Don’t Bury Your Brilliance: An Unexpected Journey
It started as many things do – with a plane ticket and a cancelled plan.
I’d been invited to talk at an event in Cairo. Randomly. But it seemed interesting, so I agreed – I figured it might be fun. Well, it would certainly turn out to be fun. Just not how I expected.
Two weeks before the event was scheduled to take place, it was rescheduled to an as-yet undetermined date. Ah…
Packing aside, we were ready to go. The talk I was scheduled to give had been sliced, diced and revamped to perfection. Flyers were designed and printed, social posts drafted in anticipation. The event was to act as a stage for us to launch our new agency tagline: ‘Don’t Bury Your Brilliance’ – but then came the news.
Entombed in an enormous email from the organiser was a side-note: “We’re rescheduling the event. Probably in March.”
With a heavy heart, I raced to reschedule the travel and accommodation – but without new dates, I couldn’t reschedule, and if I just cancelled them I’d lose all the money. And the clock was ticking. After four days of chasing emails and phone calls all I had was dead ends, I lost hope and made a snap decision.
Screw it, let’s just go to Cairo.
Oddly, it wasn’t the first time I’d found myself in Cairo with an upturned plan.
Twenty years prior, a friend from university and I went to Egypt together.
Having not enjoyed a luxurious Nile cruise 🤷♂️ she figured Cairo’s unique brand of chaos wouldn’t be her bag either. So, I continued on to Cairo alone. The trip proved pretty life-changing (I even used the experience to write a slightly shonky travelogue for my writing degree), and in many ways, taught me the importance of being open to the possibilities of life. I also met a great creative partner in Parvez Qadir who we’re working with to try and open our Madrid writing centre.
Fast forward a few decades and here I was in Cairo once more – not standing on a stage giving a speech, but soaking up the sun and sights. Blissful? Clearly you’ve never crossed a street in downtown Cairo on a Friday night. But it was a singular experience.
But what about all the content we had created for the event? Surely, it shouldn’t go to waste?
When I got back to Madrid, I got together with the team and we pondered our options. Our thinking started small, filming the speech on an iPhone. Sure, it was authentic, but the format didn’t do the content justice. We knew we could do better. So, we looked into giving the talk in a space with people, possibly in an event space in our WeWork, possibly as an extra session with the students at the university I teach at.
Then things took a left turn.
What if we rented a cinema? It would have a stage, great seating options and would look great on camera.
We looked into the costs of hiring a cinema in Madrid and flying our film guy out and putting him up for a few days. But it was getting pricey. And what about getting people to the event?
And then it dawned on me. My wonderful daughter Beth is the event manager at Regent Street Cinema. Why not host it there, instead? It was a gorgeous, relatively unknown cinema in central London. It sort of solved the looming problem of entertaining my two boys during the school break. I could see friends. It made perfect sense. London was calling, and I was all too happy to answer. With my two boys in tow, I flew from Madrid to London to present the keynote speech I had planned all those months ago.
Unfortunately, getting people to turn up to a free event during the morning of a working day proved harder than I’d hoped, so the cinema wasn’t packed to the rafters. Enormous thanks to the literal handful of people who gave up their time for what was 100% a beta test.
Still, I marked it as a win: from a sudden cancellation, I got to go home for a few days and an opportunity to speak at the birthplace of British cinema. Best of all, I got to spend time with my family – even my parents showed up to watch (thanks Mum & Dad, still my Number One fans).
I could say something here about lemons and lemonade, or of mice and men. Because when plans fall through, it’s easy to feel defeated. But every setback is an opportunity for growth. All it takes is a little bravery, creativity and a willingness to embrace the unexpected. As I’ve learned, brilliance comes in unlikely places – if only we are open to noticing it.
Or in the immortal words of Dickie Branson “screw it, let’s do it”.