2: How to get stuck in a rut…I mean, plateau (part one)

A wise man once told me there are three things you need to live a happy life: a job you like, a family you like, and something to look forward to.

I kind of have all three.

Finding a job you like is never easy. This is a dilemma for kids at school: they’re being asked what career they want, what they want to do in the future. It’s a tough one: I know people who are in their fifties and still don’t know what they want to do with their life, and teenagers are expected to know when they’re still at school.

Somebody gave me this advice years ago: find something you enjoy doing and make money out of it, and you’ll never work another day in your life. But what? I’m not counting the usual dreams like being a rock star, or top sportsperson, or movie star…they fade pretty quick (though never completely go away, I’ve noticed – singing along to a song in the car is tantamount to wanting to be on a stage in front of thousands of people).

So your dreams become smaller, more manageable. I’ve found that to be the main part of becoming a grown-up, making your dreams smaller. It’s a shame isn’t it? That knowing you’ll never be a huge success at anything. It’s no wonder mid-life crises happen.

I don’t think I’ve ever suffered a mid-life crisis. From what I understand of it, it’s when you evaluate your life and what you’re doing with it. If that is the case, I’ve been having a mid-life crisis since I was about twelve. I do know, though, as you get older, your ‘give a shit’ levels drop, and it’s very freeing, like being a kid again. Here’s a handy graph to show you what I’m talking about:

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I think the closest I’ve been to an age crisis is when I gave up my job as a surveyor to become a book shop owner.

I received erratic support when I did this, from the platitudinal ‘yeah, you go, boy’, to the downright envious ‘don’t do it, it’ll never work’.

Envious, you ask? Yeah, I think so. Most people don’t want their friends to succeed.

It’s like, people don’t want other people to be happy. You can tell someone genuinely that you are happy and content and enjoying your life, and they don’t want to hear it. They want to hear about how shit your life is, so they can feel better about theirs. It’s the same being single and happy. It’s kind of not allowed. Society says you should have a partner, share your life with someone else, that’s the only way to be truly happy, and if you tell people you’re single and happy, they just don’t believe you, like, single and happy? How is that possible?

‘Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little’. That’s what Gore Vidal said, and I completely agree. Not with the sentiment from myself; I genuinely want everyone I know to follow their dreams and be a success, and actively ask them how much of their dream they have worked on today. But when I wanted to follow my own dream, small though it was, I could feel the angst dripping from their pores. When they say ‘don’t do it, it’ll never work’, what I heard in my head was, ‘if you follow your dream and succeed, it brings into focus how much I haven’t followed mine. Please don’t succeed – you’ll make me feel inadequate.’

Of course, what goes in my head doesn’t generally follow reality. I’m a dreamer; that ‘s what I’ve always been told. Always have a dream, I think, and work on it. How’s that saying go? ‘Beware the dreamers of the daytime, as they’ll make them real.’ (or something like that).

Sorry, I have digressed again. I do that a lot. I’m good at it. I’m meant to be writing about my work, and have skipped into ‘having something to look forward to’.

So, my job.

I took a risk, and it has sort of paid off. Being a surveyor was okay, I guess. It more than adequately paid the bills, gave me and my family quite a comfortable life, but at the then age of forty, and with twenty-five years of that job to go, I just saw my future life right in front of me and thought,’ I don’t want that’.

My ‘other future’ meant watching the kids grow up, going to dinner parties, talking about house prices, the state of the country, competing with other parents about how your kids are better than theirs, name-dropping people you know in the higher echelons of society, seeing the kids leave the house, going on holidays as a couple and not talking about anything substantial, just filling the silent gaps…

All boring, bland, beige, vanilla… crap.

And, yes, some of that other future is still in this one, but it’s different now.

I’d always loved reading books, and enjoyed talking about them, seeing what other people thought about them (mainly seeing how differently they thought about them), asking what people are reading, and why they are reading it. You can get a fairly good take on what people are like when you have a look at their book shelf.

You can also get a true picture of someone from looking at their internet browsing history…

So, in my head, I had this dream life I wanted to create for myself.

I would be able to talk about books all day, and engage with the customers and staff who have the same interests as me. I’d be my own boss, away from all the politics and gossip that permeates all other workplaces. This was naive, I know that. It doesn’t matter what line of work you are in, or how you’ve set it up, you always have to deal with people, and that’s what dicks everything up.

Admin, marketing, bills, accounts, stocking, restocking, throwing books away (I especially don’t like that part, there’s something almost Nazi-ish about it), staff being off sick, or on holiday, having hardly any holidays myself…yeah, it’s glamorous. I do get good bits, though. We get regular customers (we have a coffee shop in the store, which actually is what brings people in), some of them having a break from work, or a break from shopping. Some of them are just lonely, and want someone to talk to. Some people actually come in to look at the books, and some of them actually buy them.

So, it hasn’t quite worked out exactly like the dream job I had in my head, but it’s not so far away that I don’t want to continue.

Catch you in the next blog, part two, family… hmmm… do I really have to…?

Link to my books

@andyculyer

Author: Andrew Culyer

For good or bad, am just trying to get through this...

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