Green Shoots stirring

2 January 2012
Ben Pentreath

I’m not a great one for New Year’s resolutions. But I would like to start this New Year with a story.

Many years ago, when I lived in the States, but was beginning to feel… well, homesick… and I was deeply, deeply uncertain as to what to do next. The sort of uncertainly where your whole life feels like it is crumbling. A kind, wonderful client of mine took me out for lunch.

“IF, just if, you were going to win the lottery—how much would you need to win in order never to work again?” she asked.

It’s a tricky question, isn’t it? For a start, it implies that one actually buys a lottery ticket, which I think I’ve done twice in my life. And then, the small matter that we don’t like to talk about money, do we; and then… the flat in London, the house in the country, the place in Italy, the apartment in New York, the pied-a-terre in Paris (anywhere else?); the running costs, the cost of living, enough to make a donation or three; hmm. Well, I won’t embarrass everyone by mentioning details, but my choice was probably north of $10 million. Right?   A few years later I was amused and chastised when a 22 year old intern in my office demanded (in answer to the same question) £27 million.  Cool.

The point is, its a question that needs a bit of serious thought, isn’t it?

“And, let us just imagine”, she continued, “that I am your fairy godmother and on Saturday you are going to win $xx,000,000”.  She was so convincing, I almost believed it.  Fun!!!

“And, let us just assume”, she carried on, “that you spend time buying the perfect house in the country, and your flat in London, and your New York pad and Paris pied-a-terre. The bricks and mortar are all sorted…

…Then what do you do next?”

Before you read on, you may want to answer that question yourself.


Weirdly, this time, it needed no thought at all. The answer just flowed. “I would move back to England”, I said. “I would set up a small architecture practice in London, with a bit of interior decoration, maybe open a little shop. Have a lot of fun working on interesting projects with nice people and, well, seeing if I can make the world a better place in very small ways one stage at a time”.

The trick, of course, is that whatever you answer to Ann’s brilliant question is what you should be trying to do in your life.

So, on New Year’s Eve, in the middle of a great and hectic party down here in the village, I found myself chatting to a fantastic man who we will call John, the stepfather of my host. Three months ago, aged 58, he had been made redundant from a small firm of specialist stainless steel engineers. I guess a story we are all coming across. Too early to retire, or to collect the pension, he was frankly fearful of (or at best resigned to) the year ahead. It was time to ask him Ann’s question. “I wouldn’t need much, honestly. £100K would be excessive”.

And what would you do…?

His face lit up. “When I was sixteen, I worked for a few years for a traditional wrought iron blacksmith. I would love to do that again. It was such a passion of mine.  I could have a small workshop at the back of the garden… I wouldn’t need a lot of kit… that really is something I could make a living from”.

I think that was the answer. I told him this tale. And John could not, I mean, could not, stop grinning.

Resolutions come and go, mainly go (I saw my brother today, whose giving up alcohol for January had lasted for… a mere 8 hours. Well done Jonny!).  But the important question is this? Are we reaching the best of our potential?  A good question, I sometimes wonder, to think about on the 1st January.

I did so yesterday while I worked—for the first time in ages—in the garden. Green shoots are appearing everywhere. Spring is around the corner.

Happy New Year. And enough of the self help lecture already – I hope you woke up with a crap hangover.





18 comments on this post


I read this post whilst feeling very down last week having had 6 months of change and upheaval in my life. This post gave me such a lift, it was just the tonic I needed. I’m not sure how I am going to achieve the things that I “would do next” but I certainly know that I will be trying to do them. Thank you for posting this and for writing a lovely blog.



Dear Laura, that’s excellent to hear. It’s almost as good to know that one is trying as actually doing!!! All best, Ben

Lovely thoughts Ben. I hope the new year brings you much happiness.


What a wonderful post. Thank you.


What an inspirational and wonderful post – thank you so much. It’s good to remember in this rather bleak economic climate that unwelcome changes like pay cuts and redundancy can work to make us aware of what we’d really love to be doing and that we can try and incorporate more of whatever that is into our lives. One of my new resolutions is to make a point of noticing a daily moment of beauty – such as your lovely grey zinc planter with all those deliciously green new shoots poking out!

I have somehow stumbled upon your blog and have been captivated for the last 15mins, I dont like to have resolutions but like to feel that everyday any little achievement will enhance my life, simple things, simple pleasures! Oh but how many times have we all thought about that lottery ticket!
Im rather jealous of your vegetable patch too but hasten to add that I am lucky to have an allotment! Thankyou for the thought provoking post…..its good to think!


Dear Emma, thanks.. and a happy new year! All best, Ben

Your post and your intern’s question has been very thought provoking for me this January morning. Thank you. I am at the same point in my life now as your found yourself.

A happy New Year to you. I am looking forward to pursuing my dreams and making this New Year a happy one for myself.


Happy New Year. I think it will be a good one, happy, and good luck with the dreams. All best, Ben

Kate Hsays:

Thanks, Ben. A poignant post that is extremely well received on a day when I have settled at my kitchen table for Day One of The Jobhunt 2012, determined to discover quite how to achieve the best of my potential. Will keep searching and, in the meantime, start investing in weekly lottery tickets! Happy New Year.


I think it’s all about think what we would do if we didn’t need to make a living – and then realising that’s the best way to make a living! Best of luck!! All best, Ben

beautiful post…i found myself thinking about my past goals and how i have fulfilled (and unfulfilled) them this year as well. your blog is always so gorgeous, a favorite surely of mine. thank you!!


Happy New Year Daniel. Reading your blog I feel your goals are well on the way to being fulfilled! Benx

Hi Ben-
I’m enjoying reading your great features in the FINANCIAL TIMES.
I love the ‘lantern’ by windows of your house, facing across the valley, capturing light.
I’ve been such a fan–and have listed you on my blog–and hope you will
add me to your blog roll of favorites. I’d be honored.
HAPPY NEW YEAR…and I hope you win the lottery…don’t forget to buy a ticket.
cheers, DIANE

Great post, Ben. Thanks! One of my resolutions is to say thank you more often. I came across your site and blog one way or another and have been a regular visitor ever since. Very inspiring. So thanks!
Happy new year.


That is a superb resolution, and a nice one to carry on with all year! happy New Year, Ben

Charlotte Ksays:

Oh, it’s a wonderful question if you can move back to a country where everyone has health care. The rest of us will dream, I guess (and buy lottery tickets?)

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