“My life is better when…” The 10 things that really matter, Summer 2019

“My life is better when…” The 10 things that really matter, Summer 2019

This week I’ve been taking stock and thinking about what really matters to me right now. This list captures what I’ve long been aware of, things I do that actively make my life - work, home and play - better. It might not be a wildly radical list, but noting these ten things down reminds me why they matter.

So, my life is better when I:

  1. press the rewind button. Preparing my slides for a presentation recently I went through some old photographs from thirty years ago. Digging out these images was powerful. I posted some of the photos online, reflecting on what I was doing then and how it informs who I am all these years later. Shining a light on the 18 year old or 23 year old me - who I was back then and what I stood for - helps hold me to account for how I live my life today. Reconnecting with your past is more than a self-indulgent nostalgia trip, it’s a reminder of who you are and the reasons that underpin the paths you have taken. 

  2. am creative in unexpected ways. My best creative experience recently? An impromptu Sunday afternoon project with my eleven year old son. He wanted to replace the broken backboard on his basketball net. It might sound simple enough, but with rusted weather-beaten bolts and screws, it took a lot of perseverance, a drill, a piece of wood, a saw and a trip to the DIY shop. I loved the challenge, I loved working with my son and I loved the feeling that happens when you get lost in a task, not thinking about anything else. We stood back, shot some hoops, proud of what we’d created.

  3. can be all of me. “Do you know why you’re my best friend?” I asked my wife as we sat up in the window in a coffee shop in Norwich recently, getting slightly emotional. “Because with you, I can be all of me.” I bang on a lot about being the real me, bringing my true self to all I do. Why does it matter so much? All I can tell you is that I revel in being my multidimensional self: it matters that I can reveal all 360 degrees of me rather than just show a single slice. I just want to bring all of that - those interests, talents, passions, values and traits - to my relationships in my life. And when I find myself in situations - personal or professional - where I don’t feel I can be all of me, that never feels quite right. 

  4. swim in the sea. Some of the best moments of this year have been swimming from our local beach at the bottom of the road.  It’s not ocean blue, it’s estuary green. Seaweed strewn on the surface, mud under feet. Ahead of me: paddle boards in the foreground and mega container ships in the background.  The truth is, I’m not a great swimmer, but I love it every time, whatever the conditions. Swimming has become sacred to me, a collection of emotions in one hit. At its essence, it’s the epitome of freedom. There are no parameters, I’m not boxed in. I can go wherever I fancy. I relish that first submersion, ploughing through the water. As I do so, any stress or worries I may have disappear. I like the feeling of being submerged in the water up to my neck. And finally, that unparalleled feeling of near nakedness. I’m in my element. It boosts me every single time.

  5. go to a gig. It was very hot, very sweaty, very noisy. We were crowded together in the dark. In front of us, a bloke’s clumsy dancing threatened to squash our feet or knock us backwards. Then as Johnny Marr and his band opened with the first song of their set, The Tracers, we were transformed. “We’re ALIVE!!!” I shouted in my wife’s ear as the music pulsed through us. Seeing Johnny Marr play live has become important to me the last couple of years.  There’s something about him, something that speaks to me that I find magnetic. That talent, that ‘no f***s given’ spirit. I go away creatively charged, confident to be me.

  6. take notice of the stories that surround us. In Leeds last week I visited my favourite coffee shop in the city, La Bottega Milanese. It not only serves good coffee there’s a great story behind the business. It was started by Alex, an Italian who moved to Leeds after he met a woman on holiday in Corfu. After arriving in the city Alex spent 10 years working in IT. But when he got ill and was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect, he changed his philosophy on life. “I decided that if I was going to die I didn’t want to die stuck at a desk in an office, I’d rather do it at a coffee machine doing something I love.” So he quit his job and opened a coffee shop. Seeing him there behind the counter on Wednesday provided me with an emotional connection with his coffee shop. The story matters as much as the coffee.

  7. dance around the kitchen with my kids. This year we have a new family ritual: dancing around the kitchen to Madness. With wooden spoons for sax solos and drums, the four of us get very silly. Family life is hard work. Getting together for a crazy dance feels like, whatever our role or age in the family, we are all in it together. At the heart of it, we’re a unit and within that, we love having fun together.

  8. make time to seek inspiration during the working day. I blogged recently about the joy of getting away from our desks during the working day. It was based on my experience visiting an art gallery on a Tuesday morning and then seeing two other people’s examples of mini-adventures in my Instagram feed the following morning. In one post, Francesca had taken an afternoon off to go to the Tate. She said it was inspired by a concept championed by Kin & Co called the ‘off-ternoon.’ The thinking behind it is that we’re much more productive, creative and happy when we have a mid-week break. I’m lucky. The last twenty years of my independent work life have given me opportunities to have impromptu midweek visits to galleries, bookshops and cinemas. But I’ve not always taken them. Some days I think: it’s a weekday, I should be working. But I’m sticking the guilt in the bin  - and whenever I can, I will prioritise inspiration breaks.

  9. read a novel. I’ve read some great books this year and just had a two week hiatus between finishing An American Marriage by Tayari Jones and starting Paris Echo by Sebastian Faulk. Two days into Paris Echo, I have that wonderful feeling again. Of wanting to return to its pages, of getting lost in the story again. It reminded me how important it is for me to get lost in a novel, how it helps me switch off and transports me away from my phone. I really missed that in the past two weeks when I didn’t have one on the go. My life is better when I’m reading a novel. That’s a fact.

  10. wander streets I’ve never walked down before. I know central London well but recently I walked along streets I’d never ventured down before. One was on a trip to The White Cube gallery in St James, a journey that involved a visit to a cafe in an alley and then Mason’s Yard (the square that is home to the gallery). The second experience was when I returned an item to a shop for my wife. It was one of those unintended detours that took me to a coffee shop in Avery Row, Mayfair. Sitting in the window of Everbean was energising and reminded me of the creative benefits of going to new places.

Writing these down helps me see what I need to do more of. So what about you. What is sacred to you? What do you need to do to have a better life? 

Have a good summer

Love from Ian

My simple tried and tested method for keeping me on track.

My simple tried and tested method for keeping me on track.

Why we need more Offternoons

Why we need more Offternoons