives there and while I was waiting at Gatwick airport, I noticed I wasn’t getting a 4G signal. I don’t know why but any time this happens, the first thing I think of in some mild panic is, “Did I forget to pay the bill?” Then I quickly remind myself that the rolling, Giffgaff SIM only contract costs just £10 a month and auto renews anyway. So, no, that is not the problem.

I logged on to the airport’s two hour free wifi and didn’t let the absence of any network signal bother me. I bought a bottle of water that comes with a free copy of The Daily Telegraph and enjoyed reading a hard copy for once, instead of the electronic version I have been enjoying recently – what with all the political shenanigans surrounding Brexit.

When I arrived a bit early at our meeting place, there still wasn’t a signal and by now, I was suspecting some sort of network problem. Instead of becoming increasingly frustrated however, I chose to take advantage of the situation and instead, invest some more time into my relatively recently acquired learned behaviour of ’embracing boredom’ at any opportunity. I have written about this before on the subject of Deep Work and it simply involves resisting the temptation to grab your smartphone within a millisecond of finding yourself waiting for anything. In a queue; TV paused while your friend or partner leaves the room for a minute or two; at a table in a cafe while someone else gets the coffees, the list goes on and is very familiar to all of us.

This new habit is designed to help you remain focussed on a Deep Work task when you inevitably hit that wall where the ideas appear to have dried up, or you are struggling to resist the temptation to check your emails barely ten minutes after last checking them.

It is still a struggle for me and I am in complete favour of the idea of embracing boredom but on this day of the O2 collapse in network functionality, it got me thinking about how excruciating it must have been for the estimated 32 million people up and down the country.

I read the following day about one person, a well known journalist who was due to appear on the BBC programme Question Time that evening and was out of his office and home all day. He was relying on his smartphone to keep him up to date with the day’s events ahead of his appearance. Other examples which when you read them, sound a bit comical but must have been extremely frustrating for the people involved included people not being able to use the famous ‘Boris Bikes’ in London, bus timetables crashing (at least it didn’t cause the buses themselves to crash!), thousands of smart meter installations were cancelled and so on.

All of which causes me to wonder what would happen if one day, more than one network went down, or, if as so many, silly celebrity-led headlines tend to claim, someone managed to single-handedly “break the internet”.

Imagine if that actually happened?

What would we do?

Well, for a start, I think you would see people all over the place holding their phone in their hand, staring at it in disbelief. Then, because there was nothing on the screen to keep their attention from anything else, they might look up and notice they are not the only one suffering such outrageous lack of service. This in turn, would give them something to discuss with their fellow sufferers and then…they would actually talk to each other about the sheer inconvenience of it all.

One person may say they are desperate to get through to their loved one as today is their birthday or they had a driving test and are desperate to find out how they got on. This in turn, would prompt another person to proudly but humbly at the same time somehow declare that taking the time to teach their son how to drive was one of the best investments of time he has ever made (that would be me) as well as recalling the enjoyment of being taught by his own Dad alongside the same driving instructor he learned with also. (That would be me again.)

It is easy to see how the world could grind to a halt if and when another network crash comes colliding into our world of ubiquitous distraction and treadmill activities. Amid all the very understandable frustration at such a situation, hopefully most of us could appreciate the opportunity to embrace a bit of boredom by turning it into a rare glimpse into the lives of other human beings sat right next to us.

In the spirit of openness, here’s my latest Screen Time headline statistics: