A Good Year. Really.

I hate the fact that I am writing, again, about the end of a year. I must write the same crap every year about how weird it is to write about the sadness of the years flying by, but it doesn’t make it any less true.

But what really is a shock is that I honestly think 2014 has been a very good year for me. I have just finished reading back my traditional start-of-year post and I seem to have done and achieved roughly what I wanted.

There is a bit of cheating though. I feel like I set my expectations low for 2014. At the start of the year I was worried whether the new business I am involved in was going to achieve anything significant. Turns out the answer was yes. It has had a very positive year, with a decent return on investment, and more to come. It has one or two members of staff, and a third if we stretch the definition. That is some good growth, and it feels like a real company. I like the feeling of running a real company. It feels like an achievement to be proud of.

My IT business has also had a decent year. It has peaked, yes, but it is a decent peak to be at. I tried my best to share the business with two other people by giving them an opportunity to work for me. It didn’t work out, but I tried. I wanted to move on and allow someone else to start filling in the gaps. But they failed. Maybe I could have tried again and found someone else. Maybe there is a right person out there to do the job. But I started to think it wasn’t worth spending my time on it, and that I should just start to prioritise the jobs instead… especially given the impact it was having on my life.

I had written at the start of the year that employing someone would make it a very good year. It was, but turns out it was a good year because of what it taught me, not necessarily because they have stuck with me…

I hoped that this year I would get myself a house. I was wrong as far as this was concerned, but the way it has turned out I am not bothered. With the potential to turn it into a new revenue stream, I am excited about this delay. We are very close indeed to starting out on a new track. It’s going to allow me to start on a new project entirely. New work is good for me. It allows me to reset the boredom clock. So this too has helped to make it a good year.

In my private life, I haven’t changed at all. I am still a closed individual, with no real worries about it. I have had an opportunity to maybe look at extending this to another person, but even the way I write about this is so functional and stilted that I surely would be a disaster. I am not bothered either way, really. My unconscious is telling me to do something about it, because I’m not getting any younger, and certainly am no oil painting, but my conscious mind loves my freedom and independence. I love my own company. That has been something I have reinforced all year, and it, to some minor extent, also contributes to why I think it was a good year. I like my Sundays on my own, with my guitar, my voice, my music, my radio, my internet, doing my things. It’s sad, but it is me.

So I end the year without any regrets, really. My work life is good, I am accepting of my personal life, I have good prospects to come, and my family are OK. It has been kind to us all.

So 2014 is a Good Year. It might even be a Very Good Year. But hey, good is good, right?

A year successfully navigated, with finances improved, prospects improved, and experiences, generally, being positive. Not bad, really.

Looking Back On 10 Years Ago

In December 2004, Matt wrote:

I worry about the future. I can’t help but wonder what I will be like in 10 years time.

That’s me, by the way.

I look back on this, as I do on all my old writings, and feel sad, but detached somewhat, almost as if I am reading about someone else. I feel sad thinking about how he must have been feeling 10 years ago. I feel sad for the situation he was in. I feel like I wish I could offer him some encouragement, or some comforting words of advice. It will be OK, Matt.

Then I remember that I am talking about a past self. I remember that Matt is me, and, worse, I might not even be sincere when I muster up those emotions. They are mere platitudes – the kind of thing you say to anyone who’s feeling down, even if you don’t know that what you’re saying is true.

Because, the fact is, when I look back 10 years, I don’t honestly think that, if I, 29 years old, could be magically placed into the room with my 19 year old self, to impart words of wisdom about the decade to come, I could say that everything will be OK. It won’t.

Number 1 reason why is because life is not like that. One bit. Some you win, some you lose. You hope you are going in roughly the right direction, and that your losses outnumber your wins. But there are big losses. There are missed opportunities. There are giant distractions. There is huge procrastination. There is hope, expectation, and then the smack of reality.

I don’t know why, but this is the kind of life lesson that I wasn’t really aware of back then. There is something wonderful about the naivety of youth. Though I was already jaded with cynicism about life and the society we live in, I still did believe that a great swathe of the world was still open to me. That I could still be anything I wanted to be, assuming I had some talent, of course.

10 years ago I reflected very heavily on the beginnings of my new life at university, living away from home. I believe that that was a very astute observation, and one that I believe was a major launching point for me and my life. 10 years ago it was clear that I was just going along with what seemed to be the sensible course, with the benefit of the largely dull but positively life-changing experience of working as a grunt in society. That also turned out to be prescient, and ultimately my view of the world of work still hasn’t changed and never will.

I knew I had to get out. I knew I was getting nowhere. Fortunately, I had already lined up a University place. It was my get out clause that I’d never really intended to use. I applied to Uni just to placate the parents. I really wanted to go out there and work. I was fed up of education. Hence the gap year. But it didn’t turn out that way.

10 years ago though, I hoped that my university experience, and growing up away from home would give me better chances in life. It did to some extent, but not because of the actual education I obtained from it. Just more because it shaped me into the person I am, enhanced by the independence I gained, and the friendships I formed. I worried about this 10 year ago, not knowing where it was taking me, but I think this bit turned out OK.

I then reflected strongly on the process of “adultification”, as I called it. Again, I am impressed with my 19 year old self. I could write all of these words again today.

Ask a random person on the street about their life, and one of the first things they will tell you is what they do for a living. Is that how our society judges people? Merely on what they’re doing in exchange for cash? What have you actually contributed today apart from the C02 emissions from the car you’re driving?

What pervades my earliest writings is my sense of depression and despondency. I worry about the decades that were stretching out ahead of me, and wondering just exactly what I could fill them with to make myself a worthwhile life, full of engagement with others, and how, exactly, I could make a mark on the world.

I still worry about this, and in some senses my worries are enhancing with each passing day, as that creeping feeling of mortality grows. But I don’t feel as depressed now. I feel like I at least have some concept as to what I want to do with my life. Back then I really had no clue what I was getting myself into, and no idea how to answer that question I posed above: what do I want to do in exchange for cash? I feel like I have answered this, so it no longer poses depression.

But the underlying question still does. The real point of the question was to explore what more things one can do in life to make it more worth living. As to this, I have no idea. Neither did I 10 years ago. It bugs me, but unlike 10 years ago I bury myself in my work to avoid thinking about it. I couldn’t do that then. It’s called distraction.

I can never get rid of the niggling thought at the back of my mind that I’m missing out on something. That I’m here to do something far more important than study Western Europe.

I just don’t know what.

In some ways, the end is the most confusing part of my post. I have spent some of my life rather grandiosely wondering if I had some major talent I was supposed to be sharing with society for the good of others. When I was young people wanted me to be a doctor, or some super clever scientist. In my more superior moments, I wonder whether I am better than other people. Sometimes, when speaking with others, I feel like I am more intelligent than them, and not on their level. I try not to think too much like this, as it’s extremely damaging for me, but this nagging thought does arise from times that I am better than most of the people I meet, on an intellectual and mental acuity level.

This is horribly patronising to others. I wonder whether this was what I meant in the above paragraph. Or was it simply just an ironic way of writing that my studies were dull, with no relevance to real life, and that I needed to think about what will happen when they are gone?

I think I have turned out the best I could in the 10 years since I sat, morosely opining on the imminent life disaster I thought I was leading into. I always wish I that I had a different personality, one that was more open to others, engaging, tolerant of others, empathetic, and charitable. But that was never likely to happen. I didn’t have that 10 years ago. I don’t have it now. Personality only changes marginally through the years. I feel like the 10 years have been relatively kind to me.

Except for the fact that I do look older. Physically I look worse. The hair is a disaster. I generally look a bit gaunt and washed out. Most people remark that. I try to increase my weight by eating more, but it doesn’t work. I should be grateful of that, really, but I do get tired of people saying I look tired. I don’t actually feel tired at all, but if I’m looking it it must mean that I am working myself too hard.

I reckon the Matt of 10 years ago could understand that. He was a hard worker as well… but at least he had actual youth to protect himself. I don’t.

Looking back is important. You learn what worked and what didn’t. You should learn and readjust from that. I think I have. I think I have changed and improved in many ways. I learned to be comfortable being me. I learned to be independent. I learned to have a drive to always ask for more. But in doing so I created an aloof and difficult personality that doesn’t get on well with anyone more than a superficial level. There are very few people I let into my inner confidence. I was like that 10 years ago. I am like that times 100 today.

I regret that I am not a more exciting person. I regret that my previous wishes to see the world and travel are unfulfilled, and almost extinguished. I am jealous of my 19-year-old self who went off to the USA on his own. I wish I could do it again now. But he was young and carefree with absolutely no commitments to anyone or anything. I am not. I have a life to maintain. I have businesses to run, and people who rely on that.

But regrets are not good for you. I have learned to bury my regrets firmly. I am better at that than 10 years ago. I still get angry when I fail, or slip up, but only because I hold myself in such high standards. That, arguably, is actually worse than 10 years ago…

Overall, like most things in life, it’s a mixture. A delicate balance of positives and negatives, some outweighing the others. I think I am in a better position than I was 10 years ago: a post-teenaged ball of angst, full of the woes of growing up emotionally into a proper adult. Now all of that is long gone, for good and for ill.

It’s the next 10 years that really worry me.

10 Years of Blogging

10 years ago today, I sat down for the first time at my computer and decided it was time to join the blogging community. Not that blogging was a community in any sense. But, at the time, blogs were big, and everyone who was everyone was writing about their lives in a long form.

Nowadays, hardly anyone does. In reality, no one ever had the patience to read endless, tedious discussions about random people’s lives. Hence the inevitable success of the short form, in Twitter and in other social media, though to a lesser extent.

However, to me, it was never about the audience. It was all about me. It was all about writing down the thoughts I have always had in my head but never really committed to. Now there is no getting away from it. There are over 560 posts and counting to testify that.

And it is incredible. I do occasionally click the “random post” button above. It’s the best way to explore what happened in the past. I really enjoy reading back on what I thought about events at the time. A great majority of them I don’t even remember… which goes to show how so many things are seen as really important at the time, but in the end don’t even stick around in the memory. But that is good, because it just goes to show how much things you forget…

I write now from the same place I’m sure I did last year, no more than a couple of metres from when the whole thing began 10 years ago. I arrived after having a sudden attack of illness this morning, which, I’m pleased to say, is clearly fading quick. Which is good. I had been on the decline since Monday morning, with some sort of cold/flu thing. It smacked me hard this morning… stopping me from even getting out of bed. Totally unlike me. I finally made it out around 10am. I can’t remember the last time I ever slept that long.

The past few days in work have been horrendously busy. Not what I wanted in the run up to Christmas. I’d probably say the whole month in general has been such hard work and unnecessarily stressful. I feel like I can relax now, hundreds of miles away from it, but it will be back with all its associated woes on the 29th.

What matters, though, is that I have, for now, four uninterrupted days, where I can just park up all that crap and think of nothing other than our family festivities. I write this now in the middle of the family, as we often do on Christmas Eve, talking nonsense, catching up, and watching Christmas songs on TV. Kind of ironically, but also because we do enjoy it. It’s something that I started about four years ago, because I thought we should have things like this to remember. Too often we spend all the time on our own, doing our own things. This event, while wholly optional, has kind of become our tradition. Usually because I come home on this day, so if I sit here most people will want to hang around as they haven’t seen me for a while.

I think I’ll write separately on what’s changed between now and 10 years ago. For now though, it’s just enough to say that I’m home safely, and the Christmas festivities are under way. Here’s to a good few days.

Merry Christmas.

A Passport Is Important

In all my life the very first passport I had was obtained at the age of 19, prior to my first, only, holiday as an adult. We went to Austria, and a fun time was had by all. It was my last ever proper family holiday. It was such a moment in my life that I even wrote about it in my Youth Review 19-20.

When my passport expired in June of this year, I thought “meh”. In recent years, I have lost any interest in ever going abroad. I used to like the idea of travelling, of seeing the world, of experiencing other cultures, and generally “broadening one’s horizons”. And, I must admit, a certain degree of envy when business clients and former/ex-friends (virtually no one is my friend any more) tell me they’re off to foreign shores to relax, or do their thing.

But somehow, when the time comes to consider it all, I just go cold. When I analyse it, the only reason why a holiday sounds a good idea is to get away from the dull English weather. I fantasise about going on holiday in winter, avoiding Christmas and all that entails, to feel warm, if only for a little bit.

Unfortunately, I then get into a deeply unhelpful state. The holiday is a form of escapism. I am such a depressed individual at time that I will even deny myself escapism. I do so because I look upon escapism with an unhealthy degree of cynicism. If life is so bad that you must escape from it, then the escapism is a waste of time, because every day of your escapism you will think about exactly what it is you are escaping from, until such time as it inevitably all goes back to the way it was.

I have these existential moments regularly. My life in general is crap, and others would not tolerate it, but I don’t see it as something I wish to escape from. It is what it is. Short of a revolutionary change in my personality or outlook on life, it’s not going to change. So why bother escaping from it?

It was this length of ludicrous argument that led me to procrastinate about the passport renewal. I thought if I really needed it, to go abroad, I would then sort it out. With no holidays on the horizon, I ignored it.

But what I didn’t think about was how critical it was to have a passport as a form of ID. It had already happened once recently, when I had a problem opening a bank account. We got there in the end, so I thought it was proof I could continue to do so.

Turns out, when there is a financial transaction involving buying a house (or, rather, a plot of land) and other such fun, like solicitors, they all want some proof I am who I am. Who knew?

Not being able to drive – and the driving licence also being expired for at least two years – there has been something of a sudden halt in all activities until my new passport arrives.

And that alone caused its own saga.

Being one who over-thinks these things to the nth degree, I put enormous amounts of thought into what, exactly, I would look like on the passport photo. The passport photo that would identify me for the next 10 years. It needed to represent me well, because in 10 years time I will look back at it and think “look at poor Matt, blissfully unaware of the 10 years that lie ahead”.

So I dawdled even at this stage. I waited long enough for me to make a decision about the subject of the previous post (hair…) – and decided I would get my haircut first, then go home, wash it, reapply the useless product that I’ve started using, and then get it taken.

The plan was executed flawlessly, and I am reasonably happy with the picture. I have certainly aged in 10 years. No surprise really.

Now I must wait. But at least there’s a lot of good waiting involved. Christmas being round the corner, and all that.

207 days until 30

The Hair Challenge

There follows a really tedious, self-indulgent, self-centred, rant about my hair. Weird.

I have observed on several previous occasions that my hair is something of a disaster zone. It’s been something that I have been in denial about for all of my life: from the mop of hair I used to have in school, to the persistent number 2/3/4 and eventually 6 shaves that I used to cut in my own hair for the time between 2004 and this year. 10 years without going to a barber.

I have never been one for spending too much time on my hair, mainly because life is too short and I’m just too busy. But, frankly, the short hair cuts haven’t suited me for about 8 years. The hairline has receded – the pictures don’t lie – and, having quite a big forehead anyway, the combination is not good. I hate looking at my face for this very reason.

I took the conscious decision in summer to stop cutting my own hair and consult a barber. Maybe they could help, I thought? I had my first hair cut in many many years, and suggested they should leave the top alone. I felt like it would be wise to “rebalance” my hair. They agreed. It looked OK and got a little bit better with more growth, until, eventually, the curls once more took over and it looked stupid.

Then a couple of months later, a different barber just went mental and cut the whole thing quite short again. The whole problem of unbalanced hair returned. I was distraught. I genuinely considered what surgery might save me. Or just wearing a hat all the time.

I walk through the high street and feel left out. All around me my peers either have more hair, styled well, or have less hair, but without the ignominy of a large forehead.

It seems to me that my ultimate strategy is correct. I should have a longer fringe (there is a picture of me aged 15 with one, but I’m double that age now!) – but I’m just not sure it’s going to happen. It’s been 9 weeks since that disastrous haircut, and since then the fringe just seems to be curling and curling, while the back and sides get longer and wider.

All of this is too much for me to cope with. Unlike my general hopelessness with fashion – which I can mask by buying half decent clothes – I can’t get away with the hair. It looks crap. It depresses me when I look at my peers (and younger, alas) – and see that they don’t have such nonsense to cope with. I even see people older than me with more hair than me. I’m sure it’s not because I’m losing hair… I’m sure of it. I think I currently have more hair now than I’ve had in 10 years. It’s just growing in all the wrong directions. I crave to have straighter hair that would look good swept across, or parted, or just something. Rather than looking like, as it does now, that I’ve styled it to look crap.

It was suggested to me that the solution is to start applying “products” to it, because that’s the done thing these days. In school it wasn’t, but now it is.

So, after searching Amazon reviews, I settled on one to try. Costing £12. I’ve never spent such money on my hair. In fact, I was so embarrassed to buy anything in a store that I knew I had to buy it on the internet…

Let’s just say it does reduce the frizz, but it doesn’t give it any real direction. Now my partially curly mop of lifeless hair is a defined, matte-shiny mop of still dead hair. The curls are amplified. The directions are all over the place. But the fringe is still short. Even when I try to side sweep it, or part it, the fringe – which when stretched downwards reaches to a couple of centimetres above my eyebrows – springs back into a tight position not far from where it starts growing. It honestly looks like I have as much hair on my fringe as it did 9 weeks ago, since the bad haircut.

I don’t want to be spending 30 minutes styling my hair for it to only marginally improve. I might as well just get rid of it, like I did before.

But I cannot. It’s probably even worse when it’s really short now.

Maybe I can find a barber who can help. The search is on.