September 2001. The not-very-long married Mr & Mrs Reid were staying in a converted water tower in the South of France. It was right in the middle of a forest. No phone, no newspapers, no TV. Just the two of us and a few bottles of red wine… Life was perfect.
On the Friday we finally decided to risk the company of other people and went into town. I was reading a newspaper over someone’s shoulder. Pictures of New York. But that couldn’t be right. I read it again. Damn it, I had a degree in French. Come on, Ed, this is elementary stuff. What’s wrong with you?
Nothing was wrong with me. Trois mille quatre cents sont morts. Three thousand, four hundred are dead. We raced to the nearest bar in search of a TV.
At the time I was working for Diageo. Where would I be in ten year’s time? No doubt about it – a lot further up the corporate ladder, the keys to the executive washroom firmly in my sights. Run my own business? You must be joking.
And yet here I am… A couple of days ago I was chatting to a friend. Of course, we ended up talking about 9/11. “So where were you?” I asked.
“Not me, Ed,” he said, “My cousin. He was a firefighter. They emigrated when he was a kid. I stood and watched the TV for three hours. Didn’t even think to sit down. I sort of knew somehow.”
That morning I’d been feeling depressed because I’d realised I wouldn’t get to the end of my to-do list, because one of the boys was misbehaving and because my car had to go into the garage. A sense of perspective, ladies and gentlemen…
So this week, let’s have a break from setting goals, from time management, from worrying about what impact the latest tech innovation will have on our business. Do something really important instead. Find the people you love and tell them.
The day after we found out about the Twin Towers we had to evacuate our converted water tower. I was in the pool and something started dropping out of the sky. It was ash – a forest fire. When we were allowed back the next day we discovered that the fire had come within a mile of where we were staying. Supposing it had been started at night? Supposing the fire had gone the extra mile?
Next week I’ll be back to normal, exhorting you to make plans and yes, to have an idea of where you want to be ten years from now. But for this week, let’s live in the moment. Your to-do list may look impossible; you may have clients you’d cheerfully tie in a sack and throw off Lendal Bridge; your suppliers may be incompetent fools. But you are not standing at the bottom of a stairwell, knowing that if you do your duty you may not come back down it. You are not on the 99th floor, phoning the people you love to say goodbye.
By and large (apart from idiots who ride their bikes into trees…) we’re all upright and we’re all facing forwards. We live in a beautiful part of the world and we’re doing jobs we like. Yes, times may be tough; business might be hard – but that’s just a challenge. It’s not life and death.
I hope you all have a tremendous week. Now stop reading and go and put your arms round someone…