So…who am I?
Despite my desperate (and most would say, futile) attempts to look cool and influencer-y in my photos, I am just a forty-something guy, who still sees himself as a 20-something guy, trying to make a positive impact on the world and share some of the lessons I have learned…most of which have been learned the hard way.
I would like say I’m an average guy, but actually I have always been a bit of an outsider, and have always struggled to find where I fit in - so that really wouldn’t be true. To help you get a better idea of whether we are going to get along or not, let me tell you a bit about my story and the things that are important to me.
Beliefs & Values
I believe that the world of ‘work’ is broken. The industrial revolution is over. We don’t need production line mentality anymore. It is time to stop treating people as a ‘resource’ and start treating everyone like humans, with dreams and emotions and values.
SHADES OF GREY
I believe in shades of grey. (Get your mind out the gutter!) What I mean is that I believe there are a million ways to be kind, be a man, be feminine, be ambitious, be sexy, be successful. Don’t label yourself and put yourself into some imaginary category with criteria that are made up anyway.
I believe everyone can be creative, it is just a case of finding the right outlet for your particular brand of creativity, and learning how to unleash it. Creativity leads to freedom of expression and when you find your voice, you find your purpose.
I believe the constant striving for more and more that we have been programmed to believe is ‘success’, is causing us to feel that we are never enough. I also believe this has led us to feel disconnected from our planet, communities, emotions and values. Less, but better.
I believe diversity of race, gender, sexual orientation, economic & social status, spirituality, physical & mental ability, sensory experience and ancestry can collectively be a force for incredible creativity, positive change and human empathy that can make the world a better place.
I believe that every single one of us can make a difference. By becoming curious about - and open to - the wider world, we can become aware of what needs to change, and then take small steps to make our own impact - environmentally, socially and personally. Individual impact can collectively move mountains.
Are you sitting comfortably?
I am an award-winning art director, brand coach, content creator… and creative introvert. I have a partner who is an illustrator and we live with two very furry black cats. I spent nearly 20 years working in the world’s biggest and best creative agencies, and have had my own successful creative consultancy for around 10 years. But how I got here is a story of many weird and wonderful (and a few disastrous) twists and turns.
I was born and raised in South Africa. I can genuinely say that as far back as I remember, I felt like I didn’t fit in…anywhere. But at the same time always managed to find something in common with most people and so could get on with people in any environment I was thrown into. Then when I was in my very early teens I went on an exchange programme, which opened my eyes to what was really going on in my own country, and totally changed my life. Realising just what apartheid actually meant, and getting to meet and really talk to people of colour my own age - for the first time in my life (!) - made me feel like my whole life had been a lie. People were literally being treated like slaves 10 minutes from where I was living my comfortable life, and because of propaganda, media blackouts and censorship in South Africa itself, I genuinely didn’t even know about it.
The rest of my teens were defined by protest and rebellion. I was very, very angry. The people I met through my anti-apartheid campaigning also led me to investigate and learn about all sorts of other things and places, and that coupled with my inherent curiosity meant I questioned and challenged everything. Religion, sexuality, politics - I rebelled against every institution I could. And I learned a LOT. I learned about different ideologies. I learned about true courage from people I am honoured to have known, and I learned about the incredible things that can be achieved when people share a common purpose to change the world for the better. I also realised that for the first time in my life I had purpose. And it drove me every day - even when it came with abuse, violence, police raids and rejection on a daily basis. I am very proud of my small contribution during that time.
Is there a small contribution you’ve made in your own life where you feel like you stood up for your beliefs?
When apartheid (legally) finally came to an end during my last year of high school I was a very different person. I no longer took anything at face value, questioned everything, and I had slowly started to become more comfortable with not fitting in. Don’t get me wrong - it wasn’t (and sometimes still isn’t) easy, but it became less frightening. I had also discovered a belief system and spirituality that made sense to me.
Working it out.
My working career has been…well….it’s been something. I started studying Law on a full scholarship but discovered that while I LOVED the act of studying, I hated studying the subject of Law itself. I found it restrictive and tedious. So I dropped out after two years. To be an actor. (You can imagine how well that went down). Acting not being the MOST reliable source of income, for a while I held several jobs to support myself and pay back my scholarship. During the day I worked in an interiors shop, evenings were spent performing on stage, and then after the show, I went to my night job, building computers and installing software.
Have you ever taken a look at your own path to see the twists and turns of where you’ve been and where you are today? I’d challenge you to write it out and see if it leads to any interesting thoughts or small realizations.
It was a bit crazy, to be honest, but I was young and in retrospect, each of those jobs in their own way provided the foundations for what have been the best parts of my working life.
The interior shop work inspired me to apply for an apprenticeship in an antique and art restoration studio - where I discovered my love of furniture and interior design; discovered how much I love working with my hands (and that I have a natural aptitude for it); and where I also learned one of the hardest lessons of my life.
During a break in my performing career I was asked to work in production at the theatre I had previously performed at, and I very quickly discovered that I was WAY better at production that I was at performing. I quickly became assistant production director working with the top theatre and event producer in Africa and learned how to think through a project or event from beginning to end, missing no detail. I also learned how to approach everything from a viewpoint of ‘No problem, I will make it happen.’ Because in theatre production there is no time for drama (ha! ironically) - things have to get done and everyone has to pull their weight. There is a reason we always hear the phrase ‘the show must go on’.
Building computers not only enabled me to become comfortable with learning new technology, but it also gave me the chance to learn how to use design software - which led to me realising I was damn good at design - a talent and skill which has taken me around the globe and into the world of branding.
Do you struggle to admit your own talent? Does that feel impossible to you? I used to think that, but I’m here to tell you it’s NOT impossible. It’s very possible. Make today the day you admit your own talent and have pride in what you’re good at.
After a few years of that, I was offered the opportunity to run the entertainment and handle design on-board a passenger ship. I took a chance and ended up working on ships for two years, sailing for a year up and down the African coast and around the Indian Ocean islands, and then for a year around the Mediterranean.
When I left the ships, I decided to spend 6 months in London. Well, turns out London is not the cheapest city in the world (who knew!?), and after three months I decided to look for some temporary work. A random two-week design job with one of the world’s largest PR and creative agencies ended up with me staying there for ten years and working my way up to Global Brand Manager.
Near the end of those ten years, I fell apart. Like...REALLY fell apart. Years of working 16-hour days, on top of several disastrous relationships, on top of the deaths of both my parents in the space of two years, on top of way too much burning the other end of the candle, resulted in me having a total breakdown. I was off work for months, went into therapy and started medication. My anxiety was sometimes so bad I couldn’t leave the house for fear of making eye contact with someone. I was left with little choice - I had to fundamentally re-consider my values and approach to what I wanted out of life. Shortly after returning to work, I resigned to start my own consultancy and work on my own terms, true to my own ethics and values.
When was the last time you checked-in with yourself to make sure what you are doing, and what you are trying to achieve are in line with what you really value, rather than someone else’s idea of success?
I have never regretted that decision. But it does not mean it has all been smooth sailing.
Four years later I declared bankruptcy - one of the hardest, most humbling and traumatic times of my life. I had been in a relationship with someone who turned out to be a genuine narcissist, who manipulated me into surrendering over £10,000 and psychologically abused me to the point where I was suicidal. Even typing that makes me feel sick. I still cannot believe that it happened - and at the time I didn’t want to admit it because…well, because my male ego could not accept that it had happened to me. That doesn’t happen to real men right?? My friends could all see it and tried to warn me, but I just couldn’t face it. But I did get out, eventually. And by declaring bankruptcy I essentially gave myself a fresh start.
The road to recovery from there has not always been easy, but it has been one of going from strength to strength. My business has never been more financially secure, nor has my personal life. It took honesty, self-work, therapy, (some medication) and a lot of help to get me to a place where I feel better equipped and stronger now that I have probably ever felt. I am also more confident that I know what success means to me, and I know what I value most. I also know that the depression and anxiety are an ongoing battle I just have to deal with.
Have you ever had a tough time admitting that you need help because it feels like you ‘should’ be able to handle it all on your own?
To be fair, I still don’t feel like I fit in anywhere. And I’m ok with that.
How I hope my story can help you.
My experiences have made me all the more interested in - and committed to - sharing the lessons I have learned, and especially what it means for me to be a man in today’s world.
If you have ever found yourself struggling to find your place or figure out your purpose in this crazy world, with all the changes and challenges, then this is the place for you.
If you are trying to build a business that can provide a great life for you without killing you or stealing your soul in the process, then this is a space for you.
And if you are trying to figure out how to play your part in making the world a better place, without getting overwhelmed or depressed by it all - then welcome!