I’ve used up 2 lives already, so by classic video game standards, I only have 1 left. Thankfully I’ve learned from the 2 I lost.

Two lessons from my twenties will stick with me forever:

    1. Don’t buy cheap tyres
    1. Learn how to negotiate

The moments in which I learned these were tipping points. Tipping points that meant death or life threatening injury as a likely outcome.

Back in the early 1990’s I was driving to work early one Saturday morning. It was 5:30am and the sun was just peeking over the horizon. I was driving towards the town of Cirencester in Gloucestershire. As I went under a bridge I had to brake hard. My car rapidly turned onto the drivers side and kept going. As it slid forward, scraping the road at speed, the windscreen shattered, along with the side windows. Petrol then sprayed in, soaking my face and body, the car then flipped onto its roof. As it continued sliding, it started to squash me as the weight of the car pushed down.

I was nearly into my twenties, living in Tetbury in the UK with my mum and brother. That morning I was in my first car, a black Fiat Panda. It wasn’t a reliable car and calling it a piece of junk is quite possibly understating its condition. It was mine however, my very own transport, where I could play my own music and drive myself anywhere I wanted. I had freedom.

Back to that Saturday. I knew the road well, I’d driven from Tetbury to Cirencester as part of my commute for a few months by then. I also knew of its dangers. One of my friends who lived a few houses from me had died in a car crash on that very route. Despite all this, my reaction came as a surprise when I saw a bunch of party goers in the road. They were trying to push their car up hill from under the bridge.

Those party goers had been raving in the countryside a few fields away. Unfortunately for me they’d also been enjoying drugs that had impaired their judgment. This helped them think jump starting a car up hill was a thing.

So as I headed down into the darkness under that bridge, there they were. All I could think of doing in the milliseconds I had to choose a response, was slam on my brakes. So my car turned onto its side.

I remember someone dragging me out of my car through the drivers door, which had popped off. Miraculously I was unharmed, aside from bruising, scratching and shock. The partygoers had fled and the person who helped me was another driver coming the opposite way.

Lesson? Don’t take drugs and bump start a car uphill, it’s not a thing. Also never buy cheap tyres! They’re all there is between you and the road. Since that accident I’ve budgeted a minimum spend of 3% of a cars initial cost on tyres.

Several years later I found myself volunteering in Nigeria. One evening I jumped onto my moped and sped through the jungle to the next village. I’d heard there were other volunteers visiting and I wanted to meet them. Soon after arriving, I was drinking beer and having a good time when there was a knock at the door. Three plain clothed men claiming to be police dragged us outside at gunpoint shouting and screaming. They then lined us up next to a Land Rover, pointing their guns directly at us.

The other volunteers had managed to get some weed earlier in the day, which they’d been smoking that evening. The men calling themselves police (though they were unable to show ID) had heard rumours of this and wanted to make arrests (having drugs in Nigeria was a serious offence at that time).

After what felt like an hour of questioning and threatening, they started to search us. One by one down the line they searched, emptying pockets, shouting and taking anything of value. As they made their way down the line I felt the person next to me kick me on the foot. I looked down and there was a bag of weed in his hands, hidden behind his back. It was being passed down the line without the people searching us noticing. I took the bag and placed it on top of the Land Rover wheel behind me. Luckily the Land Rover in question hadn’t been jacked up and so the wheel arch hid the contraband nicely.

Being the last one to get searched and still no weed to be found, resulted in me getting the full force of their anger. One of them held their gun to my left kneecap saying he’d shoot me if I didn’t tell him where it was, so I was pretty angry at this point. I’d read enough Batman and seen enough Clint Eastwood to know the only way out of this without lots of violence, that didn’t involve me handing the weed over, was to talk and make sure what I said was smart. So I talked (I would have preferred the Batman fighting route but didn’t like my chances).

Looking back I don’t actually remember what I said, though I do remember asking questions and finding out their names, along with being able to convince them that there was no weed. All in the whole incident lasted a couple of hours before they left us. They got bored, became convinced we had no drugs and had already taken anything of value.

The moment I remember most about that whole evening, was the moment where we watched them drive off into the night. I felt a change happen, a change in me as a person, one that I could never come back from. I had negotiated my way out of being shot, after hiding drugs from gunmen. This wasn’t a movie set, it was real life.

Lesson? Be good at negotiating anything and everything. EQ is a superpower, especially if you’re not Batman. Whether it’s at work, your family or with a gunman. Negotiation skills and connecting with people are what separates the many who have and the many who don’t have.

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The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing

Last week I received my annual invite to our companies hack week. A week where every engineer in Unity (globally) descends on Denmark. We’re also joined by other disciplines throughout the company too, where we all work together to share and innovate.

I say we, though I’ve never taken part. Unity’s hack week takes place in the same week each year, a week that falls at the same time my wife and eldest son have their birthdays. So each year I receive an invite and decline with thanks and gratitude.

Given how legendary this hack week is within Unity, how powerful the by product of the social interaction, and the lessons from others that take place, it should be a hard decision for me, but it isn’t. Perhaps a decade ago, if I’d had my children earlier in life, a time when I hadn’t discovered what’s really important. Though right now I find it easy to put first things first.

You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage—pleasantly, smilingly, nonapologetically, to say “no” to other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger “yes” burning inside. The enemy of the “best” is often the “good.”Stephen Covey

Of course, I’m very lucky to have worked at Xbox and now Unity. Both respect and honour an employees commitment to their family. Not everyone is as lucky, and decisions between work commitments and family can be difficult to make.

Greg McKeown puts it nicely in his book Essentialism. A few days prior to his daughter’s birth, McKeown’s colleague commented that Friday would be a bad time for his wife to have a baby because the two were scheduled to be in a meeting together. The baby was born on Thursday, and McKeown ended up leaving the hospital hours after his wife gave birth to a healthy 7-pound, 3-ounce little girl in order to attend the meeting.

“The client will respect you for making the decision to be here,” McKeown recalled his colleague saying. But McKeown quickly realised he’d made “a fool’s bargain.”

As Greg’s book cover describes “Essentialism is more than a time-management strategy or a productivity technique. It is a systematic discipline for discerning what is absolutely essential, then eliminating everything that is not, so we can make the highest possible contribution toward the things that really matter.”

In the 6 years since discovering essentialism, I’ve become more comfortable saying no. I also don’t suffer from fear of missing out, and if a company I work for doesn’t respect me putting my family first, then I’m happy to go and work somewhere that does.

Essentialism, putting first things first, the main thing is to keep the main thing is the main thing – Know what’s important to you and life becomes a whole lot easier.

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Opposites don’t always attract

When I think about communication, I think about 2 preference types. A person who prefers external motivation, and a person who prefers internal motivation.

I have an internally motivated preference. I don’t need others to motivate me in order to thrive. If there’s a problem, there’s no need to pepper it with positivity or other external factors to get me going. In fact, if you do so then I might even be suspicious of the intent.

When I meet others who have the same preference (most of us rarely think about which preference we have) a spark usually happens, where conversation flows easily, we are mutually inspired, and misunderstanding rarely happens.

When I interact with people who’s preference is external motivation it’s easy to feel a little difficulty, as free flowing conversation and mutual inspiration are rarely present. That’s ok, I know I have to adapt to each and every interaction. What I’m pondering is why I’m noticing it more than before? Am I changing, is the world around me changing? The answer of course is both, yet what I’ve realised is I’m surrounded by more people with an opposite communication preference than any time I can remember.

So lately I’m spending a lot of focus working on positive messaging, as well as  understanding the negative impact that comes from not understanding another person’s communication preference.

This is actually a wonderful and hugely challenging situation. I’m learning something, something that may already be obvious to many. Yet until now I can only wonder what the negative impact of not working on this has had on my previous interactions.

Where I thrive on hearing that everything is blowing up and no one believes it can change (as I will believe it can), a large proportion of people around me want to hear the opposite. They want to hear what good came from the blowing up and who supports and believes in them. There’s nothing wrong with either preference, though once you understand yours you can build on it and much stronger relationships.

If I’d have realised my preference years ago, it’s a safe bet I would have had many more positive outcomes, in and out of work.

Does all this sound obvious to you? Do you know your preference?

I don’t need to hear what good came from an explosion, I’m already working on clearing up the mess and understanding what caused it, what would you be doing?

“You have power over your mind―not outside events. Realise this, and you will find strength.” ―Marcus Aurelius

Real, not perfect.

In todays world, the feeling of pressure from high expectations can become over bearing. High expectations are all around us. They come in many forms, from media (fashion and body types) to work, partners and parents. These expectations can be difficult to meet and are invariably unclear or subtle at best.

At work, for 8 or more hours a day, we’re required to be the best at what we do (and for most this is no longer just vocational). At home, we need to be the best husband, wife or partner, for many the best parent as well. Whichever of these we are, we’re expected to meet the bar and that bar may not be clear, yet it’s all around us.

My mum is often confused, unable to understand my life and how intense it can be compared to her own. For many, 60+ years ago life was simpler. There appeared to be clearer expectations on society and an individual. In work there were clearer boundaries, at home, life was simpler with less distraction.

We’ve come along way in those 60 years. Life is better for many, along with greater levels of equality. We have more food to choose from than ever before, as well as more scientific knowledge, all of which helps us live healthier, longer lives.

Any downsides to this advancement are often ignored, as the upsides are numerous. But what of those downsides? Should we really ignore them?

I work in a modern tech company, one where expectations are high. I support teams of people across different countries, so I need to be ‘on’, inspirational, supportive and available for the whole day. I enjoy the challenge. Those people I’m surrounded by are smarter than me, more technical and many have a curiosity like my own. A curiosity that pushes learning as part of everyday activity.

I’m a husband and parent too. So at home I try to be a role model, aspiring to be the best husband and parent I can be. All of this is hard. I can honestly say on any given day I fail at one or multiple things. I’m human like you. As humans we’re flawed.

We would benefit from being more open to those flaws. Talking about them, admitting them and ultimately helping ourselves and others release the pressure of ‘perfect’.

And here’s the thing, none of us are perfect. That social network feed may show you someone’s highlight reel, but remember it’s just that, a highlight reel.

When was the last time someone disappointed you? Did you pause to think about what happened and why? Chances are it wasn’t intentional. Were they aware of your expectations? What was going on in their life? Was it out of character? Did they know they were disappointing you?

Much of the conflict in our lives appears from misunderstanding. Where we forget the perspective and that immense pressure on us to ‘perform’.

I’m human, I make mistakes. Even when I disappoint, I’m aspiring to have the best intentions. I don’t intend to disappoint or fail, and there in lies the key, my recent epiphany.

So I made a change, one on how I see the world. One focused on more purposeful thinking around expectations of others. I now have only one expectation outside of any explicit agreement.

That expectation? It’s simple, everything a person does, every action they take, it needs to be done with good intent. As long as that’s the case, I’m not going to be disappointed.

I’m real, not perfect. You’re real, not perfect too.

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