Green Shoots stirring
2 January 2012
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.