I’d like my fifties to be the very best, most joyous, decade of my life so far. Happily, things are shaping up for it to be just that.
Which is pretty remarkable considering that ten years ago nothing could have seemed more unlikely. I was the classic corporate warrior, eating too much, drinking too much, working too hard and neglecting my family. My life felt like a stressed process of managing a never-ending round of compromises, disappointments and frustrations.
I realised that most of the men I knew, particularly businessmen, talked rubbish. All the time. To everyone. About everything
Just when I thought things couldn’t possibly get worse, I lost my job and found myself fat, forty and fired. I had four kids under the age of five and a wife that didn’t have a job either. To top it all off nicely I also had a drinking problem.
So how did I come to be where I am today?
It’s a long story, one which I tell in my three books. The first – Fat, Forty and Fired – deals with the year following my job loss. I describe the epiphany upon reading this wonderful St Benedict quote: “Pause for a moment, you wretched weakling, and take stock of your miserable existence.”
I realised with a bit of a shock that most of the men I knew, particularly the businessmen, talked rubbish. All the time. To everyone. About everything.
I decided to stop pretending that I believed things I didn’t. And to stop pretending I didn’t believe things I did.
I resolved to put the important things at the centre of my life, not leave them at the edges. I reconnected with my family, lost the weight and got sober.
Then the money ran out and I had to go back to work. It was an interesting period of my life and the subject of my second book, Overworked and Underlaid (there’s a clue in the title).
After a few more years on the corporate hamster wheel I screwed my courage to the mast and resigned to chase a more joyful life. The third book, Fit, Fifty and Fired-Up, describes this period, up to the present day.
Lessons learned along the way
- First, I learned that most people overestimate what they can achieve in a year and underestimate what they can do in ten.
- Second, having a successful career and an old age full of regret is not a smart trade.
- Third, there is always hope. I have never seen a situation that couldn’t be improved.
- Fourth, it’s a waste of energy chasing the Attention, Affirmation and Approval of other people. They don’t give it to you. And even if they do it doesn’t last. In the three weeks after I stopped drinking I was a hero. Three months later I was simply the boring bastard who drank orange juice. Jesse Owens summed it up perfectly when he said: “The only victory that counts is the victory over yourself.”
- Fifth, meaningful personal change is hard and not about the glory moments. Getting in shape for that appearance on Oprah is ultimately pointless if four months later you have put all the weight back on. As Chekov said: “Any idiot can face a crisis. It’s day-to-day living that’s the real challenge.” Which is really the whole point of Fit, Fifty and Fired-Up. Can I be the type of man, husband and father I want to be for the rest of my life, not just have a fabulous year off?
- That brings me to the sixth and biggest lesson: it’s the small things consistently applied over time that matter and make the difference.
The best analogy is of a ship steaming across the Atlantic from UK. If, a kilometre after leaving Plymouth, you changed direction by one degree you would be in basically the same place you would have been if you hadn’t changed direction. At the end of the journey, however, you’d end up in Canada not Chile.
One year after my epiphany I was basically the same man. Sober and slimmer but the same man. Ten years later, however, I am a completely different man with a completely different life. And trust me, if I can do it I promise you can.
Watch Nigel’s TED talk: How to make work-life balance work