Life Lessons


Barn owl






Peter Schmidt-Hansen

I’ve had a rich life so far and here’s some of what I’ve learnt along the way…

It’s good to get lost sometimes. The best way to discover a city is to get lost. You’ll find the unexpected and experience something new. Get lost at work. Go into departments you’ve never been into. Talk to people you don’t know. Volunteer for work in other areas. You never know where it might lead or what you might learn.

Nature is important. We need to protect nature rather than control it. I love going to London and seeing the big shiny buildings, but I’m happiest when I get home to the country, to the barn owls, the deer and the birdsong. It soothes my soul.

Smile at the world and the world will smile at you. My mum told me this when I was about six – I still do and so does the world.

Real leaders are visible. When I took my first major management role my boss told me to spend my time in the factory or with customers rather than sitting in my office – it was the best piece of advice he could have given me.

Be open and accept people. DNA research suggests that we are all descended from a single small population that left Africa about 100,000 years ago. We are all sisters and brothers.

The sky is important. We   focus on landscape, but the skyscape is just as important. Sit and look at the landscape and it won’t change much. Sit and look at the skyscape and it changes all the time.

Don’t be unhappy at work. When I was younger I was very ambitious. At 29 I was running an £8m company employing 150 people. I’d made it. I had it all. I was earning big bucks. Was I happy? No.  My wife suggested we should start a family – my immediate reaction was ‘No’. Next week I found myself in my office at 6am on Saturday morning. Enough was enough. I changed career to become a lecturer and I was much happier. And, yes, we started a family and have got three wonderful boys.

We never grow up. I thought I was grown up when I went to university. Looking back I was no more than a boy. I’m 55 and still haven’t grown up.

Things always look better in the morning. When I go to bed worrying, I think of Steely Dan’s song ‘Any Major Dude’. The lyric goes “When the demon is at your door, in the morning he won’t be there no more”. It’s true.

Treat people like children and they will behave like children. Impose rigid rules on employees and they’ll clock watch and resent working. Give them freedom, allow them to get on with it and they will…and they’ll be happy…and they’ll be creative…and they’ll work beyond the time to go home.

Food is important. Maslow has food as a basic need, but it’s much more than that. Some of the best times of my life have been around the kitchen table with friends and family. Food brings us together and lubricates conversation.

Don’t do people down.  You will move jobs. You will move to competitors. You will be tempted to give away your old employer’s secrets. Don’t. The world is small and sooner or later you will meet someone you did down – and you might need them more that they need you.

Talk to young people. It will inspire you in so many ways. Sigmund Freud got it right when he said “What a distressing contrast there is between the radiant intelligence of the child and the feeble mentality of the average adult”.

I’m a lark. I like the early mornings and seeing the sun rise. Once I’m up, I have the whole day stretching ahead of me, exciting and full of promise. The downside comes late at night when my owl friends are dancing the night away and I’m ready for bed.

The direction of travel is more important than the distance travelled. Whether you’re trying to improve at work, learn a new skill or trying to lose weight the little changes are just as important as the big ones.

There are two types of people – radiators and drains. Radiators come into a room and bring warmth and energy with them. Drains take it away.

Don’t become a slave to work. My father worked hard all his life building a business. When he retired he had few hobbies and he grew suddenly old.

Knowledge will only get you so far. To really get on in life, you have to really get on with people.

It’s good to be able to cook. I mess around in the kitchen, listen to some mellow jazz, drink a glass of wine – everyone’s so grateful for what I’ve made AND they do the washing up.



8 Comments Add yours

  1. Anna says:

    Peter, I just love the post! Thank you! so many interesting thoughts! I personally think that the most important thing in life is to get along with people. Some of the points can be gathered and included in this big one. Sincere interest in people and openness to new opinions, simple politness and positive attitude helps in absolutely everything and just makes your own world brighter and wider!))

  2. Chloe says:

    I really like the ‘getting lost’ analogy. I regularly ‘get lost’ whilst cycling (i.e. take a path and I’m not sure where it leads). I usually feel scared, but curious to learn about the new places I discover, which is kind of my approach to working life and study: feel the fear and do it anyway – who knows what you’ll discover!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Peter you priceless radiator!

  4. kirstietostevin says:

    Ah, perfect life lessons! 🙂
    And beautifully written! I specifically like the radiators and the drains analogy. I shall keep these in my head for a rainy day – well done Peter!

  5. Alan Jackson says:

    Food might lubricate conversation, but not as much as the copious quantities of wine, available on a Redington Rules basis, in certain a Major Dude’s households.

    1. Anonymous says:

      Thanks Alan, let’s test those rules soon…….

  6. RW says:

    What an awesome post by such a cool guy! I used to love his lectures when I attended UEA NBS

    1. ueanbs says:

      We agree, what an inspirational post from a very cool guy!

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