What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?
That is one of the questions I ask in my new book, How To Change The World, and to judge by the feedback I’ve had already, it seems to really get people thinking.
The point is that if you ask the question in that way you are more likely to identify something you passionately care about, and that you will therefore persist with, instead of a rather boring mission you don’t really care about at all.
My own mission in the last couple of weeks has been to take the idea of The School Of Life around the country with other members of the faculty, who have also written books in the series published by Pan Macmillan.
We started in London, at the Union Chapel, with an audience of 900, and over the following week or so went on to receive a warm welcome from sell-out crowds in Oxford, Bristol, Manchester, Dublin, Edinburgh and Brighton. (There are more events coming, including several overseas.)
Here we are on our, er, tour bus.
We’ve been accompanied by some fantastic bands, including Hello Moon, who played with us in Dublin, and the London Snorkelling Team, who do very funny work with overhead slide projectors (yes, really, you need to see it).
But the greatest pleasure has been working alongside the other members of the School of Life faculty, many of them authors of other books in the series, whom I don’t ordinarily meet because we run our own classes separately.
On the tour we heard each other speak several times, and I for one benefited enormously from the others’ insights. I’m particularly grateful to John Armstrong for suggesting, in a hotel bar one night, that I spell out more clearly that changing the world doesn’t always mean changing the whole world. It might just mean making a difference in your own world.
I’ve also become fairly gripped by the subjects of the others’ talks.
Roman Krznaric talked about How to Find Fulfilling Work, encouraging us to be “wide achievers” like Leonardo da Vinci, and to act first, think later when it comes to career change, instead of the other way round. This picture shows Roman talking in Brighton.
John Armstrong got a lot of laughs talking about his own money worries – as opposed to money troubles. His point is that money troubles really are difficult, but we add to our burden unnecessary worries, often by envying others who have more than us even if we have plenty ourselves.
Tom Chatfield talked about How To Thrive in a Digital Age, which involves recognising the value of our own time, perhaps by turning phones onto Airplane Mode to ensure we are not interrupted all the time. I also liked his idea of “human bandwidth” (getting together with people in real life). One other great thing about Tom is that he’s an amazing pianist. I annoyed the others sometimes by asking him to play while they tried to concentrate before events started, as in this picture from Dublin.
Philippa Perry’s book is How to Stay Sane, and she had several points that grabbed attention. Most important: observe yourself (this picture shows an illustrated slide of Philippa meditating), and observe the the way you conduct relationships. Also, take care not to become trapped by the way you think about the world – the stories you tell. She had a great exercise asking people in the audience to finish this sentence: “Most people are… ?” The word you choose probably says a lot about the way you interact with people, consciously or unconsciously.
The penultimate speaker was Nick Southgate (except in London, where Alain de Botton talked about How To Think More About Sex). Nick talked about How To Be Cool, and never failed to win round an audience that might initially have dismissed this as an ignoble and worthless aim. Nick’s definition of cool is something timely and effortless, and he gave some cracking examples, variously inspiring and very, very funny. (Here, Nick’s about to start a bit of audience participation.)
Finally, I should add that we were lucky to have some really insightful comperes wherever we went, including The School of Life’s own Gaylene Gould, who oversaw the event in Brighton.
All in all, the tour has been a great deal of fun.
Here we are at the London event: (from left) me, Roman, John, Tom, Philippa and Alain