The Joys of a Nomadic Life

We have sold Chateau Renon, our home in France.

Chateau Renon

Over the next 3 months we need to pack up our 130+ combined years of memorabilia and hoarding, move out, and also find new homes in both France and UK.

As a result of my need to focus on these priorities, I am afraid that over the next 3 months my blogs, which I have been posting weekly over the last 4 years, will tend to become a little less regular. Timing of my posts will now be based more on when packing, uncluttering, time, panic, stress, spirit, bank meetings, lawyer sessions and real-estate-viewings cross-channel, permit me to sit and relax for a short time to thus be able to focus on just one topic that has caught my imagination for a ramble.

I hope that my readers and supporters will understand and permit me this diversion until our lives settle back into some semblance of what constitutes a normal life for a pair of nomads.



A Facebook friend recently posted 50 pieces of advice on life from an 80 year old. I liked it so much that I decided to follow suit, so here are my 100 pieces of random advice to managers, from a 70 year old.

– Don’t beat around the bush … be specific … vagueness is confusing.

By P tasso (own work); CC-BY-SA-3.0,2.5,2.0,1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

By P tasso (own work); CC-BY-SA-3.0,2.5,2.0,1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

– Sarcasm is for losers … say what you have to say without rancour.
– Never stop learning … it’s a journey not a destination … you will never be a perfect manager.
– Be humble … greatness doesn’t need to be advertised.
– Be prepared to take the blame for failures, but always give the credit for success to your people.
– Be yourself at all times … don’t play different characters … schizophrenics are hard to follow.
– Never lie but don’t always feel the need to blurt out the truth.
– Tell people how they make you feel … both good and bad.
– Never get angry … the minute that you do, you lose.

By Эдуард Тимченков (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

By Эдуард Тимченков (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

– Be tough when needed … but always fair, well prepared and controlled.
– Don’t compromise … neither side wins which means neither side is fully committed.
– Give people freedom to make mistakes, and make sure that they experiment enough to do so.
– Make recruitment a major key competence.
– Share and celebrate successes … don’t overdo it as will diminish importance.
– Work is meant to be fun … this doesn’t mean funny.
– Never forget that great people have choices of where they will work.
– If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.

PD USDA; via Wikimedia Commons

PD USDA; via Wikimedia Commons

– Tell people you know when they have gone that extra mile.
– Protect your people from interference from all directions.
– Grow and develop your people … this makes each year easier than the one before.
– If you hire someone for their strengths, don’t discard them just for their weaknesses.
– Do everything you can to help under performers until you are sure nothing else is going to work.
– Build talent for the whole organisation and let people fly away when they are ready.
– Build visible successors … promotion comes easier to those who have a ready replacement.
– Hire people who are smarter than you … if you can’t find them you are deluded.
– Work hard on building a culture of self-managing teams.
– Instill an understanding that competitiveness is external, collaboration is internal.
– When you are in a 1 on 1 you must have 100% focus on that person.
– Talk less, listen more.
– A 70% idea that someone is committed to is better than a 90% idea imposed.
– Learn and move on from mistakes … don’t dwell on them.
– You lead by example … your people see everything you do.
– Keep your people updated … it kills gossip and starves the rumour mill.
– Tell stories that people will understand and remember … legends live long.
– Never scream or lose your temper … people will know when you are angry anyway.
– Understand the difference between friendliness and friendship.
– The boss is not always right.
– Gender, race, religion, sexual orientation are never business decision criteria for anything.
– There is no one size fits all … every person is different.
– Be readily available, but on your terms and with your time well-managed.
– Talk to your customers … both internal and external.
– Control and limit the number of meetings … let people decide things on their own.
– Tell your people it is easier to get forgiveness than approval.
– Don’t email anything important when you can talk directly to the addressees.
– Laugh often … there is much to laugh about in business and life.
– Manage behaviours not people … behaviours define the organisation.
– Keep it simple.
– Manage the financials or they will manage you.
– Build networks … real linkages, not just linkedin connections.
– Being fair is more important than being tough.
– Delegate, delegate, delegate.
– Give people challenging assignments so they can learn and also be tested.
– Mentor high potentials and exciting young people … it is fun, inspirational and rewarding.
– Challenge people to run faster and jump higher … it shows you know they can.
– Walk the talk … you are their role model.
– Meet commitments that you make, or leave them for someone who can.
– Integrity is key … What you believe is what you say is what you do.
– People are the only sustainable competitive advantage.
– Recruit for attitude more than skill … skills can be taught.
– Create a level playing field for all.
– Never start a sentence with “When I was in your role ….” or “What I did was …”.
– Drive change and allow others the same right to question the status quo.
– Encourage creativity, innovation and calculated risk-taking.
– Build a dream/vision, share it and get buy-in.
– Never accept dishonesty of any kind.
– Share knowledge … it is contagious.
– Fight for your people … you are their champion.
– “I don’t know” is a valid response no matter how senior you are.
– Read voraciously … for business and pleasure.

Author: Joe Crawford from Moorpark; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Joe Crawford from Moorpark; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

– Build a peer support team … it helps to have a sounding board.
– No dress down days … just ask people to dress appropriately for the job they are doing.
– Encourage people to introduce suitable recruits … they are great judges of who would fit.
– When good people seriously need to move on, let them go with grace and dignity.
– Your word is your bond … always.
– Meet deadlines and commitments.
– Projects must be well managed … make sure you have the best project managers.
– You can’t win everything … take losses graciously (doesn’t mean you must enjoy them).
– Nothing happens in the world until someone sells something.
– If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t true.
– Many senior people think they are great speakers … most aren’t … practice is key.
– No matter your opinion of your boss, you must build a strong business relationship with them.
– Make appointments with yourself … at least 1 hour per day.
– Take your job seriously … but not yourself and never your own importance.
– Have a mentor or coach no matter how senior you are.
– Dress to impress and set the standard.
– Money is only one reward and not a true motivator for everyone.
– Finding the right PA is a key to personal success.
– If you can’t explain it in just a few sentences to an outsider, it is too complex.
– It only takes a few passionate people to start a revolution.
– Only unreasonable people drive change.

… and my last 10 points which are personal tips ….

– Never forget you have a family.

By Yesenia603 (own work); CC BY 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

By Yesenia603 (own work); CC BY 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

– You must take regular breaks and vacations.
– If you don’t love the job, change it for something that excites you.
– Plan the time with your family with same importance as business meetings.
– Play truancy every once in a while.
– Being the richest person in the cemetery makes no sense.

By Chris 73; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

By Chris 73; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

– It helps to be physically fit … exercise your mind and body.
– Keep your family up to date with what is happening … travel, breaks etc.
– The time after you wake should be for someone/something you love.
– Put a photo of your family in view to remind you why you are working so hard.


I have taken the above quotation from American founding father, politician and orator Patrick Henry (1736-1799) from a speech that he made to the Virginia Convention in 1775.

He was obviously referring to personal, political and national freedom as he was a champion of the American Revolution and the fight for independence, but I believe that this phrase, maybe now more accurately worded as “Give me liberty or I will leave” has become a core requirement of today’s workforce, irrespective of age.

By Gwillhickers; CC-PD-Mark, Liberty, PD US Government; via Wikimedia Commons

By Gwillhickers; CC-PD-Mark, Liberty, PD US Government; via Wikimedia Commons

I have long believed that the role of a manager is not to tell people how to do things, but to tell them what needs to be done, and then give them the freedom, the tools and the support to enable them to do it. This belief grew in me as I realised that if you give people the opportunity to do great things most of them will seize the opportunity to do so.

This tenet gave me one of my greatest career challenges when I moved from Sydney to Singapore to set up the Regional headquarters of SAP Asia Pacific in 1997.

By Bjørn Christian Tørrissen; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

By Bjørn Christian Tørrissen; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Young, educated Australians and New Zealanders generally do not need to be told that they have the freedom to decide things for themselves, that they should not be scared to try something new, to question things, to push the boundaries, and to not be scared to make some honest mistakes along the way. This was not the case in Asia, where the culture was much more hierarchical with much more top-down control. People would wait to be told what to do and how to do it, and as a result driving change was slow and ponderous.

As well, the concept that work was also meant to be fun was one that was hard to imbue in people, beyond the foreign managers and subject matter expert expats that worked in various parts of our organisation in the SAP Singapore Headquarters. Friday night drinks, after hours in the office, only really attracted the gweilos (white ghosts as we were called), until we also started serving a large variety of noodles and Asian food, when the locals would all turn up en-masse at 5.00pm, eat all the food and immediately leave, which defeated the whole purpose of a relaxed, stress-free end of the work week celebration with colleagues.

Author: ProjectManhattan (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: ProjectManhattan (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0; via Wikimedia Commons

Everything started to change when, after a few months, we had our first formal all-hands event for staff and their partners at the Shangri-la Hotel. It was a lavish, black tie dinner and dance event, which also included a large variety of winnable prizes (TVs, PCs, mobile phones, trips etc., all donated by our suppliers), and which would not be announced till midnight, thus ensuring that the locals would not automatically leave as soon as their meals had been consumed.

The theme was “James Bond” and after the dessert course waiters appeared and placed a large platter of small plastic water pistols on every table, which only generated lots of giggling. One young lady, a bit more adventurous than the rest, filled her pistol with water in the ladies restroom and then ran through the room indiscriminately squirting all within range, including me … the exalted Grand Poobah, Emperor, Member of the Board, President and CEO of the region. A deathly hush descended on the room, as everyone waited to see how I would react. I pushed my chair back from the table and rose to my full height, at the same time pulling a large pump-action water cannon (about 10 litre capacity) from under my seat, which I then emptied over this young colleague, drenching her till she looked as though she had just been dipped into the hotel pool.

Mayhem broke loose … when people finally left after 1.00am all 300 attendees were drenched, my driver made my wife and me sit on plastic rubbish bags for the drive home, we had to pay for the water damage to the carpet, and the company was permanently banned from ever having another function at this particular hotel.

But we had made people understand that they were free to have fun, that there were no sacred-cows and not any unassailable, unreachable management “heavies” … we were all just people with different jobs to do. Not quite “workplace democracy”, but at least the start of an environment that could allow people to build some workplace freedoms.

On the Monday morning following this event, I had called an all staff meeting.

My messages were all about freedom.

– No-one would get punished for making an honest mistake.
– I expected them to try new things and if we could get 6-7 of them right out of every 10 that we tried we would be way ahead of our competition.
– That we had to keep changing and growing and learning and getting smarter or we would not survive, and that they should change the titles on their business cards to “Change Agent”.
– That I expected them to do whatever they felt was needed at any time to help a customer fix an issue, rather than to consult a rule book or the terms of the customer contract.
– That I expected them to understand that while we would be fierce competitors externally, we would collaborate and always help each other to be successful internally.
– That I expected them to always question things that they felt didn’t make sense.
– That they would have the freedom to do their job their way.
– That whilst I was rejecting the suggestion in front of me of having dress-down Fridays, I was recommending that people should dress in a way that they felt was appropriate to their job, and that in Singapore this rarely constituted a suit, though I did not like jeans and sneakers in the office (note that I didn’t ban them, I just said that I didn’t like them … it was enough), and that all I needed was for them to dress in a way that was a credit to themselves, their colleagues, the company and our customers.
– That I would work at all times with the regional executive team and all the country management teams to ensure that these values would be at the core of the way we all lived our work lives.

And finally …. That I preferred to be called “Les” rather than “Mr. Hayman”, and similarly with all the rest of those in management roles, who all preferred to not be called “Mr. or Ma’am”.

American President Theodore Roosevelt (1882-1945) summed it up when he said “The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and the self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”

By John Singer Sargent; CC-PD-Mark; via Wikimedia Commons

By John Singer Sargent; CC-PD-Mark; via Wikimedia Commons


“Don’t own so much clutter that you will be relieved to see your house burn down.”
American author and farmer Wendell Berry

After 13 years of ownership we have recently sold our home near Bordeaux … with mixed emotions. There is an expression here that the happiest day in your life is when you buy your first French chateau, surpassed only by the day that you sell it. I know well what they mean.

At this stage in our lives we eventually found 15 acres, 8000 square feet of home, 2 additional cottages, several extra outbuildings, assorted staff and various animals and livestock to be somewhat restricting to our changing lifestyle needs. We will look for a smaller home (2-3000 sq. ft.) on a more manageable parcel of land (1-2 acres) just a bit further away from the city of Bordeaux, and closer to the small pretty village of St. Emilion, where most of our friends live. This should also give us the freedom to be able to spend more time with our daughters, grand-daughters and friends in Australia and New Zealand.

Author: Fabien1309 (own work); CC BY-SA 2.0 FR license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Fabien1309 (own work); CC BY-SA 2.0 FR license; via Wikimedia Commons

This “downsizing” has necessitated the need to seriously unclutter, as having previously lived in a house of similar size in Singapore, we have now had 20 years of living in large homes with unlimited storage.

We have already ordered a large rubbish skip, made multiple trips to the local dechetterie (tip/dump) and charity shops to dispose of accumulated memorabilia, keepsakes and souvenirs including old electrical equipment … TVs, DVD players, VHS tape decks, old irons, PCs and other assorted bits that still worked, so the hoarder in me just found another storage spot for them in our voluminous attics. We have also made a number of trips to the local dog refuge with 4 old large kennels and assorted dog paraphernalia, which we kept after our old dogs went on to doggie Valhalla, despite now only having 2 small terriers. I even finally disposed of the vast assortment of chargers that I have accumulated in a box over the last 20 years, a box that I am sure many of my contemporaries can also claim to own.

Author: Speculos (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0, 2.5, 2.0, 1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Speculos (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0, 2.5, 2.0, 1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

I admit that we still have a long way to go !!!

It has made me think about the clutter that most managers tend to accumulate during their careers, and the need that they have to regularly clean out their own “house” in the same way that we are now doing. This includes:

– Followers … Most executives will over a successful career accumulate a coterie of followers, and the tendency for many successful and mobile managers is to take them along in their travels. I believe that this is mostly wrong. A key role of every manager is to create and develop talent for the whole organisation rather than only for themselves. Furthermore, keeping a team of people with you, across different roles and different companies, means that you just continue to perpetuate your own image and beliefs in an ever changing business environment. Your direct reports, especially those that are skilled, are like your children, in that you can train them, grow them, teach them values such as integrity and honesty, and then cut them loose to build their own successes rather than to trail along behind yours. New situations and new companies will need new people and different ideas.

– History … I have no question that it is important that we all learn from history, but it is critically important that we do not become prisoners of history. The fact that something worked (or did not work) some time ago in your past does not mean that it will (or will not) work today. Philosopher and novelist George Santayana (1863-1952) is believed to have said “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. The point is that many of us build patterns that we tend to repeat whether they worked well or not. Successful executives tend to try and address new situations with an open and fresh approach rather than to believe that past patterns will always provide a solution to new challenges.

Author: W. J. Robertson and the Education Department of Ontario; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: W. J. Robertson and the Education Department of Ontario; via Wikimedia Commons

– Beliefs … While key human and business values may not readily need to change, beliefs should be questioned at all times. One such example is the belief that women are mainly only capable of succeeding in certain management roles such as HR and Finance, and that executive roles in fields such as Engineering and Sales are much more suited to males, this being a statement made to me recently by a company CEO. What a load of bollocks, as it has been proved over and over again that management skills and management roles are not gender specific. My father believed that medical practitioners sat at the right hand of god and were infallible, and that bank managers should be revered and feared, both beliefs that have been proved to be entirely incorrect today. To be successful, managers need to ensure that they are not building their environment on ingrained, but outdated and hence questionable beliefs.

– Successful strategies … I have met quite a few executives who seem to have a belief in the “one size fits all” approach when it comes to developing business strategies, based on the simple fact that something has worked for them in the past, and so they are reluctant to let it go. Successful strategies in the past need to remain exactly that … in the past. I have come across people who on their resumes claim to have 15 years of experience, but who on closer examination really may only have 3 years of experience five times, having implemented the same approach and the same strategic initiatives each time, and often having then moved on before this one approach to business challenges even had a chance to be well tested.

Author: Pkor43 at English Wikipedia; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Pkor43 at English Wikipedia; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

– Busyness rather than business … Many executives clutter their day with meetings, emails, attendance at conferences and other commitments on their calendar that keeps them incredibly busy, but in areas that add little real value to their careers or to their company. Simplicity is not about how much we can do with how little, but is more about how well we can prioritise and how good we are at doing the important things first. When you are clear about your role, your purpose and your priorities you can more easily discard whatever is unnecessary.

American author Christina Scalise rightly said “Clutter is the physical manifestation of unmade decisions fuelled by procrastination.”


I do like a good lyric poem, which the dictionary defines as “a poem expressing personal (often emotional) feelings and are traditionally spoken in the present tense. Modern examples often have specific rhyming schemes and are sometimes also set to music or to a beat.”

I recently came across a modern version which comes complete with music and video called “Smart phones and dumb people” which resonated with me, and if you haven’t already seen it (tens of thousands have), I highly recommend it.

It starts with “I have 422 friends yet I am lonely” which is something that has been in my thoughts, and which I have found perplexing, for some time now (see “Fourth secret of success” posted November 4, 2010). Many people seem to be replacing real life and real relationships with social media friends and relationships (see “Who needs real life” posted February 17, 2011), and this short video and lyric poem covers exactly this situation today.

Author:  	彭家杰 (own work); GNU GPL, CC BY-SA 3.0, 2.5, 2.0, 1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: 彭家杰 (own work); GNU GPL, CC BY-SA 3.0, 2.5, 2.0, 1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

It really came home to me on my last trip to Singapore, when my wife and I sat in a coffee shop waiting for our kids and grandkids to turn up so that we could take them exploring through some of the wonders of our old stomping ground. We sat there amused that we were surrounded by young people (the coffee shop seemed to be a bit of a meeting place), and the fact that as soon as they had briefly greeted their friends, they immediately became fixated on their smartphones rather than each other. We were especially fascinated by a young attractive couple sitting near us who, in the more than 30 minutes we were there, barely exchanged a sentence with each other but instead spent the entire time playing games like “candy crush saga” (I sneaked a look when I went to get the drinks when our family arrived).

Author: wayne lee; CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: wayne lee; CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

At the same I have also long been fascinated by the fact that we seem to be becoming obsessed with abbreviation, and as such we seem to be losing our ability to focus on anything that requires our attention or focus for more than a very short amount of time (see “Abbreviation is gr8ly changing our world” posted April 16, 2012), which has even set the standard expected size of a blog post at about 800 words. I have even had some people comment on the fact that my own posts are a bit long as they tend to be between 1000-1200 words, and as such these readers find it hard to do more than just skim through them.

I therefore started to wonder whether people are still reading books … I mean real books rather than pamphlets with large print like “The one minute manager” and “Who moved my cheese”.

Author: Raysonho @ Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Raysonho @ Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine; via Wikimedia Commons

When flying back home from Singapore to France I wandered around the plane a few times as I was interested to see how many people were actually reading a book (tablets and kindles etc., included) and saw that there were actually very few. It seemed to me that that we had given up on books as a source of information, knowledge, entertainment and enlightenment, and this bothered me as I wondered whether people who stop reading will eventually stop thinking. I was therefore interested recently to come across some information that suggests that books (in all their guises), are not only surviving but are actually doing well, with an increasing number of titles being published each year.

The question that then arises is whether these books are actually being read. It appears that the simple answer is that they are not generally being read from cover to cover in many cases.

A Gallup Poll some time back found that there were many more people who said that they were reading a book or novel than did people a decade ago, but fewer people than before could say that they had actually finished a book in the last week. It appears that many books today are purchased to be skimmed or consulted, rather than to be fully read. It also appears that many more books are started than are finished, and I have to admit that I am also guilty of this, something my wife finds unacceptable as she insists on finishing any book that she opens. I stopped reading Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall”, after being about half way through, because I then went to see the Royal Shakespeare Company’s stage adaptation in London, and therefore felt no need to keep reading it afterwards. I also gave up on “The Luminaries” after about 200 pages, another Man Booker prize winner, despite loving the stunningly beautiful use of language, because I realised that I would struggle with its 834 pages of stunningly beautiful use of language.

Maybe one of the reasons that book sales are increasing is that books do seem to have replaced ties and socks as the gift of choice. I am amazed that every time I visit Australia or New Zealand people give me local picture books as gifts, necessitating my having to pack them into suitcases already at bursting point, and dangerously close to airline weight limits, to get them home. They are lovely coffee table books, but hardly books that I will ever feel the need to open after the obligatory flick through in front of the gift giver. I was the guest at a Bar-mitzvah in Melbourne a few years ago when the officiating Rabbi gave the 13 year old a bible and an umbrella as a gift on the lad having reached religious manhood in his faith, with the statement that at least the umbrella had a reasonable chance of being opened sometime.

Author: Mhhossein (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Mhhossein (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

I never stop reading in a normal day, but I have to sadly admit that it is less and less real books that I read rather than the writings of some management guru’s article or blog. I also spend a lot of time on my PC and tablet searching for opinions and information on the needed topics for my own blogs, lectures and speeches, but I do read fewer books than I did a decade ago.

All the information that I need is at my fingertips and easy to find with a few keystrokes, but I do wonder whether this easy access to information is actually making me more immediately knowledgeable but actually less smart in the long term. I too seem to have become a victim of my smarter phone.

A summer holiday break in another wine region

Having a 10 day break in Champagne in North East France, having rented a cottage in the countryside near Epernay … luckily I like the Chardonnay grape.
There are over 5000 Champagne houses and another 14,000 growers who only sell their grapes, so there is a reasonable selection to choose from.



Stunning Chateaux everywhere as well as interesting old half-timbered houses,mainly from the 16th Century, making it a delightful place to just wander about.


The old town of Troyes which has been around since Roman times is a real perpetual “wow look at that” place to visit.


“Time is shortening, but every day that I challenge this cancer and survive is a victory for me.”
Three time academy-award winning Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman (1915-1982)

I am coming up to the 25th year anniversary of my initial diagnosis with colon cancer, and my entering of the Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney for a Hemicolectomy, which involved the surgical removal of the tumour and the surrounding parts of my descending colon. Since then, I have been through regular colonoscopies, and have often had more bits cut out, but I am still here, and intend to be so for a long time to come.

Author: Nephron (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Nephron (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

I believe that I have learned much about life in my nearly 70 years on this planet, and also that I still have much to learn, but this anniversary, and the fact that I am also trying to help two friends who are now embarking on this same journey, has had me thinking about what I had learned specifically as a result of my brush with cancer.

Here are 10 of my lessons learned while going through the medical procedures and treatment:

– Medicine is not an exact science, as I was originally given a 50/50 chance of living just one year. Doctors are well trained professionals but have much the same error rates as the rest of the population.

By TomTheHand; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikiemdia Commons

By TomTheHand; CC BY-SA 3.0 license

– Be prepared to ask your specialist what he would do in your situation, but only after establishing a relationship as equals rather than having just a doctor to patient discussion. I stopped chemotherapy after my serious one-on-one session with my surgeon.

– Fighting a life threatening disease is not a part time job. You must give it all your focus. If that means including some non-traditional help such as meditation, tai-chi and forward visualisation, embrace it. I did all three and more.

– People who keep telling you to “stay positive” are not morons; they just don’t know what else to say. Most people who have faced cancer tend to agree that this is one of the silliest things that anyone could have said to them. Even “be strong” makes more sense.

– People who treat you normally when you are sick are a greater comfort than those whose voices drop 25 decibels and 2 octaves, and who thus address you as a sick person. I used to hear people in the corridor chat normally with my wife, and then enter my hospital room and address me in a hushed sombre whisper. I have never understood why they thought that this would help.

– There is significant advantage in looking for the humour in situations when you feel that you are facing death, such as a friend who gave me the latest Wilbur Smith book at the time called “A Time to Die”. My wife and I giggled to tears.

Author: jimincairns; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Wilbur Smith; Author: jimincairns; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

– The medical system can only handle the high volume of disease through standard process management. Your responsibility is to ensure that the treadmill you are placed on makes sense for you, or else, if it is an option, you need to get off and manage it more personally.

– Laughter is a more powerful medicine that any drug. I had a wonderful nurse who, early on the day after my operation, forced me to get out of bed and start walking by threatening to take off down the corridor carrying the catheter bags that were attached to some sensitive parts of my anatomy.

– Not everything that happens is an omen. I kept waking up at 4.44 every morning in the hospital, and it bothered me until my wife reminded me that I wasn’t Chinese, so Asian numerology was really meaningless for me.

Here are another 10 key lessons about life in general that I learned as a result of my illness:

– You can’t bottle things up … unless you are a wine maker. Many people now understand that “lifestyle” can be a major contributor to illness. My diagnosis suggested that my having been a heavy smoker may have been an issue (this link to colon cancer has now been established), but at the time all I could say was that I never did the drawback on my cigarettes so strongly that it could have gotten down to the affected area.

Author: Dick Rochester; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Dick Rochester; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

– Stress relief is an important part of robust health. For me this involves having dogs. It is hard to stay stressed when you have a wagging tail in front of you, or a wet nose pressed up against your hand, just asking for a head, back or tummy to be stroked. Whatever works for you is worthwhile and is needed.

Author: Bev Sykes; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Bev Sykes; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

– Great friends (as compared to friends on Facebook) are a real comfort, but not all friendships last forever, and knowing when to move on is important. I had friends who couldn’t cope with my illness and therefore kept away, and some who kept me and my wife sane while I fought my way through it all. Remember that cancer not only affects you, but also affects all around you.

– The best reason for staying alive as long as you can is because there are people that you love too much to easily leave behind. This may not be enough reason to overcome a serious illness, but it is the best one that I can think of.

– You should work as hard as it feels right for you, rather than what feels right to someone else. Killing yourself for another’s glory or riches makes no sense, and being the richest person in the cemetery is not a meaningful objective.

– Mental and physical fitness is a key to survival, if for no other reason than it makes your recovery so much easier. You don’t have to be the world’s greatest triathlete, but being fit enough to live life fully is critical.

– 25 Calendar years are equivalent to just one year in real life … which is how fast it goes. My last 25 years have been incredibly full of change, wonder and excitement and we have packed a lot into that time, but looking back it feels like days have passed rather than years.

– The world has more than enough arseholes … there is no need to swell their ranks. Being tough when it is needed is acceptable behaviour, but forgetting that all people deserve your respect is unforgiveable.

– If you seriously dislike whatever you are doing in life, you must stop doing it immediately. (This doesn’t apply to such things as doing necessary household chores or paying taxes).

– You need to live every day as though it was your last … one day you will be right.

I always try to remember what was said by American actor Michael Landon (1936-1991) “I’m going to beat this cancer or die trying”.