I have wanted to write a book for a younger audience for a very long time. Something for those coming to the end of their school lives or early in their careers.
I wonder if we ever really pay enough attention to the so-called soft skills that make such a difference to our lives? Do we help nurture and develop those skills explicitly enough? It was clear before the pandemic, that we needed to do more to better prepare our young people for an increasingly unpredictable and changing world.
The last couple of years have amplified and intensified that need and it is why I felt compelled, just about a year ago, to start planning my new book.
I am calling it THE SMARTS; A LIFE SKILLS TOOLKIT and it is made up of ten chapters dealing with:
I wanted to make the book practical, authentic, and human. I have interviewed some amazing people who provide powerful case studies from a range of fields including entertainment, sports, business, politics and even a rocket scientist. As with all of my books, I try to use my own experiences and reflections as a foundation.
Below is a short exert from the introduction. I hope you like it!
When I look back, I think 1985 was my favourite year. I was 16 and I felt that the world was opening up to me and my friends. It was a time when life seemed full of possibilities but also fears, the strange juxtaposition of opportunity and the unknown.
We all have a ‘best year’ growing up, one we all look back on with a smile, maybe a smirk and a sense of if only…ask your parents what year it was for them…here’s a thought, what if you are living in yours now?
Ronald Reagan was President of the US, Margaret Thatcher was the British Prime Minister.
Music by Prince, Madonna, Duran Duran and Sade was what we were listening to.
Back to the Future, Rambo 2, Rocky 4 and Beverly Hills Cop were the films we were talking about and sneaking into underage.
The original Live Aid lit up the summer; the biggest global concert ever; and I was there!
The environment was in the news after French agents sank Greenpeace’s ship The Rainbow Warrior in New Zealand,
Nintendo launched their games system NES and with it, Super Mario was born.
Michael Jordan slammed onto the sports scene being named rookie of the year in the NBA.
Ruth Lawrence made all teenagers look bad by becoming the youngest person ever to get a First Class Honours Degree in Mathematics from the University of Oxford aged of 13!
We were living with a global pandemic, AIDS.
Microsoft launched their first Windows and the average annual salary was around £9000 or $16000US.
It was the year I started my life’s to do list. I remember the first time I thought about it. I was sat on my bedroom window sill at about 11pm on a summer’s evening in my home, in North West London, looking out at the shimmering lights; the cars and buildings. I had a great view, we were on top of a hill and on that evening, in that moment, it felt like I could see the whole of London, in fact, the whole world.
I was in a thoughtful mood, one of those moments where you lose yourself in contemplation and fantasy. Out there, I thought, was potentially the person I would fall in love with and maybe grow old with, was my first job, my first home…my future!
Until I was 14 I had wanted to be a lawyer. I loved the idea of standing in a court room and defending an innocent person, but the romance of it was shattered, when during that summer, I got to spend a few weeks shadowing my Mum’s divorce lawyer, Mrs Langham. Two things struck me by the end of the experience; firstly that the job wasn’t that sexy, it was mainly bloody hard work with lots of reading and meetings and secondly, I didn’t think I was anywhere near clever enough. On a daily basis, I heard Mrs Langham and her colleagues speaking a language I barely understood.
By the time I was sat on that windowsill in ’85, I wanted to be an actor, or a writer, or both. It was something I was good at and was the thing that I believed defined me; it was my thing! I wasn’t good at sports, so I wasn’t in with those kids. I wasn’t academically the smartest, so those kids intimidated me. I was average, too skinny, too self-conscious and not particularly funny or charismatic, but give me a script and a character to inhabit and I was away!
My ‘to do list’ included getting through the next two years at school and then getting out of education to work in the Arts. I was at quite a posh school, so my friends and peers were all about University. In hindsight, I think I chose not to be, not because I didn’t want to go, but because I was so scared of trying and failing that as a result, I persuaded myself to try a different path, one I felt I could achieve on and therefore avoid the ignominy of missing out… more on all of that later!
’85 was the year though, all that shimmered that night was gold and everything ahead was possible. Although, there were moments of anxiety, of fear of leaving the warm familiarity of my school, my friends, my routines; but that was still two years away, so somewhere that was still on the abstract horizon.
In ’85 I truly believed that my life would map out smoothly and that I would be acting on Broadway or in the West End by the time I was 20 and that I would have won an OSCAR by 30.
As the sun came up the next morning and I began the ‘journey’ that I look back on now, there are things I wish I’d known, skills I wish I’d had, a worldliness and wisdom I would have loved to have fast tracked. Some might call it the lessons of life.
I call it THE SMARTS.