After finishing university the other day, I can now pompously call myself an economist. Nowadays, when I go to a social gathering, I will almost be able to hear sphincters nervously clench when asked what I studied, and they hear what I have to say on the matter. I will now see the terror in their hearts when I answer that I profess the trade of Adam Smith, as they hope to god almighty that I don’t talk about inflation or currency exchange rates, or how the Brexit is a stupid idea.
I didn’t get to wear a silly Harry Potter gown, or attend graduation, because I put my degree to good use and calculated that the value (gotten out of essentially paying £80 for a handshake, a boring speech I wouldn’t remember, and a hastily taken photograph) was simply not worth it. Instead, I’ve been travelling with my father and yesterday I showed him Canterbury, the city where I’ve been living in for the last three years.
I showed him the fields where I walked with a lovely girl with whom I was with for a while; I showed him the discount supermarket I used to greedily shop at once a week; I showed him the pigsty that we used to call our student flat; I showed him the campus and all its labyrinthine quirks; I showed him where I took my first salsa classes; and I showed him a coffee shop where I must’ve had well over a dozen dates – I showed him home.
If there’s anywhere that I’ve lived in that I could’ve called “home”, with all the pageantry and positive feelings that are bundled with the word, it was there. Frankly, I did not have a happy upbringing, and it took to well into my adulthood to find the peace and happiness that people seem to ooze from every pore. Nowadays, I know that is mostly an act – a lie they eagerly fan on their social media accounts to promote the cult of themselves. Yet, I was joyless for most of my existence, doubly so when I suspected everyone else was happy except myself. If home is where the heart is, I was homeless for most of my life.
In time, and with experiences both good and bad, I began to find my footing and developed as a person.Over the last three years, I have begun to unrepentantly be myself, sometimes to both great praise and disdain depending on the person. Yet, I can now confidently say that I am myself without a mask. There’s been days where I have unironically called myself “the happiest man alive” – a shock even to myself, as I remember that for years I went to bed hoping there wouldn’t be a tomorrow.
Thus finally leaving my university town, after all has been left said and done, remains a bittersweet affair. I remember bawling my eyes out when I was first rejected for my visa here in the UK. But I also remember when I got it, after my second attempt. I skipped and jumped through the streets on that day.
It’s been about three years since that time, it’s been a whirlwind of new experiences. Now it feels like there’s a precipice fast approaching. I do not know what to do or say, nor what lies inside it. All I know is that I’m running out of the certainty of solid ground. In a year’s time I could well be living anywhere between the far east and the new world. I’m terrified of ending in the wrong place and renewing my former cycle of misery. Eventually though, I will have to take a leap of faith and hope that where I land is as inviting to live in, as I’ve found Canterbury to be.
Perhaps that is the thing I somewhat fail to grasp, and which only weary old men know, as they’ve learned it throughout a lifetime: Life is an ebb and flow of stability and uncertainty. I might recognise this consciously, but I don’t understand it in my bones. Wisdom cannot be taught, it must be learned. Every so often there is strife and struggle, but if it doesn’t finish us off, we eventually find our balance. With each passing experience, we find it easier to find our way once more.
This is why children experience the most passionate emotions. This is not to say that they are exaggerating them in any shape or form. Their thoughts and feelings make perfect sense, once you adjust for inflation. With each passing year, you realise that the highest mountain you had to climb in that particular moment was not the highest mountain out there.
One learns to allocate the worries to their proportional worth. It may be the case that in one’s life one used to know the price of everything, but slowly we start learning the value of it as well. As bizarre and masochistic as it might seem to say, I believe there’s something worthwhile to be found in the struggle, uncertainty and pain.
Man is a Sisyphean animal. Whenever we may think we have things figured out, happiness and certainty just find a way of rolling downhill. But, does a muscle not grow from being broken down by putting it under strain and then given time to adapt? I say we ought to beware of whomever peddles permanent happiness, for they are likely to peddle expensive bullshit.
One should not twist my meaning though and divine from it that one should wilfully seek pain, suffering and denial. Life is already difficult by itself, we do not need to add strife for the sake of it. By all means wear a coat when it’s cold, and eat when you’re hungry. I very much doubt the ascetic truly develops any insight into life, except learning that self denial is a pretty rotten way of living it. We must also remember that any mystic, holy man, or guru out there also doesn’t have it all figured out, and has to wipe his ass much in the same way everyone else does.
What I’m trying get at is the fact that I do not know what will become of my life. Despite being an economist, I don’t possess their natural arrogance in pretending to know the future with exactitude. As the joke goes:
“How do you know economists have a sense of humour?”
“ By the fact they add a decimal point to their predictions”
I know the general direction I want my life to take, yet I do not know exactly how I am going to do so, nor whether I will achieve exactly what I want from life. Along the way, I must remember that there will be periods of uncertainty, much like this one. In times like these, life seems to be determined by a coin flip. But I must also remember that in times of volatility, one can propel oneself to heights one did not consider previously.
For example, now that I have officially been promoted from student to the lofty position of unemployed (and searching for jobs) I now have time to write like never before. From now on, until money runs out, every day is a Sunday. Currently I’m working on three grand writing projects, this blog, a novel and an economic history book that analyses society through an evolutionary lens. I’m quite excited about all of them. Developing them has been a dream of mine for years, so I’m curious to see what fruits they will bare, if any.
I do not know the future, and I’m starting to learn that this is perfectly fine. Perhaps I will never again have a lecture at university, perhaps I will never again even venture to that city. But new fantastic moments will come, moments that I hadn’t even expected – moments that will strike me to the very core, like thunder. What I do know, and I say this with as much confidence as I have ever said anything in my life, is that now I am much better able to meet whatever comes face on, and live to tell the tale. I am more confident in myself that I can weather the coming storm, because I have weathered worse in the past.
I’ve thoroughly come to believe that happiness is a choice, our circumstances in life are often not.