Quentin Brown

Does Fear drives us to do what we do and be who we are.

Are fear and failure connected.

Is it desire and passion for something that creates a fear of failure, or is it the fear of failure that drives us.

Growing up, I never worried too much about what I was not good at, I manufactured a confidence out of the things I could do well… athletics, sailing, horse riding and the odd drawing or piece of art which was always met with a positive response.

However I now realize looking back (with sports in particular and as a young child), I would put an enormous amount of pressure on myself to do well, worrying about worst case scenarios, tormenting myself beyond any rational sense for weeks before an event. Afterwards a huge weight would be lifted off my shoulders only to be replaced with the impending torture of another event.  

At the time I didn’t have any real sense of fear being a tangible emotion in the context of getting the best out of myself or being successful in any capacity.

I know being good at art, average at school and realistic about any serious athletic ability helped steer my passion or career if you like into a sharper edge earlier than later, which for me was a good thing. 

Growing up in the 70’s for whatever reason my parents chose not to have a TV which I am sure led to more reading and active imagination. Books, comic books, World Encyclopedia along with the Childcraft Collection was my outlet. 

I still have the Childcraft series of annuals, I kept them with the thought they might be interesting for my children which I have since discovered they were not. There is one book in the collection that may be the reason I hung onto them. Book 11, olive green and titled Make & Do. Keep making, keep doing, at any age in any time.

Finishing university in 93’ I then spent 3 years abroad, 6 months in a kibbutz, a little time traveling then landed a job in a London design agency. Returning to Melbourne I initially worked with a number of smaller agencies, spent a couple of years at Cato then 8 years at Cornwell.

Mark Patterson and I started Canyon in 2008, at the time a tough economic climate for sure. The past 12 years have been pretty fantastic, producing some great work with some very talented and interesting people. I was 38 when we opened the doors to Canyon and 40 years old when I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. 

I started this article prior to COVID 19, apologies Jack for the lag, however just as my Parkinson’s diagnosis has taught me to appreciate the smaller things… ‘cliche as it is’… in life, I am sure this current situation has done the same for many others, simple, beautiful moments, at home, at work anywhere, are magnified… with clarity.

Living with Parkinson’s Disease is an ongoing challenge in that there is no known cure. There is a constant reminder of the disease in pretty much everything I do, mentally and physically. Most of us have had nightmares where you imagine you are sick with an incurable disease… you wake to find everything’s ok… with Parkinson’s you wake up to find you are reliving the nightmare. It is a disease in which you are constantly reminded, every minute of every day, every movement, every fumbled word, there are so many individual idiosyncrasies that reveal themselves as the disease progresses that it is challenging to know what is caused by Parkinson’s and what is related to just getting older… stiffer, slower, more melancholy.

Many people are confronted with their mortality every day and it’s not just patients, there are Nurses, Paramedics, Doctors, Surgeons, probably most people in healthcare who have a deeper understanding of the importance of health and the fragility of life. Myself, I had 40 years of ignorance and bliss before being diagnosed. Six months prior I was handing my dad a glass of beer when I noticed my hand had a slight shake to it, a movement I wouldn’t have noticed if I wasn’t looking directly at it, not enough to spill the beer but odd all the same. Following that was a twitching index finger when driving to work, again a small repetitive movement that I had no real connection to, only that it was happening right in front of me. Over the next few months my right forearm also began to pulse as it does with everyone except for me I couldn’t help but think this was all somehow related. On top of this was a rye neck I had been carrying for a couple of months from working out at the gym… so like most blokes I put the tapping and shaking down to a pinched nerve or something else fairly mundane. I saw the neurologist on a doctor’s recommendation, as casual as it was, to rule out anything more sinister. It took 5 minutes for the neurologist to make the diagnosis, not so remarkable to me now as I can quite easily pick someone out with Parkinson’s and at times just by the sound of their voice.

When diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease you have most likely had it for a number of years, undetected. With the benefit of hindsight there were some clear symptoms that went unnoticed, other than the twitching, shaking and pulsing, my thumbnail sketches had been deteriorating along with my handwriting. I remember sketching up an idea on paper in front of a couple of designers then looking at what I had done and thinking fuck me, that’s not helpful… ‘Something like that’ I said as I walked off.

The physical and mental symptoms are vast and all are degenerative, not all people with Parkinson’s suffer the same symptoms and progression is variable depending on age, fitness and so on. 

Looking fear in the eye is not really what dealing with any chronic disease or situation is about. Living with and understanding why that fear is there and where it is from will make you a better, stronger and a more empathetic person. Ironically one of the symptoms of the disease in the latter stages is a lack of empathy both emotionally and cognitively.

There is some great work being done in the search for a cure, or even something that will slow the progression of the disease. I live my life with an ear to what is happening in this space but am very aware that there may be nothing in my lifetime.

Life is painted more vivid with any sudden turn of health, clarity, urgency and a realization that the important things in life are very simple and in most cases already there sitting at the breakfast table… your children, your partner, family and friends. You need something to do and something that challenges you, I enjoy my work immensely, it is a profession that can give you subtle insights that translate to living… seriously! Explore, take in everything you can, simplify, making the complex easy to understand is what we do… considering the end point while all the time being aware not to fight being taken somewhere else. When you do this good things happen, exciting things happen… life changes and most times the outcome is rewarding, if you know where to look.

Quentin Brown

With an international career that spans 25 years, including time with top agencies in the UK, Asia and South America, Quentin has established a reputation as one of Australia’s leading creative talents.

Co-founder of Canyon, a Melbourne based brand strategy and design agency.

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