Friday, 13 June 2008

My mid-life crisis

I am looking forwards to my mid-life crisis. I am not sure when I am supposed to get started or what it involves exactly, but I got some good ideas at a couple of events I attended this week. On Tuesday I joined Ben Verwaayen, ex-CEO of BT, for lunch and on Thursday I attended a breakfast with the management guru, Charles Handy.

They were quite different events. Lunch with Ben was a serious affair. About 15 of us round a table at a private members club. Suit and ties all round. A 20 minute speech and a well managed Q&A session. Breakfast with Charles was a new age affair. Fifty people lounging around on arm chairs and sofas sipping coffee as Charles wandered about and told stories, a random burst of Italian opera singing (true) from the host and a series of personal photos.

What tied the two events together was the journey of middle aged men transforming their lives and setting off in a new direction. In Ben's case, in his mid 50s and from his perch at the top of BT he discovered "green". As he said, you don't have to have blue hair and have a pin through your nose to be green these days (for the rest of the lunch, he was imprinted on my mind in his suit and tie but with blue hair and a pin through his nose). Ben spoke passionately about saving the planet one step at a time, despite having be very sceptical about it all a few years ago. He has clearly decided that getting business to take action to save the planet is a key part of his future lifes work and he is tackling it in a very focused, business like way.

Charles Handy's message over breakfast was most interesting. He talked about making that transformational step in your life when you are on the up and up, before you have peaked, not when you are on the way out or down. He and his wife, Elizabeth, have a unique approach to helping you work out what really matters in your life through photography. They work with you to create a still-life photo, consisting of five items and a flower. You select just five items that define you plus a flower and you arrange them in a way that reflects who you are and what matters to you. The value comes in the conversations about your items and your arrangement but there is beauty and poetry in the process. Take a look at his new book, The New Philanthropists, where a whole host of successful people have created their still-lives and talked about themselves in this way.

The breakfast was organised by a splendid chap called David Pearl. A former opera singer turned management coach and business consultant, David is a larger than life character. He has created a very interesting year long course, or journey might be a better description, for relatively successful people who want to explore what next in their lives. It involves time away in Italian Villas eating, drinking and exploring life with eminent philosophers, scientists, artists, musicians. It involves exhibitions in London. Chance meetings on street corners with brilliant thinkers. It sounds like a year long adventure in the middle of your life that will help you discover for yourself that next transformational step. Fascinating idea. Not one for me (yet) but it's a fascinating idea nonetheless.

The "five items" thing is quite interesting. Selecting just five items that define you as a person is harder than you would think. As we went in to breakfast we were shown a few tables of what looked like bric-a-brac and invited to pick something that caught our eye. I found it quite challenging to decide what to pick that represented me. After much agonising (as a queue formed behind me) I picked a broken pair of little round glasses, the sort you balance on the end of your nose and look over the top of. I tried them on back in the office and was told I looked like a cross between the Dalai Lama and a Womble. Now they sit next to me on the table, demanding an explanation. Hmmmm.

Peoples explanation can be a bit of a surprise. The attractive, softly spoken young lady sitting next to me had picked a cute looking, tiny pink boxing glove. Why did you pick that, I asked? Because I box for a hobby and boxing let's me externalise the anger, she smiled...

No comments: