“Woke up in London yesterday
Found myself in the city, near Picadilly
Don’t really know how I got here
I got some pictures on my phone”
One Republic – Good life
The music comes to a stop, and I hear my name, pronounced with great Italian flair. That is my cue to walk on stage. I can hear my heart beating in my chest. I am not even looking in the crowd. If I did, I would realize that at this very moment, the eyes of the entire car design were on me. As seen in countless award shows, I softly announce “and the award goes to”. After seeing enough award shows go wrong, I made sure with our host James McLachlan that I had the correct name on the envelope. Six hours earlier, I was sweating over the major train delay that might keep me stuck in Germany. Yet somehow, there I was on stage in London at the Car Design News People Awards. After a few laughs in the audience, I announce the winner for Best Exterior Lighting Team sponsored by Autodesk, Skoda. Cue the claps, the handshakes, the award handover, the accolades, the pictures. I casually walk off stage, smile and marvel at this one fact: “how did THAT happen?” It boils down to three things: ask, observe and be there.
If you want something, did you ever think that the best way to get it is to simply ask? Let us travel in time to illustrate. The French have an incredibly special sentence when you go down in flames asking a girl out: “tu t’es pris un rateau”. You got yourself a rake. In the head or in the gut? Unlike you are Bruce Willis, no one knows. Either way, it hurts (emotionally speaking). As a young teen, I was a jedi gardener. Like many teenage boys, it was a horror show trying to get acquainted with the opposite sex. This rite of passage was an ugly spectacle, cringe worthy, sad, and everything else in between. Today I look back with zero regrets. At least I asked. Fantastically enough, there have been some wonderful times when I did go out with the girl, and it was magical. I even asked a beautiful woman on a dare once (ask my wife about that). Back to more recent times, I was travelling round trip from Birmingham to Germany to meet some clients. I learned that Autodesk was going to have a table at the event. I simply asked my boss if I could change my travel plans to attend and he said yes. That is all it took. Here is a first tip for you. You will never really know unless you ask.
For the last six years I have trained as a public speaker with Toastmasters, and I could not believe my luck. I was going to get a free professional level lesson from a 2-time BAFTA winning actress and comedian no less! Ronni Ancona was the MC of the evening, and she was on fire, right from her intro monologue. In my mind, I put myself back at one of our Toastmasters meetings, as I was dissecting and analyzing her speech. She was funny, brilliant, coordinated with the current news events, and with the perfect dose of edge (ask Patrick Le Quément). Preparing your speech is half the battle. You could tell she researched her audience. She caught on early that the designer population was a very well dressed and flamboyant bunch. I would like to thank her for pointing out Pontus Fontaeus’ shoes (they were glorious, you just had to be there). Her quip about black turtlenecks was a line that kept on giving. Her auto-scroll notes were not working but as a seasoned pro she carried on with the evening without missing a beat until it got fixed. Sit back and listen. That is all I had to do to enjoy this public speaking masterpiece by a pro. Here is a second tip. Observe. There is awesome stuff that constantly unfolds before your very eyes.
“That’s why we line up on Sunday”. Those are the immortal words of the late MotoGP champion Nicky Hayden. Anything can happen in a race, said the beloved American. All that is required of you is to get out of the house and show up. And that is the third piece of advice: just be there. When I was stressing out about being a decent father, my wife said that the most important thing was to be there every day for the little things. She was right. When I interviewed for my last manager job, I only found out later that my odds of getting the job were long. I was only the third choice for the position. For several reasons, both candidates ahead of me dropped out. I showed up and the job was mine. That night in London, I just wanted to enjoy the evening and to reconnect with some old friends. My co-worker Phil was supposed to hand out the award. He and I were texting each other all day as we raced to get to London. My train in Germany was delayed but I miraculously still made my flight. Racing from Heathrow in the London underground, I got to the event when dinner started. Phil got stuck in Manchester because of the strikes. If we go by what Ronni said in her speech, he got the full British experience. And just like that, I was asked to hand over the award.
How do you make your life better? There is no shortage of advice out there. You can find gurus to help you. They will flip your life upside down. They will transform you (and it will cost you). The self-help market size will go north of ten billion dollars in the next few years. If I learned anything in life, tremendous changes in our lives do not have the biggest or longest lasting impact. How many people assault the gym in January only to end up back on the couch in February? It is the cumulation of tiny steps that add up to transformational changes. Eat one less cookie. Skip a drink one night of the week. Walk one more block with the dog. Be grateful, one more minute. Ask. Observe. Show up. Those are my three free pieces of advice for you. You will be amazed how much richer life can be.