If there's one good thing about modern culture, it's that it's a lot more open. Age isn't the barrier to stuff like it once was (it's a good thing since I'm 44 and I'm passed being useful in the eyes of 1990 ad agencies), diversity if becoming more a reality and less of an idea. It's not great that job, or even career security is a thing of the past, but it does mean you can try new things more often.
In many cases, it's never too late.
That's not all true. There are some decisions you can never undo, and there are simply things possible for a 20 year old single person that are not to a 44 year, married man with two children and a mortgage.
- Travelled more. I saw lots of the world when I was a competitive swimmer, but that really meant lots of hotels and swimming pools. Travel opens your world in a way few other things do. At least this is something I can always come back to, but never with the freedom or the vigour of a 20 something. More importantly, I should have worked abroad. I would have always come home, but experiencing another culture make you look afresh at your own and understand it more, just as home never feels so great as when you get back from holiday.
- Not given up on swimming. I was good, it was hard work and I had a few blips in form, but if I'd had the maturity at 15 to not pack in in favour of, well, all the things 15 year olds want to do, realising how much swimming and the people I did it with meant to me, I would have carried on a little longer. That's the thing about sport that few brands ever bother with, the people you train and suffer with have a deep, unique bond with you. I've had better friends, than swimmers, but that feeling of not being like other people together was still special.
- Carried on after my degree. Most planning types are really clever. I'm afraid I'm really thick. I get by with a weird emotional intelligence and sixth sense to cut through the crap of different arguments and points of view to what matters. This meant I floated through my social sciences degree and I would have liked to have gone a little further.
- Not done swimming but cycling. I love swimming, it's that joy at feeling you're doing something well, flow, in the zone and all that. But I don't have time to swim, so I cycle instead (straight out the door v getting to the pool and weaving it into the commute). It gives me the same feeling and bike fitters looking of my flexibility and natural VO2 max etc ask me if I ever thought of racing. An entire alternate universe could have been mine. Of course, I love tennis even more, but I'm not good enough. On the other hand, cycling at this age means I appreciate more, I would have packed it in like I did swimming I guess. And I go out on the bike with my kids. Good that.
- Stuck it out in London ad agencies. I didn't like living in London, so have never worked at a London agency. They're over rated, but the good ones did, and still do great work. Just once, I'd like to work on something where everything goes right, not in the case study, but in the real world. I'm proud of my track record, but I'll never know what it would have been like. A good thing, as I would have found out how useless my skills really are.
- Not being shy. I hated being an introvert. I get exhausted by big groups. I can't quite believe anyone thinks I'm interesting. It gets in the way of lots of things. It makes starting a new job traumatic, it makes all agency meetings truly knackering. But on the other hand, serious lack of confidence makes me listen more, it makes me work harder at presentations, it means I've learned to be pretty good at saying just a few things in meetings people remember. It's also taught me to not pretend to be something I'm not and to find ways to care about what I do and what others are talking about, people respond to enthusiasm and warmth far more than charisma. So it's not all bad and I'm determined to help make this industry a place for quiet thoughtful people, not loudmouths. If there is one thing our current state of world affairs shows, with the Trumps, the Boris Johnsons and the Nigel Farages, it's that the people with the most charm and loudest mouths are usually the last people you should take notice of.
- But the truth is, none of the above. Brilliant wife, great job with great people, wonderful healthy kids, time to ride my bike, the few close friends only someone as shy as me can appreciate. All of this has happened because of the things I can't change. I happen to think there's too much of people not being present enough in their own lives. The problem with everyone pretending their lives are perfect online, they miss how brilliant life really is.