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The Happiest Four Hours of My Life – And I Was Fully Dressed

Work had been hectic. Then to the Cannes Creativity Festival. Packed days.Then holiday. Paris. Museums. Galleries. Sites. To Rome. Ditto. Rush. Rush.  Then dashed across town to catch the train to Florence. And that is when it happened… the screw up that thrilled my very being. And a genuine lesson for a happier life. Here it is.

John Studdert is one of the world’s great guys. I worked with him for 12 years, during his time leading the company he founded- with David Sawicki- Impact Employee Communications, and then when he succeeded me as the Chief Executive of Ogilvy PR Australia.

In fact, John just retired from his Ogilvy career, and is taking time out before his next chapter. I tell you about him not because of his fine career and values, but because of a saying he told me, told to him by his grandmother. It summed up what happened to me in Rome. She told him this:

The music is in the silence between the notes.

How does that relate to the rush rush rush of Rome. Well- we’d crammed into a cab, five of us and about 20 bags. Pushed our way through hectic traffic to the chaotic train station. Ten minutes before the EuroRail express super fast turbo jet fueled train zoomed to Florence in 55 minutes. We got our tickets, sprinted across various platforms till we reached the train to Florence, and threw ourselves in as it started to depart.

Problem: wrong train. Going to Florence, yes. But all stops along the way… about 50 of them. And a four and a half hour trip.

I checked my iPhone… no signal. I looked out of the window. Rolling hills. Villas. Tuscany. No-one could ask me for anything. I had no-where to go. Could not even think of going anywhere. Just absolute peace. No responsibility. Stunning views.  Family. The International Herald Tribune.

Tension literally flowed from my body. The next four hours were one of the happiest times of my life.

Nigel Marsh tells a similar story which I read last night in his book, “Fit, Fifty and Fired Up”: spending 9 hours with wife and four kids stuck in a snow storm on an English motorway.

Do You Ever Catch The Slow Train To Florence?

What do you do to slow down… to celebrate the silence between the notes of life? Not so called ‘work life balance.’ Commonwealth Bank CMO Andy Lark put it to me this way: “Don’t try to stand in front of the swings and use your Blackberry. You’re going to get hit in the head.”

True silence. True time to calm yourself, and to be absolutely present. Technology off. Pressure off. I’ve tried meditation, and struggle with it. Alcohol is a temporary fix for me. A poor one. Sometimes jogging helps. Sitting in a beautiful garden can do it for me. Airplanes are good for this too.

They talk a lot about ‘living in the moment.’ As Mother Teresa said: ”Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not come. We have only today. Let us begin.”

HAVE A GREAT DAY! And if you have your ‘slow train to Florence’, tell me about it, please. I need one here, in Sydney, readily available. Now.

Postcript: Mike Howorth gave me a gift once, of a tortoise singing ‘You gotta slow down….” That tortoise keeps my office door open and is a bit tattered, but the song remains! Have a listen…”

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33 Responses to The Happiest Four Hours of My Life – And I Was Fully Dressed

  1. Ingrid October 3, 2012 at 10:04 am #

    Walking the back streets of North Bondi. Surfers dusting off sandy feet, cats sunning themselves on the pavement, bbq smells, vivid hibiscus flowers, the distant sound of guitars, mulberry trees heavy with dark, sweet berries, people who say hi, brilliant stuff.

    • Chris Savage October 5, 2012 at 1:11 pm #

      Thanks Ingrid. Like it!

  2. Paul October 3, 2012 at 11:08 am #

    About 20 years ago I was so exhausted from work at the office and the constant duty roster at home I secretely booked into a local hotel for two hours of uninterrupted sleep at 3pm. Got to be something really wrong I later thought.
    Yes there was of course: often our misguided conscience to always be actively and successfully productive derails an intelligent approach to our lives.

    The best ‘turn off and tune in’ for me now is when I successfully morph back to my childhood whilst discussing important things with my grand-daughters (all under 10) like; why some birds fly and others don’t and why my hair hair is grey and grandma’s isn’t, etc etc.
    It’s really fantastic being young, even for just a few moments once in awhile.

    • Chris Savage October 5, 2012 at 1:11 pm #

      Thanks Paul. What a great story! Booking in to a hotel to grab some sleep. Now, that’s a message for anyone! Chris

  3. Geoff Brown October 3, 2012 at 11:11 am #

    Vedic Meditation…20 minutes, twice a day will do the trick.

    • Chris Savage October 5, 2012 at 1:12 pm #

      Geoff- I will investigate. Have always struggled with meditation though. Need to give it another go. Thanks! Chris

  4. Lorie October 3, 2012 at 11:36 am #

    Recent client trip to Melbourne – no laptop needed as I was due to be in client meetings back to back. I forgot to take my iphone which was busy being charged (yet again) at home. No phone, no diary, no laptop – no interuptions – bliss. A phone free / laptop day soon reorganises your priorities. I did better work, felt less stressed and gave more of my undivided attention to the client. Perhaps we need to be brave and ditch the technology once in a while.

    • Chris Savage October 5, 2012 at 1:12 pm #

      Thanks Lorie!

  5. Carolina October 3, 2012 at 11:48 am #

    Not in Sydney, but only 1h50min flight and you are in Lord Howe Island.
    Only 250 inhabitants and a maximum of 300 people allowed to visit the island on any day. No mobile phone signal. (unfortunately some hotels now have WI-Fi, but only a year ago you had to endure dial up speed if you wanted to connect with the rest of the world).

    My first time there, when I met with the concierge of our hotel, I thought there was something wrong with him as he spoke so slowly. i soon realised that was the pace of the place and luckily, it didn’t take me long at all to join in.

    Pure relaxation!! I recommend.

    • Chris Savage October 5, 2012 at 1:13 pm #

      Carolina- I will try it!

  6. Leigh October 3, 2012 at 2:05 pm #

    Sitting in front of a fire in the African bush on ancient land. Hearing the night sounds around you and the calls of animals – sometimes a lion a kilometre away. And hearing the fire spit and crackle under a million stars.

    The pulse of Africa is tangible and slows your heartbeat right down.

    • Chris Savage October 5, 2012 at 1:13 pm #

      Thanks Leigh!

  7. Tony Spencer-Smith October 3, 2012 at 2:33 pm #

    Chillouts in Sydney?

    Just head for the bush or the sea. Catch the turquoise glimpse of fairy-wren. Watch a goanna’s slow slither. Follow the friendly glide of a blue groper at Shelly Beach. Swim with big-eyed squid at Balmoral. Eyeball a wallaby between the grass trees.

    There’s a whole world out there beyond the lattes and the hype.

    • Chris Savage October 5, 2012 at 1:14 pm #

      Thanks Tony!

  8. Adrianne October 3, 2012 at 3:46 pm #

    I found a walking track in Castle Cove by pure accident … following a sign that I never noticed before. It was divine. You’re in the middle of the suburb but you might as well be in the middle of nowhere. Listening to the lapping of the waves on the rocks and the songs of the birds. Breathing in the air of the country but you’re in the city. Sitting in the shade of the forest but you’re actually just minutes from home. A great escape without being far away at all.

    • Chris Savage October 5, 2012 at 1:14 pm #

      Thanks Adrianne!

  9. Loren October 3, 2012 at 9:54 pm #

    My ‘Slow train to Florence’ is being with my children. If you’re open to it you can sit in the ‘now’ with them. They are experts at taking the slow train.

    • Chris Savage October 5, 2012 at 1:14 pm #

      Thanks Loren!

  10. Aoife October 4, 2012 at 9:59 am #

    Sailing on Sydney harbour on a beautiful day – you cant beat it. Time seems to move at a different pace out there.

    When I need a longer time out I head to Camp Eden near the Gold Coast – its the ultimate relaxation zone, you can do as much or as little you want to, amazing staff to look after you, fantastic food & no phone reception.

    • Chris Savage October 5, 2012 at 1:15 pm #

      Thanks Aoife!

  11. Fiona October 4, 2012 at 5:35 pm #

    Sitting in the garden in the spring sunshine with the cat, a good book and a chilled glass of wine 🙂 And absolutely not a care in the world!

  12. Aryeh Sternberg October 5, 2012 at 9:27 am #

    We have to force ourselves to slow down sometimes, in both work and in play. In our businesses we continuously are reinforced to pack in as much work as we possibly can and get it out the door to the tune of our clients/bosses/colleagues muttering about not getting things done fast enough.

    Someone at work suggested I try slowing it down this week. I thought about it and realized I always work as fast as possible, trying to find that nice upper right hand corner box of being Efficient and Effective however with the time pressures usually Efficiency weighs in and we spit work out as fast as we can.

    Loving the internet as much as I do, I can say it has forced an OCD-like ADD paradigm where my attention is scattered and looking for what is next.

    I appreciate getting on the wrong train sometimes.

    Thanks Chris.

  13. Werner le Roux October 5, 2012 at 7:23 pm #

    Great Possum, thanks Chris.

    We have to keep reminding ourselves to find some balance with our families.
    Funny how we always tell ourselves that the reason why we work so hard is to provide well for our families, when all they REALLY want is US. Our time, our love, our friendship, and sometimes just a few quiet peacefull moments with them even if we don’t say a word.

    My top 3:
    1. Wednesday night – EVERY WEEK, is booked date night with my wife. In both our calendars. We go out – not TV, no friends, just to chat and spend some quality time together.

    2. Scuba dive – anywhere. Silence except for bubbles. No communication except the occasional check to see if you’r buddy is still alive. (Bucket list – get a rebreather and then it will be really quiet.)

    3. Get on a motorbike and just ride. We also need some time alone for ourselves.

    Keep up the good work, Mate.

    • Chris Savage October 8, 2012 at 11:12 am #

      Thanks Werner- some great ideas there! Chris

  14. Dee October 9, 2012 at 12:07 pm #

    My favourite happy time was also catching the slow train to Florence after arriving to Ancona by ferry from Croatia… That was back in September 2010. Can’t wait to do it again. Wonderful bliss. Travelling is my favourite hobby!

  15. Rhi October 11, 2012 at 3:09 am #

    Best quiet time for me is at the stables… phone gets left in the car (or it would probably get eaten!) and I lose all track of time there. Lots of space for thinking, and ponies can be better listeners than people!

    • Chris Savage October 11, 2012 at 9:31 am #

      Thanks Rhi. I can get that picture. I am not a rider myself but went to a stables once with a client team to clean it up/give it a paint job as it was used by handicapped children where riding was excellent therapy. Spending a day there in light drizzle in the outskirts of Perth, with the quiet and horses, is something I will never forget. Chris

  16. Margaret October 17, 2012 at 11:09 pm #

    I wrote a blog post about how running does this for me. I try to run a minimum of an hour and a half on weekends, and then grab a couple 40-minute runs through the week for the primary reason that it gives me time to think and away from the blackberry. I love it! I’m even doing a marathon relay with my dad this weekend so it’s a great thing to share with him (he’s 59!). Not suggesting everyone do that but for me it’s the first thing that has worked to force me to step away from the phone and observe the world around me.
    Recently I went sea kayaking near Tofino on Vancouver Island Canada with hiking on Meare’s Island. On that trip I learned about what the First Nations people have been doing to take from the old growth rainforest and the water-systems while protecting it for centuries – a lesson in simplicity and the relationship we have to our environment. It was time away from my bb again and reminded of the fact I live in the most beautiful country in the world (sorry Aussies, I do believe Canada is stunning from coast to coast). So Chris if you’re heading to the Buchanan offices in Toronto one day (probably in our summer) you can break up the trip with a visit to the Island and see what I’m talking about!

    • Chris Savage October 18, 2012 at 11:09 am #

      Thanks Margaret. Some great ideas. I’d love to visit Canada actually- I always thought that Canada was the one country apart from Australia that would have really suited me as a home…(I left South Africa as a teenager and moved to Oz). Your comments have inspired me to make plans! Chris

  17. Sean Rach November 6, 2012 at 1:06 am #

    Hi Chris, saw this posted on Fleur Marks’ FB page. Great point. The meditation thing does work. I have a trick that you may use to find the next “train.” Whatever city you live in, take one afternoon to leave the devices behind (except maybe a camera) and pretend to be a tourist. Rediscover your town and rejoice in your good fortune to be alive and living in such a cool place. Wandering around “discovering” things in your our town is quite a Slow-Mo experience. I hope you are well.

    • Chris Savage November 6, 2012 at 11:09 am #

      Great idea Sean. Thank you!

  18. Jess February 20, 2013 at 4:37 pm #

    Go for a surf

  19. Alexis May 8, 2013 at 11:06 pm #

    a few months without finding a gig in advertising in Australia. Then you sit back, relax and let it happen or you just go crazy. I’m in Sydney, sitting on my slow train to Florence…

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