I’ve mostly had my nose firmly to the doctoral grindstone since the start of the year, but last week I took a couple of days to give my nose a rest while I did two speaking engagements in quite contrasting locations – one in Daventry for Platinum Property Partners, and one in Dubai. Apart from the 3-inch heel falling off my keynote-best shoes as I walked across the hotel car park in Daventry, all went well. And it’s amazing what a hotel handyman with a tube of superglue can do at short notice.
I tell you all this for a couple of reasons. First, while confessing that I flew to Dubai (rowing to speaking engagements tends to come with a real risk of missing them altogether), I will also plead forgiveness because my flight – and the flights of all the delegates – were offset by the client company, SITA. While offsetting has its critics, it is certainly better than not offsetting. Thanks to Amber and the rest of the SITA team for making that happen.
(And while we’re on the subject, I will further attempt to salve my conscience by inviting you to take the pledge for a Flight-Free 2020, orchestrated by my fabulous eco-friend Anna Hughes, who I hope will forgive me for my flight-free failure right out of the 2020 gates. Please also think about switching your default search engine on your laptop and phone to Ecosia, who plant a tree for every 45 searches you do. Instructions on how to change your search engine here.)
And second, I wanted to share recommendations for a couple of documentaries I watched during a 30,000 feet movie binge.
Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (not to be confused with the 2019 movie of the same name, which starred Margot Robbie) tells the life story of the Hollywood star, who had already started her acting career in her native Austria, before fleeing the Nazi regime and relocating to the US. It was apparently a source of great frustration to her that people saw her as no more than a beautiful face, blinding them to the brain behind it.
She claimed to have invented frequency hopping, originally so that torpedoes could be remotely controlled without the radio frequencies being jammed by the enemy. It is the same technology that now underpins Bluetooth and Wifi, a multi-trillion dollar industry, but she got little credit and certainly no money for her invention, and died in relative poverty, her face ruined by excessive cosmetic surgery, at the age of 85.
Despite the ups and downs of her life – she was married and divorced six times, her final marriage being to her divorce lawyer, who must have got to know her extremely well over the years – she seems to have had a great ability to roll with the punches. The film ends with a recorded message she left for her son shortly before she died, reciting some lines she had discovered – which seem to me to be very good advice for life and are the main reason why I’m telling you about the film:
People are unreasonable, illogical and self-centred;
Love them anyway.
If you do good people will accuse you of selfish alternative motives;
Do good anyway.
The biggest people with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest people with the smallest minds;
Think big anyway.
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight;
Give the world the best you have and you’ll be kicked in the teeth;
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.
(A quick Ecosia search revealed these lines to come from The Paradoxical Commandments by Dr. Kent M. Keith, with a slightly different version having been found written on the wall in Mother Teresa’s home for children in Calcutta.)
I also watched Maiden, which had been recommended to me by lots of people, but I hadn’t been able to find it on a big screen in the UK. It tells the story of Tracy Edwards, then aged 24, who risked all to skipper the first all-female crew to compete in the Whitbread Round-the-World Race in 1989. They faced hostility, insults, and condescension from other sailors. One journalist called their boat “a tinful of tarts”.
I don’t want to spoil the plot by telling you any more about it – I will just say please, please watch it. If you like underdog stories, you will love this one. It made me cry. A lot. In fact, I’m getting a bit teary as I write this, just thinking about it. And of course I found it extremely relatable, but even if you’ve never braved an ocean in a small boat, do check it out.
The last film I watched was Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind, and what an amazing mind it was, the mind of an absolute comic genius who was definitely wired differently from most of us. I cried some more.
Despite all the tears, I really enjoyed these documentaries. On the flight out, I’d tried watching Downton Abbey but (please avert your eyes if you’re a diehard Downton fan) I found I just didn’t care about these fictional characters. With notable exceptions, I feel better about myself after watching a true life story than I do after watching a blockbuster. Fact can be so much more extraordinary than fiction.
I am starting to put together plans for a speaking tour in Australia/New Zealand for March 2021. Yes, I’m afraid I will be flying again, but if I can pack a lot of engagements into one trip, I feel less guilty about it. If you are interested in having me come and speak to your organisation, please check out my showreel and testimonials and get in touch with my wonderful manager, Miriam Staley.