Four years ago something remarkable and wonderful happened to me.
I published a book called How To Change The World and a woman got in touch out of the blue to tell me how good it was, and how it could help her country, Greece. (I still find it a bit weird to write that sentence.)
As it happened, I told her, the book was going to be published in Greece. So she said I should ask my Greek publisher to get me onto the line up to speak at TEDx Athens, then (and maybe still) the biggest TED event outside California. I called the publisher, and they duly made some calls, but the event was only two weeks away and the line up was fixed. Feeling obliged to this enthusiastic and supportive woman I called to let her know the disappointing news.
But Marie Efpraxiadis wasn’t so easily put off. She contacted the organisers herself. I have no idea what she said but suddenly I was on the line up.
I loved going to Athens, being photographed and interviewed, meeting some wonderful people, and hearing that some of them found my talk useful and even inspiring.
None of this would have happened without the strong and active support of Marie. Everyone needs a Marie! But you can’t ask for a Marie – she has to spontaneously present herself. And I think that this means we all get the opportunity, every so often, to present ourselves as a supportive, enthusiastic Marie to someone else.
Recently, my daughter Nancy turned 13. I am so lucky to have this wonderful human being in my life.
To mark the occasion, I asked fathers who have been here already, and women who used to be teenaged girls, for tips. In hope it might be helpful, I’m sharing the answers here.
If you have any additional advice, please post it below.
“Leave everything to your wife, obviously, like every self-respecting father of teenage girls”
“Just love her. Be her champion, and let her forge her own path in life (even if that means making mistakes, perceived or otherwise). I’m not a father, but I have been a teenage girl. Good luck to you both, and happy birthday to Nancy. x”
“What a stunning picture. Full of pride and innocence! I’m not a father of a teenage girl either but here’s what I would love to have known when I was thirteen – tell her she is enough, just as she is. Help her find her personal power and how to stand like Wonder Woman. Let her know her body is hers, and it’s absolutely perfect just as it is, with all the wonderful things it is doing for her. Teach her how to say yes, and no, and mean them. I imagine you (and H) are already doing an outstanding job. Happy, happy birthday Nancy! PS you’re truly awesome for even asking this Q.”
“You’ll already know the crucial bits: love all of her, accept all of her, allow and encourage her to be who she is.”
“Match her, if you can; and if you can’t, ask her to wait for you whilst you try to catch up.”
“I think your #1 job is to show her what a great man looks like – so that she won’t tolerate any less! (And actually – if she does entertain men who are below-par, don’t tolerate it. Sometimes when you’re young, you do need someone to step in, especially when you haven’t quite found your own voice yet – or don’t feel safe to use it. Sometimes you need a champion!) Stay close to her & don’t say or do anything to suggest stuff has to change now that she’s becoming a woman, eg. ‘Daddy can’t see you naked anymore’ or ‘That’s a question you should ask your mum’. My dad & I stayed close throughout my adolescence & can talk about anything to this day. I treasure that.”
At this point, Nancy found out I’d been asking my friends for advice. So she sent a message too:
“This is Nancy speaking to all my daddy’s friends. I am very happy to share so many interests with my dad such as modern family and triple chocolate cookies! Yum! I’m very lucky to have this special person in my life!!!
“I was once a teenage girl and I can say: be supportive and listen to her.”
“Basically, you never stop being the dad of a teenage daughter. I’m 52 and my dad would still kill any bloke who upsets me. Nancy, you’d better get used to that, and happy birthday!”
“Endure! … And love unconditionally, of course, whatever is said or done. The test does come to an end … eventually. Good luck!”
“Keep talking to her, even when she doesn’t want to talk to you. Don’t ever get heavy handed about relationships, skirts, make up and never EVER mention spots.”
“I was such a naughty teenager – I can’t really give good advice and I had teenage sons – but I have every confidence that you and H will be brilliant. Xx”
“What a great question and thread! Teenage years for me were both tricky and magical. Be quietly patient in the tricky bits and share in the magic. And don’t be surprised at anything. Teenage years are all about trying on different guises. Keep your sense of fun and adventure (although I’m trying to preach to the master!). Happy birthday to you both x”
“As the father of a 12yr old daughter, soon to be 13, I am sending you both love and good wishes on this next stage of her/your journey, AND I’m harvesting all this hive wisdom for my own parenting. Thank you John-Paul.”
“You do have to be sensitive as to when to give space but also to realise when you are actually really needed, so listen well, never shame or tease and yes love unconditionally and keep communicating through it all, congratulations! Another wonderful young woman is emerging x”
“You must remember that as her father you are just sooo embarrassing! It’s part of your job. Don’t try not to be. That’s even more embarrassing! Make her laugh.”
“I remember the teen years – my advice would be – don’t freak out! There will be days when emotions run wild and apparently the whole world is the enemy – take a deep breath because in 45 minutes the air could be filled will laughter again. Did anyone say roller coaster?!? Xx” [Was this advice, I asked, for me or for Nancy.] “For you – your heart will burst with worry sometimes and it’s hard not to rush in and panic only to have peace restored all by itself without your intervention. Best advice I had was ‘be a soft place to land’”
“My advice is just be yourself and you will both be appreciated and loved for it -even though there may be times when it does not always seem that way. For example, from a personal point of view, my father passed away when I was 9 and I can remember all the lovely things he did like loving my attempts at baking jam tarts! The simple and most basic things are the best. You really do not have to work at it. Be your wonderful self and through thick and thin it will all be just perfect ☺”
“JP, you and your wonderful friends made my face leak. You have a habit of doing that with your magical posts. Such wisdom in these responses. I have a few thoughts sloshing around in the recesses of my mind and if they ever become coherent enough to share here then I’ll pop back to add them to this thread. But the truth is you’ve got this. Happy birthday to your beautiful daughter X”
“Enjoy every minute, read lots of stories.”
“Stay neutral. I remember so many instances when I would get into a rage with my Mum and my Baba would just listen and not take sides. And he would sit on the sofa with his arm stretched across the back so that I could cuddle up to him if I wanted to. Being with him felt safe.”
“Having been a teenage girl; support the relationship your teenage girl has with her mother, whilst crafting your own space with her too. The mother/girl child dynamic is complex and challenging in these years, they will both need your love and support. Give her space to play with adulthood safely, she will push to widen her forcefield, it is your job to negotiate with her ambition and fear to find the middle line. Reinforce that her brain and compassion are her greatest weapons, you will be a small voice against a huge media telling her to judge her value in other ways. Her heart will break many times, most often from the pain of friendship dynamics, hold her tight. Happy birthday Dad xx”
“Be her rock. Be the steady point she can dance around, like a maypole – she can dance and wander far but keep the attachment and come back cos you are always there. Don’t judge the stuff you don’t understand. Don’t try always to understand, just accept. Make her laugh. And keep watching Modern Family together!”
It’s not always easy to talk about money. Many people find it excruciating. Recently, I made a film for a financial services company, in which I talked to young people about their own feelings about this awkward subject.
In most cases, there was blankness, and a general sense of unease – until we moved towards thinking how they would like things to be.
I asked them to look forward to a time in the future, and to describe how it will be. Perhaps even draw something. (More than one drew some kind of Caribbean island.) And then to tell me how much the thing they wish for might cost, and what they will need to do to get hold of the necessary funds by the time they say they want it.
You probably know already how scary it feels to make a commitment, in conversation with somebody else, to do something splendid. Well, these people could tell you, because they dared to say to me just what they hope to have, and to be. And they said it on camera. (I’ll share the film, if and when it becomes publicly available.)
Most importantly, I asked them at the end to reflect on the process. We had spent about 20 minutes talking about something that many of them, by their own admission, go out of their way to avoid talking – or even thinking – about. And yet by the end they were glowing. How to account for this? Again and again, they said that it was helpful to be pushed into doing this thing they didn’t want to do.
We spent two full days filming. I talked to a lot of people. Everyone was different, but looking back over the experience as a whole, I have to say it was one of the most vivid examples I expect ever to see of people experiencing resistance, facing it head on, and finding that everything looks much rosier on the other side.
What gets in your way? What stops you from doing what you really want to do? For too many people, it’s money.
I did some work with The School of Life, in partnership with the credit experts Experian. Our research showed that 42% of people who wish to try something new, to live a more fulfilled life, blamed their failure to get started on money, or the lack of it. Roughly the same number of people said they would be happier if they had better control of their finances.
For most of my life I might have said the same, and occasionally – when cashflow is tight – I still feel that way. But working as a coach with executives, entrepreneurs and creative people alike has helped me to see that the problem doesn’t usually lie in the money itself, but in our attitude towards it.
For much of the time, we are fearful, and don’t dare to look at the situation we are in. We’re too afraid of what we might discover. So we carry on in denial, blaming external circumstances, in a generalised way, for whatever bothers us.
My work with Experian started with the company’s decision to make individual credit scores freely available to anybody, for life. The more I thought about it, the more I came to see this score as a perfect metaphor for The Thing We Really Don’t Want To Look At.
In fact I realised that I myself was holding back from looking up my score. Despite working with Experian on this project, I held off for weeks before actually getting round to it, only looking it up hours before I turned up at a public event at the top of the Gherkin in the City of London, with Experian staff and a group of talented bloggers, some of them personal finance wizards.
Sitting at my desk that morning, I felt my shoulders go up during the two minutes or so that it took to provide the necessary information online. I felt my jaw clench. And I paused for a moment before pressing “submit”.
As it happens, I am very happy with what I discovered. My rating puts me in the green zone on that Experian dial at the top of this page. But it’s not the score itself that caused my shoulders and jaw to relax. It’s the fact that I looked it up at all. Because as soon as I had done that, I felt that I was back in control.
North London Collegiate School recently came top of the national exam tables (again). The girls here are very bright, and much is expected of them. I came to talk, at the opening of the new school year, to Years 11, 12 and 13 about How To Change The World: What can one person do?
I started by asking: if you had the chance, would you change the world? There was long silence then a few voices called out yes. I asked for a show of hands. Pretty well everybody put their hands up. I said, keep your hand up if you know how you would like to change the world.
About four people out of 350 or so kept their hands up. One or two started raising their hands, but then lowered them.
I then ran through some of the ideas and stories in my book How To Change The World. And after about 40 minutes, I asked if there were any questions. There were several. I particularly liked being asked what my own mission or purpose is (by somebody who seemed a little confused by the variety of things I have done).
The last question, from one of the Year 11 girls, was: “What about failure? What do you do about that?”
Great question, I said. And I told a story about how I was filmed falling on my face in Mexico, in front of some very famous people, and how I was lucky enough to move from seeing that as a terrible, embarrassing failure – how I was able to use it. (You can see the film here.)
I said, failure always hurts at the time, but often it turns out not to have been failure after all, just a step towards the outcome you want.
In scientific method, I said, we can see that very clearly. Marie Curie boiled up all kinds of things to find radium. If she boiled up an old carpet and found no radium, was that failure? Or was it just an experiment that helped her to move on?
It may not have been the perfect answer, but it was the best I could come up with at the time. Perhaps writing about it here will enable me to find a better one next time.
Are you looking for an adventure? Earlier this year, I decided to apply to myself some of the things I tell others, when I’m coaching – about daring to do what we want to do.
This film shows highlights from the terrifyingly rope walk at Area 47 in Solden, Austria. I like to think that what I went through – from initial excitement, through watching others give up, and skateboarding across the void, feeling deep gratitude on finishing in one piece, and so on – can be found in any adventure we embark on, metaphorically anyway, whether it’s a physical adventure like this one, or a creative project, or “just” something internal.
If you want help getting started, just let me know.
NB. Excuse the shaky camerawork in places: it was strapped to my wrist.
Oh happy day! I recently took a lot of my Department Store For The Mind plates to Belfast to test them for The Big Lunch, with a group of 50 people – to see how the plates work in practice. To see how they help to jump-start meaningful and enjoyable conversations.
Now the said Department Store is offering a 30% discount to anybody who wishes to buy all three of the products I designed – the plates, the mugs and the tea cloth.
“If you are totally out of touch with how you feel, and what you need, it’s very easy to just cruise along, being one version of you. But it’s kind of exhausting. And after a while you hit 40 or 50 and you feel very lonely, and you think, shit, I haven’t really cultivated deep connections with anyone.”
In this conversation about conversation, the coach, performer and author Jamie Catto talks about what it means to be real with each other, instead of always faking, and about the price we pay if we refuse to do that.
He talks about how this affects us at work, and in our private lives too.
It’s not a short film, but it’s not that long either, and I’m extremely pleased to have been able to make it. I think you will be glad to have watched.
In this conversation about conversation, the writer and performer David Bramwell remembers speaking with somebody rightly regarded as a world expert on the art of conversation – and being gravely disappointed.
Hearing David tell this story, and laughing with him about it, I was reminded of a time when too I badly let myself down in conversation – exploding angrily at somebody – as I explain in the video, along with what happened next.
This is one of the things I love about conversations about conversation: we hear each other’s stories, and recognise ourselves in them. I hope you might recognise something too.