What’s in a description?

Once upon a time a woman I didn’t know asked if she could interview me.  She was conducting  research and writing a book about managing mavericks.  Puzzled, I asked her what she thought I could contribute.  She told me I was a maverick and that she wanted to include me in her book.  Intrigued, I agreed to be interviewed and we arranged to meet. I prepared by consulting my dictionary: ‘maverick, an unorthodox or independently minded person’.  I wasn’t at all sure this description applied to meek and mild, unassuming, risk-averse me.

However, the interview passed off happily but I remained convinced that, having met me, the woman would realise her error and find more deserving people to include in her book.  She asked if I’d write an endorsement for the back cover of the proposed book and, thinking it was the least I could do,  I wrote: ‘Here is a book that unashamedly celebrates being different, making waves, being innovative and doggedly persistent. In  the face of such passion and encouragement, even the timid will throw caution to the winds.’

Some months later a copy of the book arrived in the post (Managing the Mavericks: Nurturing Creative Talent by Kaye Thorne, ISBN 1 904298 48 6).  I feature as case study 4 on pages 168 – 171.  On the title page Kaye has kindly written: ‘To Peter, one of the most original and creative mavericks.  You are an inspiration!’   Still convinced I was an imposter, and that Kaye had made a serious misjudgement , I put the book away and didn’t show it to anyone.

That was in 2003.  For 16 years the book has languished on my book shelf, forgotten and largely unread (well, when it first arrived I admit I read pages 168 – 171).  I have only remembered the book now because a few days ago another book arrived in the post with an even more flattering note from the author, Professor Robin Stuart-Kotze (Success: What to do (and not do) to be successful in your job, ISBN 978 1 07573 614 8).

Robin has written: ‘To Dr Peter Honey, eminent occupational psychologist and prolific author whose work and books have helped thousands of people improve their success and lives.  With heartfelt thanks for all the support and advice you’ve given me on this and other books, and for the warmth of your friendship.’

I unwrapped the book and read these OTT words on a packed train.  I was so chuffed that I had to resist the urge to leap up and read it aloud to my fellow passengers.  But then, as if that wasn’t enough, a few pages later I was astonished to find that Robin had thanked me again.  This time he wrote: ‘Thanks to Peter Honey,  eminent occupational psychologist, prolific builder of garden sheds from discarded timber, and author of so many books it would fill the page to list them.’

Never mind being an ‘eminent occupational psychologist’, never mind being ‘author of so many books’  what about being described as a ‘prolific builder of garden sheds’?   And from discarded timber?   I’m so tickled with this description that, far from hiding Robin’s book away for 16 years, I shall promote it vigorously (this blog is but a start) and show it to everyone I meet!  I might even read it aloud on crowded trains and I shall certainly request that  ’prolific builder of sheds’ is my epitaph.

Robin is a canny fellow.  He knows what he’s doing.  In Chapter 7 of his excellent book he describes three powerful things that motivate everyone: recognition, approval and autonomy.  He’s given me the first two in spades and, boy, am I motivated!

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