am sitting eight floors up in the Westin Grand Hotel in Munich. It is a very hot day and the airconditioning is forgiven for the intrusive noise it makes. As hotels go, it is rather plush and I cannot believe the travel system had it on its books and allowed me to book it. But it did and now here i am, feeling like a VIP and frankly, a bit of a fraud. It seems like the height of Western dacadence to be in such a hotel, with its glass and chrome and dark wood. Everything costs extra: breakfast 20 euros, internet 19 euros a day. Extortion really. I could never afford to pay for this out of my own pocket and frankly, I am not sure I would. I don't think it represents value for money, though i confess, it feeds my ego a little to stay here. It makes me feel a "somebody", which is illusory I know, but in contrast to feeling a "nobody" as seems to be the worst social fate that can befall us in these unenlightened times, I will accept it.
But not without thought.
I am here doing this because a large corporation values my skills. In a few hours I shall stand in front of a room of very well educated, very sharp, extremely intelligent people from three continents, and present some technical information. I am good at this.
Am I good enough to warrant the huge corporate expenditure that sent me here and accommodates me?
Did I expect or want to be doing this? Actually no. In truth, I expected to be a truck driver, like my father, or at best, some kind of technician soldering electronic circuits at a bench (which I did do for a while and didn't like). In short: I had no ambition to do this.
Now some people have a clear idea of what they want out of life. I have worked with people who were so "driven" that they had their whole career and associated lifestyle, mapped out in advance, some in quite minute detail. I knew people who had "action plans" for their whole lives, milestones they want to achieve at certain times, places they wanted to be by a certain stage in life.
This is admirable, possibly a little misguided because plans have a habit of hitting the unexpected and becoming derailed, but to have a plan may be a comforting and focussing thing. I applaud those who do this. The Driven are the ones who become our doctors, surgeons, architects, engineers. I am glad there are such people.
I never plan. For that reason. Like the old prizefighting adage: "Everyone has a plan until they get hit!" I find flexibility and keeping one's with about you is a better approach. For me.
And so, that is, I suppose how I came to be here. And occasionally I look up and am surprised, because it seemed to happen when I wasn't looking.
So, it occurs to me there are the driven who know exactly what they want and are quite singleminded in their approach to getting it. Then there are, I suspect, the large majority, like me, who think "this is ok, this is enough" and are happy to go where employment (or other driving force such as art or writing) may lead them, as long as it doesn't demand too much of them. It finances life, makes those things that are dear to us available to a level we are more or less happy with (although I would like to get to the sea a bit more often and dance more, I confess), but doesn't suck the very goodness out of us such that we have nothing left over to enjoy life with.
Of course there are also those who are forced to work really hard in jobs that grind them down, for low pay and long hours, with no alternative. I thank my lucky stars I have been lucky enough not to end up there, like most of my ancestors.
And there are those who, bovine, sit all day at a job that taxes them hardly at all, and are happy to watch sky TV with a pizza and not think about where they are going. This too is a valid choice.
I recently attended a university open day with my son, who has this choice ahead of him. The course outlined were very clearly defined, modular and progressive. If one followed this route, the qualifications gained would probably ensure valued employment and respect for a lifetime. The workload was only really alluded to. The progression then could be to a masters, chartered engineer status or a Phd.
I looked at the faces in the room: A range from shiny faced enthusiasm through chin-on-hand slouched boredom and the potential ladder of disciplined striving and glorious attainment stretching ahead of them. Such an opportunity.
And I thought: Gosh, that's a lot to do. I really couldn't be bothered. My own meagre qualifications, from this very college, we sufficient to gain me a foothold somewhere I could show my own potential, but there was so much more I could have done to get a better grades. These kids may look at it differently to me, indeed the circumstances are changed and they may need more that I scraped. I was lucky.
But I think of what I learned and where it took me and it cannot be denied that education is a precious and necessary thing, for how could I explain the complex technical concepts I do, without the seeds of the knowledge I gained there?
And then, I thought of the good times, the weekends by the sea, out in my kayak, drinking port by the fire in the evenings and indolent days bobbing about in the waves.
And it brings me back to the realisation that the most important word in the English language is "balance". I balance the commitment to the economic necessities of work such that I can have the time and the money to do these other things. Certainly, I have the commitments to be in places and be credible in what I do, which is a challenge sometimes. But the real driver for me is the beauty of experiences, the good company I find them with and the appreciation of just being in a nice place with good people doing interesting things. Whence Bohemia indeed!
Somewhere between being a somebody and a nobody is the fine point where expectations are realistically met and responsibilities are acknowledged. Finding the balance is an art in itself.
I have so much more to say on this but given the above, I had better get on with my presentation for this afternoon!