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My Golden Ribbon Moment

inspiration Oct 02, 2017

The story that changed my life forever

In 2002, at the age of 29, I heard a simple story about a piece of ribbon that would change my life forever.

Before I share this life-changing story, let me take you back, ten years earlier, where, as a university student, I’d already met the first love of my life - business! I was far from a rolemodel student - too many parties, drinking too much cheap beer, dancing the night away and, as a result, missing lectures.

But this said, I knew what I wanted, or rather I knew what I didn’t want.

I didn’t want to get married.

I didn’t want children.

I wanted a career.

‘Children? No! There’s no way I can have the sort of career I want and have children’. I was so convinced, I bet my university girlfriends dinner at the Ritz -the most extravagant thing I could imagine then as a poor student!

When we graduated, all my friends took a year out travelling.

But not me - I had a wonderful job all lined up and I dived straight into my career.

A meteoric rise

I started work in marketing, in a high-tech company in the South of France, based in Sophia Antipolis – often referred to as the ‘French Silicon Valley’.

I was very blessed to be in a career that I loved and I was good at. I did postgraduate business studies, I was frequently given more and more responsibility, and soon led teams on high-profile, big-budget projects. By the time I was in my mid-twenties, I was already very successful and had moved into the world of business consulting.

Life was good. Having met my husband quite young, I very quickly lost my university bet - we started a family. I was 24 when I had my first child, my daughter Carlie, which for my generation was young. Ironically, I was the first of my friends to get married and start a family. When my daughter was born, I enjoyed taking six months of maternity leave, but I remember how ‘desperate’ I was to get back to work.

My work wasn’t always easy. Business consulting was a very male-dominated world to work in. I was only one of a handful of women out of 150 consultants, and by my late twenties I was managing men 20 years older than me.

There were moments when this rate of progression and level of success felt overwhelming, but my hard work and love for what I did paid off - literally! I had become the primary breadwinner, reaching a position of fi nancial security where I was able to hire an army of people (a gardener, a cleaner, a nanny, etc.) to take care of things for me. My career was really rewarding, I felt proud of my professional success and my ability to juggle my career alongside my now fi ve-year-old daughter.

The story that changed everything

When I turned 29, the global consulting company I worked for picked a handful of people to take part in a six-month ‘Peak Performance’ programme to fast-track certain people within the organisation to even greater heights. I remember how privileged I felt to be part of that group.

As I read the email invitation, something told me deep down this was a huge opportunity that was going to completely change my life. And how right I was!

The first morning of the programme, during the introducton, I remember the trainer pulled out a beatitiful, long piece of golden ribbon from his pocket. When he held up one end of the long ribbon, the other end almost touched the floor. ‘Imagine this piece of ribbon represents your life,’ he said, looking around at our group of 12 grey-suited, corporate
rising-stars.

‘Does anyone know what the average life expectancy is?’ We all looked at each other, bounced a few numbers around and ultimately agreed that with the advances in medicine, it was probably about 83.

‘Good,’ said the trainer, as he took a large pair of orange-handled
scissors from his trouser pocket. ‘Now what’s the average age of everyone in this room today?’ Again, we looked around at each other. I was by far the youngest at 29, but we settled on 40. As we shared our calculations, the trainer immediately opened up the blades of his big steel scissors at the bottom of the ribbon and, with a knowing smile, began to slowly slide the scissors up the length of the ribbon. ‘Tell me when to stop!’

Realising that he wanted us to measure the number of years in the length of ribbon, as the scissors reached just below the middle, we all cried out ‘STOP!’ He slashed the ribbon almost in half and the lower section fell to the floor. He stood there silently holding up the remainder. I’m not sure which felt more depressing to the group - seeing the half of our lives laying spent on the ground or noticing how much shorter the remaining piece had suddenly become. The room was so silent you could have heard a pin drop.

‘On average, how much time do we spend sleeping?’ the trainer continued. It turned out that, from the group, I wasn’t the only one who needs eight hours minimum sleep a night before becoming dysfunctional. The scissors struck again, cuttng away another third from the remaining ribbon. It was shocking to see how, with only two simple strikes, the ribbon that had once reached the floor now barely stretched from his wrist to his elbow.

‘Drinking and eating?’ he asked next. Now it’s important to remind you he wasn’t asking a group of Mediterraneans who were used to spending hours at the dinner table. Our group embodied the ‘city-corporate’, ‘grab-what-you-can-when-you-can’, ‘eat-on-the-go-if-you-have- to’, and ‘consider-yourself-lucky-to-have-eaten-atall’ kind of culture. Forget pleasure and celebrations - we chopped off another five percent of the ribbon simply for ‘survival eating’!

Next up - ‘Travelling?’ And not holidays, trips or family visits, just necessary, routine travel - getting from A to B. We all commuted to our work fi ve days a week, anything up to 90 minutes each way (three hours a day on average). Another chunk of ribbon dropped to the ground.

‘What about queueing and waiting?’ laughed the trainer. This group did similar train and underground commutes in rush hour as I did. Again, another chunk!

The trainer then paused...

All eyes were focused on the remainder of the ribbon. The trainer held up a startlingly short piece of ribbon – all that was left of the long flowing length he had started with. There was a stunned, rather awkward silence.

‘This,’ he finally said, ‘is the part of your life you have left to live. The remainder of your life that you have any control over what you do with it.’

Utter disbelief and alarm was written across everyone’s faces.

‘If’, he added, ‘if, and only if,’ he paused again. The suspense was killing me.

‘If, and only if, you’re lucky enough to live the ripe old age of 83!’

BOSH! It hit me like a ton of bricks! The whole group seemed to have been hit. But I took the blow hardest of all. All that remained was a piece of ribbon which barely stretched from wrist to fingertips, yet he hadn’t cut off the time we spent at work and, believe me, we spent a LOT of time at
work! Our office hours were at least eight hours a day, not to mention the work that many of us took home with us. Had he cut off the time we spent at work, that hand-length stub of ribbon would have easily shrunk into the palm of his hand.

But it didn’t stop there for me.

The moment it all changed

That day, I was the only female in the room. Nobody had begun to factor in all the other things that snipped away at my ribbon - the washing, cooking, ironing, cleaning, shopping, tidying, after-school activities, helping with homework - all the things we do to make a home and raise a family.

Can you picture my tiny remaining piece of ribbon? I could, I could see it in my mind’s eye, my tiny piece of ribbon, and there was still more bad news to come.

You see, the million-dollar question emblazoned across my mind was - ‘how on earth am I going to find time to raise my daughter!’ That remaining stump of ribbon just didn’t seem enough to even begin enjoying motherhood and being the kind of mum I wanted to be, even if I was fortunate enough to live to the ripe old age of eighty-three! My child would grow up, leave the nest and start living her own life long before I would turn 83. Just how small was that piece of ribbon when it came to the time I realistically had left to fully enjoy my children?

My daughter was fi ve, so I fi gured I had 13 years of full-time motherhood left before she most likely headed off to higher education when she turned 18.

I knew in that moment that something had to change. I realised that I had already started to feel like I was living for the weekends and I had become increasingly ‘money-rich and time-poor’. I realised then that no salary, company car, bonus or job title was ever going to be big enough. I didn’t want to continue with a life that appeared more successful to others from the outside than it felt to me on the inside.

Your Golden Ribbon Moment
Perhaps you’ve already had a golden ribbon moment in your life? A moment in your life where something happens (redundancy, a new baby, illness, loss, a new opportunity) or something is said to you (in a book, an expert, a friend, family, colleague, a film, article, news fl ash or perhaps a whisper from your heart and soul) that makes you realise that life’s simply too short - too short to wait, too short not to change, too short not to be living it the way you really want to.

I knew deep down I couldn’t measure success by what was accumulti ng on the outside. That true success for me had to bring fulfilment and happiness on the inside fi rst and foremost.

After all, we are human-beings, not ‘human-havings’ or ‘human-doings’.

That day, sittng on the train, staring at my remaining piece of ribbon, I made a decision that would change my life forever. That very special day, thanks to my golden ribbon moment, without even knowing it at the time, I decided to join the Invisible Revolution!

If you’ve reached your Golden Ribbon moment, it’s time for you to join too...

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