lucky spam

This continued businessland cliché that there is no such thing as luck, just hard work: it continues to frustrate, depress and infuriate me.  You make your own luck, you reap what you sow, hard work is all it takes.  Perhaps for rich Tories with a nice background to start from, a safety net and financial cushion.

Not that I can play a working class hero card.

But how on this earth people can say, routinely trot out and believe there is no such thing as luck is beyond me.  It makes me angry.

People who watch their young child die from a painful disease?
People who die tragically through no fault of their own in a car accident?
People whose own lives are cut short through illness – teenagers or inspirational young adults?
People who happen to be travelling in a plane blasted out of the sky by terrorists?
People who win life-changing millions in a national lottery?

All that’s nothing to do with luck? How the hell do you make that kind of luck?

Sure, these are extreme cases of luck. But there is a spectrum. Dumb luck and blind chance and stupid fortune absolutely exist.  Where you’re born: what country, what social class, who your parents are, who you happen to meet.

Luck works in tandem with hope, which makes it particularly important for me: someone who considers that they have never professionally achieved much, but plunders and stumbles onward. You hope your hard work will at some point pay off, something will click, a new relationship will develop, you will ultimately get recognised on some level you feel is commensurate to your worth. That’s why you carry on.

Although you have little other choice but to carry on, because you need money and enjoy a certain standard of living.

All the motivational business claptrap I’m subjected to on a day-to-day basis because I currently work in a salesy environment amongst young people (though am not directly a part of it): it depresses the living shit out of me.  The business pay people to come in and trot out this propagandist business drivel.

I give a wry smile and chuckle from outside the meeting rooms, pass a comment about it being cringeworthy.  But if I think too hard about it, I begin to seethe and it can start to permeate into my domestic life.

If I get all flat and dowdy, girlfriend will confront me about the self-proclaimed pessimism she hates and which drags her down.

“You’re only a pessimist because you tell yourself that.”
“No, I’m not,” I’ll growl, affronted. “I’m a pessimist because life tells me nothing different.  And not being optimistic doesn’t stop me from doing things and trying things and working really hard towards stuff and quietly hoping I get lucky, but suspecting I won’t.”

That for me is a key difference. If pessimism stopped me trying stuff, I’d understand the frustration.  But I work pretty hard in a few different quarters, I am professional (most places except here), I am pleasant / tolerant / non-committal about the many idiots I work with. I get my head down and think my skill-set could be an asset to companies.  I like to think I’m smart enough to do better than this.  And yet still I underachieve, kicking about in the lower leagues. Life appears to suggest to me that it’s best not to get my hopes up.

Professional worlds I inhabit tell me there are richer and more successful or at least considerably more comfortable people who don’t work that hard, aren’t particularly clever and whom I don’t rate. There are many of those in this parochial, villagey side of the UK.  I tend to alienate people as much if not more than I attract. I can’t make people *get* me or back me or invest in me. So I have to be snarky and hope.

I staunchly don’t believe in making your own luck, but industriousness can’t harm your chances, can it? Or maybe it just threatens and alienates other people more.

finding your people

It feels like you’re supposed to get along with your work colleagues, that is the done thing. Or at least pretend to. That’s polite.

I struggle to do this. I sit in my removed bubble, not exactly happy but certainly not readily willing to reach out from it and socialise with these people I mostly find dim and boring.

I guess it’s part of the ‘outsider’ complex bred from years as a total loner, and getting made redundant and working and living alone for long periods, generally failing to connect with anyone, family included.

All the while, then and now, I’m acutely aware of this idealised notion: ‘finding your people’. It’s quite probably bollocks of course, a fabrication of advertising and culture. But it nags at me because I’d like to believe it’s possible. Some claim this ‘finding your people’ thing happens at university, when you finally have the freedom to gravitate towards those you believe share your values and interests.

I struggled there too.

Nor did I find them in my twenties, through a workplace or football team – although I did enjoy the brief camaraderie offered by the latter.

Now it feels like mid thirties friendship groups have been formed by either having succeeded before, or by having children: having a kid in the same class as John and Dave’s kids, and luckily John and Dave seem like good blokes.

The chances are though, that I would be bored and frustrated by John and Dave, as I am by my co workers.

Not having the soothing life balm of kids, I still crave to someday ‘find my people’ – if indeed that is a thing. I imagine it must be great, having friends and friendship groups who easily get you and rate you, and who you get and rate back. Who you can laugh with like you’re in a cheesy advert for smoothies.

Until then I will drift along, ghost-like, a fragile weird outsider, insecure in my direction and particularly in my non-existent social life.

conscientious objection

This idea has been swirling around inside my brain for a while.  It concerns institutionalisation, careers, independent thought and generally having opinions about stuff.

Two acquaintances from different parts of working life came together in my thoughts recently.  Both men (one early 30s, the other late 30s) are really nice and pleasant.  They agree with everything I say to an almost boring extent. (Although perhaps they think I’m boring).  Both I find are naturally keen to please and agree with anything and everything anyone says, whomever their interlocutor might be.  So much so that they make for pleasant, amiable but essentially rather bland conversation.

In work meetings, the one constantly blurts

“absolutely”
“100 per cent”
“yeah, totally” – so anxious to give his support it seems like he can’t actually be listening and thinking.

How does such blind acceptance and apparent disengagement happen?  Because of careers?  A certain type of employer (and I’d wager the majority of employers) encourage and promote acquiescence, acceptance, obedience and agreement at all times.  They actively, although perhaps not voluntarily, deliberately or consciously, want people not to think too hard about what they’re doing, to operate within the defined parameters.

Naturally that makes sense if you are an employer; there have to be some rules and guidelines.

Yet to openly have independent thoughts and personal opinions at all: that can be dangerous, a risk. You’re told it’s not, of course, and that everyone welcomes open dialogue and new ideas.  In certain industries and workplaces though, it is not at all welcomed. People are threatened by unpredictable opinions. Although mine are not usually fierce or unbending opinions –  I’m always perfectly happy to be outargued by someone who knows more, or change my mind if it seems I am wrong – they are opinions nonetheless. And opinions of any kind are really not as common as you might think. At least not in my current world.

If you just agree and accept, life and work is easier, safer and more comfortable. Although making decisions can be hard for those people. That’s why you might come up against confused public sector inertia – older professionals perhaps, who sit behind desks playing solitaire, befuddled by much of this modern world. Nothing happens because nobody can confidently decide anything. Nobody wants to proffer a contentious opinion or make a decision that might be wrong. And there’s nobody available to agree with.

The world and the workplace reward people who don’t have opinions, people who are safe and nice and pleasant, who will passively agree to anything and get on with it. This is cosy and comfortable because it means industries and cultures don’t have to think too hard or be challenged about certain things concerning itself. It gives rise to institutionalisation, it breeds a fusty insularity even in the most public of arenas. This week’s Malky Mackay Cardiff City / Crystal Palace furore has turned a spotlight on football culture, what is and isn’t accepted within the game. Will anything really change as a result? Doubtful.

Everything is just easier if you’re not a pain.  Agree, accept, copy what everyone else does and we’ll all get along fine. Anyone else, you can be eliminated.

all you are not

Sometimes I use this place to whine and whinge in an awfully boring, embarrassingly self-pitying fashion. Here is another one of those posts.

It’s almost the opposite of Imposter Complex and yet it feels like a close relative: that unavoidable feeling or even that fleetingly bold *knowing beyond all reasonable doubt* – you really are better than where you are working and what you are doing, day in, day out.

But there you still are, grudgingly pootling along, uncaring and bitter, with an unhealthy lack of respect for who you’re working for, who you’re working with and what you’re working for. You know you could slowly and regrettably turn into the kind of person you deride.  Jeez, you look around the office, they are all idiots. Most of them. Especially him.

It hurts more when you know what you’d love to do and can think of and see countless other jobs you’d love to do instead, when you know you could do some of them if it weren’t for all the other fucking people on the planet who probably look shinier and smile more and sell themselves better than you do. Then it breeds major frustration, more bitterness, dejection, hopelessness.

It constantly stabs and jabs and irks you:

- when you are trying other things, have tried other things for some time;

- when you are looking and applying for things, but never quite as hard as you might;

- when you had an opportunity which might have been a brilliantly lucrative opportunity, but you turned it down, you fool;

- when there are lots of not very impressive people doing significantly better than you;

- when, despite the above, not that long ago you were working on a call centre earning virtually minimum wage, so you should not expect much;

- when, despite the above, you still demand more of yourself because you feel capable of more, crave more, at least more than this;

- when you are apparently always coming up short.

It feels similar to when I played football during my 20s, and always felt capable of playing a league or three higher, but never did. I accepted languishing, an ok player in a not good team, getting soundly embarrassed most weeks.

This all leads you to rationally conclude that in spite of your confidence that you are better than all this, actually no.

You can’t be that much better than where you are, can you? The life league table doesn’t lie. Your value is only dictated by what people will pay. You are where you deserve to be.

There is no clever scientific equation that will suddenly solve itself and make everything clear.

Buckle up, prick. Keep going. Stop whining.

It’s hard though. Unfair and fucking hard.

the stickiness of regret

A week on from deciding, faux assertively, that no, I would not be pursuing my application for the job in the city of London, I can’t shake off the heavily lingering sense of what if?  Regret.  Opportunity lay before me and I (stubbornly, stupidly?) slammed it shut.

Much of the week I spent in the office of a hiring company where I’ve spent most of this year, trying to be effective in the summer lull, feeling threatened by the conscience of my own effectiveness.   Also feeling threatened and stupid about withdrawing my application, watching and overhearing the hiring manager negotiate a salary considerably fatter than one I would have initially accepted.  “Companies have been distraught when I have left” the apparently highly confident lady candidate had appealed her case to my colleague, negotiating her salary upwards.

Was she that much better than me? I wondered.  More confident in her own abilities, without doubt.  Better at selling herself, clearly, the bluster and bullshit.  That matters so much.

There was a mild hot flush of panic shortly after lunch one day.  What was I doing here?  What was I doing with my life?  Why had I passed up that opportunity?  Such things didn’t come around that often; hardly ever. Idiot.  What would happen now?  Would we become a pair of bores who always talk about leaving a place or going travelling but never actually do?

The office was hot, I felt my heart rate go up for no apparent reason, I struggled to focus, adjust my eyes from screens (how I resent screens) to office, I was reminded of the probably entirely unrelated tingling down one arm after my morning swim.  I breathed deeply a few times, walked to the gents and sat on the toilet, closed my eyes, calmed myself and eventually it passed.

After work that day I went to the quieter upstairs room of a cheap pub and shamefully bought two drinks: a pint and a large whisky.  The numbing effect of the latter felt divine.  I sat in a corner booth with my drinks and read a book on my Kindle, eyes glazing over pages, attention levels fading in and out.  Alcohol can temporarily remove the sharp edges from life in a heavenly and entirely necessary way.

We still want out of here, me and her.  She has been away a couple of days this week and is currently back at her family home, trying to take yet another baby-step in the seemingly neverending journey to making that ghost-house sellable.  Her aged cat has health problems every other week which she has to return to, tend to and pay for.  Because her brother who lives there never will.  I constantly battle to fend off cruel remarks which bubble up in my head.

After investing a lot in camera gear this summer, a frustrating piece of administration is keeping me from returning to a stadium this weekend, where I itch to return. So today, this afternoon, right now, I remain trapped inside my head, worrying, fretting, being nervous and scared.

Possibly, probably we do want London.  She is increasingly persuaded, and growing in confidence in terms of sending applications.  But getting an acceptable, half decent job through conventional channels feels overwhelmingly difficult.  I’ve seen horrible statistics reflecting how hard it is to apply for a position online and get a job.  It needs more: recommendations, connections, friends in right places, help.

Then there’s everything else.  Finding somewhere habitable and not extortionate to live…

And so the sense of floundering is back stronger than ever.  The sense of wanting something that’s really difficult to achieve – a sense I’m not unfamiliar with.  I wonder if I’ll always struggle with that lazy adolescent fug of just wanting life to suddenly happen to you please, hoping for a sudden chain-reaction of good fortune and opportunities, discovery or recognition, something to flip your life on its head in a positive way.

need to change

Change is in the air. Or at least it feels like it could be, should be.  Much has happened in the last few months.  I joined that company with the strangely blank bosses, albeit on a freelance contract nature.  (Anything to haul myself out of the call centre where I had desperately found myself around Christmas).  My respect grew for one of the men: the Welshman, pragmatic, aware of his limitations, his ‘old school’ nature, disciplined and careful.  My respect for the other didn’t.  He is one of the most profoundly stupid people I have ever worked with, and a wildly deluded boss.  Merely conversing with him tends to be an embarrassing experience, which I avoid whenever possible.

I am fairly sick of this western side of the UK, and open to opportunities elsewhere.  Although there are elements of my life I am happy with, there are others where I feel like a frustrated underachiever and perhaps always will.  One of those is my career, or lack of one.  No neatly paved path or obvious direction.  It’s not helped by a CV which pinballs around with too little semblance of solid linearity.

An opportunity arose.  Pretty well paid, in the middle of the city of London (so you might expect well paid).  Given that it is mere months since I was secretly, ashamedly working on virtually minimum wage in a Cardiff call centre, of course the opportunity was attractive.  I could do that job, I ticked most of the boxes. It was flattering they were interested.  The City of London though.  Every day?  A commute like that, all the living cost expense?  Now I am seriously considering retracting my interest before a second interview.  My impressions of a skittish, difficult to pin down boss, have put me off.  He seems similar to another boss I had once upon a time, not stupid or incompetent, but hyperactive, instinctive and disorganised, winging everything slightly too transparently.  His appears to be a company with no discernible identity – a good opportunity to make an impression for me, but no, I think, no.  A number of things don’t feel quite right.

That was the only opportunity but still, change remains in the air.  Or at least I want it to stick around.  I want things to change now, I want to leave that office with its blank bosses and not inconsiderable number of blank people, I want serious life things to kick on for me.

I proposed to her a few weeks ago (sunset, coastal walk, one knee, ring, all that – her face crumpled in on itself in a way I’ll never forget, she said yes).  No grand Facebook announcement but thanks to excitable family still a modest flurry of scribbled cardboard congratulations from people I barely know arrived through the door.  Now I want to marry her (cheaply, with as little fuss as possible), leave this flat – as perfectly functional as it remains – try to grow up another stage.  I want a dog, still, and maybe even small people. Who knows?  Our thirties are ticking on; I cannot look at Facebook without seeing the small people of friends.  I think I do want them; one at least.  Not to have a relationship like that seems an awful waste.

I have invested so much in photography: financially and in time and effort.  I still love it and want to do more, get better and quicker and more competitive in sport. The adrenalin kick is like nothing I can get in an office or elsewhere in working life.  Thousands of people screaming around you has the undeniable effect of making you think a thing really matters, even if that thing is essentially quite banal and doesn’t really matter all that much.  I still want to stick on that journey for as long as I can, even if only at weekends and occasional evenings.

Change is possible all the time and the major thing stopping us making big changes is ourselves: the actual doing of it.  Upheaval: even the idea of it is scary and unsettling.  We blame ourselves and feel guilty for the lack of balls, too easily accepting accidental happenstance, serendipity, luck.  In retracting my application for a position that didn’t feel right, it feels like spurning an opportunity, a potentially significant turn of life.  Could London still happen again?  Might something else arise?  Bristol?  Elsewhere over the bridge, away from this often tedious cluster of self-aggrandising villages?  Or will we just stick with the dragon we know?

never look back

Early that morning was the most terrible sensation: that of having actually shat myself, lumpy slime slithering up my butt-crack in public, squashed between my trousers and skin, right there in the street, in front of my ex who I had not actually seen for the better part of ten years, despite occasional appearances in dreams.  These appearances had reduced in the last two or so years, but still happened now and then.  Maybe she caused it.  I was nervous and confused.  Suddenly I was fairly confident this was all a dream and I would wake up soon.  But would I wake up having just shat myself?!  I did and I hadn’t.  Double check.  No, nothing.  Phew. I drew my girlfriend into my arms.

Later that day at lunchtime I took an aimless wander into town.  As I hit the main shopping high street, people buzzing everywhere, I glanced down at the shape of a female sitting on a bench, tapping at her smartphone.  It was her.  Shit.  I stumbled confusedly past and then stopped still and paused and wondered.  An older man approached her after visiting a cashpoint and she got to her feet.  Presumably they were colleagues.  They made off down a street.  I went to a cashpoint, keeping them in view, feeling strange.  Her bum looked good.  She looked good.  I withdrew some cash, then I found myself following them, not really knowing what I was doing, knowing I was walking faster than them and would soon enough catch up with them.  Would I just breeze past, or stop and talk, or nonchalantly wave as I passed?  I was gaining on them.  There was a pedestrian crossing.  They had stopped on the left-hand side of the crossing, and stood waiting.  I had approached on the right-hand side of the crossing and now also stood waiting, feeling strange, one person between us.  I looked right into the road, and left down the road, but not directly at her or them.  I imagined they probably saw me.  Probably. Did she see, or register, or recognise? There was a gap in traffic and I walked into it and over the road and carried on and didn’t look back and still felt strange.

the new fear

Now I am scared for new reasons.

Finally I got something.  An interview with a couple of straight, slightly stiff young professionals, followed by a presentation to them and their bosses, the company’s unremarkable (slightly vacant?) founders, then an interview with them.  Then an offer, on initially freelance terms.  Some number-crunching, a 3 month proposal, an acceptance.

Still it means returning to a ‘proper’ office environment, a Monday to Friday 9-5ish slog, a clutch of new colleagues.  (I cannot deal very well with those I consider to be tossers – what if they are young, headstrong pricks?  See last post.  How will I cope?)  A seven day notice period on each side.  It worries me that I am neither engaged nor impressed by much at the company, yet.  Least of all the founders.  Maybe that’s a good thing, an opportunity for me to make an impact.  And I barely know the company or them as people yet anyway.  I should reserve my harsh judgements.

On the other thing, the dream pursuit angsted about here previously, another option has been pursued and appears to be going in the right direction. That dream is not dead.  But there is still fear and nervousness about the new future unknown.

I fear burn-out, potentially working evenings and weekends and full office days and having no flexibility or leave.  I fear change and pressure.  I fear working really hard.  This is partly because I am slightly lazy – I like having time to go to the cinema and read books and drink coffee and walk and listen to podcasts and idle; and partly because working hard is something I have grown to prefer doing on my own terms.

I fear small-talk.  This week I overheard a perfectly comfortable, relaxed, freewheeling conversation between three colleagues about the weather and age and it made me want to shake its participants.  Anything planned this weekend?  Good weekend?  This weather, eh?  Haha, yes.  Eurgh, no.  TALK ABOUT SOMETHING… YOU KNOW..  A THING, TALK ABOUT AN ACTUAL THING, ANYTHING.

I fear (well don’t fear but hardly look forward to) the obligation to donate to anyone’s charity efforts, the obligation to sign birthday cards and leaving cards.  All that.  It feels forced and artificial and I’d really rather not thanks, but I guess I shall.

I fear (or rather just dread) all the tedious shirts and ironing and formal office wear and having to think about clothes all the time.

I fear (truly fear) handshakes.  Over the last few months I seem to have developed what I can only deduce is early arthritis in a small bone or tendon of my little right finger.  It can hurt and throb to the core in cold weather, or twang when drying up something awkwardly shaped, but most of all it can feel acutely painful when it is crushed in a vice-like handshake.  I eye people up beforehand, knowing I will have to shake their hand, predicting whether it will be a bone-crusher. I shake and smile and swear in my head (good to meet you, YOU BASTARD) and try to ignore the pain.

This strange, apprehensive in between time before starting something quite radically new keeps finding me discombobulated, confused, unsettled, spikes of sudden nervousness about being judged by strangers, in real life, unhidden or obscured by the internet. Briefly without the calming influence of my girlfriend around – an influence I realise I probably take for granted, I feel like a bewildered old man who will shortly be moving to an old people’s home. He knows he should and it’s ‘for the best’, but he still doesn’t like it one bit.

The belligerent one-thing-after-the-other bobsleigh of life is seldom without fear. That is, for some, particularly for those of a naturally anxious or worrisome disposition.

Of late I’ve considered myself against those to whom the world appears to be a big playground: businessmen who think nothing of taking out big bank loans, getting venture capital funding, growing, selling or dissolving businesses; having kids, getting married a few times, buying stuff they can’t afford.  My notion is that usually these people were largely raised in an environment without fear or worry around money, without the seeping stress of parental nervousness.  Incumbent in these people is the beautiful idea involuntarily translated that there really is nothing to fear about life.  Money is not to be feared.  You can just trust that everything will be alright.  You are good enough.

The constant worry and stress about cashflow has dogged me for a long time and I would love for it to slacken off now.  I am open to the compromise of exchanging one prison of anxiety (financial unpredictability, instability) for the new chains of an office and all the tepid obligation that brings, (regular hours, human frustrations), but hopefully reliable pay, the ability to see slightly beyond the next corner, not worry as much about paying rent every month, the chance to plan ahead, or maybe take a nice holiday.

There are others who I’m sure would be more cavalier with similarly up and down cashflow and bank balances. They would take risks, worry less, do stuff regardless, get loans, use credit cards, fall into their overdrafts.  But still, you know, live.  The feckless bastards.  And I often wonder if I had invested more bravely, might my business ventures have reaped proportionately better rewards, greater comfort and sustainability.  A swisher website, slightly better kit, more aggressive marketing.

Better not to dwell now, although that’s what you always do.  Try to look ahead.  Tentatively, probably nervously, try to embrace the new fear.

fall to the flaw

I was really disappointed, mostly at myself.  And then it grew, that disappointment, into disgust.  I was disgusted with myself.  The inexplicable pride (when I have not much to be proud of), the inability to tolerate tossers, to keep my mouth shut (or email fingers still, to disconnect them from a fizzing brain).

Then I would briefly reconcile myself.  Onwards. There are other options.  His email reply proved what perhaps I was subconsciously testing, or asking: are you a ridiculous alpha male psychopath with a colossal ego, cracking the whip at me slightly harder than you might otherwise because you feel somehow threatened by me?

In my message I had suggested that there are perhaps limits to how demanding you can be of people working really hard for you, putting in time and effort and miles, for free.  That was the crux of what I said – a message I had been stewing over for days, not an impulsive one.  It didn’t go down well.  His eventual email response was insulting and sweary and ranting: like a man not used to being questioned.  “Who are you to question me?”  I am nobody at all to question him, a much less successful and mostly inadequate sort of person, yes.  I do not travel around the world and work with A-List celebrities, I have nothing like his experience.  But I will always have opinions and say what I feel, mostly. That’s not to say that I will be rude or insulting or sweary, but I will say what I think, sometimes to my own detriment.  It’s aligned to the excessive, uncontrollable honesty I often wrangled with when dating.  Like an all-powerful truth serum I cannot deny, inconveniently bubbling away at all times.

Several days later came that reply, upon his return to London, sent late on Sunday night, which I opened and read when sitting on the toilet on Monday morning.  Around the middle of the long, sweary and at times insulting rant he terminated our agreement, stopped dead something I was largely enjoying doing, occasionally loving doing.  While I knew it was possible when I sent the email, still I was stunned, disappointed, gutted, but being at my parents’ home and about to go out for a walk with my mother and girlfriend and dog, I tried and failed to contain it.  Receiving an email like that is not nice.

It was the sniping, needling messages I felt he was enjoying, the mild belittling and patronising.  I could see the avenue opening up towards bullying and it repelled me; I wasn’t going down  there for anyone or anything.  He wasn’t managing me; he was cracking his alpha geezer whip – you need to up your game, you’re getting there (slowly).  I could have parried that others less scrutinised could be criticised for the same things, I could have challenged more.  He was successful, big time, untouchable: our leader.

It was similar to my last big professional relationship fall-out, a man of similar testosterone and large ego.  I was dependent upon him for most of my revenue, rather than my dream pursuit.  But again, ultimately, I brought it to a head, that time face to face, professionally and with requisite composure.  Still, we never worked together again.

Why can I not accept such people when it’s the smartest thing to do in terms of self-preservation and self-interest?  Why am I so sensitive, so proud?  Why must I value basic manners and courtesy so highly?  Look where it’s got me.  (Not very far). You always need people to back you; a conclusion drawn and repeated many times on these pages.  Yet one I struggle to apply.

Still.  There are other options.  Move on.  He was just one guy who might have been important; was important briefly.  Remember that first long phone call taken when sitting in the passenger seat next to your girlfriend on that long journey, when it felt like finally, at last, someone with some kind of heft and influence had recognised you; the relief, the wash of hope that now things were possible…

Still.  There are others.  Aren’t there?

Shit. What in hell did YOU DO THAT FOR?!

No. Enough. There are other more pressing issues of making money, perhaps finding a job, those permanent concerns that seem to never go away.  It’s there you should be applying your efforts.  Those are the things which might financially and psychologically free you from this paranoid purgatory of not knowing what the hell you are doing with your life, although perhaps only to present a new kind of prison.

It keeps flashing back, the opportunity you effectively pissed down the drain in an email at the end of a long day, questioning somebody unquestionable.  Your girlfriend’s worried look when you said you’d sent it; maybe you shouldn’t have done that.  There was a possibility he’d tell you to fuck off now.  You knew that, and he did.  What did you do that for?

Now you’re disappointed again, mostly at yourself.  You loved doing that.  Eurgh, you idiot! And so the cycle starts again.

thought patterns

It’s not healthy to compare yourself with others all the time.  Focus on yourself.  Generally I try not to compare myself with all the other much more successful people of whom I’m crazily, bitterly envious.  Not too much.

There’s one person though, the constant subject, the permanent comparison, the guy my brain returns to in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep, when the mind is ablur with a whole load of recurring, endlessly cycling nonsense.  Maybe it’ll be the first night in a while without the girlfriend, or the first night in a while without a drink.  The subject?  The guy?  My brother.  Yep, him again.  There’s probably tons here about him already, saying much the same.

They’re often the first people you ever really compare yourself against, your siblings.  Can I do that thing they’re doing?  Crawling, walking, running, kicking a ball.  Two and a half years my senior, we competed a lot as kids and I always lost and it always ate me and it still does.  He has remained better than me at pretty much everything and I have remained confused and angry at life, aged 33.

Going to school, teachers were prepared for another version of him, excited after the precocious headstrong whirlwind that had gone before.  But no, sorry.  I was the difficult experimental second album, the solid but largely underwhelming sequel, the convoluted and confusing follow-up.  I still feel like that’s how I’m perceived by people – regardless of whether they know my brother.

I don’t believe I’m entirely worthless.  On the contrary, I feel more capable than a lot of people at some stuff.  But I have no support now, so find myself floating, lost in space, unremarkable, missable, not especially employable, a terrified hostage to fortune.

We’re early teens, maybe I’m around 11 or 12 and he’s 13 or 14. He asks what I want to do in life, when I’m older, and I unthinkingly reply footballer or rock star, knowing neither is genuinely achievable. I have never demonstrated anything like the required talent , and am unlikely to. He replies, “oh, I’d hate to want to do something unrealistic that I could never do,” – or some such. It’s not malicious, just matter of fact.

I still feel a similar disappointment and emptiness, that I’ll never do something or achieve something or have a job that I really *really* want. It won’t happen. I can keep trying and working and hoping. But, you know, in all reality, it won’t happen. It’s my fault for only being drawn to stupidly popular things.

Returning to the family home at Christmas, minutes had passed with us all under the same roof before I felt my comparative inferiority: he’s right and more clever (though a buffoon) and I’m rubbish.

As kids he made me feel unremarkable, not very good, beatable, missable.  And he still does, without being cruel, without even trying.  I wonder, often mid-conversation, how is he so certain about everything?  I know nobody who is or appears to be as constantly sure of themselves, and of everything. 

Our realities are so different.  Our ideas of ambition and success and relative middle-class poverty.  We disagreed on the pay hike for MPs, which my brother thought would be a good incentive to attract a higher quality of person, not that I voiced my disagreement that strongly, if at all.  His London-centric concept of salaries is extremely different to my embattled, embittered provincial one.  I would probably accept 20 grand and considerably less stress right now, maybe even lower.

I don’t warm to him easily, that involuntary smuggy smarminess to his manner; it’s cringeworthy and weird and embarrassing.  The way he speaks to his kids in those leading questions with that ingratiating intonation at the end: “do you think that is sensible or is it silly?

All the same he is so much better at life than me.  He is one of those people for whom, from a distance, life seems to have been a breeze.  Education (besides a little bullying), partner (Week One of university), education, career, marriage, mortgage, two beautiful kids: all before turning 30.  Bosh.  Job done.  What’s the problem?  Don’t make a meal of it.

Me, on the other hand: not a fucking clue what I’m doing or where I’m going.  Completing patronising application form questions for crap, low-wage jobs, trying to work out if I have a low enough opinion of myself to return to a call-centre next week.  Hounded by guilt for infecting my girlfriend with miserable angst and resentful at my paranoia about every pound spent, my inability to treat her or plan anything.

A chink was shown in his armour one evening.  His wife confided to my girlfriend that he fears failure, and sat alongside each other on the sofa, I opened up a general knowledge quiz app on an iPad.  He squirmed with discomfort.  “No, I’ll be rubbish.”  The man devours historical non-fiction, is pretty much at the top of his profession, a very smart and knowledgeable man.  He feared getting questions wrong on an app.  It amused me, briefly, especially when he got one or two questions wrong, and tried to shrug it off in just the same way Dad does when he answers a questions out loud on a television quiz show, and gets it wrong.  I love it when that happens too.

My Dad and my brother share the same sense of certainty in everything.  They are extremely seldom wrong in the confines of their own heads.  Certainty and always being unambiguously correct about everything is a virtue which they hold extremely dear.  Ambiguity or nuance does not exist for them.  Apparently not one of life’s major winners, maybe it’s natural for me to be more relaxed about these things.

Relaxing about everything doesn’t come naturally though.  When my brain spins during unsettled nights; when I’ve tried placing myself on football pitches and seeing if a game magically starts happening around me devolved of my conscious brain (I love dreams of playing football), but it hasn’t happened; when my brain has whirred through a highlights selection of my football playing days (happens embarrassingly often but is nice to do – disappointingly few goals); when I’ve visited that serene, remote pond, surrounded by snow but not iced over, and envisioned myself sitting on a nearby bench as an older man; when I’ve tried gliding high and unaided over a canyon; when I’ve remembered the few lovely moments over Christmas spent with his kids; when I’ve worried massively about money and the lack of a career and my inability to provide for myself, let alone anyone else; and I’ve angsted about the future and thoughts of ever being a father; then he appears, his well-fed belly bulging, grinning like a buffoon, spouting something he believes is witty.

But just look how much better he is than you, look how much more he has of everything that is meaningful.  Hahaha.

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