- Get good grades at school so you can go to a good university ✓
- Then get into that university ✓
- Then get good grades again ✓
- Then work for free until somebody values your work enough to finally pay you so you can eat food and stuff ✓
- Then get a job ✓
- And then… and then what?
They hate you if you’re clever, and they despise a fool – John Lennon
I have a rather turbulent relationship with my hometown. We’ve never really seen eye to eye on a lot of things. Ever since I can remember I’ve always felt like an outsider in my own city. This is something I think about a lot and find very difficult to articulate.
I’m from a place called Sunderland – a small, working class city in the North East of England. For readers who aren’t familiar with the geography of the UK, it is the Game of Thrones equivalent of Winterfell. I find it’s the type of place you either never leave or move as far away from as you can. It’s a city that revolves around drinking and football, neither of which are high on my list of interests. It has very limited opportunities but if you try hard enough you can find a job at a call centre, or at a bar, or a school or an office. Everyone has a ‘living for the weekend’ mentality which I could never get on board with. It’s a place that can provide you with a cushy life where you have just enough money to pay the bills and go out drinking on a Saturday night.
If Sunderland had to sit an exam that tests its quality of life it would probably get a C+. It’s not a bad place to live. But it’s also not that great either. Which is where I’ve concluded the problem lies. In this middle ground. This is my theory:
Sunderland is a comfortable place to live.
Comfort breeds complacency.
Complacency breeds stagnation.
A major fear of mine is to become stagnant and trapped in a place/job I don’t like. And I fear that is what will happen if I stay here. My hometown represents stagnation to me. So I remain uncomfortable, resentful and unhappy in order to keep myself motivated to leave. If I get too comfortable it’s over. Is this a crazy way of looking at things? It’s crazy isn’t it?
Don’t get me wrong, when the sun hits it right Sunderland can be a very scenic place to live. The city has a beautiful coastline, surrounded by green countryside and some charming 19th century architecture. In my view, what holds the place back is the negative attitude of a lot of the residents. On any day of the week if you go to a local pub you will invariably overhear a conversation that sounds something like this:
“Argh Sunderland is a shit hole. It’s always been a shit hole. Never nothing good ever ‘appens”
“Should we do something about it?”
“Nar, I’d rather just complain about it and makes others feel bad for trying”
Okay maybe that isn’t a verbatim conversation you will overhear but it’s certainly the general tone. It is a ubiquitous attitude that can unfortunately be very contagious. I find that people are so fixated on the negatives that they refuse to acknowledge the positives. And they carry that with them in all aspects of life. I feel that in order to be happy you need to become a miserable drone and embrace how awful everything is. You have to proudly exclaim: “it’s shit, but it’s home”
(I know I am painting my picture with broad strokes here. Not EVERYONE is like this obviously. I am just trying to get across the general negative attitude of the city.)
I grew up with people saying I could do anything I wanted to. Yet whenever I would express any ambition or ideas that deviate from the “norm” I’d get shot down for it. I’ve been lucky enough to spend a bit of time living outside of Sunderland and the UK. I spent two years living in America and working in various locations around Europe and Asia. Whenever I am out of Sunderland I feel like I can accomplish anything. I feel unbelievably creative and happy in my own skin. I smile at people on the streets and wish them a good day.
Then I return home, and it is like all that personal development and positive change never happened. I feel like Frodo returning to The Shire and trying to explain how scary a Nazgûl is; the description will never do it justice. I tell stories about the happy people I met or the fun things I did, and more often then not I am received with mockery and judgement. I am made to feel like a snob for even considering alternative life choices. I suddenly feel awful and pessimistic about my life goals and I don’t feel like an individual anymore but part of a group that I don’t connect with. You get all your ambitions and dreams shaken out of you and told to get a “normal” job. To meekly shuffle down the path of mediocrity like everyone else and stop being so pretentious.
I know this isn’t unique to me. Returning to any hometown is tricky. Whenever people return to a place or see people they haven’t seen in years, it is often a challenge not reverting back to the person you used to be. I find that a lot of times in friendships you tend to hold the person that your friends with to the standard of what the friendship was originally.
For example, when I am looking at hometown friends on Facebook who I haven’t spoke to in years it is hard to imagine any sort of emotional development. I still think of them as being the same person they were at that party four years ago. Like they are some kind of 2D character in the production of my life. (Maybe this isn’t universal and I am just demonstrating the size of my ego. But I am going to continue in the hope that something of what I am saying will resonate with someone.) But this is the challenge for me when returning home to my friends and family. People don’t see the person I have become, but the person I was. This is when resentment starts building up.
Okay I think I’ve lost my train of thought now and am just incoherently rambling.
To conclude, I’ve often blamed the city for a lot of my negative thoughts. It’s an easy scapegoat for a lot of my problems. For example: the reason I’m not more successful is because of the limited opportunities it provided me. Or the reason I’m not more self-confident is because of the close minded/stifling attitudes I was brought up around. Or it’s the reason I can’t ever get a tan in the summer (that last one upsets me the most).
Maybe I’m a victim of my surroundings. Or maybe I make an active decision to place myself as an outsider. Or maybe it is just a case of “the grass is always greener” or suffering from the fear of missing out. Who knows. But I realised all of these negative feelings towards my hometown was unhealthy, counterintuitive and was only breeding more disconnect and isolation. My external surroundings don’t define me as a person.
So in an attempt to transcend my own negativity I set myself a challenge to make a positive video about Sunderland. I decided to ride around on my bike and film all of my favourite places. It was actually quite a therapeutic experience and I am rather pleased with the result.
I’ll admit it may not be an actuate representation of the place as I mainly focused on the coastal areas and the places far removed from the city centre. But I think that works as an unintentional metaphor for me feeling like I am on the outskirts of society looking in rather than being in the thick of it all. I could have just as easily (if not even easier) made it look gritty, industrial and miserable. But that wouldn’t have been as fun.
Here is the video!
It’s not a bad place really, I just need to stop being so negative. As I grow older I know I am very lucky to be where I’m from. Relatively speaking there is lots going on.
Let me know your thoughts. How do you feel about your hometown? Do you feel resentment or do you love it?
Mount Batur is an active volcano and Bali’s third highest peak at 1,717m. I climbed to this peak last summer.
I started writing a blog post about my experience however I found it very difficult to articulate how breathtaking the views were – so I thought I’d edit together a little video to show you instead.
It’s a little silly in places but I hope you like it!
It was my 24th birthday last month. In the 24 years I have been endowed with consciousness I have had many dreams of what I wanted to be. Here are just a few I had growing up that stand out in my memory:
From the age of 6 – 8 I wanted to be a priest. I was raised catholic and went to church every week. The way I saw it, my priest only worked one day a week, got to live in a huge house seemingly free of charge, and got to be the center of attention who everyone wanted to be friends with. And to top it off, he had a personal phone line directly to the big bearded guy upstairs!
From the ages of 9 – 11 my interests took a radical turn. I spent my time endlessly watching James Bond movies and decided being an international spy was the clearly the role I was born to do. I fashioned myself a secret service ID badge (I laminated it so everyone knew it was official), had my family call me 007, and walked around in a suit holding a brief case full of secret documents (normally just homework).
From around 12 – 14 I wanted to be an actor. I figured international spy was a pretty competitive industry and I was a bit clumsy so probably wouldn’t be allowed to have a gun. If I was an actor I could just pretend to be a spy without any of the danger! Plus, I’d get paid to work with pretty girls. Perfect! However, after a few acting classes it turned out my crippling stage fright might get in the way.
For about a week at 15 I had a brief stint of wanting to be a doctor. Then I remembered a time I went and got a blood test and fainted at the sight of the nurse holding a needle. So maybe not.
There have been MANY more dreams in my 24 years that have come and gone. Including fireman, train driver, video game tester, food tester, chef, candle stick maker, architect, professional sleeper, Christmas cracker joke writer and concert pianist. The list could go on. And it will.
However, there comes a point in everyones life where we are told we have to start being pragmatic and realistic with career goals. You are given the world of opportunity and told you have to pick a thing. And so you pick a thing because you like it. But down the line you might not want the thing you thought you wanted.
My dreams have changed so many times. They still change even today. This scared me a lot growing up as I felt very fickle and indecisive. How can I begin on a career path when I can’t even decide what I want to be? Over time, I have slowly came to the conclusion that changing your dreams is okay. It’s okay to go after something new.
In Dan Gilbert’s TED Talk entitled The Psychology of our Future Self, he talks about how we tend to imagine that the person we are right now is the person we’ll be for the rest of time. Which is not the case. He summarises:
Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished. The person you are right now is as transient, as fleeting and as temporary as all the people you’ve ever been. The one constant in our life is change.
We change everyday and so it makes perfect sense that our wants and needs will change with us. Ambitions change with new experience. That dream you have been chasing your whole life? It can change! Because people change.
So here is my advice:
Don’t live your dreams. Or at least don’t feel pressured to. Your dreams were dreamt by a more imperfect, past version of yourself. Your past self didn’t know what you know now. There is absolutely no loyalty to your former self. A person that doesn’t even exist anymore.
I am objectively smarter than I was five years ago. By definition, I am the smartest, wisest, most experienced version of myself at any given moment. I have never had as many experiences as I have right at this moment. I have never had as much knowledge as I have right at this moment. I have never read as many books as I have right at this moment. Live in the present and don’t be held hostage by your former desires.
That dream you had in high school may not be the same dream you have in college. That dream you had in college might not be the same dream you have when you start working. Let the failures come forth and create a new world from the ground up. You are allowed to be lost. I have been lost for years. And it has taken a while for me to be okay with it.
I was babysitting a cousin of mine yesterday. She is about five years old and full of energy and imagination. We were playing a game where we pretended the floor was on fire and we had to avoid certain areas. We rescued imaginary animals and called imaginary firemen. She concocted a world from nothing but her creative power. She was so deeply invested in this scenario that there was no self-consciousness or embarrassment in her actions.
Kids are dedicated to having fun as much as possible. They wear their emotions on their sleeve for all to see. They see colour and feel the air. They aren’t thinking ahead or rationing their energy, which is why tiredness and exhaustion hit them all at once. They think: “I feel great right now, so I’m going to chase that bee for an hour and a half.” Which is great! Kids are completely present at all times and enjoy life wherever and whenever they can.
It got me thinking about what we lose as we grow older. And at what points in time we lose this presence. Here is my half-brained theory:
When kids start to grow up, for better or worse we slowly introduce them to boundaries. We start off by introducing them to ‘recess’ (not the TV show Recess, although we also do that as well). We introduce an allocated time slot where they are allowed to play and have fun. We tell them: “Jimmy, if you’re good now you will get a play time at 11 o’clock. That’s when you can play with your blocks and lego. But for now, work hard and be good.”
This idea of allocated play times is instilled in us in our formative years. And so as grown up’s we still have these invisible boundaries in us. We are constantly looking for permission to have fun.
Last weekend I did nothing but watch movies, lie on the sofa, play my guitar and eat junk food. It felt good in the moment but I couldn’t help feel guilty about not being ‘productive’. Why was I feeling guilty about doing what I wanted and enjoying myself? Similarly, I’ve been in conversations with people who have expressed guilt for enjoying quiet walks in the sun. Why?! We should be having fun all of the time. Life is meant to be lived and enjoyed. We shouldn’t feel guilty about doing things that make us feel peaceful and happy.
Grown ups are constantly looking for permission to have fun. If I want to dance, I tell myself I need to be in a place where dancing is socially acceptable. I either need to be at a wedding and drunk, or at a bar dancing ironically and self-consciously with friends. We are waiting for that invitation and permission to have fun. We are waiting for our own version of recess when instead we should be dancing all the time.
We spend our lives gaining more and more responsibility. Building up our ego and identity. However the older I get the more I want to revert to being a kid again. Having that constant creative mentality. Spend any amount of time with one and you’ll realise they hold the answer to happiness. Kids don’t check Facebook over and over. Or worry about taxes. Or wonder what Isis is doing. If they want to be famous they become famous. If they want to be a penguin they become a penguin. Their natural state is to create and imagine. Grown ups tell themselves “one day I’ll be happy”. Kids never have this thought as they are always happy in the moment. Grown ups are always burdened by tomorrow. Kids say: “I have energy now. Lets have fun now. Tomorrow doesn’t matter.”
So take yourself less seriously. Stop looking for permission. Go pretend the floor is on fire and save some kittens. Dance whenever you want to and tell someone they’re pretty.
My name is Kristian. I am 24. I am a graduate, bachelor of the arts, male, English, British, European, human, movie enthusiast, guitar player, photographer, book lover, frequent flyer, liberal, secularist, humanist, feminist, stoic, list maker, blogger, friend, brother, son, and grandson.
These are a few categories I use to identify myself, and what others use to describe me. Over my life this list will change. Things will be added to the list. Some things may leave the list.These categories tell you a lot about me, but at the same time nothing at all. They are very subjective, general and limited. No true description of a person can be found within language.
Categories shouldn’t be taken at face value. There is a story behind every label that tells so much more about ourselves that’s worth substantially more to learn. Labels are good at identifying individual traits, however we are always greater than the sum of our parts. We should be careful not to judge people on predisposed beliefs compounded by categories.
As well as being a part of these various categories. I am also a conglomerate of various and conflicting ideals and emotions. There are lots of versions of me. My opinions change daily with every new piece of information which makes it very difficult to understand myself, never mind describe myself to the outside world. Subjective, general and limited words are the closest I can come.
What categories do you belong to? How do you describe yourself to others? Do you find it easy?
Lately I have been thinking about all the many options available to me in my life. There is so many jobs out there. So many countries to visit. So many people to meet. As cliched as it sounds, I can be anything I want to be!
I genuinely believe anyone who is proactive and motivated enough can do whatever they want in life. However as optimistic as this sounds, this thought can get a little too overwhelming at times. If there are that many options in life, how can I possibly make the right decision? I am scared of choosing one path and missing out on the infinite number of other paths. I feel I need guidance to tell me which path I should take, but I know even if I were to receive such guidance I’d probably be too stubborn to follow it.
I have this paradox of wanting to experience everything in life, but when I start thinking about all the things I want to do I get overwhelmed and don’t want to do anything. The options become so scary that staying in bed and watching Netflix for the rest of my life seems a more attractive option.
I looked into this, and psychologists call it the paradox of choice. Barry Schwartz wrote a book on the topic where he says too much choice “produces paralysis, rather than liberation. With so many options to choose from, people find it very difficult to choose at all.”
Of course, I do make choices and get out of bed (occasionally). But I often get really melancholy when I think about the fact that I won’t be able to experience everything life has to offer. I will never visit all the places I want to visit. I will never have all the careers I want to have. I will never meet all the people I want to meet. I will never read all the books I want to read.
I am currently reading a book called Stoner by John Williams (It has nothing to do with drugs. In fact no one smokes a doobie in the whole thing.) It is a quietly melancholy book about a man called William Stoner who becomes an English Professor. A quote that inspired this post was this:
“Sometimes, immersed in his books, there would come to him the awareness of all that he did not know, of all that he had not read; and the serenity for which he labored was shattered as he realized the little time he had in life to read so much, to learn what he had to know.”
I don’t really have a conclusion for this post. I wish I did! It is just a stream of consciousness I thought I’d attempt to articulate. Do you have similar thoughts? As always, I’d love your intelligent and thoughtful opinions around this topic!
Last year I visited London for a few days as I needed to go to the US embassy to pick up my working visa for America. Luckily I have a friend in London who kindly let me stay at her place for a few days. My interview was at 8am in the morning. If you have ever had one of these dreaded embassy interviews before you’ll know that you aren’t allowed to take anything in the building except your passport and documents.
So after my interview ended at about 10am, I was in the middle of London without any technology. No phone, iPod, camera, watch, gameboy, tamagotchi, NOTHING! I was alone with only my thoughts in one of the most exciting cities in the world. I thought I’d make the most of this rare occasion and go exploring for the day.
It felt so liberating! I felt like Neo in The Matrix after he took the red pill and could finally see the “real world.” My first stop was Hyde park. Without the distraction of listening to music, texting or taking photos, I leisurely strolled through the park and I began to actually look at the people I was sharing the streets with.
I love people watching, and the dense streets of London are the perfect place for it. I saw lots of tourists snapping photos and looking lost. I saw a small child have a temper tantrum and the mother look on the verge of a mental breakdown. I saw an important businessman on his phone talking about important business (I knew he was important because he was using a wireless headset and using phrases like “ballpark figure”, “game changer” and “110%”). I saw a woman attempt to throw her Starbucks cup into a bin and miss. Then pick it up and miss again. Then pick it up a third time and carefully place it in and look around embarrassingly to see if anyone saw her previous two failures. Who needs a phone with that sort of entertainment!?
Without a phone or watch I had no way of knowing what time it was. I had to go up to random people in the street and ask them for the time. One guy was so taken aback by my request that he looked at me like I just asked if I could kick his dog, then relutantly told me it was “about one I think” without looking at his watch. It truly is a friendly city.
I then took a train up to Camdan Market. I figured out how to get there by using one of them paper map things. For those who don’t know, a ‘map’ is like a static version of Google Earth or GPS printed on a large sheet of paper.
Camdan is such great area of London with tons of character. A very pluralistic atmosphere with people, clothes and art from all over the world. It was at this point in the day where my liberated feeling began to wear off.
I started to feel frustrated that I couldn’t take photos of all the cool things I was seeing. I realised I was in one of the most beautiful and interesting cities in the world and I couldn’t document the occasion! I actually didn’t want to go anywhere interesting anymore incase I saw something amazing and couldn’t take a photo! I wanted to go back to my friends house, pick up my phone and then come back so I could enjoy it better. How crazy is that?!
I caught myself having these thoughts and after a bit of self-analysis I understood how ridiculous they were. Why was it so important to take photographs? Is my own experience and memory of the occasion not enough? Am I only able to experience the real world in terms of sharable and pixelated data?
Technology has an unparalleled and unprecedented power to get in the way of every other important and precious thing around us. You just have to go to any public place and look at the sea of phones to see this. If you go to gig or a sporting event you’ll be confronted by thousands of little camera flashes speckling the crowd.
This phone-less day made me realise how much my phone had become a barrier between me experiencing real things. Even to this day, whenever I am experiencing anything new or interesting I can’t stifle the thought about how it could be packaged in a Facebook post, or an Instagram picture, or a blog like this. Which bothers me a lot and I am trying my best to rectify. I guess the only prescription for this is to try and live in the moment more. Find the right balance between taking photos for memories and just experiencing life as it happens. Remaining emotionally connected to real life experiences and the natural world, rather than focusing on how to articulate it afterwards. Remembering to stop and listen.
The other day I read After Dark by Haruki Murakami. It’s a short novel of intertwining encounters set one night in Tokyo between the hours of midnight and dawn. It is very dialogue driven with moments of captivating surrealism. I’d definitely recommend it.
A conversation that stood out to me was when one of the characters recounts a myth about three brothers who washed up on an island in Hawaii. I couldn’t find it online so I assume Murakami himself made it up. It went like this:
“Three brothers went out fishing and got caught in a storm. They drifted on the ocean for a long time until they washed up on the shore of an uninhabited island. It was a beautiful island with coconuts growing there and tons of fruit on the trees, and a big, high mountain in the middle. The night they got there, a god appeared in their dreams and said, ‘A little farther down the shore, you will find three big, round boulders. I want each of you to push his boulder as far as he likes. The place you stop pushing your boulder is where you will live. The higher you go, the more of the world you will be able to see from your home. It’s entirely up to you how far you want to push your boulder.
The three brothers found three boulders on the shore just as the god had said they would. And they started pushing them along as the god told them to. Now these were huge, heavy boulders, so rolling them was hard, and pushing them up an incline took an enormous effort. The youngest brother quit first. He said, ‘Brothers, this place is good enough for me. It’s close to the shore, and I can catch fish. It has everything I need to go on living. I don’t mind if I can’t see that much of the world from here.’ His two elder brothers pressed on, but when they were midway up the mountain, the second brother quit. He said, ‘Brother, this place is good enough for me. There is plenty of fruit here. It has everything I need to go on living. I don’t mind if I can’t see that much of the world from here.’The eldest brother continued walking up the mountain. The trail grew increasingly narrow and steep, but he did not quit. He had great powers of perseverance, and he wanted to see as much of the world as he possibly could, so he kept rolling the boulder with all his might. He went on for months, hardly eating or drinking, until he had rolled the boulder to the very peak of the high mountain. There he stopped and surveyed the world. Now he could see more of the world than anyone. This was the place he would live—where no grass grew, where no birds flew. For water, he could only lick the ice and frost. For food, he could only gnaw on moss. Be he had no regrets, because now he could look out over the whole world. And so, even today, his great, round boulder is perched on the peak of that mountain on an island in Hawaii.”
The moral of the story being:
“If you really want to know something, you have to be willing to pay the price”
The story resonated a lot with me. I am currently pushing my own boulder through life and I have no idea where I should stop. There is so much to see and do on this earth. So many people to meet. So many experiences to have. But I am very aware that with great experiences comes great sacrifices.
How many relationships and experiences am I missing out on by not exploring as much as possible? But on the other hand, how would my current relationships suffer if I keep pushing my boulder to the highest peak? I am sure there is a very sound argument to be made in favour of quality over quantity.
Are the lives that are chosen by the two younger brothers the most sensible? Surely nobody wants to go all the way to Hawaii to stay alive licking frost and eating moss. However the eldest brother couldn’t curb his curiosity to see as much of the world as possible, no matter how big the price was he had to pay.
Is life about expanding the interval or just doing one’s best to enjoy it? So many questions I know! But I’d love your opinions on this subject.
Over the summer I spent a month working and volunteering in Bali. Indonesia is obviously a very stunning place so I couldn’t resist taking a ridiculous amount of photos and videos. At the end of my time there I wrote a sort of thank-you letter to Bali where I summarised what I learned throughout the month. I then decided to read the letter out over a montage of footage I took. I thought I’d share with you the finished result as I really like how it turned out!
Hope you like it!
(The style of the video was inspired by a YouTube personality called Emily Diana Ruth. Emily wrote and filmed daily letters to the month of July in a video series called Letters to July. Each letter is beautifully filmed and full of warmth. If you haven’t seen them they are definitely worth checking out as well.)