The Mentor Chapter Eleven – The gift of space and time

March 26, 2023

In Nettleton Bottom, my life changed direction and I started on a journey without a destination. There was no status I sought or needed, no office politics to navigate, no low-humming bureaucracy to slowly walk behind, and no strange origami shaped swan I had to fold my duck-like self into so that I could pretend to fit in and feel at home. It was just me with a softly spoken monologue and an uncertain acoustic set of tentative ideas without the big brand production, light-show or sound system; it was just me playing to small audiences mostly looking the other way.

I look back and wonder how on earth I thought this was a good idea, but at the time I knew I felt at peace with myself and in a world that was, even then spinning ever faster, that feeling meant a great deal to me.

At this point in the exhibition it is time to move away from some of the events that have changed my life, and to show you some of the wonderful people who have changed my life. However, I do not want to do this as if sharing an album of photo-shopped worshipful biographies which might be a little too soft-focus and Instagrammy for anyone to cope with. Instead, I want to show you some of the moments in time, like with Lawrence and Geoff, when the story seems to find the people to help me, just when I needed them most. These are the moments that have become milestones on my journey from Nettleton Bottom to now.

Before we get there however, I need to share a little about one of the threads that links my early life to the change of direction at Nettleton Bottom, and then on through into the place I find myself right now. In the exhibition so far, I have wanted to show you some of the things that helped to shape me, but until Nettleton Bottom I had not tried to make sense of these things, nor had I tried to consciously use them in my work. That would need to change if all I could rely on was being me, without any of the corporate trappings of missions and strategies and C-suite status to stand behind.

You will know already that I have never considered myself to be a brilliant lawyer, manager or leader; and I was never so secure in my credentials that I expected to win the day with just the force of my argument, personality or experience. Sadly, in some ways, I have never assumed I would be noticed, needed or valued. However, I have always known from a very young age that I have quietly noticed a great deal. To notice, it turns out, is a gift. It is the first step of change, a place of soft but significant influence and where kindness can flourish.

I think this started for me when I was just a boy and I used to stay with my grandmother (my mum’s mum) to be some company for her after my grandfather had died. She lived in Westbury, Wiltshire and most days when I was with her, we would walk down the steep slope from her little house on the Butts, to the main road where there was a butcher and a general stores. It was a distance of a few hundred yards, but it would take for ages to get there. My nan seemed to know everyone, and everyone we met on this little walk wanted to stop and chat. Nan always had time for everyone; she never judged, never tried to rush away, and always left the space for whoever needed it, and for however long they needed it.

My life straddles this gentler, slower time, through into the rush and swirl of today’s social media clicks, links and notifications that dictate our days, minute by minute. I have to say that I prefer the before to the now.

My nan’s stroll to and from the shops was all about making time for other people. This has become for me, and I believe it was for her then, a way to be present in the world; our way to have a quiet purpose. To be in the moment for someone else, unencumbered by our own concerns, just listening, acknowledging and providing a necessary pause, is a special thing.

I noticed how, for my nan’s friends, this seemed to be such a kind and caring gift, and it is one that has become more and more important to me with each passing year. However, I also know now, better than ever, that it only a gift when it is not filled with our own ideas and needs. The time we give to others is only precious when it is left free for them to step into and be themselves. To then share this space is a privilege. It doesn’t matter if it is filled with important things or hardly anything at all. In the gift of unconditional time we honour the need we all have to be heard.

I can follow this thread all the way back from now to walking with my nan. It does not seem that much when it is said in just a few words, but it is what I do, and to some extent it is who I am. It is both inconsequential and vital; it is simple to say, but it is hard to do. It matters more than we can ever imagine, but it is impossible to measure. To make time for others is the difference I can make in this world.

In the chapters that follow, the exhibition will continue so that I may show you the portraits of some remarkable and wonderful people who have come into my life and made this thread of my career even more important to me. As a result of their love, care and kindness, I have been able to do more than I could have ever imagined when I was just a small boy walking to the shops with my nan, or even as the General Counsel in two major companies.

My final thought for this chapter is just a quiet reflection on the process of looking back. As I am finding for myself in the pages of these stories, to look back is not to try and make sense of the past, but to feel confident about the present. I look back not to judge myself, or to regret or to reassess, but simply to notice and to be thankful for everything that has helped me to arrive precisely where we I am right now, still incomplete, still uncertain, but settled in who I am.

To be continued…

Take care. Paul xx

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