Friday 19 October 2018

Brendan O'Connor: A bit of great advice from a wise man

Brendan O'Connor

Brendan O'Connor

At the end of a party last weekend, when everyone had a few drinks on board, I ended up talking with older, wiser people about the key rules for life, the things we had all learnt. We went over our ups and downs in business life and personal life, and I was pushing my usual simplistic thing that it's all about luck. To an extent, it's about how you deal with the stuff that happens to you. But mainly, none of us can avoid the vast forces that change our lives, those things we call good luck and bad luck. My mother, who is the font of all wisdom on these things, has two mantras on this: One phone call changes everything, and no-one escapes. Life's a bitch, she reckons, and really, until you are comfortably dead, you can't relax, because fate can strike at any time, and no matter how much money or success you have, you don't escape. Life comes to us all eventually.

At the party, the others were tolerating my good luck/bad luck thesis, but they were a bit more proactive about things. They thought you shouldn't let luck define things, and you should be more the master of your own destiny. One thing stuck with me that a wise old businessman who's been around the block said. He said that any situation you go into, in business, or in life, you have to be clear in your mind: what's negotiable, and what's not negotiable. At the time, I took it as good negotiating advice, and life is, in many ways, a series of negotiations. But I think I decided that it was really just business advice, and that this man was like the proverbial man who had a hammer, so he saw every problem as a nail. So if your skills are as a dealmaker, you view everything as a negotiator.

But it has stuck in my mind since, and I tinkered around with it. And the more I think about it, the more I realise that he is right. You need to have core things in life on which you don't move, and then you have the things you are happy to move on, to get what you want in other ways, to keep other people happy, or because you don't care enough to row over them. I started to realise that that is how I approach life. I'm fairly easy about a lot of things, but there are lines I won't cross either. It's about picking your battles, basically. And, in fact, I think if you give a bit of ground on most things, then people tend to respect your red lines. It also makes things simple. For example, I will apologise for practically anything. When I may have contributed to a problem, I'm the first person to put my hand up and say sorry. It helps to move things on. It also disarms people sometimes. You might say I throw apologies around like confetti. But equally, if something is totally someone else's fault, and they are refusing to admit it, I will not give an inch. I get like a lawyer, quoting back to them what they said, showing them old texts and emails, splitting hairs.

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