I am Graham Phoenix and I am British. Its important to me to clarify what that means. I was born in England to Scottish parents with Irish ancestry. There’s even some Welsh in there somewhere.
This helps me to understand why I love moving and travelling and why my interests are so wide. I regard no specific place as home, I have no roots that I hang on to, I am not defined by anything other than the life I lead.
The Second Phase
At eighteen years old the second phase of my life began, I left home to work in the theatre. My brain was imploding with the idea of following my father into financial work, so I got out, fast. I sought excitement, challenge and variety. I had had enough of being at home.
My world expanded rapidly. I spent my days with people who were open, exciting and dangerous. I was challenged in ways I couldnt have imagined. It was a case of sink or swim.
I worked day and night, drank, partied hard and loved life. I moved around Britain from theatre to theatre developing my skills and exploring how to live. In under a year I was in my third job in Scotland and I found a home, for a while. My poor mother was distraught, this was where she had left before I was born because it was such a dangerous place to live. Here I was back! How did that happen?
After experimenting with different types of work I had now become a Stage Manager. I was working with actors at the heart of a production. This was exciting work that opened my eyes to people, their stories and their motivation. I was living my life and making my decisions, I had left the life guided by my parents behind. I was discovering me.
I found politics, left wing politics. I joined Equity, the actors union, and started campaigning on behalf of stage managers. I joined the Scottish Committee and found myself talking politics with famous TV actors. My mind and intellect was growing way beyond what I thought it was capable of.
Around this time I found sex and love, in that order. I was now completely lost and totally addicted. I was happy and enjoying myself, but I wanted to know more about what life had to offer.
I wanted to become more involved in the creative heart of theatre. I wanted to create what people saw and experienced, I wanted to influence people and help them to grow and change. It is interesting to see that many years later this is still where I am, wanting to influence people and help them grow and change. Now I do it by writing and talking.
I never felt I was an actor, I didnt feel I had the intellectual development to become a director and I felt I didnt have the artistic skills to be a designer so I homed in on being a lighting designer. Looking back I can see how I was suffering from limiting beliefs about myself. My view of myself was still influenced by my childhood, although I was experiencing life I was not growing in understanding myself.
I moved to London, where theatrical activity was in a frenzy, and became an electrician. I soon became a Chief Electrician and Lighting Designer. I was lighting shows every few weeks and practicing my craft, developing my skills. I worked with experienced, skilled designers, used their ideas and, eventually found my style, what in writing I know as my voice. I found myself sitting in the auditorium with famous directors discussing my approach to a production and creating the look and atmosphere of the shows that people saw and loved. This was stimulating and helped me to see that there was a new future for me out there, a new way of looking at who I was.
I didnt settle for this, I didnt settle for anything. I was restless and striving to move forward, wanting to improve and grow.
I married during this time and joined the real world out there by buying a house. Up to this point the ordinary world that most people inhabited was unknown to me. I didnt go out in the evening, I worked; I didnt go on dates, I had sex with colleagues; I didnt work at a career, I shifted and changed and followed my passion; I didnt take care of myself, I drank and took drugs.
The Shift Point
Life with my wife continued as before but soon I came to a shift point, one of those moments when everything changes, when your whole view shifts and you, apparently, become a different person. Was I Graham Phoenix any more?
My two sons were born in quick succession. I was now responsible for these two new lives. It was not just about me any more. My wife had worked in the theatre for longer than I had, but now gave it up to focus on our two boys and our life together. I was touring with an opera company and was regularly away for six weeks at a time. This didnt work for me, I wanted to be with my family, I wanted to be part of their lives.
I had to become normal, join the everyday, be a person at last. I needed to find work that allowed me home in the evenings and at weekends, a job that allowed me to have another life.
I looked at work in computers, these were early days, but the programming work available seemed so dull. I answered adverts for all sorts of jobs, but nothing came off them. Then I saw an advert in the Evening Standard in London, I phoned, interviewed and got the job. I managed to use the skills I had and to shift into Architectural Lighting Design with a commercial lighting manufacturer.
So the third phase of my life began, a new Graham Phoenix. I took my responsibilities as a husband and a father seriously, I viewed marriage as something you committed to for life. Where before I worked and partied, now I worked and went home. I played with my boys, went to dinner with my wife, developed friendships where I lived and grew outside my working life. I became interested in running, hill climbing and watching TV. We went on holidays and I grew to love being with my family.
I worked for a number of manufacturers before I finally joined an independent lighting consultancy and became an independent architectural lighting designer. This was to be a very powerful period of my life, one that is only now finishing 25 years later.
I worked for, ran and owned three design practices, the last one being just me as a sole practitioner. The work was fascinating and varied. It took me around the world and connected me with extraordinary people. I worked on historic buildings such as cathedrals, museums, art galleries; modern buildings such as offices, shopping centres and theatres. I spent a significant number of years developing and writing lighting strategies for towns and cities, creating a new discipline where none had existed before.
My favourite projects were the cathedrals I lit. In England we have some of the most magnificant buildings in the world with cathedrals such as Durham and Ely (where I married again in 2011). These buildings are close to 1,000 years old and are extremely precious. To have the privilege of re-lighting them is special indeed, but to also become involved in the communities for whom these buildings are life, is rare.
During this time I became involved in an association of prominent lighting designers around the world, eventually becoming its President for two years. This was a powerful time of networking, travelling and achievement. During this time I significantly contributed to the legacy I will leave behind, the Graham Phoenix people will remember.
My children grew up, becoming artists and musicians. I had businesses go bankrupt and my marriage fall apart after many years, so although this was a successful period, it had its failures as well. Somehow the normal life I had embraced wasnt working. I felt I was living behind a mask, I was not being the real me.
Confusion and Answers
I ended up confused and wondering where all this work and achievement had led me, and I found I did not have the answers. I set out to find some and get my life back on track. I attended a number of personal development seminars and found the power I had within me. I volunteered as a leader for the seminars and entered another period of travel and networking. I grew spiritually and found a whole new ability to communicate, lead and teach.
I met my new partner, now my wife, through this work and discovered, through our relationship, my power and strength as a man. This discovery and the work I started doing around it has resulted in the fourth phase of my life. It was a return to a more rebellious me, a less normal me. I felt the shift reverse and I found a new peace in letting myself just be.
I have given up my house and most of my possessions and now truly have no home. My wife and I travel the world working, networking and enjoying our life. We have a great deal to communicate and we have found a love and a passion in doing it.
I now focus on writing and communicating through my online work. My focus is on the work I do for men, in Male eXperience.
In many ways I have come full circle back to helping people and living with no roots, back to being Graham Phoenix, but in between I have developed a rich life and a deep understanding of myself and how I relate to others. I have spent my life communicating with the result that I have an enormous circle of friends and colleagues who love what I do.
Living in uncertainty is the experience I have of life. As a man, having the courage to be vulnerable is a challenge I accept.
This experience is one that many men aspire to. ‘Male eXperience’ is here to help you find and fully embrace it. It is within you already waiting to be released.