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To be wise, you must first be young & stupid

Nov 17, 2016
Driving back from the shops today I took the scenic route home and went through an area called Winter Hill. It’s a beautiful spot, very high up and from the road you can see for miles across the Thames Valley. Ok, it’s not quite the Grand Canyon, but it’s local!

As I drove along the narrow road my mind went back 29 years to an unusually snowy winter.

I normally drove to school with 2 friends, Larry and Alex, and so after picking them up we assessed the weather and decided there was no school for us that day! Instead we went up to the top of Winter Hill with a sledge.

The roads were covered with snow as very little traffic passed along the road. We struggled to get up the hill, but once at the top, the road was flat. I was driving my Mum’s Ford XR2 which was a somewhat sporty, front wheel drive hatch back.

‘I have an idea!’ I said.

‘What?’ said Larry.

‘Why don’t we tie the sledge to the back of the car!’ I was thrilled at my ingenuity.

‘I’ll go first!’ said Larry, ‘but don’t drive too fast!’

‘Of course not!’ I grinned.

We had a rope in the car but there was nothing to tie it to.

‘I’ll sit in the back and hold on to it!’ Alex suddenly said.

So Alex and I got in the car and Larry jumped into the little, red plastic sledge. I drove slowly at first, but as soon as the rope was tight I flew along the road, wheels spinning and sliding all over the road. After a hundred yards I turned around and we sped back!

‘That was great!’ beamed Larry.

‘My turn now’ said Alex.

A minute later and we were off again. A little bit faster this time but same route. After we turned around and came back Larry said ‘Keep going!’

So we drove on for another 100 yards and the road started going downhill. As I slowed for the corners, the sledge was catching up with the car!

‘Turn right, turn right!’ Larry shouted in hysterics as he watched the grimace on Alex’s face from all the snow and slush going into his eyes.

We carried on for another few hundred yards and then the snow started getting very patchy.

‘Keep going’ cried Larry. He was in tears of laughter.

I still have the image etched in my mind of Alex in the rear view mirror, sitting in a little, red plastic kids sledge, with his knees up because he barely fitted in, holding on for dear life with both hands! The snow had all gone and so the plastic sledge was wearing down on the road surface.

‘There’s a car behind us’ Larry said.

I saw a road off to the left which I thought we should go down to get off of the main road. We were going about 40 mph as I took the corner, watching the sledge in the rear view mirror. What I hadn’t realized is that when you’re towing something and you go around a corner, the thing you’re towing slides out sideways with the centrifugal force. I watched as the sledge with Alex in it crossed over the central line of the road as we made the turn. I was suddenly hit with how dangerous this was!

The car behind us had slowed right down to keep out of the way, but another car suddenly appeared coming towards us. Alex had no way of steering and so he just clung on! Luckily the other driver saw him in time and slowed down and swerved out of the way. It was such a narrow escape, it left us all a bit shaken!

We pulled over when we were out of the way and Alex got in the car, characteristically un-phased by his near death experience.

‘Turn the sledge over,’ Larry said, ‘let’s see the bottom.’ Alex turned the sledge over and there were two huge holes where the road had worn away the plastic.

As a responsible adult and parent now (honest!), I CANNOT BELIEVE how stupid we were! It was totally amazing that we didn’t have a serious accident that morning or at least get caught by the police.

I suppose we all do stupid things, or at least do things without thinking when we’re young don’t we? Often because we lack the experience to know what could go wrong. We think we know, but we don’t really.

Interestingly, this trait of the young to do things without understanding all the implications can be a great strength as well. Pearl S. Buck said:

The young do not know enough to be prudent, and therefore they attempt the impossible - and achieve it, generation after generation.

Sometimes not knowing all the things that can go wrong can be a blessing! I’m sure there are plenty of entrepreneurs who could have been talked out of their idea if they’d had a team of people around them who knew better.

As we get more experience of life, all too often we end up becoming significantly less adventurous don’t we? I’m not suggesting I want to tie another sledge to the back of my car, but playing it safe all the time, or playing not to lose rather than playing to win is not really a way to live is it .. more of a way to slowly die!

When we were on Necker island a few weeks back, we found ourselves googling Richard Branson’s net worth. Just over $5bn .. Not bad! And he’s only 66 years old.

But he earned his first million at the age of 23, back in 1973. I’m sure there were plenty of people around at the time who would have tried to talk him into a more sensible strategy, but he wasn’t interested in why it couldn’t be done, only how it could be .. and more specifically how he was going to do it!

18 years after that, he obviously kept that playful mind of the child and became a self-made billionaire. And 23 years after that his $1bn has turned into just over $5bn.

It takes time to accumulate that kind of wealth doesn’t it?

Did you know there are just over 1,000 self-made billionaires on this planet of 7 billion people? But only 13 are under 40.

All of them though have that special something in common. They don’t concern themselves with what they don’t want or why they can’t have it or why it can’t be done: they spend their time and energy on having no doubt it can be done and getting on and doing it!
Until next time .. 

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