My friendly Valentine

Yesterday, my wife and I celebrated one of a good many Valentine's Days in our relationship.

Perhaps it was year 40 or somewhere close to that; I can’t quite remember. Thankfully, best friends don’t judge each other and my wife seems to have an abundant amount of grace in that department. 

Whatever the number is, I know we are better friends now than we were when we decided to marry and spend our lives together.

Strangely, this year we appear to have also both forgotten where our reusable Valentine’s card is. For a few years, we used to recycle and re-sign the same card each year, but now we are getting a little older, neither of us can quite remember where we last left the card. 

Of course, in any long-term relationship we live through ups and downs, the good, the bad and the ugly, and I have probably been the cause of most of the ugly.

What was always important to us was to “keep living” through those difficult times.

Of course, we had to make changes in the way we lived our lives sometimes, we adjusted to the circumstances, but we always lived with hope that we were in control of our destiny.

That was perhaps the fire in our relationship.

I realize now that it is not love that gets us through difficult times, it is friendship. We always advised our children that they should marry their best friend.

Even today, I would still rather spend a day with Jackie than any other option.

We enjoy each other’s company, we share goals, we agree and disagree on a variety of subjects, we argue just the way you would expect after 33 years of marriage, but we remain best friends. 

Happy belated Valentine’s Day.


Peace In art

I am likely the least artistic person I know.

I immerse myself in business and adventure and I occasionally come to rest at home and stare blankly at my beautiful, semi-acoustic jazz guitar gathering dust in the corner of the room.

The virtual vaults of my mind store all kinds of rusty chord sequences and phrases. 

Very infrequently, I will even pick up the guitar. 

I run my fingers along the fret board and feel the fading address of a sequence of notes that belonged to a tune that slowly decays in my memory. I give in to the pull and finally plug the guitar in to my amp.

The soft velvet tones that fill the room take me to a different place. Sure, my playing is by all standards pretty poor, but fortunately I purchased a guitar that has a beautiful mellow tone that makes even a badly played tune settle gently on my ear drums.

Nowadays, tinnitus lends a not so subtle chorus to whatever it is my crusty brain can pull out from my memory banks.

In a frenetic business world full of travel, risk and unpredictability, the guitar is often my happy place. So, why don’t I play it more often?

Like most endeavours in life, fear is our arch enemy unless we invite it in. 

I did let fear in just that a few weeks ago.

My good friend who owns the pizza restaurant in Kaslo went to McGill and studied jazz. I thought he played the saxophone, but I have subsequently found out he plays just about anything that is playable.

He is very talented so fear always strikes me when he asks if I would like to head over and play.

This time, I could not resist. I had lived a punishing schedule of travel in January and decided I needed a release once I arrived home from the previous trip.

My wife and I were in his restaurant on a Tuesday evening and I was invited to come and play on Friday evening. I leapt at the chance — let’s do it.

I loved playing with Arron. He was totally uninhibited in his style. A true jazz player but willing to push the boundaries. I was not there yet. I had to be structured, yet in my own way, extremely unstructured. Practice makes perfect and the one thing I never have time for is practice. 

As Friday morning arrived, I found myself thinking about the gig (or jam session as I thought it was going to be). I looked at my guitar and wondered why I had not played it to prepare. Too late now. What came out would come out.

I would have to live with my musical statements. My musical grammar has never been perfect and spelling was for intellectuals. I would wing it,  like the best players in jazz. I would improvise. 

Then, I suddenly realized that Arron perhaps meant I would be the entertainment that night. The blood drained from my face, cold beads of sweat appeared on my forehead and I immediately recognized a feeling of fear.

Two things I never ever wanted to do — be the headline and play jazz guitar solo. I might have just committed to both on the same evening. 

I could develop a nasty cough and explain I was stricken with a travel bug. My mind was playing games, Aaron was probably like usual going to run from behind the bar with his saxophone and lead a couple of tunes. We were just going to have some fun!.

I decided though it would be smart to download a couple of somewhat familiar tunes in the form of backing tracks and I could at least play over to fill in the time.

I spent about $100 on apps and backing tracks and settled on about eight that I could remember, but four of which I had never played before and the other four, well, I played them at my 25th wedding anniversary, eight years ago. 

I showed up at Buddy’s Pizza and laid out my gear. Did a sound check and then the realization dawned on me — I was solo.

I remember a famous jazz guitar soloist, Joe Pass, in an interview saying that he dreaded looking at his watch and realizing that he was only five minutes in to a 90 minute concert and he had already played three tunes.

I had eight!

I explained to the folks in the restaurant that I had no excuses and that what may sound like a bad note to them was in fact, technically, a “passing note” in jazz designed in the players head to add colour or tone to a phrase.

At least, I got a chuckle. That was probably where my $10 tip came from at the end of the night. 

I sucked it up, played for about 90 minutes. The crowd seemed to enjoy what I played. Phew! I had survived. Then, Aaron brought out his guitar and we played together. 

The jam at the end, I loved, the solo stuff, hmm, need more practice. In my concerned focus walking in, I even missed the poster on the front door announcing that I was the evening’s entertainment.

I had a lot of fun. My playing was pretty mediocre, but in a curious way, I relaxed, I achieved my release; my mind was not on travel and business for at least a few hours.

I managed a first-time experience and found that in attempting to relax I had just leapt off one of the diving boards again. Will it ever end?

Diving into the unknown

Get good at what you have never done

I had an opportunity to share with some students this week about the big wide world. 

If you read the comments sections on my column, you could be fooled into thinking that I am a communist, environmentalist, leftist, fake news journalist who hates free enterprise. 

In fact, I have never had a job. I have worked for myself since I was 11 years old, always operated or invested in businesses, and I am a conservative and a Christian.

Oh, while I am on it, I am certainly not a journalist of any leaning. 

In talking to the students today, I was reminded of a meme that I recently saw in relation to a quote from Sir Richard Branson.

It essentially said “If someone offered you the most incredible opportunity. but you did not have any idea how to execute, simply say yes and figure out the rest later.”

It is a quote that certainly resonates with me in regard to not only where I have been, but also where I am going in business. 

From a young age, we are pigeon holed into narrow slices of life. The conversation is approached in a way that would make you think that what you learn at school and, if you choose, university, is what you will do for the rest of your life.

For some people, that is very comforting, but it can lead to a very insecure future as the world morphs and changes at an alarming rate. 

I have lived leaping from diving platform to diving platform and figuring it out. I am constantly learning, constantly evolving thoughts and opinions and realizing that what I knew several years ago is almost irrelevant today. 

The reason I stay excited about tomorrow is that I almost have no idea what it will bring and I am going to have the opportunity to figure out something that I have never done before. 

I may not be the best at anything in particular, but with a broad spectrum of experience, it does help to figure a few things out now and again.

So my advice to the future generations was:

  • work on your plan, not someone else’s.

Figure out how you can add value to your own life and be a productive member of society.

Then, whatever you do, do it with passion. Nothing can stop you when you get a few things sorted out and realize you don’t know all the answers


Greed is killing us

I often wonder how we will be judged by future generations. 

When I look back at my parents and grandparents lives, they were quite different. They did more manual labour, spent less time in a vehicle and certainly had fewer luxuries than we have today.

Is there anything negative that I could judge their generations for? I have to admit not much that comes to mind.

Today, however, I wonder with out-of-control greed, corruption and indifference, what are we doing to the planet?

In the World Economic Forum’s annual report recently released, they referred to the Top 10 risks facing the world, four of which had to do with climate change. 

South of the border, we have a climate change denier who is adamant that coal is a clean energy source, even as communist China is retrofitting coal-powered generation plants to natural gas in order to clean up their environment.

Too many people have been turning a blind eye to bad habits and monopolistic strongholds on industries that prevent innovation and adaptation.

Take one industry for instance. Since biblical times, we knew that the black, sticky element that came out of the ground was good for water proofing. For the longest time, we polluted the Earth at an alarming rate by pouring raw bitumen on roads and calling it infrastructure.

The environmentalists are up in arms about leaky engines dropping hydrocarbons on the road. Really? We continue to pour raw hydrocarbons on to pristine ground to make roads and call it progress.

Thanks goodness sound, environmental alternatives are becoming available. But can we reverse the damage?

I have my suspicions that it will be several generations before any damage is reversed. In Alberta for example, a province that still holds onto a dream that the hydrocarbon economy is their sole future, we are looking at more than one billion cubic metres of completely poisoned water stored in tailings ponds.

To put that in to perspective, that is equivalent to 4,500 homes (assuming two person occupancy) consuming water for a year. B.C. is certainly not innocent in this regard either.

So what is the plan for the tailing ponds? What if I said there isn’t really a plan. We’ll just turn a blind eye to that.

In other words, there is no real engineered solution to clean the water enough to return it to an aquifer. Well, not quite at least.

It can be done if you are willing to wait 300 years and invest north of $25 billion to keep moving it a little and diluting it every year.

Then, after 300 years your children’s children’s children’s (you get the message) can check on it and judge us accordingly. 

As we find a new technology that appears “green,we leap to it without thinking about the consequences. For example, are electric cars a solution or a problem?

I will guarantee you they are going to become a big problem. A problem relating to disposal of waste products and generation of electricity if we have no internal combustion engines, etc., etc. 

Recently, an electric vehicle manufacturer ran a demonstration day for clients to try their vehicles. The diesel generator recharging the vehicles consumed 150 gallons per hour of hydrocarbon fuel.

I don’t know the answers, but I do know, as an entrepreneur, that we need to look through a different lens to analyze future economic plans if we want to reverse the effects of climate change and mitigate the catastrophic climate events that are already affecting us.

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About the Author

Mark has been an entrepreneur for over forty years. His experience spans many commercial sectors and aspects of business. He was one of the youngest people to be appointed as a Fellow of the prestigious Institute of Sales and Marketing Management before he left the UK in 1988.

His column focuses on ways we can improve on success in our lives. Whether it is business, relationships, or health, Mark has a well-rounded perspective on how to stay focused for growth and development.

His influences come from the various travels he undertakes as an adventurer, philanthropist and keynote speaker. More information can be found on Mark at his website www.markjenningsbates.com

He is a Venture Partner with www.DutchOracle.com a global Alternative Investment company.

Mark Jennings-Bates:
[email protected]

Photo credit: www.SteveAustin.ca 

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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