Do Something

The human brain is a funny thing, in that in prioritising safety, it stymies development.

The problem is that it’s designed to avoid danger, and so has come to associate danger with other things, such a discomfort, pain, and fear; all of which it will try and avoid at all costs in favour of comfort.

I see the symptoms of excessive comfort everywhere I go; and not just in other people.

I’ve worked in many retail environments, and something I see all the time is people unhappy with their jobs.

The work is dull, unfulfilling, unengaging, and feels endless. But, rather than try to branch out to another vocation, or even face looking for another vocation;. they unhappily stay in the same job.

The feelings of discomfort, inadequacy and fear that come with job-hunting are unsettling and unpleasant; making the stagnancy, but relative safety of the current workplace become preferable.

So that’s where they stay, sometimes for decades- not caring, not engaging, and not developing.

In a way, it’s a lot like physical fitness.

After long periods without it, exercise is unpleasant, uncomfortable, and takes great effort and time on our part.

Our brain comes to associate that with danger, and so goes back to that excessive comfort.

We may not be happy with our bodies, in much the same way as we may not be happy with a job; but the short-term benefits of not exercising become preferable again, and again, we don’t develop.

I can speak with authority on this, because I’ve been guilty of both.

While comfort has its place, going without it is the only way we can develop.

So I’ve been trying a new way of thinking, and I totally didn’t steal it from a song.

If you’re not moving: do something.

This can apply to small things. If you haven’t exercised in a while… do something.

It can also apply to life-changing things. If you don’t like your job… do something.

And most importantly, that mindset will feed itself.

If you’re not developing yourself in some way… do something.

When I started at Family Business Place, everyone I told congratulated me.

I downplay it by saying it wasn’t my achievement; that all I did was say ‘yes’ and quit my job.

But when I said ‘yes’, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.

I knew it was going to be difficult and unsettling. I knew it wasn’t going to be comfortable, and it hasn’t been.

I could’ve stayed where I was, in the safety of what I knew.

But I have developed, and now my job is something I enjoy. It’s because of that ‘yes’. Because I did something.

And to carry on in that spirit, I’ve started exercising again.

The first couple of times were difficult.

For about twenty minutes I felt hot, I sweated, my heart and lungs felt very put upon. My limbs ached afterward, and sometimes I found it hard to move for days at a time.

But last time I did it, and for the first time in a while, it felt good. I did something, and I enjoyed it.

One day, my brain might do, too.

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Shift

Understanding is a funny thing. You can go an awful long time thinking you understand everything. It’s a fundamental of being a teenager.

But as every teenager eventually realises, life changes, and that change will cause a shift in the tectonic plate of your worldview. Only then, will you realise the enormity of how much you didn’t know. That realisation soon begins to seep into your previously immaculate knowledge, morphing it forever like lava morphing rock- that is, until the cycle begins again.

Today, Anita asked me about my weekend. I had taken some days off to have a barbecue at my home in Kent. Friends had travelled from all over: some local, most from London, one from Brighton, one even came from Manchester to visit, socialise, camp over, and enjoy one another’s company. For a lot of them, it was the first time meeting each other.

Anita asked how it went.

I said, ‘my friends met my other friends, and made friends with one another.’ She beamed (as she is known to do), and called me ‘quite the networker’. Had I been about a month younger, I would’ve seen the appropriating of friendship in business terms as depressingly cynical. But now I have spent a month at FBP, and I know better. Anita doesn’t appropriate friendship in business terms; in truth, it’s the reverse that’s true.

I examined my barbecue through this new lens of understanding.

All businesses aim to make a profit. Without profit a business can’t continue, or thrive. However, depending on the objective of the company, profit is not always defined in monetary terms. In the case of my barbecue, I made no financial profit; in fact, in terms of money spent on food and refreshments, my losses were great. But the profit I received was the satisfaction of my friends. As far as I was concerned, the only thing I would consider an actual loss was if they didn’t enjoy themselves.

Businesses are also about fostering relationships; be it through suppliers, customers, investors, clients. A good relationship requires regular contact, the willingness to give time, and above all, respect. In the case of my friends, only a few of our relationships had begun as good relationships. In fact, quite a few of them had featured ideological arguments and unresolved emotions. But with time, regular contact, and the willingness to listen, we eventually learned to respect one another and work past our differences; and in doing so, we had fostered good relationships. Which explains why so many of them chose to include themselves, as opposed to the easy and less costly option of declining and not leaving the comfort of home.

Lastly, networking can be quite risky for a business. Two different businesses can offer advantages to you, just as you can for them. If those two same businesses are introduced to another and get along, the potential to thrive is great. However, if those businesses find one another objectionable, they may wish to withdraw from future arrangements with you if the other is involved, hampering growth.

Friendships are not so different. Every one of your friends provide something to you, just as you do to them; be it entertainment, affection, counsel, emotional support- but two friends meeting and not getting along may cause fractures in the social circle that you were trying to grow. If those friends get along, however, the social circle can flourish.

My case is the latter. The investment I had put in my friends and their enjoyment, coupled with facing the risk my networking presented, had not only profited me – it had paid off in dividends.

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Value

So for one of my magazine assignments I have to read a book. (I know. I lead a life of hardship). It’s a self-help book for CEOs of family businesses, to mentally and emotionally prepare themselves for the act of handing over the reins of the company to a successor.

It should go without saying that I’m not exactly, well, part of the target demographic. But in all fairness, the writing style makes it easy to get into the headspace of someone in this position (even if you are a third of the retirement age, and the closest thing you have to a child is a Japanese peace lily).

However, there was one chapter in particular where I barely had to enter the headspace at all, and that was the chapter about value. In it, the author asks the CEO what he does, and he is unable to answer in any way not relating to the business. She asks him what else he does that creates value outside of work- as a father, as a friend, through the things he invests time in. He doesn’t answer right away because up until that point, his years of immersion in the business has made the word ‘value’ a word with one definition. And I know what you’re thinking. Ha, ha, typical businessman.

But that’s not true. Whether you believe it or not, your occupation is integral to your sense of how you value yourself. A life without work might sound great at first; but being unemployed, not contributing, not having a sense of purpose, not having a reason to get out of bed- and I’m speaking from experience here- it can make you feel worthless.

Even a retail job is better than nothing. Even if you hate it, at least you can take solace in doing your job well. Even if it’s dull, at least you need to be somewhere. The lack of value you probably feel is put upon you by your employer is a reflection of the lack of value you put on yourself- but at least you have a little.

Now imagine you have a job you love, a business you love. You enjoy it, it keeps you and your family afloat, and you spend the majority of your time doing it. People value you, and you feel valued. When others ask what you do, you won’t feel the need to distance yourself from your job. You won’t say ‘I work at…’ or ‘I work as…’, you will describe yourself as being your job role, because your job and your sense of value have become intertwined. And that’s a great mindset to be in.

But there’s two sides to that coin, which is the message I want to leave you with. Because while a job is integral to your sense of value, your job is not the same thing as your identity.

So ask yourself: out of work, how else do you create value? It could be as a parent, as a friend, as a child, as a partner. It could be as part of a sports club that you contribute money to and help keep afloat, or an independent business you support. Whoever you are, I can guarantee that someone out there values you- and that’s regardless of your job, or what you can do for them. They value you. And that…

that is invaluable.

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Muscle Memory

‘I’ll be honest, I’m kind of getting used to not being sure what to expect.’
Two weeks in, and I accidentally summed up my experience at Family Business Place in one go. At
the time, we’d been on our way to Canterbury for a pitch meeting with a social enterprise that
provides training for people with learning difficulties. I had agreed to come along and scribe the day
before.

Of course, I don’t want to make it sound like every day involves travel and meetings, so I won’t
discuss that this week. Instead, I’d prefer to talk about the mundanities in my work; but mundane
only in the sense of the action, not the result.
Allow me to make an analogy.

Between the ages of seven and eighteen, I had been practising a martial art called Jujitsu. In the
space of eleven years, the movements become second nature. Practice is the key- with repetition,
the techniques have become ingrained not only in your brain but also your muscles, to the point
that self-defence becomes a reflex.

Then, University was on the horizon, and I quit Jujitsu. I didn’t return to it for four years.
Before the fifth year was over, I received a death threat while working security.
To fight my fear, I returned to Jujitsu, although I was almost certain I had forgotten everything I had
spent almost half of my life learning. I was instructed to work through the syllabus from the
beginning, to re-familiarise myself.

Except I hadn’t forgotten it. Any of it. Every technique, every facet of understanding was still there,
still, present in my muscle memory even after my conscious memory had long since discarded it.
University involved something similar- gleaning information from books, simplifying complex ideas,
and essay writing were all skills I had cultivated with practice over the years.

But two years had passed, and two years in a retail environment, no less. It’s not to say that I had no
interest in exercising my academic muscles, only that I had little time to do so adequately.
Thankfully, before the third year, I joined Family Business Place.

So this week I was asked to read a book so that I could write a review for the magazine. I gleaned
information from it, and I simplified the ideas that it put forward, and I wrote the review. And as if
University had only been yesterday, it came naturally, like a reflex.
Against all expectation, I hadn’t forgotten that, either.

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Down the Rabbit Hole

After five years of working almost exclusively in retail, my first week as part of Family Business Place
was a pretty daunting prospect. A big part of me was excited to get started. However, a smaller part
of me was hoping against hope that my first week would be a gentle one, involving very little
pressure or significant input from me.

Naturally, it just happened to coincide with the exact same week as FBP’s eighth annual award
ceremony, National Family Business Awards 2017. The week before, I had been a supermarket security guard. Monday, I found myself in an office. Saturday, I was at Wembley Stadium, standing in front of three-hundred- and-fifty assorted
entrepreneurs and their families, in charge of more glass awards than is strictly sensible for me to be
within an arm’s length of.

As preparation for joining FBP I had read through six issues of Generation Magazine, learning about a
part of life I had previously dismissed as being boring, about incredible people with inspiring stories.
But in hindsight, I still hadn’t fully understood what it was FBP actually does- as far as I was
concerned, these stories were only stories; the people only people that existed in a reality I would
never occupy myself.

Cut to the National Family Business Awards, and I’m sharing a table with the family behind the
Yorkshire Wagyu Company, Jonathan and Juli Shepherd, and their two daughters. They’re each
charming in their own way, but it’s not until Mrs Shepherd mentions that her eldest is nearing her
GCSE year that it hits me.

What I understood in that moment, wasn’t just that the Shepherds were a family not so unlike from
my own; but that they had chosen a livelihood based on bravery, of discarding the safety net, of
placing their trust in one another. At some point in their lives, they had looked inward, identified
what set them apart from the rest, and had built a life for themselves, and their children, from
scratch. And that building continues, every day.

Finally, I understood. Finally, it hit me just how admirable that was. Finally, I realised that I was in a
room full of families who had done exactly the same thing brought together by FBP.
What an honour it was, to be a part of that.

This week hadn’t been gentle. It had involved a lot of pressure, and a fair amount of input from me.
How wholeheartedly glad I am for it.