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Set Free by the Truth!

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I learnt a looooong time ago that success comes from effort you put in + talent + luck.  What I didn’t learn until a couple of years ago is that whilst I thought I was putting in the max, actually I wasn’t.  This is a truth that applies to most all of us, we spend sometimes hours just doing meaningless and pointless tasks.

I admit facing the reality was a difficulty, after all I’m perfect aint I? Well, NO actually.

The possibility that I could make better and quicker decisions just hadn’t occurred to me and when it did it was like being hit by a juggernaut. The reality just hit me right between the eyes, suddenly it was obvious what I had to do, I had to measure my activity and the waste would become self evident. I adopted a method I have to use every couple of years and I kept a diary for a couple of weeks. When I was a child I was in hospital for a very long time and at the time had pioneering surgery to correct a congenital heart defect. Anyway since turning 40 years of age (and that seems like a life-time ago now) I go for a check every couple of years to make sure I still have a functioning heart and nobody’s replaced it with a lump of rock.  Before the appointment where I’m prodded, pressed, listened to and covered in wires I have to keep a diary of diet and activity.  Thankfully over the last 8 years I’ve actually improved my health! Yes, I’m fitter now than I was 10 years ago!

Anyhow, the lesson is there. Measure stuff and stuff gets done. So I applied the logic to activity, especially activity that brought me closer to my dreams. And you’ll never guess what? I found I waste time.

I waste time day-dreaming (not necessarily a total waste of time but too much dreaming and not enough doing, well need I say more?).

I waste time flicking though pages of magazines looking at cars and phones and computers that I will never consider buying.

I sleep more than I thought I did.

I watch a lot more TV than I thought I did.

I spend hours, yes honestly hours on-line looking at and not buying cycling gear (yes its a fantasy, I am a MAMIL; a middle aged man in lycra)

The truth is that I measured what I did and hey presto I became more productive. Its no miracle just facing up to the truth and then doing something about what I didn’t like about my life.

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Learning to be HONEST!

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For quite a few years I was a shitty person, selfish, self-centered, self-obsessed… the list could go on.

Essentially I put my needs (for needs read wants) ahead of everybody else’s, of my friends, of my girlfriends, of my work colleagues… yes everybody without exception.

My friends abandoned me, regularly, and I had to make new ones (which incidentally I became quite adept at from the amount of practice), my girlfriends dumped me but that really should be no surprise and I got sacked (but not often).

Like most people I didn’t and still dont like to hear bad things being said about me and even less so being said to me so I rationalized them, went defensive, went on the attack (more people walking away) and ignored what was being said. I thought they were wrong, they were jealous, they were just moaning, being needy and high maintenance and generally were being real pain in the derriere.

Because… I was good, I was a nice person, I had the answers, my needs were more important, I was important!!!

I didn’t get the other people have needs thing, I didn’t get the other people are important thing.

I still have relapses, but then my wife slaps (yes sometimes she really does but not hard, just hard enough) me back to reality, she keeps me grounded and enlightens me on what’s important, which quite often is not necessarily me and what I want.

I would blame everybody but me if something went wrong, but I can HONESTLY say that I’ve learnt that sometimes I do actually screw-up. Painful to admit, yes, but I do make mistakes.

I eventually realized that I was being an Ass-Hole and started to make changes. This didn’t always go well, the people around didn’t know which Philip would turn-up, which head of the day I was using and I can see why there was some confusion. But I was beginning to ignore those little demons inside my head that kept on pushing me to just get what I wanted and screw the rest, go on just this one more time, I’ll be good tomorrow. It was like a drug being selfish, being me was giving me a high and destroying my chances of ever being a fully functioning adult.

It finally dawned on me that I had to be HONEST not just with others but probably more importantly with myself. It is sometimes good to put yourself first, you are not always in the wrong. The realization journey was like a pendulum and I’d reached the edge of the opposite swing and was beating myself-up way too much. You have to stand-up and support what is the right thing to do, not just the right result but the right way of doing it.

Today I feel well adjusted, a little stressed from time to time but I guess that’s normal and importantly on the whole I’m HONEST with myself, with others and with the people I care about.

BoxLife

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What is BoxLife?

Well let me illustrate:

Get up in the morning and get in the box with wheels (car to you and me), commute to place of work and sit in a box (cubicle) with the other box in your work life to work at and communicate through (computer), hop back into the box with wheels and go home at the end of a 9+ hour day, do it all again the next day:  BoxLife!

I can honestly say that there are times when I hate it.

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I’m not saying I’m not grateful for the income, I am, enormously, but come on its not an inspiring life is it?

I envy those who’ve broken free of this tread mill, the drudgery of it all.  I am at a point where I exercise a lot of command over my working life (after all I own 25% of the business I work in – but work I do).  What I think I’d like, just like so many other successful (moderately or otherwise) people, really is a more ‘tailor made’ way of working.  Flexible, work from where and when it suits.  Of course this will not be suitable to a vast majority of people, and at the moment me as well; I work in a factory and what I do means I have to interact with real people doing real things.

But nonetheless, I am working towards jumping out of my particular box (self imposed or not) and this blog is in a small part, part of the way in which I’m doing it.  My present plans remain open-ended but with a focus beginning to form, so I can predict that at some time during the next few years I’ll be making some trial jumps so to speak.

I have flexed my present circumstances to the limit for what I presently do so I’ll have to find different ways to generate income (because its a sure bet I’ll need an income).  Like many people I too have read the 4-Hour Week book.  Its a great book, entertaining and informative.  I just don’t have the same confidence in my own circumstances that I can pull it off.  I’m not afraid of the risks, there will be many, its more my responsibilities; I’m married to a woman who for certain reasons cannot work (she’s not lazy just hampered by her own circumstances) and a daughter who still lives at home.  These are people I love and care about profoundly and willingly sacrifice my own desires for their happiness.  Like I indicated, I’m not totally miserable with my life, it just needs a tweak or two to make it better and more enjoyable.

BoxLife; not bad, just not great!

I’ve pretty much learnt the dance in the rain thing, I’m now looking for a different tune and an umbrella, or better still I’d like to have a dance in the sun.

Symbols of Success

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For the last 2-weeks my house has been on the market for sale.  No big deal that, you might say but for my wife and I it is actually.  We plan to move out of a house we own and into rented accommodation.  Of course there’s a plan and we will buy a house in the South of France all being well.

For many years I’ve harbored a desire to live in France, particularly the South of France.  From my first visit on a student exchange programme when I was 13 years old right up to now I still have this desire, indeed it is now a burning desire, and for her sins my wife has agreed to putting my plan into action and buying a place, not a big place, but our place in France.  I’m sure initially it’ll be a holiday home and perhaps our extended family and friends will make use of it.  But eventually we will settle there to live our elder years out.

Thinking of this project has led to some personal revelations.  I think the feelings were always there just pushed down within myself.  Career wise I would be classed as one of those ‘self-starters’, motivated to succeed and ambitious.  I began in my current industry (factory applied coatings) 23 years ago as a factory laborer; the lowest employment level in the factory food-chain you could say.  Anyway, a shade over 5 years ago I bought the company I work for (with 3 others that is) for a couple of £M’s.  So I have a successful career by most people’s measures.  I enjoy my work but it’s not the reason I get up in the morning.

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So because of my career I own a nice house, in a nice part of town (very leafy), a new car (Alpha Romeo – very sporty it is too).  I holiday abroad 2 or 3 times per year, at least once on long-haul and my wife doesn’t work (she doesn’t need too).  All these are symbols of success! Well to some people anyway.

But actually what I really like is good food, good wine, being in the sun and fresh air to breath.  But I don’t want or feel the need to pay lots of money for these privileges, these should be just part of life and I don’t think I can get them often enough if I stay put.

Success is too often measured in financial terms, the stuff you own and how much you spend when really its about quality of life.  These are the symbols, the indicators, that a lot of people use to mark-out success and I have been guilty, all too guilty actually of using these self-same symbols as measures of other peoples and my own success.

I’m not saying these measures are bad or wrong at all.  No, they are valid, just no longer for me and I think my wife as well (well I truly hope so anyway).

Success for me means living life through experiences, by meeting people, seeing, watching and hearing beauty.  Success means really good food, wine and a clean environment to live in.

I truly hope I live my life as a success, I’d hate to think I was remembered and measured by the things I own rather than the contribution I made to the community I lived in, the experiences I had and shared with others.

Coffeeeeeee!

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iFAMINEI’ve been to Africa countless times and there are plenty of reasons that I can see that the Continent should not be in the position it finds itself.  I’ve met a multitude of talented, ambitious, thoughtful and yes entrepreneurial people.  In fact there are parts of Kenya or Tanzania or Uganda I would happy settle and make my life.

The reason Africa is dependent on aid is really a very simple one.   Less than 20% of African exports are manufactured, value added goods, the other 80% are raw materials.  But 65% of the continents imports are manufactured goods.  Africa therefore is a producer of what it does not consume and a consumer of what it does not produce.  The irony of this perverse situation I’m sure isn’t lost.

In Uganda for example coffee is grown in small quantities by about a million households.  In fact Uganda is the 5th largest producer of coffee beans, but it doesn’t have any capacity for processing those beans.  Frankly I was amazed when I read that stat!  This means that less than 1% of the retail value of coffee originated in Uganda is retained by the very farmers who produced the beans.  But here’s the real kick in the proverbials, go to any large hotel in Uganda or Kenya or pretty much any other East African nation and see what brand the coffee is that you get served in a hotel.  My bets are that you get Nescafe and not much else.

Don’t get me wrong here, Africa is blighted by Big Man Politics.  But even this cultural bent is related to how the old colonials left the continent.  For the most part European countries carved-up the continent in search of raw materials, installing a small but well armed band of so called Diplomats & Governors to run the countries they invented (Africa is a continent of nations who do not have socially natural boundaries  check it out there are just too many straight line borders for this to be deniable).  What they didn’t do was educate.  So when the countries found freedom from colonial rule they just didn’t have the educated elite to run the country that was left.  Nett result; a few rose to power and were quickly corrupted.

So we now support Africa with endless aid.  In fact the continent now has a chronic dependence on aid and I don’t see how it actually contributes to or acts to stimulate sustainable economic growth.  The powerful donors have tied the aid to concessions, making the leaders of African nations more accountable to corporate America and EU than to their own people.  In short the structural inequalities generated in the 1950’s & 60’s are perpetuated, promotion of  labour exploitation ensures that the export of primary commodities remains central to the bare survival of those in power.

How to correct this situation?

My suggestion is 3-fold:

  1. Transfer of knowledge, train the people in how to manage their environment to best effect
  2. Provide the technology to do the jobs; this of course is linked intimately to point 1
  3. Build institutional capacity; this is the really difficult one actually.  Good governance, good banks, good savings schemes… the things we probably take for granted

There are without question no shortage of entrepreneurs in Africa, all you have to do is visit Nairobi or Lagos or… you will be accosted with people selling their wares.  No, no shortage here.  The real question is access to funding.  About 3% of adults in sub-Saharan Africa can access funding, the other 97%+ are on their own.

The key to this lock I believe lies with the Western Supermarket Chains.  It wouldn’t take that much effort I’m sure for them to go to Africa, seek out those producers who can make what they need, invest some of their vast wealth in creating capacity and give a listing to those producers who make the grade.  I have no doubt that many will, make the grade that is and I would not complain if I had to pay a penny or two more to get great value, high quality products knowing that a farmer or a producer or co-operative somewhere in Africa is able to feed itself, educates itself, and looks after its own health care.  Now that to me sounds like a win-win all-round.

Its a well used phrase but Trade not Aid is to the point and accurate.  All we have to do is find the will to want to change how Africa is run, how we can economically engage with the vast wealth talented people.  I make but a few suggestions and I’m sure there are people cleverer than me with greater insight than me who can shed much more light on what appears to be a complex problem but actually is quite simple, just immense.

Engage-Vous

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I am sad today, very sad today in-fact.  The world has lost one of the most inspiring people overnight.

Stephane Frederic Hessel – RIP

Born to Jewish parents in Berlin 20 Oct. 1917 he first arrived in France when he was 8 years old.  He became a naturalized French person in 1939.  His parents, Franz and Helen were the inspiration for Francois Truffaut’s romantic film Jules And Jim which became a classic in France.  Based on the Book Jules and Jim by Henri-Pierre Roche.  His parents inspired the books characters Jules and Kathe (Catherine in the film adaptation).

Stephan became a prominent member of the French Resistance during WWII and was imprisoned in Buchenwald and Dora concentration camps after being discovered and arrested by the Gestapo.  Plainly he survived and became a diplomat after the war representing France at the UN where he was a member of the team who drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

According to Gilles-William Goldnadel, a French Jewish Activist; France’s leftist press idealized the former Resistance fighter, a strong critic of Israeli policy, as a “secular saint”.  He championed the cause of France’s Illegal immigrants and the rights of the oppressed generally.

In 2010 he published his thoughts in his manifesto Time for Outrage (Indiginez-Vous) inspiring social protesters, world wide, its even thought he may have in part inspired the Occupy Movement.  It expresses his outrage at the growing gap between haves and have-nots, France’s treatment of illegal immigrants and damage to the environment.  It was a best seller, selling over 3.5 million copies world-wide.

In his essay he argues that French people must re-learn how to be outraged.  In the book he calls for peaceful and non-violent insurrection by the people, for the people.

In 2011 his latest (and last) writings were published in Engage-Vous (Get Involved) where he makes the case for people to save the environment, embrace the positive and emphasizes the importance of good luck.  The book became a best seller in France and has been translated into 15 other languages.

French President Francois Hollande said he had learnt “with great sadness” about Hessel’s death.  “His capacity for indignation knew no bounds other than those of his own life,” he said in a statement. “As that comes to an end, he leaves us a lesson: to refuse to accept any injustice.”

He was a great favorite at the BBC, because he was unfailingly courteous. Diplomacy was his natural calling. He would often wear a dark suit and a homburg hat – then, put before the microphone, argue gently but irresistibly on the subject at hand.

He lived in the 14th Arrondissement where he had first settled in 1927! A Parisian at heart and a true French Hero committed to Liberte, Egalite et Fraternate!

Whilst I do not hold with all of his views he was never-the-less a great inspiration and leader of thought.  Gentle, thoughtful and resourceful whilst maintaining a keen intellect into his mid-90’s.  He will be missed by many.