21 January 2018
If there is a secret to success, I think it’s fundamentally far simpler than some people would have you believe.
Throughout my life there have been a number of events that I have seen as clear signals, each one hitting home to remind me just what is important.
These lessons come when you least expect them but they are here to teach us invaluable things about ourselves, our future and how we go about shaping it. They are more influential than we may at times realise.
The past month has been one of those special times.
It’s easy for us all to forget our roots and what shaped us.
It’s hard for me to imagine that UKFast started in my spare bedroom in a flat in Oxford Road, yet I was there! The business is now so different, our lives are so different that these memories are almost unreal. It was 18 years ago we started UKFast but that was far from my first attempt at building a successful business. I had a number of attempts 10 years or so prior in the music business.
If I rewind even further back to when I was a young boy, my formative years, I won a scholarship at around 8 years of age to sing at Durham Cathedral. I’d grown up in a small town in North Wales, a long way away from Durham, but it was something that, when my parents gave me the choice, I was determined to do.
Previously a chorister at St. Asaph Cathedral in a tiny town seven miles from where I lived, Durham was a significant step up. Durham boasts one of the biggest cathedrals in the world and, at the time, one of the best choirs too.
It was my stint at Durham that shaped my focus on discipline, sacrifice and standards. Underneath the watchful eye of organist and legend, Richard Lloyd, we lived, ate and breathed choral music spending endless hours on top of normal school work, perfecting every aspect of every performance, day after day, night after night. It’s difficult to explain just how obsessive our lives were but, to give you a taste, when the rest of the world woke up on Christmas Day with their families, we were still at school. About 20 of us were putting on our cassocks and surpluses, and preparing ourselves for a 10-hour day of singing to a congregation of thousands in the cathedral.
This format, known as Chorister Period, happened at Easter too.
Cathedral life was incredible. At least one morning each week I served (preparing the wine and bread) for the bishops at the crack of dawn before breakfast, including on regular occasions, for the old Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Ramsey. As a little boy I knew what an honour this time of my life meant. I have some incredible memories.
The most patient man I ever met
It’s a long way from home for a child to live; lonely at times. My mum sent me letters every week without fail. On special occasions when I had solos to sing, my parents would come and visit and stay with my Gran’s brother, known as Uncle Phil or Grandpa.
He was a great man. Someone I always looked forward to seeing and living in Darlington just around the corner.
My parents would be the first to admit, they are not the most relaxed couple on the planet, certainly back then. Either of them could start an argument in an empty room. Nowadays I wonder how many marriages were saved from the invention of SatNav, as I recall every journey that involved a traditional map not ending well!
Uncle Phil was different and the most naturally patient man I ever met. Patience is a fascinating trait and one I admire enormously. My family jokes that I am impatient and they are right. However once I have set my mind on something, however small, nothing on this planet will knock me from my focus.
When I met Gail and her family I immediately saw they had this natural patience like Grandpa. It’s the most attractive quality and one I admire, as I personally find it so difficult. Yet combining Gail’s patience and my long-term focus, I do believe it’s helped us both achieve much more together than we could have ever done apart.
Uncle Phil was the first person I shared my goal with, that one day I’d play flyhallf for Wales. Whilst I never hit this goal, and its sadly one I can now never achieve, he somehow raised my confidence and listened to me as if I mattered.
Just before Christmas, the family celebrated Uncle Phil’s birthday. He was 105. Blind since the age of 80 and in a wheelchair, if you asked him how he was feeling, he’d still reply every time: “Splendid!”
In between Christmas and New Year I went to visit Uncle Phil in Wythenshawe Hospital. He wasn’t well and the family were warned that it was not going to be long.
It only seems like a blink of an eye since I was helping Gail across the same carpark to give birth to our daughter Summer, 20 months ago.
When you have had such an incredible innings like Uncle Phil did, when you have made such an impact on so many people’s lives, over such an extensive period, it shouldn’t hurt as much, but sadly that’s just not how life works.
Now that he’s gone, it’s clear that this is, without doubt, one of those moments in my life, just like my avalanche accident that completely changed my direction, reshaping the past 17 years. It’s these moments I believe are here to remind us how important life is. They make us to question why we are here and how we should be living our life.
Distill all this down to its simplest form and the thing that resonates from reflection at moments like this, is TIME. Time is to be cherished.
Just how are you using your time?
The old saying, Time is Precious, is arguably the truest ever said and it’s moments when we lose someone special or equally at the birth of a child, when we are reminded that we only get one chance at it and life isn’t forever.
Yet, in between these landmark moments, how often do we squander it and take life for granted?
Out of all the lessons I have learned throughout my years in business, the importance of TIME is my number one. It’s the single most important one that invariably makes or break us. Big goals don’t happen over night, They are the result of a myriad of tiny footsteps, day after day, one after the other.
We are all inspired by different events, different people, places and moments, but how we use our time and how we spend it ultimately defines us.
Recently I have heard younger entrepreneurs offering advice on social media claiming “if you wish to achieve success, you cannot have a relationship” as you can’t have people getting in the way of you thinking about your business 24 hours a day.
This is utter nonsense and be careful not to follow the advice of people who make statements like these.
Time is indeed incredibly important, but so are relationships, friends and holidays.
Success, by its very nature, requires balance. Happiness is not found in lonely people.
If you want to be successful, use your time wisely. Yes it requires sacrifice. But an organised person who makes intelligent decisions will always outsmart a busy fool.
If you want advice, search out people who have achieved success that spans generations and different genres of business. The likes of Richard Branson, Tony Robbins.
The real meaning of success
Inspirations like Uncle Phil are all around us too. He wasn’t a businessman, but he was a paragon of positivity and an inspiration all the same. He was the epitome of success as he died an incredibly happy, proud man amongst a family who loved him dearly. Isn’t this the ultimate measure of success. No one is going to be counting their riches on their death bed. The tax man might be, but you certainly won’t! I know this all too well, as I have been to this dark place seconds after my avalanche accident. Yet how many entrepreneurs and business folk think success is about the pursuit of money?
When you are striving to smash your goals and reach for the stars, just remember not to forget or neglect the people around you who have always been there to pick you up when you were small and dust you off. The people who gave you the confidence to become who you are today, are the same ones who will be there for you when your world comes crashing around you one day in the future when you least expect it.
Whatever your goals, never lose sight on why you started on your particular journey. Be a great person and most of all, make a positive difference to other peoples lives wherever and whenever you possibly can.
Have a great week ahead and cram in as much fun as you possibly can.