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I turn 40 today. I would be lying if I dismissed it as ‘just a number’. It has been a milestone that has been on my mind for some time, but a source of positive reflection rather than mortal dread. Mostly.

I vividly remember my father’s 40th birthday. I was 11 yrs old and 40 seemed ancient. Yet here I am, staring ancientness up the rear pipe. Am I ‘younger’ than my father? Without question – my outlook, my physical fitness/daily gym obsession, my energy and overall zest all help – but my father in turn is ‘younger’ than his father was. Such is the pace of life.

So how do I look back on life now? Mostly, it makes me smile. I don’t really believe in regret. Sure, some isolated events I would approach differently, but then I wouldn’t get the lessons in life from those events. Overall everything I’ve done leads to the person I am today.

25 years ago I was so green you could mow me, studying for GCSEs, thinking I could take on the world.
20 years ago I was at University, studying to be an accountant, playing rugby, drinking and juggling jobs in both a local gym and as a DJ (where I spent several evenings dressed in drag….less said the better).
15 years ago I was 3 years into my recruitment career, learning the trade that would dominate my life, working for a hugely motivational person that is still a positive influence to me today.
10 years ago was pivotal. The loss of a baby during pregnancy and the subsequent relationship breakdown led me to evaluate life a little more, understand the power of the mind and introduced me to NLP. I grew up a lot that year.
5 years ago I was about to start the most significant phase of my career, joining a business that really saw me further my broader development and overall commercial awareness. I was also planning a trip to take my now wife to New York, and to Tiffany & Co. 5Th Avenue, to propose. It was a big year.

As Sinatra sang: “I’ve lived, a life that’s full”.  I’ve met some amazing people, I’ve been skinny-dipping with Royalty, I’ve raced cars (including on the infamous Nurburgring), I’ve ridden horses into the Egyptian desert, I’ve modelled for Calvin Klein, ….I’ve been splashed across the Tabloids….

…..Far more importantly, I’ve pushed boundaries, especially my own.  I’ve raised tens-of-thousands for Charity, I’ve helped 100’s of people get a new job and advised 1,000s of others. I’ve become a husband. I’ve become a father.   And I’ve fully understood the value of people and personal relationships.

But good or bad, it’s all now ancient history. Just as with business (and life) in general, it is today and tomorrow that is important. That which we do today is because of the past, the lessons learnt, the experiences experienced and the achievements achieved, but it doesn’t have to dictate what we do tomorrow. Far from it.

January is a good month to reflect, but unlike Janus, we cannot look backward and forwards. If we spend all our time looking backwards, reflecting on what has happened, focussing on the history, and obsessing on historical facts/data we will at best never move forwards, at worst we will fail to spot the better route, or worst still, crash and cease to exist through not changing course when something impedes our path.

My today is very different from my yesterday. In the last month I have become a business owner. But the bigger shift is to join a business that is itself looking to the future, innovating what it does, looking at better routes to better serve customers and clients. Listening to those clients, being flexible in the approach and planning for the future; a brighter future. Contrast that with businesses that are so obsessed with the past, their past, that they fail to notice new opportunities, let alone have the desire to embrace those opportunities and innovative.

That forward looking attitude has seen the business grow exponentially. In a time when most businesses have failed to grow, and many have indeed decreased, plenty grown, massively. Rather than obsessing with their heritage and where they all were 10/15/20 years ago, intelligent business leaders visualise where they will be in 10/15/20 years time.

The same lessons are true of businesses view of the macro-economic environment. Obsessing over GDP and the movements therein is a fools pursuit. Historic data, highlighting what happened between one and four months ago helps no business. Q4 2011 saw GDP shrink by 0.2%….a ⅕ of a percent. If that had been ten times worse, it would have been no more material for the majority of businesses.

Crucially though, it is old data. The world last October was a far worse place. Business confidence was rock bottom and worsening, the markets were depressed the outlook looked bleak. Four months on, confidence is higher, the markets are at a medium term high and the outlook is suddenly a lot brighter. Leave historic data in the past.

Looking to the future needs strategy, not hope. I have the next three years of my business carefully mapped out. The markets we are in, the clients we deal with, the ways we work and crucially the people we need (contact me if you want to be part of it!). The main reasons business leaders cite for their success is the people around them. The biggest hindrance to business growth is likewise cited as finding the best people…..yet one of the biggest failings of most businesses is failing to plan their staffing needs.

Many of my clients not only focus their energies into the future, but they engage us on an ongoing basis to understand the current market, keep abreast of outstanding talent available and ensure that by the time they need key talent, they have it in hand. Unsurprisingly, these are the businesses that are growing.

Having the right people around you will ensure you surmount your challenges and sail past your key milestones. Much like a 40th Birthday.