I’m Alex Duncan and I’ve created ‘persevering’ as a place where I could share some of the things I’ve learned in life. I hope it’ll be a place of vulnerability, honesty and self reflection. A place where people can find alternative perspectives or draw comfort from a shared experience.

Who the heck is Alex Duncan?

I was born and grew up in a small village in North Shropshire in England, the son of two loving parents who did everything they could to give me a solid moral framework, a great education and encourage my curiosity.

From a young age I could feel I was a little bit different to many of the other children at school. I’ve always had an intense curiosity, attention to detail and a need to understand things in their most fundamental aspect.

This has had it’s benefits. I have an autodidactic streak and, perhaps arrogantly believe I can learn to do anything if I dedicate myself sufficiently. I have a world class ability to procrastinate, but also focus for hours when a task consumes me. My sister recently suggested I might have undiagnosed ADHD.

From an early age feeling like I was somehow different to the other kids at school has as an adult meant I’m very comfortable not following a conventional path in life. When I first discovered this 1994 interview with Steve Jobs it resonated so strongly:

“Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it. You can influence it. You can build your own things that other people can use.”
— Steve Jobs, Co-founder of Apple Computer

It’s probably this lack of inhibition that made it easy for me at 23 years old, just after graduation and not speaking a word of mandarin, to hop on a plane to China, relaxed in the belief I’d figure things out.

As I’ve grown up and gained greater self-awareness I’ve realised I love doing hard things. Of course doing hard things requires an immense amount of…

So why “persevering” ?

I view my life as a work in progress. Until 2017 everything came relatively easily to me. I lived a pretty charmed life. That year I was thrown the first of a series of curve balls. A life event so tough it caused me to reflect on who I was and how I could be contributing to the challenges I was facing.

Sadly what began in 2017 became a pattern. In 2018 my mother’s skin cancer which had been in remission since 2015 returned, but this time had metastasized and she began the long, slow, painful and dehumanizing journey that is terminal illness.

At the same time my mother was terminally ill, I was under immense pressure at work to bring in revenue for our startup that was rapidly running out of money. Then just weeks before my mother passed away my girlfriend and the love of my life ended our relationship.

At the start of 2019 I was determined to recover, but I couldn’t see the toll the past year had taken on me. In the same way you can exercise and train your body to get fitter — prolonged periods of sadness can have a similar effect on the brain. Every day had become a struggle, I was plagued by dark thoughts of inadequacy and aside from going to work each day, I mostly withdrew from life.

A dear friend could see I was really struggling and having personal experience of needing medication for mental health, she put me in a group chat with her psychiatrist and I reluctantly agreed to go and see him. He took me through the PHQ-ADS questionnaire where I scored 46/48 meaning I was suffering from severe depression and he started me on a program of SSRI and anti-anxiety medication.

Recovering from depression is multi-faceted and in my experience can only really happen when you address the root cause. I’m still on this journey and I’ll talk more about my experience in future articles.

Perseverance has been a theme throughout my life. Before I even knew it I was fascinated by examples of perseverance against the odds.

Bristlecone Pines

Pinus longaeva is a species of tree that grows in the harshest conditions. They are battered by the prevailing winds in temperatures frequently below freezing. Their growing season is so short that some years they don’t grow at all. Yet despite all of this they’re able to live for thousands of years. The wood of the Bristlecone Pine is so dense it’s almost impermeable to insects, fungi, rot and erosion. So little other vegetation is able to grow around them meaning they’re at incredibly low risk of forest fires.

For Christmas in 2003, my parents gave me Thomas Pakenham’s wonderful book Meetings with Remarkable Trees, this is where I first came across the Bristlecone pines of Colorado. I was instantly inspired by their perseverance against extreme odds.

Photograph by Lucas Ludwig of a Bristlecone Pine at Windy Ridge, Colorado, USA.

Hopefully now you know me a little better.

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continuing in a course of action despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.


I'm a British Entrepreneur, Designer, Programmer & Cyclist. Visit alexduncan.co.uk for my full biography.