Getting On

For as long as I can remember I had never minded getting old, since being young has never really suited me. I don’t engage with or care about youth culture, I don’t own a smart phone and my idea of a good time is a night in watching kitchen sink dramas from the 1960s. What’s more, I don’t consider myself attractive or fashionable, which has meant that I’ve never had to worry about losing my youthful looks, because I don’t have any. It is only now in fact, a month before I turn thirty, that I have begun to think seriously about no longer being young and what, if anything, this means. For me the chief concern is that I might have wasted my time: wasted time working bad jobs, wasted time being friends with spiteful people, wasted time being unproductive or lazy.

Other people probably worry about success, or rather their lack thereof. Yet having spent the past seven years or so living in London, where everybody is striving to be successful, I’ve become increasingly disillusioned with the concept. Perhaps that’s a bad thing. When I was in my early twenties I was more ambitious than I am now, though I can see that I never really had any clear sense of what I wanted from life: it certainly wasn’t money, since I’ve never wanted to be wealthy; nor was it fame, the appeal of which has always baffled me. I suppose I was probably searching for the validation and respect of others; for me to believe that whatever I was creating, be it music or writing, was worthy in some way.

Perhaps because I am now more secure in my abilities and myself I care less about what others think of me, but it has taken me a long time feel this way. I am by nature a self-critical person, who has suffered in the past from what some call impostor syndrome—that is, the unshakeable fear of being exposed as a fraud. This, I think, is likely a side effect of doing terribly at school and coming from a modest background, something I didn’t truly know I was from until I moved to London. Growing up I didn’t know anybody who attended or had attended a private school. I presumed the privately educated were so small in number that I was unlikely to ever meet them, much less work with the them. What I didn’t know was that they are pretty much ubiquitous in London: they dominate most industries to a degree that continues to astound me.

I can hardly claim to have carved out any kind of a career for myself, but I have worked in a very minor sense in a journalism and publishing, two areas where the privately educated do very well indeed. My experiences in both areas were mixed. I enjoyed writing and literature, but soon began wondering whether I was right to pursue a career where I felt I had to pretend I was from any background other than my own. Casual snobbery was rife. I was only occasionally the subject of it, but before long it was clear to me that in the journalism and publishing worlds working-classes were regarded either as an oddity or otherwise low-cultured thugs, so distinct from the gentle, amiable middle-classes that were practically a different species.

Another reason for my disaffection, particularly in regard to journalism, was that I lacked the competitive drive that so many others hand, and of course their staunch, unquestioning belief in their own brilliance—something most journalists have in abundance. I have always naturally doubted my convictions, sometimes to the extent that I presume I must be wrong, even when the evidence suggests I am right. I am envious, in a way, of very arrogant people because arrogance is a valuable currency in our society, as evidenced by recent political events. A significant portion of the population are apparently impressed by arrogance, perhaps because they mistake it for a intelligence and some other admirable quality. But really of course it is a clumsy form of self-promotion.

Being terrible at self-promotion (among other things), I was never able to sell myself convincingly as a journalist, even in my own mind. Besides, by the time I reached my mid-twenties my motivations and ambitions had changed considerably. I no longer cared about achieving success, not at any rate in the broadest sense of the word. I was happier in many ways simply writing for pleasure, as I had when first fell in love with writing. I think for a long time I feared failure, but when I reflect on the past ten years I am proud of everything I’ve achieved, even if it amounts to practically nothing by society’s standards. So far as I see it, I don’t judge others by how much they earn or by their choice of job so why, I reason, should I care if somebody judges me by mine? I am more confident nowadays than when I was in my early twenties. Back then I felt I had something to prove, and I suppose I did in a way. I had to prove to myself that success ultimately had little bearing on my happiness; that I would always create, simply because I enjoyed doing so; and that despite what some might say merit and success are not inextricably linked.

Now, at twenty-nine, I feel generally satisfied in life. After many years not quite fitting in I have developed a quiet acceptance of myself and where I come from. I look back on my upbringing (parts of it) with fondness and no longer feel as if I have to change anything about myself. I’m more forgiving, less judgemental. Yet somehow, at the same time, I’ve never felt more disconnected from the rest of society. That’s not to say I’ve become reclusive or anti-social. I am in fact probably more sociable now than I was when I was when I was twenty, but purely in the traditional, drinking and chatting with mates in the pub sense; when it comes to engaging with the modern world, or even understanding it, I am at a loss. Perhaps that’s simply what happens when you get older: you become less concerned with what others are doing and focus more on yourself. Or perhaps it’s a product of the age in which we live.

The world has changed enormously in the past decade. I find it remarkable to think back to the late ’00s, when only a few people had smartphones and there was a Labour government in power. I definitely didn’t feel then, as I do now, that I was living through troubled times. Nor could I have predicted what was to come: Brexit, Trump, the rise of the far-right, the complete disintegration of our political system as we once knew it. It seems to me that social media has played a great part in enabling these things, since it has effectively provided the most credulous in society with a platform on which to share misinformation and manufacture outrage. Its appeal is easy enough to understand: it bolsters our own firmly held beliefs, which makes us feel clever, though at the cost of reducing debate to petty tribalism.

Most people are neither all good nor all bad. You can, I think, find positive characteristics in even those who hold untenable views by relating to them on some sort of personal level. But this is difficult to do on Twitter or Facebook, where users are essentially curating their own lives. They reveal about themselves only what they wish, so others rarely get to see the real person who’s posting. They are also probably likely to say things on social media they’d never say in public because doing so would have consequences: at best, they might be forced to reflect on how obnoxious they’re being; at worse, their abuse may result in somebody punching them in the face.

Nowadays, for the sake of my personal well-being, I try to limit my exposure to social media to an absolute minimum. I have found in the last decade that it serves very little purpose besides allowing me to share small unsolicited statements about myself with a small, largely apathetic audience. I think when I started presumed it was a convenient way of accessing the news, but much of what circulates on social media is not news: it’s mostly “commentary”—that is, opinion styled to resemble fact by writers who, though probably very well educated, lack a basic understanding of how most people live.

One consequence of being bombarded with “commentary” not only on social media, but in the media at large, is that it’s ruined all news for me. I’ve now pretty much resigned myself to being hopelessly ill-informed, though in this age of utterly clownish politics that’s probably for the best. Now that I’m nearly thirty I’ve developed outrage fatigue. I can’t continue to be angered and repulsed by the ever-declining state of the world, so I’ve chosen the path of partial and wilful ignorance, for the sake of my own mental health. I’m fortunate in the sense that, for me, “switching off” is quite easy. Since I don’t own a smartphone, I’ve managed to evade depending into technology dependence, or at any rate not to the stage at which I can’t walk down the bloody street without checking WhatsApp. But perhaps that’ll change sometime in the next ten years. Who knows?

I can say with some confidence that I have no idea what my thirties will hold. Unlike when I turned twenty, I feel I have nothing to prove to anybody. My only ambition is live a quiet, happy life, and to not take myself too seriously. I want to continue to write, in a musical and literary sense, and will, I promise, strive to be more philanthropic. I say more philanthropic; I really mean philanthropic, since I in all my years on this planet I have done relatively little help my fellow man, and that’s something I do regret. In my defence I will say that I haven’t done anything anything to harm my fellow man. I’d argue that nowadays, in an age marred by greed and corruption, doing nothing accounts for quite a lot, but I suspect that’s just wishful thinking. I’ve led a fortunate life in many ways. When I left school I was certain I was a failure. No doubt there are plenty of people who think I am, but I consider myself lucky: I’m easily pleased and appreciate everything I have achieved. At this stage of my life at least that’s more than enough for me.

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