MY 30 RULES TO PUT YOU ON THE RIGHT TRACK
E1 Be there. As Woody Allen said, 90 per cent of success is turning up. 2 Never be later than five minutes early. 3 Always make eye contact in conversations – even when you are nervous, apprehensive or downright terrified. Foxes are unnerved by very year in September I have the good fortune to attend a degree ceremony for a college of which I am patron, Writtle College in Essex. At the end of the ceremony in Chelmsford Cathedral, gaily caparisoned in scarlet gown and black velvet hat, I am asked to say a few words – you know the sort of thing: congratulations and encouragement in equal measure, and a reminder of just how much input the parents have had over the past three years. It is a special day in a cathedral bursting with pride. I try to be brief and good humoured without being patronising or downright dreary, but at the same time there is a desire to pass on something picked up over the years, however trite or clichéd that might seem to be. As a writer, one is aware of a need for wit, originality of thought and, in this age of social media, a degree of acceptance of a changing world. And yet it strikes me that the qualities needed to get on in life and enjoy it, without turning into a cynical pessimist or a wide-eyed Pollyanna, are the same as ever they were. I offer them here, not as ground-breaking shafts of wisdom, but as things that I’ve come to believe in over almost 50 years of gainful employment in a workplace that can be scary and challenging but also hugely rewarding and – on occasion – uplifting. chickens that stand their ground (maybe not for long, but you get my drift). 4 Weep in private and remember that, generally speaking, a trouble shared is a trouble dragged out until bedtime. 5 Be cautious about accepting a job in Syria, Egypt or any country ending in ‘stan’. 6 Only those who never try, never fail. Don’t be afraid of upsetting people by failing – those who matter don’t mind and those who mind don’t matter. 7 Always go where you are wanted, rather than beating down the doors of those who don’t recognise your talents. Be careful before going down a road where you have more to lose than to gain. 8 Nobody knows what you can achieve – not even you. Be tenacious or, as my grandfather put it, never let it be said that your mother bred a jibber. 9 If you’re bored, move on. Money, prestige and security will never overcome boredom. 10 Always trust your gut instinct. You are your own currency – spend it wisely. 11 Remember that fame is a byproduct, not a goal in itself. 12 It’s better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt. 13 Try and get at least six hours sleep every night. Mrs Thatcher got by on three hours. You are not Mrs Thatcher. 14 Don’t drink on an empty stomach – unless it’s water. 15 Avoid anything labelled ‘low fat’. Just eat less. 16 Never sleep with the boss – unless you have a written guarantee that it will get you where you want to go. 17 Never sleep with the boss’s wife or the boss’s husband – even if you do have a written guarantee. 18 Don’t be afraid to fall in love – but not with the boss’s wife or the boss’s husband. 19 If you are self-employed, have separate bank accounts for income tax and VAT and put the appropriate money in them as soon as you receive it. Failure to do so may result in time in prison, unless you are as good at telling jokes as a professional comedian. 20 Remember: what goes on Facebook stays on Facebook – forever. 21 If you go out jogging regularly, your knees will have gone by the time you are 50. 22 If you don’t go out jogging regularly, your knees will have gone by the time you are 60. 23 Respect your elders – their knees will have gone and they deserve a bit of sympathy. 24 Don’t bear grudges – they sap your energy and you’re going to need it for better things. 25 To paraphrase Jonathan Swift, the man or woman who makes two blades of grass grow on a spot of ground where only one grew before does more essential service to his country and to mankind than the whole range of politicians put together. 26 Always back up your hard drive. 27 Use a deodorant every day – your native aroma is not nearly so attractive to others as you might think. 28 Remember that the greatest attribute in any human being is generosity of spirit. 29 Don’t waste time Tweeting. Nobody else is remotely admiring of your daily life. If it is more interesting than theirs they will hate you; if it is duller they will pity you. 30 Ignore all advice from people who offer you the 30 Golden Rules for Life. Truth is, there are hundreds of them. Just make sure that you are alert enough to spot an opportunity when it comes from an unexpected direction, and brave enough to take it. Have a go; grasp life with energy, enthusiasm and both hands. Don’t waste your time being envious, jealous, or plotting to undermine others – that way lies desperation and despair. By virtue of genetics you are better at something that anybody else on the planet. It’s up to you to discover what that is. Sometimes other people can spot things in you that you can’t see for yourself. Lean on those you trust and avoid those who run you down. And may you be blessed with the one thing over which none of us has any control – a bit of luck. Good luck!
Best foot forward: Alan dons his academic garb, as worn when he received an honorary doctorate at Winchester University, below, to provide life rules about exercise, above, etiquette and romance