This is a story about office life...
Look closely at the image above. It appears like I already wrote this blog post. It certainly feels like that. Haven't we been here before? Deja vu?
When you get stuck into a cycle, how do you break out of it? When the loudspeakers scream with feedback, because the sound that the microphone captures is being amplified and re-amplified, how do you reset, without cutting the power?
My behaviour might look self-sabotaging, but I'm actually deliberately burning bridges so that I have no line of retreat back to the places that made me unhappy in the first place.
When I worked in the City the first time around, I used to have 3 or 4 strong macchiato coffees every day. That's 12 espresso shots. I used to get drunk most lunchtimes and after work. I needed 2/3rds of a bottle of red wine to get to sleep, after all that coffee.
Uppers and downers, round and round. We rode the rollercoaster nonstop until we were sick. Every day, every week, every month, every year... they were the same.
When I was in my early 20's it wasn't such a big deal. We used to tank up on caffeine, churn out a load of code that would form the backbone of the world's economy, and then go get drunk to try and calm down a bit. We thought we could carry on like that forever, with our uppers and downers.
I saw colleagues get sick with stress, anxiety, depression, alcoholism. Some of my colleagues needed liver transplants. Some of my colleagues died. The system chewed us up and spat us out.
By my mid 20s I'd owned a yacht, a speedboat, sportscars... for some reason no amount of material possessions and status symbols seemed to quench the massive insecurity and frustration with life. Take a socially awkward, unpopular geek, sprinkle in wealth and the illusion that you're being 'successful' in life, and you wind up with a pretty confused adult.
While my schoolfriends paired off with lifelong partners and started to have children, I would suddenly decide that a loving relationship would be my salvation. I moved to a Surrey commuter town with a girlfriend, and started to play golf and generally start to think & act like a middle-aged family man. That was a bit of strange thing to do for a 21 year old.
Back in London after my first experiment into becoming a happy adult had failed, I satisfied myself with extreme sports, Internet discussion forums and lots of holidays and weekends away with nice big social clan. The London Kitesurfers 'club' was a lovely thing to be part of for several years. However, I still felt that I was missing that 'love' piece of the puzzle.
Some nice scientist kitesurfer girl seemed to tick all the boxes, and I launched myself with great intensity at a long-distance relationship that was never going to work. Relocating to the South coast, I quickly got involved with a geek girl who was into adventure sports: she seemed ideal, on paper.
I set about building the framework for a comfortable family life: the house, the steady job, the sensible car. However, I ignored the massive red flag: my girlfriend was a mean person.
I'm not easily dissuaded from my goals. Whatever obstacles I encounter, I just go around them. I'm a completer-finisher. I try to fix, improve, change, rather than throw things away or start again.
Anyway, I was flogging a dead horse. No matter how many times I painted a perfect picture postcard of how life could be, I'd found somebody who was stubbornly resistant to the idea of being nice and kind and supportive of the person who potentiated a 5-star luxury lifestyle for both of us. There was plenty of space for us both to shine, but sadly, she wanted me to be subdued and subserviant. She had gotten used to being showered with praise and being top of her class. She wasn't used to sharing the stage. She wasn't prepared for both of us to be happy.
I abandoned that life. I lost my business, my reputation with the major employers in the local area, my house and a substantial chunk of my wealth. I was fighting for survival, so I didn't have the time to go and carefully unpick the things that I had spent years building. I had no need of a house and shedful of things. What was I going to do with all that stuff? It was an unncessary millstone around my neck.
Now I find myself following a tried-and-trusted formula for wealth and 'success'. I'm rapidly putting together a lovely home again. I'm rapidly rebuilding my cash position. I'm rapidly rebuilding my reputation. However, I've seen it all and done it all before. I'm just going through the practiced motions.
"How did you know that was going to happen?" my colleagues ask me, like I'm some kind of clairvoyant. My ability to 'predict' the future is nothing more than making educated guesses, because I've been seen it all before. It looks prescient, but it's no more amazing than somebody who's learned from their mistakes.
That means my day job is pretty dull. I finish people's sentences, and I take great delight in giving people things they need before they ask for them. I'm ahead of the game. In the oft-quoted words of Wayne Gretsky, I'm skating to where the hockey puck is going to be.
I'm aware that this seems very arrogant. I'm not delusional. I know I'm not special or different. I know I'm no smarter than your average Joe.
I've done a 'gap' analysis, of my unsatisfying, unfulfilling and depression-filled life, and it seems like I need a dog, a cat, some kids and a loving supportive partner. If you ask children to draw a picture, they'll normally draw a house, the sun, some clouds, their parents and brothers & sisters, their pets. It seems like a pretty tried-and-trusted formula for life.
However, I even feel guilty about my cat living with my parents because he comes from a broken home. My cat, Frankie, has had to move house once in his kitty life, and I feel bad about the disruption and stress I caused him. I would love it if Frankie could live with me, but it would be cruel to make him live in a 4th floor apartment in a busy city. Having Frankie adopted by my parents, with their generous garden and surrounding Cotswold countryside, was the least bad option, but I still feel guilty.
Can you imagine how bad I'd feel if I had kids and they had a stressful home life? Can you imagine how guilty I'd feel if I knew that I selfishly chose to have children because they would give my life purpose and meaning, but I failed to adequately consider that the world I bequeathed to them is dying?
I'm running in autopilot at work. My brain is on tickover, doing my job. This unfortunately leaves a lot of time to consider the plight of the world's poor and struggling people. I have a lot of time to think about war and preventable diseases. I have a lot of time to think about inequalities and morality. I seem to be like a sponge, sucking up all the pain, suffering, cruelty, anger, hostility, selfishness, greed and immorality that seems to characterise the human race.
I could cut myself off from reading the news, but what would I do all day while I'm bored at work?
I can read the news, and if I get caught then nobody's really that bothered because I'm on top of my work and performing well. If I write my blog and try to stay on top of these feelings that threaten to overwhelm me, then I'm always nervous that my mask is going to slip.
I'm flirting with disaster anyway, wearing a semicolon tattoo just behind my ear, that advertises my struggle with depression, anxiety, addiction, self-harm and suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts.
When you have a problem, you can try to solve the root cause, or you can find a workaround. I know what the workarounds are. I know what the root cause is. I'm just not really satisfied that I can either do much about human nature and a selfish race intent on destroying itself, and neither am I very happy to attempt to insulate myself from reality, using drugs and money to put myself into a protective bubble
Begging is illegal in the City of London. Canary Wharf is a private estate, so undesirable members of society can actually be thrown out of the rich little enclave. You can kid yourself that there aren't any problems in the world, because you don't see them - out of sight out of mind - but that's why we got in this mess in the first place.
What happens next is as much a question of morality as it is a question of personal survival. Is it better to have lived life with some values and standards, rather than just saying "I was just doing what everybody else was doing" as if that's some kind of defence.
I know this is very lecturing, and once you've got skin in the game you have no choice but to try and do the best for your tiny tots, but I have a choice. I actually choose not to get a dog, because they're polluting (dogs need to eat masses of meat) and I choose not to have a family, because I can't make any guarantees that there's going to be a liveable planet for them to grow up on.
It doesn't make me a morally superior person. It's just the way I personally think. I know parents are racked with worry about the kind of world that their kids are going to inherit. I do empathise with the stress and challenges faced by families. Doesn't mean that's an excuse for me to join in though.
Tags: #family #capitalism #climatechange #career #london #banking #computing