The art of less but better

When I was a kid I dreamed of travelling the world and being my own kind of Indiana Jones. I wanted to experience the world and get out of farming land as my only viewpoint.

I was lucky enough to spend much of my twenties hopping around various countries. Sadly not with a whip and quick one liners to disarm any enemies I might have met along the way. But I did wear khakis and a cool hat at times.

What became apparent after anchoring my life and starting a career in the video game industry, was that I could travel and work at the same time.

So as my role expanded and promotions happened, I visited some amazing places, while at the same time staying at terrific hotels. What I didn’t realise was how accustomed I’d get to accommodation like the Four Seasons and Hyatt Regency. I’d become spoilt and was in a bubble. This was especially noticeable when it came to travelling with Microsoft, where being in downtown Seattle or Redmond town center (think the Truman show with music on the streets and free umbrellas for when it rains), was so comfortable, it was easy to forget how privileged I was (and I did).

“What separates privilege from entitlement is gratitude.” – Brene Brown

So I initiated life change when an opportunity appeared.

On business trips I no longer get to watch Netflix from a Jacuzzi bath that could fit 4 people (if you’re ever in downtown Seattle and can stay at the Four Seasons I would recommend the experience). It wasn’t just the travel either, I no longer have a home office enabling a private space to work and write. I no longer have a car, one that tells me where to go and has more lights and switches on its dashboard than the original space shuttle. What I do have are the beginnings of a deeper living experience. I’m fitter than I was, my mind is clearer, I’m a calmer person and I really appreciate the smallest of things.

I didn’t consciously choose to change everything, I’d love a home office again and miss it dearly, yet there are pro’s to not having such luxury (like being better able to separate work and home).

It was a joint decision my wife and I made, to change our lives with the opportunity that faced us. We wanted something different, something to take us away from the heavy consumerism and conventional lifestyle. When that opportunity arose we took it.

There are still days where we wonder what we’ve done and what we’ve taken away from our children. These doubts come and go, mainly when talking with friends and seeing what they’re doing back in the UK. But right now we’re on a path, one that’s made us more grateful for what we had, what we have now and whatever we’ll have in the future.

It takes practice and I’ve a long way to go, yet I don’t need certain things anymore and that’s made me a happier person. Change and having less can be good for us all.

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” – John F. Kennedy


Set Your Life on Fire

The happy times I had as a kid were away from our home with my brother in the woods or fields. We lived in the heart of the Cotswolds, with Prince Charles and Princess Diana a few miles away on one side and Princess Anne on the other.

It’s hard to imagine the average kid in the UK having the freedom I had at that age, roaming around for miles, hardly ever in a car and only in front of a screen for a few hours a week. Is that a shame? I think so.

Though looking back I was a bit of a terror. There was the time my brother and I stole an industrial padlock from a local stone quarry, then locked the school gates with it (chaos ensued on the Monday morning).

We spent months stealing unreleased video games from a skip in a business park and selling them.

We set fire to a field full of cow dung, where the blaze got so out of control the local fire brigade had to attend to put it out (for fear of it spreading into the houses close by).

We did things like rolling turnips down a hill to the road below, in order to watch oncoming cars swerve out of the way (and having that backfire when a particularly large one hit a cyclist who promptly went and got the police).

We would take people’s rubbish, like old TVs that were being thrown out and then set fire to them down alley ways, as they made big bangs when parts like capacitors got hot.

Much of this seemed harmless at the time, though what I’ve realised on reflection, is that it stopped when we started hanging out with kids at school who had a more stable home life.

It wasn’t that anyone told us to stop. It was more that we enjoyed being with them and playing games, cycling for miles in the countryside and hanging out for more harmless adventure (like exploring disused airfields or farmland).

So here’s the thing, I hope my 2 sons find friendship at that age like I did. Some of those friends who grounded me are still in my life today. Although I’m in Denmark and don’t see them often, the friendship we have is the type that lasts a lifetime. I’m more grateful for that than almost anything else.

Who you hang out with shapes you. As an adult and as a child.

You can be the best parent in the world, yet if your kid chooses his friends poorly then the chances are they’ll begin to make poor decisions. Give them the tools to choose wisely.

Will Smith puts it better than I can, watch this 1 minute video and see for yourself

“Set your life on fire. Seek those who fan your flames.” – Jalal Ad-Din Rumi

You and I are gonna live forever

Recently I’ve been thinking about mortality, I’m in my forties now and in my early twenties I’m not sure I thought I’d ever make it this far. Now I’m here I’ve been looking around me, at my family, friends and even  strangers on a train. Who’s healthy? What age have people died? What are the commonalities?

On my fathers side it’s cancer and my mother’s it’s strokes. So I’m looking at this and preparing. It will soon be the anniversary of my fathers death, 12 years ago he died and left a gaping hole, one I had never prepared for.

“You can’t predict. You can prepare.” Howard Marks

I heard the above quote on a recent Tim Ferriss podcast, it reminded me I have to prepare for my own passing. What happens if I die in the next 12 months? 2 years? 5 years? I have yet to make a will, I also don’t have a legacy I’ve worked hard enough on, so what would I be leaving behind?

Death is a subject many of us shy from and I’m uncomfortable thinking and writing about it yet I know I need to prepare, we all do.

So my focus right now is on preventing an early death. I can look at my lifestyle and make changes based on current knowledge around cancer. I can make sure my mind is active and that my blood is strong for prevention of heart problems, I can do many things to eliminate the risk. It may or may not help yet I can’t sit back and do nothing.

“It’s not lost on me that everyone dies, but some people have a kind of immortality about them, and you can’t imagine that they will ever be gone.” – Henry Rollins 

What are you thinking about for your life? Each morning I write “I’m grateful to be alive ” in my gratitude journal. It’s easy to forget how simply being here, on this planet, in this universe is actually a miracle.

There’s a 3 minute song from Monty Python describing this view better than I can:

“…Just remember that you’re standing on a planet that’s evolving
And revolving at nine hundred miles an hour,
That’s orbiting at nineteen miles a second, so it’s reckoned,
A sun that is the source of all our power.

The sun and you and me and all the stars that we can see
Are moving at a million miles a day
In an outer spiral arm, at forty thousand miles an hour,
Of the galaxy we call the ‘Milky Way’.

Our galaxy itself contains a hundred billion stars.
It’s a hundred thousand light years side to side.
It bulges in the middle, sixteen thousand light years thick,
But out by us, it’s just three thousand light years wide.

We’re thirty thousand light years from galactic central point.
We go ’round every two hundred million years,
And our galaxy is only one of millions of billions
In this amazing and expanding universe.

The universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding
In all of the directions it can whizz
As fast as it can go, at the speed of light, you know,
Twelve million miles a minute, and that’s the fastest speed there is.

So remember, when you’re feeling very small and insecure,
How amazingly unlikely is your birth…”

You can listen and watch the video at the following link, it’s funny and thought provoking, enjoy!

Less is more

During my first week in Nigeria I was posted in Kano, a Northern city where volunteers of the VSO (similar to the peace corps) learned basic culture and wellbeing.

After landing, I remember standing in the open doorway of the plane and feeling the heat for the first time, it was hot, really hot. I was assigned a shared room with 3 other guys, a room with one bathroom and mattresses on the floor. On the first morning I awoke to cockroaches on my sleeping bag, not something I was used to or happy with and gathering them up in a bucket then throwing them outside became a morning ritual that week

That wasn’t the thing that surprised me the most however. What surprised me the most was how happy people were, especially the children. Walking through the alley ways and streets of Kano was an education in itself. The slum like living of many families was familiar to me from watching TV shows and movies. Now I was experiencing it for real it was something I could never have prepared myself for.

Back in the UK kids would get upset and cry if they weren’t given the  Playstation or Nintendo game they wanted. It’s common for kids to get upset when asked to go to bed at night, even though it would be a comfortable bed, with heating in the house and food on the table for breakfast the next day. The kids I saw in Nigeria had none of that, they had nothing yet they had  everything. They had no material belongings, what they did have was a whole lot of love and friendship.

So love and friendship was part of what made them happy. This was the epiphany I had that week, the realisation that we don’t need things for happiness. I wasn’t overly materialistic yet I’d never really understood that belongings and things don’t make a person happy and can ultimately lead to unhappiness.

“The things you own end up owning you. It’s only after you lose everything that you’re free to do anything.” – Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

It’s been 20 years since that time and it’s still one of the best life lessons I’ve had. A lesson that’s stuck with me, one I’m passing on to my own children as best I can.

Anytime I find myself upset over losing something or not being able to get what I want, I think back to those kids I saw in Kano and remember I already have everything I need.

“You have succeeded in life when all you really want is only what you really need.” – Vernon Howard