Bullshit has never been my strongest suit and that has been a spectacular failing. I can only surmise from the actions of some people I have met on my journey through time that there is an LSD kind of trip that comes with knowingly stringing people along pretending to expert views on things one can not possibly be assured of.
If I don’t know something pretty well it’s pretty clear soon enough that I don’t. I hedge, I “er” and I “hmm”. To my frustration, I’ve found that this does not work very well in the traditional corporate environment. Actually it doesn’t work at all! People, it seems, demand rock solid assurance and the type of conviction that only comes from hallucinogenic and spiritual omniscience.
So when I have found myself listening to an economist or an analyst it’s obvious as mud that they are good, not at forecasting or guesstimating the future, but at telling stories. They are usually so convincing that the content in their message becomes irrelevant. Listeners are easily impressed by presentation skills (ah, that’s why oratory was such a core part of Ancient Greek and Roman curriculum) and I have often heard colleagues say things like “I liked him. He presented very well.” Not what he presented but how.
As I reflect on my working life I see that it’s colleagues who suck up, fit in, palm off other people’s ideas as theirs, fold into the consensus and who speak volubly of views in a cock “sure 100%” manner who do way better than the practical logical guy who won’t factually state an opinion except it can be backed up by a QED.
Walter Isaacson relates in his bio of Steve Jobs a piece of advice given to young Steve by Atari founder Nolan Bushnell: “Pretend to be completely in control and people will assume that you are.” Now without that sleeve of wisdom being imbibed and executed to perfection I may not have been typing this blog today on a MacBook Pro or any computer at all. The wonders of faking it never ceases to amaze and I sure do have a lot to learn about the peculiar earth-born genus called homo.
I’m sitting, this night, to all intents relaxed except I am anything but. For I am possibly about to embark on the most exhilarating journey in my otherwise non-eventful life. Tomorrow I expect to be fired, a first. My life as corporate financial analyst is to be crossed out not, afterall, with a 25-year-service golden pen but with a giant eraser.
I was sat, this morning, across a table from my boss soaking in sounds that came through the ether between us: “This is not working. You may have the technical chops but you don’t have the intuition and that can’t be taught”. Case shut. The next sound I heard were not fireworks but a colossal thud. I was the dumped spouse: abandoned, bereft and in shock. After years of working my precious butt, sometimes to almost midnight, this is how it ends. The door is surely now about to close and, though I don’t believe in fate, destiny or God but, it looks like Alexander Graham Bell was right and another door, a better door, is silently opening. The spark of an idea.
It came to me while sitting (I sit a lot) in a cafe at the weekend; in fact only yesterday. The prospect of reaching middle-age and being let go into a world that doesn’t want old fuddy-duddies had exercised my mind for a mighty long aeon. Still, I couldn’t figure what I could realistically do, entrepreneurially, that hadn’t been done. The one thing I knew was that when I walked the streets of London and observed independent businesses being run and managed by people with dreams, ambition and courage my heart would leap.
This is what I want to do: work for myself doing something that I love and excelling at it. This is how I feel walking into the Apple Store on Regents Street and knowing that “Someone built this and what a beauty it is”. Hate or loathe Apple but those guys raised the bar for computer software, build, design, functionality and service. I want to do something similarly amazing (perhaps, more). It will come at a premium (of course we all want to be paid and paid well) but it will be amazing. I once told a prospective boss who was about to hire me that “I want to change the world”. He laughed and there were times I would think back to then when I was younger and think “How naive”. It looks like life is offering me a chance.
So when my idea came I was awed and my heart leapt. After two hours of excitement the practical diffculties started to hit me: funding? technology? competition? managerial ability? Do all of the people who start a business have all these skills? No, they learnt on the job. Which is why I feel that my upcoming adventure will be less a child Alice through the looking glass and more an adult Jason setting off after the golden fleece. Tonight then as I sit on my sofa life is all surreal; my world is light, atemporal and indistinct; a living impressionist painting. I might fail but at least I’d have tried and what I learn will be invaluable. I don’t want to return to earth and ashes wishing “If only”.
But if it works out …
Looking out my window I can see the young daughter of a close-by neighbour. She must be what now – nine, ten? I’ve lived here four years and I’ve seen her grow from cute kid to the cusp of teenage-hood. In two years she’ll have breasts and be beset by that monthly thing that all women must go through; that process that makes the birth of the likes of me possible. In two years I’d have been living here for six; in the same small, cold flat with the single window glazing that won’t keep out the winter cold and the small kitchen where I can barely do a pirouette; besides, where will I store my growing pile of books?
I gotta do something about this. For as time waits for no one, it’s clear the time to grab the bull by the balls is now.
“What would you like to be when you grow up?” Famous! A movie star! A brain surgeon! A football player! A doctor! I want to design cars and houses and ships! A pilot! I want to be a detective! You can take it for granted that most of us will not be what we dreamed of being.
Childhood is, for some at least, a golden age. A dream-filled epoch when we speak as fortune tellers empty words which delight hearers and speaker alike eliciting fatuous compliments such as ‘Oh, that’s good child. Isn’t that cute!”. The Solomonic truism that there is a time for everything is now threadbare and the age of gold comes and then drifts past. Afterwards come the ages of Bronze and Iron or is it Copper [I forget my Virgil] but you get the picture. Epochs like the human age deteriorate and as a man past his twenties but not yet upon his sixties (grrr! fear!) I have come to that time in life when one kids one’s self not unless one is a fool: one has grown up. I know now that palms are for sensory contact with the surrounding environment and not for reading and that the time for thinking like a child is past.
So, what do I want to be now that I’ve grown up? When I was young it was the navy and the white uniform. As a teenager I wanted to be a singer-songwriter but lacked the grit and courage to sacrifice all for a dream. I eventually settled for a safe professional career but “safe”, I now see, is not what it once was. Still my dreams won’t release me and I feel like a flamingo caught in the jaws of a hyena or the nut caught in a cracker.
Two weeks ago I bought a beautiful new camera, the Fuji X100 (yay!) and as usual for me I went OTT buying books on photography. One illustration from one of those books stuck in my RAM (er, short term memory). It was of a battalion of ants crawling across London Bridge on their way to work in the City of London. They are all probably retired now but back then how important their daily routines and tasks must have seemed! Fast forward thirty years and I see colleagues running around sweating over fund flows, regulation, trades, basis points, quartile performance bla bla bla. What difference in fifty years will all this make? A big fat doughnut is what!
Newtonian physics as an explanation for how the universe works may have gone out of fashion like pleats but what hasn’t changed is the inconsequence of any life, human or otherwise. The improbable machine that is our universe grinds on defying explanation. Now, I understand fully that if you believe in God then obviously there is a point to life. Heaven, glory, virgins and all those wonderful prizes for leading a virtuous life. I have no such illusions; fiction is for the age of gold. I may as well sit at home and masturbate and enjoy the company of Captain Jack.
But there is no despair; rather, this point of view is very empowering once one has thought through the implications and that empowerment comes with a justification for a special kind of selfishness: the single minded purpose to live and to seize life’s decisive moments. To be. To be. To do. Yes, to do. But to do what? Whatever it is one may conceive of: brain surgeon, writer, actor, cross dresser, philosopher, psychologist or whatever. In this brave new world consideration of the opinions of others is strictly verboten. Anyone we think of today as “oh my God, what would they think?” won’t matter (as we won’t) in a billion years.
You define how to dress, how to speak, where to earn a living, who to fuck, what to read as long as you don’t physically harm anyone else or postulate their being harmed. That restriction is plain common sense. Emotional harm on the other hand can’t always be avoided for if our decisions about what we do and which don’t concern others offend their sensibilities then their objections harm us in turn and so we are square and we can go back to doing what we wanted to do in the first place. In like fashion if you want to sleep around or sleep in or get drunk and spend all your Sundays watching football that is up to you too. We can choose to do whatever it might take to be, to do, to live in the pursuit of happiness and to accept that, like grown-ups, every choice has a price and that as long as we are prepared to pay that price then we will happily give up our golden age of pointless dreaming.
I’m hunting around for antivenom by the tankful. It started like so: after two gorgeous weeks doing la-di-da and swanning around California, I returned to my work desk on Saturday to prepare for my full return on Monday. I arrived with mild palpitations (I should have you believe from excitement not fear) to find a strange publication on my desk. What was it? Ho-ho, it’s the new Hail Mary from the corporate juggernauts upstairs. While some of us were sipping Bellinis in Hollywood and getting stuffed with oyster sliders, some other hardworking types (the Alpha A+ personalities) got us a new corporate image.
The thing is, fifteen months ago we hired a very famous sports personality to (allegedly) sing our praises; he was, I thought, just the sort of charming adventurer who would get out of bed – for us – for nothing less than [.] million and not even know what we did. Twelve months of “what-is-this-guy-doing-for-us-again?” later and some ten percent (or some nice round number) of us got caught with our underpants round our knees during a “rightsizing” storm: despoiled, cold, wet and desk-less just before Christmas. I think I barely survived the rout for reasons I won’t go into but, boy, was I in shock. I’ve always been conflicted about loyalty to one’s colleagues and employer and I am minded (by compassion or guilt or plain stupidity) to stick with them but I have found that such mind-fulness only travels one way.
An unsettling fortnight or so afterwards, we the survivors were feted, toasted and celebrated at the annual Christmas party. Gimme a break! So now we are out spending money again and this time, it’s the Holy Grail. Uh-oh we saw where that ended last time. We are now told the old publicity campaign (aka stunt) delivered its objectives. Of course! We are now told it’s time to step up to the next level. Certainly! I admit the new image looks very professional; just the right shade of cocky grey bespattered with the correct amount of white and red to bestir the passions. It’s sure to send zillions of new clients our way. Even better was the decision to stuff it with well-worn and torpor-inducing corporate blather often hectored by garrulous consultants, imposing PR people and uber-MBA types.
I think of all the money we spent (and will spend) and then all the jobs with red tick marks against them for the next cull. Should I remain the loyal foot soldier, standing ground like the 300 at Thermopylae even until the fateful steel blade is thrust into my back making short work of my corporate life? That is the question. It’s a big question deserving ample consideration. The answer: of course, my loyalty must be above suspicion. I’m a professional, after all. Please, pass me the antivenom.