Thursday, 10 September 2009

Nothing less than the best

People often say the world is shrinking, and that the rat race is moving faster every day. Such competition to be the fastest, the strongest, the best, brings progress and moves us forward as a race. Doesn't it?

Less than two hundred years ago the world moved at a much slower pace. Horses and carts trundled down roads, people who couldn't afford them walked. Mail was carted, shipped, or couriered to its destination. Documents had to be written and copied by hand, and if you wanted to find information, you would open a book or simply ask someone. Today we have the computers and the internet for that. Fast trains transport us to cities for business meetings, and we're back home the same evening. Emails and text messages are received almost the instant they are sent. What's wrong with that?

My answer: it raises expectations. Not only are we reliant on technology which fails so often, thereby opening ourselves to disappointment when our 200Gb broadband is running 0.5 seconds slower than usual, but we raise our expectations of ourselves. Why haven't you finished that report? Why were you late? The possibilities that modern technologies have opened up no longer seem to be recognised as possibilities, they're now seen as standards which must be met. Where once you might have seemed old fashioned if you didn't have a telephone, now you're seen to be living in the dark ages if your bluetooth WAP mobile phone doesn't have a 500 megapixel digital camera built in that also makes the tea.

Social networking sites have raised the bar for global communications and 'keeping in touch'. Whereas I agree that they are useful for those of us blessed with 300 friends all of whom can't get enough of us, organise tons of parties and other events and post evey single photo we've ever taken to the enjoyment of others, for the rest of us, who have a few close friends and family, and then a number of acquaintances, such sites can be more of a hindrance than a help. Personally, I really don't care what the girl who used to sit three rows behind me in maths lessons had for her breakfast, or which movie my uncle's second cousin's dog groomer would be best in. But if I don't add or accept every person I ever went to school with, all their new friends and family, and their neighbours and postman, then I'm unsociable. There must be something wrong with me, because I don't want to talk to everyone under the sun. I want to talk to the people I care about most and who care about me, rather than pretend as though I give a crap about the fact that someone who's face I know from somewhere but can't quite put my finger on it is hungover from being so terribly drunk the night before.

To me, these sites are no better than a party you go to just to compare yourself to old friends, where you make promises to meet up, write, or at least send Christmas cards, and then forget as soon as you leave that you ever said such a thing. The trouble is, with the 'instant' world in which we live, things don't seem to last very long. We've become so obsessed with the next big thing, that we're in danger of never being fulfilled because the current big thing is always usurped by the sheer concept of the next. Will anything ever be good enough?

With this dependance on modern technology and the expectations is brings, comes raised expectations from ourselves as people. I feel that the expectation is: if the limit is how many bits per second your computer can process, what is your excuse for functioning any slower? Have we really moved on all that much from the 80s idyll of work hard, play hard, rest never? I am only one person, so if you wanted the report/file/booking 10 minutes ago, you should have asked me ten minutes ago!

It's not just in the work place that we are expected to excell. Through the media, namely popular women's magazines, and even in men's (though they're not expected to care as much), the 'ideal' of having everything is fed into our minds to make us feel bad about ourselves. Beautiful, well dressed, toned, successful people lament how tough their lives are, and how difficult is it sometimes to (buzzword) juggle every thing in their lives. On TV and in films, the happy ending is slowly killing our egos. It works on the same area of the brain targeted by the people who left out the egg from an instant cake mixture. It's the aspect of our personalities that tells us that we are in control of the world around us, that we control ous own destinies.

My deepest aplogies for this self-indulgent rant of a blog. Read what you will into it. The moral, if there is one, I suppose is to have high expectations for yourself, and accept that you don't have to answer to anyone but yourself if those expectations are not met. This can sometimes be the hardest thing, but always remember, you're only human, and it's ok to make mistakes. Only by trying your very best in everything can you truly accept who you are and what you achieve.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

The Road not Taken

One of my favourite authors, Neil Gaiman, wrote a graphic novel in which Destiny walks blindly through his garden, chained to his book where fates are written. He writes that every person walks through Destiny's garden, taking countless turns and changes in direction, yet when one looks back, there is only one path.

At this juncture in my life, as I wait out the long weeks until I go to Spain to learn to teach, I find myself looking back tortuously over my life so far. Twenty two years is nothing but a blip in the history of the world, and yet how many worlds have I inhabited, how many lives have I lived, and how many deaths have I died. It is agonising to think through the years and see highlighted those moments which, by my own doing or another's, shaped the person I am today, and the path I have so far trodden. Questions fill my head, rendering thought impossible, all coming down to the same two enduringly empty words: 'What if?'.

Now, I know what you're thinking: there's no point in dwelling on the past, you must look ahead if you are to move forward. I know well that to stay in one place for too long is to stagnate. A river must find its way to the ocean. And yet while I wait to embark on the next big adventure, to change the course of my life once again, thoughts of the past and what might have been haunt my waking hours. But one mustn't get too hung up on possibilities, especially when the people you've left behind (or who have left you behind) are still a presence in your life, albeit peripheral and slightly irritating. If you spend too much time wondering what might have been, you forget about what might be, what could be just around the corner.

But the truth is, what might be scares the hell out of me. There are certain things I can control, with hard work and a whole lot of faith, I can evolve my own destiny. Then there are things that just have to be dealt with as they come along. These life unknowns are not what worry me; I'm a pretty good person to have around in a crisis. No, it's something quite different that deepens the premature worry line on my forehead. I don't want to have any regrets when I face Death. I want to be able to look back and say: although I didn't know it at the time, I made the right decision. The only thing standing in the way of making the right choices for my own future happiness is myself, second guessing every step, every turn on the path. What scares me is that once a path is chosen, there is no going back, no second chance. Life's a stage and there are no rehearsals. How do I stop the times I went for it, only for things to blow up in my face, from stopping me in future times when I should go for it but fear getting hurt?

The thing is, although it will by no means lessen the line on my brow, I know the answer already, but am loathe to put it into practise by that mostly dormant Stockholm Syndrome in everyone's mind that keeps us in love with our pain. The answer is: do it anyway. I've said it before when talking about my career plans, which at this point involve leaving on a jet plane and being quite uncertain as to when I'll return: feel the fear and do it anyway. Why not the same for love, in all its forms? People hurt each other, but we still make friends, form bonds, fall in love. I suppose the key is not to burden the people you meet tomorrow with the pain caused by the people who hurt you yesterday. It's bad Karma and downright unfair.

And so I live in hope that in the very near future, I will be able, finally, to scrunch my residual fear and self doubt into a tight ball, and throw it over the proverbial cliff. Besides being so very ready to move on, there's no room for it in my suitcase.