"Homer Simpson meets Anthony Robbins. Marsh's honesty and humanity make Fat, Forty, and Fired essential reading for anyone whose life has ever hit a roadblock. Hilarious and inspiring." --Bob Rosner, best-selling author and internationally syndicated Working Wounded columnist
"An extremely funny and touching account of how someone can use humor and optimism to put adversity into perspective. Marsh's warm and distinctive view of life lights up every page and makes this a thoroughly enjoyable read." --Paul Wilson, author of The Little Book of Calm
"I can pinpoint the precise moment when I realized my transformation from 'executive dad' to 'guy who doesn't work' was complete." --Nigel Marsh
Take Dave Barry, Jack Welch, Homer Simpson, and Ray Romano, mix in a family, a little weight gain, failure, introspection, and redemption, and you have Nigel Marsh's international best-selling autobiography.
As a stressed husband and father of four small children under the age of eight, Nigel Marsh was enslaved to his mortgage, recuperating from an embarrassing surgery, and suddenly fired from his corporate career. Deciding to venture "off the treadmill" in search of a more meaningful and balanced existence, Marsh tackled the art of hands-on parenting while simultaneously training for an ocean swimming race and coming to terms with his alcoholism. Touching on topics ranging from marital sex (or lack thereof), dieting, and parenthood to work, love, football, religion, self-help books, and sharks, Marsh makes his U.S. debut after enjoying best-seller status in Australia and the U.K. with this provocative and funny book.
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About the Author
Nigel Marsh is the CEO of Leo Burnett Australia. He has worked for a variety of businesses, including a number of the world's top companies: McDonald's, Pepsi, British Airways, and Phillip Morris. He lives with his wife and children in Bronte, Australia.
Read an Excerpt
Fat, Forty, and FiredOne Man's Frank, Funny, and Inspiring Account of Losing His Job and Finding His Life
By Nigel Marsh
Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2007 Nigel Marsh
All right reserved.
Chapter OnePaper Pants
Santa didn't come to Sydney last year. The community nurse came instead. My four kids weren't exactly thrilled with this swap-but then again, neither was I. Having over two pounds of seaweed gauze repeatedly packed into a fresh-cut ass wound does tend to take the edge off one's festive mood. Particularly when your company is about to be merged out of existence and you are stuck halfway around the world, fifteen thousand or so miles away from family and home back in England.
But worse things have happened at sea, as my dad always says. I'm damned if I know why worse things happening at sea is supposed to help, but it's the sort of useless counsel you seem to get when your life's in the toilet and people are trying to be kind. I was just going to have to put into practice some of the advice I'd gleaned from the covers of those self-help books you see in airports to help me deal with the problem.
The problem had reared its head precisely a week before. A visit to my doctor with what I thought was a boil on my butt resulted in me being told to put a green gown on backward and sign a lot of forms absolving anyone from blame ill were to die. An "anal fistula" is the correct medical term for my earlyChristmas present-Henry V died of one at age thirty-six-and a fistulectomy is the operation. (The postoperation packing process itself hasn't got an official medical term, as they couldn't translate "godawfulsustainedpainandmisery" into Latin.) Twelve hours later 1 woke up after such an operation in Sydney's Prince of Wales Hospital to groggily tell my wife, Kate, "That wasn't so bad."
"The surgery is the easy bit. It's the packing that's the killer," the doctor rather too cheerfully corrected me. Leaving aside the fact that at this point I didn't know what "packing" was, all I could think was, "How bad can that be?" As it turns out, badder than bad. Not just tear-jerkingly, painfully bad, but soul-destroyingly, humiliatingly bad. The first nurse who performed this task on me was delightful, empathetic, and skilled. She barely batted an eyelid as I screamed like a woman in the final stages of labor.
"There. All done, Mr. Marsh," she said.
"Oh, thanks so much and sorry for all the noise. At least the worst is over now. I don't think I could face ever having to do that again." She then gently explained that someone would have to do it every day for at least six weeks.
"Every day?" I groaned.
"Every day," she confirmed.
"New Year's Day?"
"New Year's Day."
At which point I adopted the role of Scrooge, not Santa, and effectively destroyed any festive spirit. I soon forgot the airport self-help books and settled into a marriage-wrecking combination of self-pity, anger, and helplessness. "Daddy's cranky" was how Alex, my gorgeous seven-year-old, put it to all our rejected Christmas well-wishers.
Matters weren't helped by the fact that it was a different nurse who came to perform the packing almost every day. Having a succession of complete strangers (two of whom were males) come into your bedroom, move your nuts to one side, and fiddle with your ass every day takes its toll on your dignity. On Boxing Day, in a bid to arrest my slide into total despair, I announced to my rightly cynical wife that I wouldn't remain bedridden by this minor mishap. "We're all going to the beach," I barked. However, my newfound lust for life was short-lived.
"Kate, I've lost it," I snapped, as I gingerly stepped onto the salad.
"Lost what?" may wife good-naturedly replied.
"My pad. The goddamn panty pad has gone." Somewhere on the walk between our house and the beach, the panty pad I had to wear over my wound had fallen out of my paper hospital pants.
A radical reappraisal was clearly needed.
As luck would have it, the timing was perfect for a reappraisal. A few weeks prior to my butt problems I had received a phone call telling me that our worldwide holding company was to merge with another. No biggie, I thought, it happens all the time. Then my boss went on to explain that one of the end results of this process was that the firm I was running in Australia would have to close-or, more accurately, I would have to close it. Given that my partners and I had just devoted a year of our lives building it into something of a success, this was less than welcome news. It would inevitably mean many colleagues-none of whom had done anything wrong-would lose their jobs.
We had become a very close-knit, ferociously loyal team, and this prospect made me feel enormously sad-as well as guilty. I don't care what they teach you at business school; I view the primary role of any CEO as providing meaningful employment, not taking it away. Any idiot can cut costs; it's building something valuable (in all the senses of that word) that's the real challenge.
As a desperate measure I wrote to the new ultimate boss in Paris, offering to buy the local company from him. To make a long story short, the answer was non. In a cynical business such as advertising it is easy to mock a group of people who claim to believe in a common goal beyond naked self-interest, but that is precisely what we had at D'Arcy Australia. The company was more than an economic trading unit of an international firm; it was family. Unfortunately, it really did look like the family was coming to an end. And as the head of that family, I was ashamed of my failure. I was also exhausted and out of balance. Attempting to look after one family had led me to grievously neglect the other.
The one upside of having to lie on your stomach for two weeks is that it gives you time to think. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted a change. I'd recently read a book called Manhood, by a chap named Steven Biddulph, that argued that every man should be forced to take his fortieth year off. His theory was that the vast majority of men don't have a life-they pretend to have one. In reality they are lonely, emotionally timid, and miserably, compulsively competitive.
One of the main reasons they never escape this tragic state is that they are enslaved by soulless jobs and careers that lead them to put their lives on hold until retirement. Of course, when this arrives it is too late. While they work they are too busy to think, and therefore they have empty lives because they never develop a rich and sustaining inner life. As Biddulph himself puts it, "Our marriages fail, our kids hate us, we die of stress, and on the way we destroy the world." I wasn't sure if it was the effects of the medication I was on, but his year-off notion struck a real chord. Besides, while I wasn't being forced-I could have looked for a new job-circumstances were rather suited to a pause for reflection and a change of direction.
For a while now I had had the nagging feeling that all my glories were former glories. As my riches had increased, my "interest factor" had decreased. As a young man I used to have a vibrant social life both inside and outside of work. I don't want to pretend I was a culture vulture, but it would be fair to say I had the skill of burning the candle at both ends down to a fine art.
Every night was like its own miniature weekend. Live music, stand-up comedy, nightclubs, or just plain boozing was the standard fare Monday to Friday. Come the real weekends it got more adventurous as sports, trips away, and two-day parties got thrown into the mix. Irrespective of how immature and irresponsible I was, the one thing my life wasn't was one-dimensional. Now I only seemed to work, prepare for work, complain about work, or go to sleep-and dream about work.
Also, more worryingly, my "nice factor" was diminishing. I was sure all parents shouted at their kids, but I was less certain they shouted at them quite as often as I did. I'd become a bit player in my family-leaving in the morning before they got up and arriving home after they were in bed (but early enough, unfortunately, to catch Kate and bore her to tears with yet more dull stories of my work travails). And I was concerned that my four-year-old, Harry, had started to exhibit some bizarre character traits. We only noticed these when one of his pictures came back from preschool signed "Batbounce." Kate and I thought little of this until the next piece of artwork came back with "Brainfrog" written neatly in the corner.
Kate was equally nonplussed by this behavior, so I decided to take matters into my own hands. I arranged to pick Harry up from his school. Rather embarrassingly, this involved getting directions from Kate, as it was a task I'd never performed before. Having eventually found the correct street, I parked the car, signed myself in at the preschool door as the "pick-up parent," and went in search of the person in charge. Pick-up time is mayhem and not the best time to be a worried parent demanding reassurance and attention, but Harry's teacher couldn't have been nicer when I located her.
"Excuse me, I'm Harry's dad. He brought back some pictures with strange names on them last week and I wondered what the purpose of this practice is," I asked his teacher.
"Oh no, Mr. Marsh, it is not a school practice," she replied. "It's just that for the last few months Harry has come into class each morning and announced his name is not Harry, told us his new name-Spiderpotter, Winnie Ranger, Brainfrog, things like that-and then refused to answer to any other name."
"Did you say a few months?" I asked.
"Yes, we assumed you were playing along with it at home."
I tortured myself all week long with increasingly awful scenarios of what this behavior might actually mean. Was it reflective of deep-seated personality problems that I had given the young mite by being a lousy dad? Had my impatience and shouting led him to invent an imaginary set of personalities who enabled him to escape into a nicer world? It was all but impossible to stop tills self-flagellating mind chatter-until, of course, the weekend, which I spent shouting at him and his brother and sisters as usual.
Whether or not Harry's name games had anything to do with me, it was clear I had lost perspective. Work had become a far too dominant factor in my life and I was becoming that person I always swore I would never be-an office rat who lived to work, not worked to live. In this case, the problem was compounded by the fact that the work was out of sync with my personal values and motivations. So not only was I spending too little time with my family, but the rare time I was with them was being ruined by my grumpy, conflicted, and jaded demeanor.
Advertising is one of those professions that from the outside can often be seen as terribly glamorous. The truth rarely-if ever-lives up to the myth. The industry has long since had its heyday. Advertising agencies no longer pay well or offer an attractive working life full of long lunches and end-of-year bonuses. If you run an agency you not only have to deal on a daily basis with a long list of ever more demanding clients, but you often have to convince exhausted and underpaid employees to work unreasonable hours for precious little reward. Ten or so fourteen-hour days in a row, a key client defection, and a couple of unwanted resignations, topped off nicely by a call from your boss complaining about the firm's lack of double-digit growth, call make you a very irritable and dull boy indeed.
Trouble was, the nastier I became, the nicer my family was. It would have been some comfort if I had a shrew for a wife and revolting, unlikable children, but the reverse was the case. Kate and I had been married for ten years, during which time she had been nothing but supportive and understanding. Along the way she had sacrificed her career and given me four of the most gorgeous children that ever walked the earth.
Alex, Harry, and Grace and Eve, our three-year-old twins, created a tidal wave of loving welcome every time I came home after work. The moment they heard my key in the door they would leap up from whatever they were doing (to Kate's understandable irritation if it was dinnertime) and hurtle down the corridor toward the front door, all shouting, "Daddy! Daddy! Daddy's home!" As they progressed down the hall they would become one interwoven child with eight arms and eight legs. More often than not, they would bang headlong into the door before I had opened it, their combined force making it impossible for me to push it open. Kate would have to peel them away to enable me to squeeze in and receive the breathless daily offering of drawings, paintings, and sports results.
A luckier man has never existed, yet increasingly I was responding to this unquestioning barrage of love with a grunt, or worse, a curt flash of anger. On some occasions, after driving home from work I was so spent that I found myself staying in the car listening to the radio rather than going inside. In my more rational moments I would berate myself for this behavior and sink despairingly into a sea of self-loathing, but mainly I just unthinkingly trampled all over the feelings of those who meant the most to me. And then I was informed of the forthcoming closure of my firm.
In early December I took a long flight to New York to meet Hank, the big cheese of our international company. I had been prepared for the meeting for a number of weeks, ever since it was announced that all our firm's offices around the world were going to be merged. In these situations, the first person to get the ax is the guy who runs the firm that is going to be merged-in this case, me-so I was expecting the worst. I traveled straight from JFK airport to the skyscraper that housed our corporate headquarters. The offices were impressive-all marble and glass. I was ushered to the thirty-third floor and into the waiting room outside Hank's office.
For a man who ran a large global corporation, Hank was pleasantly informal and open.
"Hi, Nigel, good to see you. How was your flight? Can I get Dani to get you a coffee? Water?" he asked when I was summoned into his enormous corner office with stunning views of Central Park.
In return I asked him how he was and he spoke candidly about his year. How difficult it had been. How everyone was out to get him. How disappointing the situation was. Hold on, I thought. Aren't you the guy who has just personally pocketed $85 million as a result of the merger deal? Kate and I could handle a disappointment like that. I bit my tongue and said nothing.
He went on.
It was fifty-five minutes into the meeting and he hadn't mentioned Australia, let alone me. We were still on how much traveling he had to do, how hurtful the press was being about his personal earnings from the deal, and how tough it was dealing with the investor community.
I started to doubt if he knew who I was. Perhaps he was playing for time, hoping someone would remind him. I thought I'd help him out.
"Must have been awful for you, I can only imagine," I said. "Sounds like you've weathered the storm remarkably well though, Hank. We could do with some of your know-how in Australia," I added, pointedly.
"Ah, Australia," he replied, visibly perking up. "Do you still have that harbor?"
"Yes, harbor. Sydney Harbor."
"Yes, we still have it," I replied. Is it the jet lag or are we actually talking complete and utter bullshit, I found myself wondering. I've flown fourteen thousand miles to be made redundant and after an hour all we are doing is a slightly retarded geographical trip down memory lane.
I decided to raise the issue myself.
"With the proposed merger, I was wondering what counsel you would give me personally," I asked.
"My advice to you is to get a seat on the bus-any seat, any bus-just get one and sit on it," he replied, with surprising and forceful conviction. I couldn't help thinking of that scene in The Graduate when Dustin Hoffman is ushered outside at a party to receive some deadly serious career advice, only to be told the single word "plastics."
Hank went on to explain laboriously that it was an analogy (no shit, Sherlock) and that in any merger the prime purpose for someone like me was to secure a job at all costs, irrespective of role or location. He didn't mention personal hopes or aspirations. Corporate vision didn't get brought up either. Remain employed or else was the simple message. He was eager and seemed genuine in his desire to help toward this end. The meeting ended with him recommending a couple of people he thought I should see who had positions they would like to talk to me about. It seemed picky to point out that both the roles in question were based in the Northern Hemisphere and I had only twelve months earlier moved my entire family to the Southern Hemisphere. Instead, I thanked him for his time and promised that I would give serious thought to his advice.
Which is exactly what I did. The meeting might have been slightly bizarre, but it definitely helped me decide what to do. Hank's viewpoint wasn't unusual and, from a certain perspective, his advice was completely correct. However, from another perspective it's bloody stupid to get on a bus if you don't like where it's going. Not only did I not want to screw up my own life, I wanted to set the right example for my kids. At the risk of stretching the metaphor to death, I wanted them to know that sometimes it might be better to slow down and walk to places instead of being on a bus driven by someone else. You get to choose the route and you could end up learning more. If it all goes wrong, you can always get on another bus.
I couldn't help thinking it was time to take the plunge and take a break from the corporate world. You are a long time dead, and I'd always doubted that sitting in an office was the sum of all the world has to offer. Besides, I'd never regretted any previous risk I had taken, be it doing stand-up comedy, moving to Australia, studying theology, or going for baby number three, which turned out to be twins. In fact, far from being the "silly" bits of my life, these risks had invariably been the things that made me feel alive and supplied me with the memories I most cherished. Perhaps a year off the treadmill was precisely what I, and my family, needed.
The more I thought about it, the more attractive the option appeared. An article in the newspaper gave me added encouragement. It quoted a statistic from a recent survey stating that 88 percent of Australians are dissatisfied with their work and are looking for a more meaningful and balanced life. Perhaps I wasn't so unusual after all.
I began to fantasize in an entirely unrealistic way about all the things I could do if I didn't have to go to the goddamn office. Apparently most people overestimate what they can do in a year and underestimate what they can do in ten. I don't know about the ten-year bit, but I can testify to suffering from chronic self-delusion in the twelve-months part. My list started with the usual weight-loss and fitness goals. After a couple of beers I added learning to speak Russian and drawing regularly. A couple more and I was educating the kids at home and running for mayor. By the time I had finished the six-pack I'd moved on to world peace and a cure for cancer. I only realized I was in la-la land when "winning Wimbledon for Britain" appeared on the list. After all, there are some things that are never going to happen.
Excerpted from Fat, Forty, and Fired by Nigel Marsh Copyright © 2007 by Nigel Marsh. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Great book and an interesting journey with hilarious humor of the travails of modern life. Can't put the book down and hope the author writes another book soon.
I think that this book is really a good book not like diary of wimpy kid or dork diary and i also think that this really dum to me And i also think that u r not really good for your going to ne reading this one more time ok sorry for being a little mean so that is what i think of this book