Lessons I’ve learned from Jurgen Klopp

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I tend to compare football to real life quite often. Probably because I’m a bit obsessed with football and football tactics. But probably also because football, like life, requires an overcoming of something in order to be successful. With football it’s another team, and a coach has a host of options available to him on how to set a team up tactically to beat the opposition. Life is similar. Job interviews, fitness goals, career aspirations, presentations or marriage success. These are things to overcome, and like football, these things can be approached through various different approaches. Indeed, business strategy and football strategy have a number of similarities.

In 2015 Jurgen Klopp joined Liverpool Football Club. This was met with an immense sense of excitement for Liverpool supporters, myself in particular. I’d followed his rise in Germany, and for lack of a better phrase, I guess I just liked his style. I liked the way he did things, his big personality, and that amazing charm. Football loving readers of this will know that he has certainly delivered on his promise. As I write this at the end of 2019 he is, of course, still the Liverpool manager, and the club finds itself eight points clear at the top of the English Premier League. Needless to say, I’m eternally grateful for him. But I realised the other day that the gratitude isn’t merely due to him propelling the club to the top, winning the European Champions League in the process. There are a couple of valuable life lessons Klopp has taught me along the way. These lessons could be applied to businesses and their strategies as well as being inspiring to individuals. Perhaps I could elaborate on two of these.

  1. Play the long game

Klopp is highly popular with Liverpool supporters, as well as neutrals and probably even supporters of other sides. Such is his nature. But even Klopp has frustrated supporters at times in how he’s approached certain squad and tactical decisions. Like life, football has become infected with an increasing amount of short-termism. Fans demand improvement and success in a short space of time. Club owners and boards seem to be increasingly emphasising short term success over long term strategy. Manchester United between 2014 and 2019 are a prime example of this.

Klopp refused play by this code, and at times it has confused us supporters. In his first main transfer window he declined to sign a left back, much to the astonishment of fans. What was he thinking? It was an area of the squad that desperately needed reinforcement. He stuck midfielder James Milner in the left back position. It was only a year later that he signed Andy Robertson for left back, who has turned into a fine player. The decision to wait has been justified.

The best example of this was Virgil Van Dijk. When transfer negotiations with Van Dijk’s club Southampton went sour in August 2017, fans urged Klopp to sign another centre back. Surely there had to be a centre back out there that we could get? We did, after all, have a major gap to fill in a crucial position. Klopp was having none of it. We never signed anyone. Klopp wanted Van Dijk, nobody else. Klopp must have known something behind the scenes or in his heart, because halfway through the season in the following transfer window in January, Van Dijk, the masterful Dutch centre back, finally made the move to Liverpool. Klopp got his man. Not some lesser alternative. The rest, as they say, is history. Van Dijk is now widely regarded as the best centre back in the world. Once again, of course the wait for him was justified. Any other manager (literally any other manager) would have panic-bought an inferior player less suited to the team’s needs. Klopp played the long game and it paid off.

  1. Believe in yourself, and the process

It was the end of May 2018. We’d somehow made it to the Champions League final. The biggest game in football. This was the end of Klopp’s second full season at the club. For a side still developing, this was a phenomenal achievement in itself. Our opponents were Real Madrid, who had won the previous two Champions League titles in 2016 and 2017. It was Liverpool’s biggest game in years, and of course we were all overcome with excitement at the possibility of success in the competition for the first time in thirteen years.

We lost 3-1. Two errors by Liverpool’s goalkeeper gifted Real Madrid a rather soft win. Football aside, this was a particularly difficult time in my life. The loss just seemed to compound it. Suddenly May 2018 seemed like one of the worst months in my life. If not the worst.

I woke up the next morning with no intention of seeing or reading anything about the previous night’s game. I’d had enough of the disappointment. Another final loss and me slightly hungover and melancholic. I just wanted to move on and get on with life, and preferably end the nightmare month.

But then a video emerged that morning. It showed Klopp dancing with his arms around some supporters at 6am the morning after the game. There he was, looking sweaty and alive, with his cap turned around backwards. He was upbeat, jovial and defiant. At one point in the video he said something to the effect of “We’ll be back”. I often think of that day and seeing that video, and how it showed me the best way to approach any disappointment in life. Pick yourself up, believe in the long term process and keep going. You just keep going. Of course, a year later Liverpool were back, playing in the final again, this time against Tottenham Hotspur. Liverpool won 2-0 and lifted the trophy. Klopp was right on that morning at 6am while dancing.

Another example of Klopp trusting the process and the system is the player Gini Wijnaldum. A player clearly signed to play on one of the outside central midfield positions in Klopp’s 4-3-3 system. He’s a player that many, myself included, have criticised continually. At times he seems to offer little going forward, and often seems to drift out of the limelight of games for long periods. Yet Klopp kept playing him.

Over time I realised that Klopp’s 4-3-3 system was designed to allow the front 3 players to remain as far forward on the pitch as possible. It didn’t disintegrate to a 4-5-1 without the ball, like so many other teams. In order to pull Klopp’s 4-3-3 off, the two wide central midfielders, of which Wijnaldum was one, needed to be workhorses. They needed to be grafting players with an exceptional positional sense who worked up and down the pitch for 90 minutes. They needed to be the unsung heroes of the side. This was more important than creative flair. Klopp kept playing Wijnaldum, and still does, because that’s what the system requires, and Klopp stuck by the system and his principles.

Playing the long game and trusting the process. I sometimes wish I’d done more of this in my life. It took Klopp’s Liverpool to show me what these concepts really mean, and how difficult they are.

Sometimes football is the greatest teacher. Or perhaps that’s just Jurgen Klopp.

 

Is This Necessary?

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Marcus Aurelius has always been an interesting figure for me. One of the most prominent Roman Emperors, he ruled the empire for nineteen years from 161 to 180. He’s an endearing figure for many, both as a thinker and leader.

Although what is most endearing about him for me is his philosophical work called Meditations, written by him in his latter years. It is still regarded by many as one of the leading works of philosophy, and it paved the way for the progression of the ideas of Stoicism. Indeed, many referred to him at the time as the Philosopher King, and through the ages he has been known as the Philosopher Emperor.

It can certainly be said that his words of philosophy carried weight and real experience behind them. Aurelius himself led military campaigns defending the empire, and was an astute military commander with a wealth of experience. Here was a philosopher who wasn’t sheltered in empty palaces his entire life, removed from the real world. We can safely assume that he was exposed to his fair share of blood, guts, violence and the ugly side of human nature.

I own a copy of Meditations. Every now and then I page through it. Some of it, I’ll admit, doesn’t quite land for me. But there are certain sections and phrases which make this one of the more essential books in my collection, and for me this work should have its place in any collection.

I’m also a keen admirer of the philosophy of Stoicism, and for myself and many others, this work is the go-to guide on the philosophy, along with Seneca’s Letters From A Stoic. The ideas around the philosophy have always made a lot of sense to me. Ideas such as controlling what you can control and letting go of what you can’t, living at one with nature, using reason as your guide.

Yet there’s one line in Meditations which is the standout for me. It’s a line I contemplate often, and indeed try to live by. It’s also a great one-line summary of what Stoicism is. The line is this:

Ask yourself at every moment, “Is this necessary?”

A great primer into the ideas of Stoicism, but also possibly the greatest time management and efficiency advice you’ll ever read in one line.

Ask yourself at every moment, “Is this necessary?”

I try and fail. Perhaps one day I will master this. The line has made me realise just how much time in life we dedicate to things which ultimately are not leading us to a better life or the fulfilment of our goals. Things which are, once viewed though this lens, decidedly unnecessary.

The phrase could probably be expanded to “Ask your self in every moment, is this getting me closer to where I want to be in terms of vision, purpose and life goals? Is this making me happier and more fulfilled?” If not, why do it? How much time do we waste on the things that are ultimately useless to us?

This extends beyond action to our internal processes. Such as worry. Worrying about the results of a test. Worrying about a job interview. Worrying about the outcome of a pitch at work. At times of worry it is once again worth remembering the words of Aurelius. Is this worry necessary? Will it change anything? If not, why bother?

I can think of countless examples of where it might be worth asking the question. And notice Aurelius didn’t say “Ask yourself every now and then?” No, he said, “Ask yourself at every moment.”

Of course, I understand that downtime and recreation are important to retaining a balanced lifestyle. But again, the question can be applied. Is this necessary. i.e. Is this leading to happiness and relaxation? If it is, great. In moderation. Yet how many things do we do day to day that don’t bring us closer to our goals or don’t bring happiness? Plenty.

Mindlessly playing video games when important tasks need to be done, or when your house is a mess. Binging on alcohol for no particular reason. Continuously scrolling Instagram seeing paid models living the high life in exotic locations. Spending quality time with a friend that brings negativity and who sucks your energy out. All of these actions are worthy of the question – Is this necessary? And the answer is usually no. Absolutely not.

Or, a more relevant example, and one I see too often in this modern world – dedicating one’s free time and energy to politics. Specifically in the act of engaging in endless political squabbling online. I see it day in day out. People using their free time to get into endless Twitter arguments over their political beliefs. Arguments which will change nobody’s mind, and alter nothing in the greater scheme of things. Continuously throwing out their angry political opinions their closed circle of Facebook friends. Changing profile pics and social media names to reflect a political viewpoint. Almost as if that political stance now has come to define that person. Why?

A certain type of possession seems to have overtaken so many people in this modern society of ours. Bereft of any sense of purpose or fulfilment in their lives, they turn to politics, and here they find a home, clutching at something to believe in and ignite a passion within them. I pity these people, not merely because of this possession, but primarily because they’re engaging in something utterly futile to their own lives, happiness and general direction. I would even hazard that this obsession with politics is making people more miserable, since politics is a beast which takes and doesn’t give.

Of course, you can understand people who engage in this who actually are in politics or political media, whose livelihoods depend on it. Yet more and more I’m seeing ordinary people in ordinary jobs reduced to a level of obsession I’ve never seen before. In our hands we have incredibly powerful smartphones. The entire history and knowledge of the world is in our pocket – the greatest learning device we could imagine. Yet I see people using it to play stupid games or argue about politics on social media.

Once again when I see this I ask, is this healthy? And more pertinently, is this necessary? Certainly not. It goes without saying that we should remain informed, particularly around politics. But to find happiness and fulfilment in it is futile.

Is this necessary? I’m a big believer in questioning everything, but the longer I live, I find this particular question is playing a more and more important role in my life and happiness.

Find ways of randomly bringing this question into your daily life, activities and thoughts. You may find it will clean up your life significantly.

 

Those Damn Russians

Novels to live by

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The classic novel, for me, should stand alongside the likes of the wheel, the engine and medicine as one of the most important creations of mankind. The most powerful of novels have the ability to make you understand not just a great deal more about the world we live in, but also a far greater insight into the true nature of this human species that we happen to be the latest editions of. Most importantly, the best novels make you recognise so much more about your own inner self and your own life. The purpose of this piece, if there is one, is to pay homage to the two authors who have influenced me more than others, and to recommend five novels. The authors in question are Fyodor Dostoevsky and Ayn Rand, oddly enough both Russian. Those damn Russians, right?

These novels aren’t for everyone. For the most part they’re intense, long door stoppers which take a great deal of effort and time commitment to enjoy. This puts people off immediately, but as we know the things of most value take the most work. These aren’t frivolous crime ‘thriller’ paperbacks which you read to know the outcome of the storyline and subsequently forget that you even read the book a week later. You always know you’ve read something profound and great when you’re still thinking about it months and years down the line, or when you find yourself paging through it again to find some spot you’d like to read again either to understand it better or just because it was so impactful.

This is probably why I love the classic novel in all its glory. This is the playground of great ideas, where great minds breath their philosophical inner debates and views into their characters. Where authors have the ability to influence generations of the future from within the written pages, and no authors have affected me more in this regard than these two. Of course, this isn’t my ultimate list of the ‘Top five books of all time’, but three or four of these novels would probably make that list.

The sad thing about the world is that if I ever do encounter someone who’s read one of the five books mentioned below, I’d be genuinely surprised. Shocked would probably be a better word. A while ago I wrote a post on how the world was being dumbed down. A major contributor to that is, in my opinion, that people have lost the ability to read great books. A major reason for this is of course time. I myself have continually struggled in finding time to consume lengthy books. I’ll admit that spending around two hours in traffic every day over the past 5 years as well the discovery of Amazon’s Audible (their audiobook online retail store) has allowed me to consume large parts of two of the below novels in audio format. This is something I’d highly recommend. We’re living in an era when access to great books and great informational content is far easier than it’s been in the history of the world. Yet how many of us are taking advantage of this? We’ve also become a society so obsessed with instant gratification, convenience and dumbed down culture that I fear the great novel may struggle to survive in years to come. Time will tell.

There is perhaps another way of looking at this. On the one hand these books are personal treasures to me, conveying ideas and thoughts that nobody else I know has been exposed to. These lessons and insights are therefore mine and mine alone in my microsphere, and the selfish part of me thinks this is just fantastic. But on the contrary I’m also immensely saddened by this. Not by the fact that I’m a complete nerd, which I am, but that this fact intensifies my sense of isolation to the world.

These two authors were not middle class, Princeton educated privileged Jodie Picoults of the world who lived comfortable lives of luxury. I often think that a troublesome past filled with difficulty and hardship is often the strongest tonic for later creativity. In some it fuels a psychological energy later on which his channelled out creatively. It reminds me of Johnny Cash’s final albums, when he knew he was dying, which was a prime example of this. A man who had stared into the abyss and come back again. This was a man who knew what life was about, and you sensed the depth of feeling of every word.

Ayn Rand was only around 12 when the Bolshevik revolutionaries in Russia confiscated her father’s business and evicted the family from where it was. She spent years in poverty, witnessing the disintegration of her country and family before fleeing to America. She recalled that she never forgot the look of helplessness and loss on her father’s face as he lost everything he had worked for. I think this pain was probably a driving force in her in later years. The other thing that always amazes me about Rand, other than the immensity of the work, is that she wrote 600 – 1000 page novels in her second language. Her second language.

Dostoevsky’s story is even an even more arduous one, and never ceases to amaze me. Arrested for reading and circulating banned material at the age of 28, he was subsequently sentenced to death by firing squad. As he and others were standing in front of the guns, a letter was brought to the commander, amending the sentence to five years of hard labour in Siberia. Due to being seen as a ‘dangerous criminal’ Dostoevsky was shackled at the hands and feet for the entire period in the camps. He described it like this.

“In summer, intolerable closeness; in winter, unendurable cold. All the floors were rotten. Filth on the floors an inch thick; one could slip and fall … We were packed like herrings in a barrel … There was no room to turn around. From dusk to dawn it was impossible not to behave like pigs … Fleas, lice, and black beetles by the bushel.”

Five years of this torture. He was also a continual sufferer of epileptic attacks throughout his life, including his time in the prison labour camp. After being released, he got married a few years later, but a few years after this, both his wife and brother died in the same year. He re-married after a couple of years, and had his first child with his second wife. The child died after 3 months with pneumonia. As if this wasn’t all bad enough, he suffered from a gambling addiction his entire life. An addiction that would see him bankrupt himself on more than one occasion.

Yet despite all this – a gambling addiction, epilepsy and continual seizures, losing a child and years of torment in frozen labour camps, he still wrote some of the most famous novels of all time. If anyone knew about pain, suffering, good and evil, it was Dostoevsky. Only someone with his background would be able to confidently comprehend the inner battles within the minds of men, and understand the nature of the human mind.

The two authors aren’t alike in their ideas and philosophies at all. In many regards they are actually antidotes to each other, and I’ve loved these differences of ideas.  In fact, in the case of Ayn Rand, I would even go as far as arguing that her two most famous novels weren’t novels at all, but philosophical manifestos. Her main character in these novels were her own versions of the Ubermensch. Hank Rearden and Howard Roark. Characters so faultless that they enraptured everything about her philosophy in their words and actions. They were her ideal.

Dostoevsky by contrast often spoke through characters who were the worst of society. The misfits. The downtrodden. Characters that were at odds with the society around them. And most impressively, often characters that Dostoevsky himself would most likely have fiercely disagreed with, or even been appalled by.

How sorely this is being missed today. This willingness to go deep into the psyche, motivations and outlook of our opponents, both political and philosophical.

While Rand glorified the individual, Dostoevsky believed that the meaning of life was the idea of ‘love thy neighbour’. While Rand was atheist, Dostoevsky was a staunch Orthodox Christian. While Rand’s heroes were supremely confident prototypes of the ideal, Dostoevsky’s were tortured souls filled with inner conflicts and doubts. While Dostoevsky was definitely the better novelist, Rand was the better at inspiring a clear philosophical ideal. While Rand’s forthright philosophical bias is clearly demonstrated, Dostoevsky had a gift for making both sides of philosophical ideas look equally strong. Nowhere is this better represented than the debates between Alyosha and Ivan Karamazov – pieces that every human should read. If Rand made your chest swell and head soar above the clouds, Dostoevsky kept your feet firmly on the ground.

But they did have their commonalities, particularly in their characters worship of life itself. Although the characters of Rand and Dostoevsky differed on life’s meaning, they both saw life as something to be lived, loved and cherished. While one foresaw and warned of the danger of violent revolutionary Communists, the other had to live through it and warn subsequent generations. Dosteoevky in fact seemed to confidently predict the destruction and danger of Stalin 50 years before it happened. His novel Demons tells its story around the roots of this movement. Luckily for him he never had to witness how correct he was.

If someone could take the best elements of Rand and Dostoevsky and apply it to their own lives, you’d have an exceptionally well rounded person. There is a great deal to learn from both of them. In my controversial opinion, these five novels would teach you more about life than a decade of high school and university education. Without explaining what each is about, perhaps I could explain what each of them did for me.

  1. We The Living – Ayn Rand

“It’s a rare gift, you know, to feel reverence for your own life and to want the best, the greatest, the highest possible, here, now, for your very own. To imagine a heaven and then not to dream of it, but to demand it.” 

“Every man worth calling a man lives for himself. The one who doesn’t – doesn’t live at all”

I feel like I’ve become a little obsessed with Marxism and the dangers Communism presents to the world going forward. Probably because I’ve read first hand the kind of end result, and this book was a major part of that.

While We The Living was fiction, it was based entirely on reality, Ayn Rand’s own observations living in the system and the struggles of the ordinary people of the time. It’s heartbreaking at times, and the only book that brought me to tears in parts. It led me to even more disturbing non-fiction books on this, such as The Gulag Archipelago by Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

I fear the world has not learned from these mistakes. If people read these books we wouldn’t have people marching on the streets of London and New York with Soviet hammer and sickle flags calling for the end of Capitalism. I fear the 21st century is destined to repeat the same mistakes as the 20th. Humans never learn.

 

  1. The Brothers Karamazov – Fyodor Dostoevsky

“I think the devil doesn’t exist, but man has created him, he has created him in his own image and likeness.” 

“I love mankind, but I find to my amazement that the more I love mankind as a whole, the less I love man in particular.” 

The book that both Einstein and Sigmund Freud called the greatest novel of all time. Kurt Vonnegut stated that everything you need to know is in the pages of this book. It’s hard to disagree with that. The book that led Nietzsche to proclaim Dostoevsky as the only psychologist from who he could learn.

Before reading this book I only had a vague idea of a novel I’d like to write. After encountering the character Ivan Karamazov I was convinced I needed to write my novel, even if nobody ended up reading it. Perhaps in my deepest heart I wanted to create my own, modern version of Ivan. Of course, it wouldn’t be anywhere near this level, but that’s just the point – sometimes you read things so great they create a burning envy in you to do something similar.

This extremely lengthy novel has everything (Einstein wasn’t far off) – humanity, the essence of life, freedom, control, spirituality, virtue, good, evil all within the simple premise of a murder mystery. Even Jesus Christ and The Devil are characters in some shape or form. The consecutive chapters ‘Rebellion’ and ‘The Grand Inquisitor’ are probably the two greatest chapters of all time. They left me thinking long afterward about the relationship between Man and religion. I’d even say that 150 years after the writing of this novel, it gives a dark understanding of the control of mankind and the current world. The concept of religion gets a bad rap from many in the current world, but such is the complexity of this novel that it makes you see the value of religion in the world, while at the same time increasing your scepticism of the institution of the Church. As Ivan Karamazov states, “If God does not exist, everything is permitted”. There are many angles to view this idea from, and the novel goes considerably deep into all of them.

  1. The Fountainhead – Ayn Rand

“The question isn’t who is going to let me, it’s who is going to stop me.”

The way Rand grasped the true nature of the world, even back in the 1930’s when this was written, is astounding. At the two extremes of the novel are the protagonist Howard Rourke and the antagonist Ellsworth Toohey. Toohey is possibly the most disturbing character I’ve read about, primarily because he’s everything I’ve come to despise and mistrust in the world. I see Tooheys in different shapes and forms all over the world today. A character who preached selflessness, equality and virtue whilst harbouring dark intentions of control over people. Worst of all, he was universally liked by almost everyone, just as they are in the real world.  Towards the end of the novel, Toohey does a long monologue on destroying souls where his true nature and thinking comes out. A speech that made me shake my head in wonder at how accurate it was in relation to the current world.

The central theme of the novel is the battle between individualism and the collective within the realm of architecture. In a societal sense this is a battle that has existed since the beginning of time, but the novel gives the perfect rationale behind the idea of individualism and living for yourself. There are so many great ideas and conversations in this novel that it’s impossible to single out a single one. The hero Howard Rourke’s philosophy can be seen as quite extreme by some, but the novel presents the ideas in a way that was hard to argue with. Such as the idea that your own happiness comes first, not society’s. That the happiness and fulfilment you look for in the world can only truly be found in yourself. That it’s perfectly okay to follow your own path, to swim against the current, even to be seen as the outcast. That the great pioneers of the world were often ostracised and seen as outsiders. That the world can be divided between those who think for themselves versus those who think through others. Howard Rourke was also completely and utterly uninterested in what anyone thought of him or his work, and in is own way reminded me of how much energy we devote in worrying about opinions of ourselves or our work.

This novel could well be my favourite of all time, but I tend to put Atlas Shrugged on a higher pedestal due to how much more influential Atlas was to me at the time.

  1. Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoevsky

“Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart.”

A book that sucks you into the clammy, dirty streets of 1800’s St Petersburg and won’t let go, long after you put the book down. Perhaps this particular book should skip my hypothetical idea of giving it to high school kids for their education. You’d end up distorting their young minds into oblivion. It also made me feel as depressed and detached as the lead character for weeks afterwards.

I remember reading once about George Guidall, who’s narration of this novel is, for me, unparalleled. At certain points during the narration recording project, his wife started getting worried about him. He came home slouching, mumbling and looking terrible. Apparently the darkness of the story and Raskolnikov was affecting him deeply.

The way this novel was so deeply disturbing on a few levels. The main protagonist Rodion Raskolnikov uses an axe to murder two old women in cold blood. That wasn’t the disturbing part. The disturbing part was how Dosteoevsky made me completely relate to him. I suspect this is true of hundreds of thousands of readers of this book over the last century and a half. This dirty, detached, miserable student who killed two women in cold blood, and you find yourself completely behind him. Viewed through a modern, personal lens, Raskolnikov is a painful reminder of the alienation that society can cause. A reminder that Raskolnikovs exist now to this day in every city, in every country.

In classic Dostoevsky style it left me pondering some deep issues for months afterward – the danger of those who think they are above others, the nature of crime, people and power, and in classic Dostoevsky style, it’s a battle of good and evil within the hearts of men.

  1. Atlas Shrugged – Ayn Rand

“Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark in the hopeless swamps of the not-quite, the not-yet, and the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish in lonely frustration for the life you deserved and have never been able to reach. The world you desire can be won. It exists, it is real, it is possible… it’s yours.” 

Since its publishing date, only the Bible has sold more copies than this novel. In contrast to her large devoted support, in wide circles across society Ayn Rand is hated, primarily because of this thousand page epic of a book. Not just from one side either. She’s quite a divisive figure. Hated by the Left for her political and economic views, she was hated by the Right for her religious views. Rand’s critics are usually pour most of their scorn on her Objectivist philosophy revolving largely around the idea of ‘selfishness’, which I think is terribly misunderstood. I suspect most of her critics haven’t even made it through one of her books, let alone this one.

What did this book teach me? What didn’t this book teach me. This isn’t just the best book in this selection. It’s the best book I’ve ever read. People talk about the ‘red pill’ and the ‘blue pill’ in today’s society. i.e. Take the red pill and understand the hard truths of the world and be an outsider, or take the blue pill and remain in a state of blissful ignorance along with everyone else. I’ve had about three or four red pill moments in the last decade, but I think when it comes to politics and economics, Atlas Shrugged was my first major red pill. Just like The Fountainhead, the novel demonstrates Rand’s clear, unapologetic sense of how the world works. Just when I thought the novel couldn’t get any better, John Galt’s 57 page speech cemented this book as something far greater than a mere novel.

At the heart of the book is a businessman’s battle against the powers who control the world. Where this book is truly great is beyond the political and philosophical ideas. It’s how it inspires. For a long time after reading this book ten years ago I wanted to be the main character Hank Rearden. Perhaps I still do. In Rearden I think Rand was finally avenging her father, if only in her own mind. Just like her own father, the brilliant, innovative Rearden faces the controlling government intent to stop him. Except Rearden, with the help of John Galt gets the better of them. For me Rearden wasn’t just a great character, he was some sort of manifesto on how to live.

Where Orwell’s dystopian world of 1984 is something which may still happen, Rand’s world of Atlas Shrugged has actually happened. I’ve lived in it in South Africa. The producers and achievers, the ones who add value are being crowded out by the corrupt looters and money grabbers who’ve never done a day of productive work in their lives. Where talented business people are placed behind increasingly higher hurdles and squeezed for every drop to the point of disillusionment. Where the fight is not against the competition, but against the system. The novel poses a timeless question of what would happen to society if the producers, creative thinkers, innovators and problem solvers withdrew themselves. Where would the millions and millions of leaches in society turn to and how would it survive? i.e. What if Atlas, the god who held the world on his shoulders, were to Shrug?

It’s easy nowadays to lose faith in the world, and to feel a sense of disillusion. When I do feel this, it helps to remember my favourite line in all of literature:

“For twelve years, you have been asking: Who is John Galt? This is John Galt speaking. . . “

Read the book and you’ll understand.

You’ll understand everything.

The positive power of envy

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Envy – commonly regarded as a negative emotion which leads to dissatisfaction and ill feeling. In religious practices, we are taught the envy is a negative force to be avoided. In the Christian Bible envy is spoken of many times as something one should be careful of. “Do not covet” is of course the most famous of these teachings. In Buddhism the concept is similarly frowned upon. The Buddha quotes “”Do not overrate what you have received, nor envy others. He who envies others does not obtain peace of mind.”

I suspect the religious teachings were there to ensure that people didn’t start resenting each other or moving further away from idea of “Love Thy Neighbour”. Envy, it seems to me, can be a positive force which leads to an aspirational mindset or a negative force which leads to jealousy. Such is the problem with many religious teachings in that they see the worst of mankind rather than the best. It is very much up to the individual on how you want to channel envy.

There’s a huge difference between saying “I want that” and “I hate you because you have that”. We see this issue play out in political economic rhetoric, where some groups are insistent on the idea of taking wealth away from others rather than having the philosophy of trying to attain the wealth level of those they despise.

Of course, it goes without saying that gratitude for what we have is something we should all be more cognisant of. I myself am guilty of forgetting this, and have moments when I’m reminded of everything I have. But it is possible to be grateful for what we have as well as wanting certain things that others have. For an ambitious person who wants success, envy is a good thing.

This extends to all areas of our lives. It’s perfectly ok to look at the chiselled abs and defined biceps of a Men’s Health cover model and say ‘Yea, I want to be that guy’. It’s ok to look at your ultra-confident, all knowledgeable boss and say, “I want to be him”. We need these figures as clear guides as to what we want to become. There is a movement to make these cover models more realistic and show models with their natural flaws. I’m not so sure I agree. I tend to think we need to see perfection to motivate us, create envy, and spark us into attempting to achieve it.

Around December and January last year over the holiday I stayed in a far more affluent suburb than the one where I live. I remember going for long walks in the afternoons down streets I wasn’t familiar with, looking with great interest at beautifully designed big houses in quiet, tree shaded avenues. Instead of staring at these houses with indifference or resentment, it gave me a feeling of immense aspiration. I wanted a house like this. I therefore wanted a career that would grant me access to a house like this. It reminded me of what I wanted. I felt more motivated than I had in months.

A look at communist nations in the 1900’s further proves my point. One of the primary downfalls of communist attempts goes beyond economics. Those countries eventually resulted in an environment where there was nothing to aspire to. There was very little opportunity for envy, and the results of this were plain to see. When you take away man’s ability to want, your rip the beating heart out of society.

If we sometimes find ourselves with a lack of drive and motivation, I would suggest reminding yourself of all the things that you want or want to be. Want to get in shape? Look at magazines and Instagram posts of hot people working out. Want become a great presenter? Watch Ted Talks. Want to be a good leader? Learn from the likes of Peter Drucker and Jim Collins. Want to write better? Read Hemingway. These are just examples. The bottom line is, find people you want to be. It’s ok to envy their abilities – let the envy fuel you. Then go be them, with your own flavour.

Becoming a critical thinker through one simple habit

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In my humble opinion, critical thinking is becoming more and more of a rare trait in society, especially with young adults. It’s a skill I’ve always admired in people above and below myself in the business world as well as in general life. Indeed, managers typically put critical thinking high up in the most desired traits they seek in young employees. With a high level critical thought comes an employee that can usually think their way around problems, engage well with fellow staff and generally display a high level of emotional intelligence.

In terms of the nature vs nurture issue, can critical thinking be learned? Absolutely. It is not something inherently missing or present in a person. Critical thinking can be developed by learning from experience as well as incorporating certain tools and practises for yourself.

For example, one of the key lessons I’ve learned in 10 years in the business world is that there are two sides to every story. Quite literally. One person will give me their particular take on a situation, which sounds incredibly convincing and agreeable. However, a day later I might find a different individual giving me a contrasting opinion on the same issue which suddenly makes the entire situation seem a great deal less clear cut. As a result, in many aspects of business and general life, I refuse to accept one person’s opinion on an issue or subject. There is always another side. Always.

So how do we actively improve critical thinking? It’s quite simple. In terms of habits to incorporate, critical thinking in a young individual can be vastly improved by one particular habit: Questioning yourself.

How many of us do this properly?

The obvious ways to question yourself are to ask things like:

Am I being biased or irrational here?

Is there another way to look at this?

Have I considered the other person’s point of view?

Yet my favourite question to pose to one’s self is one that would not only assist young managers as they move up in the business world, but would also go a long way towards healing divisiveness in the world and help bring people closer together:

What is the best possible argument against my viewpoint?

This particular question can be translated to all areas of your life. As you become more senior in your career, you find yourself responsible for more decision making. For each decision that you make, you should be asking yourself What is the best possible argument against me doing this?

Preparing a presentation? As you’re putting it together you should continually be asking yourself what the best possible point of disagreement is that someone could raise. If you’re going to present what you perceive to be an incredible idea to a client, you should have thought of the best possible reason the client could have for not going with your idea. Is it still an incredible idea?

Buying a house? Are you asking yourself what the best possible reasons are for not buying the house? As you can see, this applies to everything.

All over the internet, I continually observe that as a society we’ve become more divided on political and identity issues than I have ever seen in my lifetime. Where the endpoint of all this divisiveness is, I don’t know, but it is highly concerning. The great Aristotle wrote that “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” I suspect many of us shut out contrasting views, perhaps because our own views are so deeply ingrained and inflexible.

Perhaps instead of arguing with each other on the big issues in society, we should be arguing internally on our own first. What people need to be doing is asking the question: What is the best possible argument I could put forward against my own standpoint? If this practise happened more and more in the world, I could almost guarantee a significant closing of the divide.

Critical thought is one of the most powerful forces that can change you, and change the world.

Three advertising books and the story of a world moved on

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I’ve been planning to build on my humble collection of marketing and advertising books, for various reasons. Primarily to read them, of course. The other day I took all the ones I own out to see how many I had and to proudly gaze upon my not-so-immense library of knowledge. In amongst them were the three books in the photo above — Eating the Big Fish by Adam Morgan, How Brands Become Icons by Douglas Holt and Truth, Lies and Advertising by Jon Steel. Three timeless pieces of marketing literature which have stood the test of time. But that’s not why I’ve dragged you into this blog post today. Seeing them again reminded me of the story of how I bought them second hand a few years ago.

It was 2013, after living in Johannesburg for two years my wife and I wanted to go spend Christmas in Port Elizabeth where we’d moved from. The only problem was that we had to take our two Jack Russells with us. The Christmas period isn’t conducive to dog sitters. I scoured the internet looking for somewhere halfway that had space and could take dogs. Not an easy task that time of year. Eventually I found a spot in Smithfield which ticked both boxes.

Off we went. Smithfield, despite probably being a little better than most Free State small towns, was nevertheless a bit of a nothing town. I remember driving alone to find a liquor store for a beer and a bottle of wine after settling in, and finding a liquor store of the type that has all the booze locked behind bars. The shop assistant served you as if he was in a jail cell. Squinting my eyes (didn’t know I’d need my specs to pick out wine), I pointed to something that was probably the only non-sweet wine there. Beer quarts were, of course, in abundance. I walked back out into the dusty street, the sun fading behind the hill. All eyes on me. I felt a little like Clint Eastwood about to enter a final shootout scene.

Enquiring about dinner options, our guesthouse recommended an establishment two houses down. To be fair, I don’t think they had anywhere else to recommend. By default we had our dinner venue. Strange, I didn’t see anything that resembled a restaurant two houses down. Just old fashioned houses with dusty yards bordered by farm-like fencing.

We walked over at 7pm with that nervous feeling of not knowing what you’re in for. In through a rusty old gate, around the house and . . . . oh! This wasn’t too bad. Quite charming in fact. Cute booths ran along a glassed in area at the exterior of the place. Quaint decorations were displayed on the walls, places to sit outside, the sun was going down in a lovely orange glow, while music played from somewhere inside. This was fine. More than fine.

A man showed us a seat. He offered wine, which he probably wasn’t allowed to do — they weren’t licensed. I wasn’t about to say no. After a while a guy in a wheelchair rolled around and introduced himself. An old white guy with a beard. Clearly the owner, he explained the meal options we had. We had a choice of two dishes, which he described with great enthusiasm and delight, detailing each ingredient and the resulting flavours. Eventually the food came, and while not award winning, it was wholesome and did the job.

The place was filling up. The old man was doing a lot of wheeling and a lot of talking around us. He finally got around to us and asked how we enjoyed the meal. We got to talking a little more. He discovered we were both in marketing and advertising. His eyes lit up, and he relayed his story that he was in fact an ex-lecturer of marketing at a leading advertising school in Johannesburg. Had been for many years.

“Want to see my advertising book collection?” He asked. His eyes glinted. Turns out the old chap was a bookseller as well. This was getting better. “Follow me,” he said, and wheeled further into his place. I followed behind him, and he led me to an entire wall of books, all marketing or advertising related books. Second hand, of course. He recommended three in particular, which I duly bought — the three in the photo above. I am a bit of a sucker in this regard. Or am I? Here they are with me in London. They made it from Smithfield in the Free State, through five years in Johannesburg before travelling across the world.

“Have you seen hour main bookstore?” He asked as I was paying. Huh? Main bookstore? He gave directions to the place next door. We shook hands and my wife and I went out into the well-lit night. A path led to a lit up house next door with the door open, just as he described. And there it was. And entire regular sized house packed with books.

I’d spent enough. And clearly all the good stuff was next door in the main house. But still, the fact that this charming bookstore was here, in this nonentity of a town, open at that moment at night, was an experience of its own. Thinking back now that was one of the better bookstore experiences I’ve had. I love bookstores. I never walk past one without entering. I can walk around them for ages. But these days, oddly, I never buy. I take photos, then buy on Amazon. Usually at a cheaper price. I’m part of the problem aren’t I? The small, unique, the charming, pushed aside. For the big. For the uniformly soulless and charmless.

Fast forward five years. We spent the night in Smithfield at the end of 2018, for the first time in five years. We’d come to prefer the other route down to Port Elizabeth, usually leaving the dogs with a sitter. Consequently I hadn’t been through Smithfield for that entire time. On this occasion, despite no dogs, we had a much more precious traveller with us — our daughter. The restaurant was gone. The building looked empty. Probably for some time by the look of it. There was a derelict air about it. The bookstore next door was obviously gone too. Hard to believe these places were ever there. The rusty exterior features of the house and garden seemed to whisper a story of a world that had moved on. Why do we expect houses and shops to remain the same? Nothing else in life does. The charming restaurant and its owners gone. In its place . . . nothing. An empty shell of a building. Somehow I doubted that the old man in the wheelchair and his fellow owner had gone on to better things in the years that followed.

Driving the next day I thought of the small grocer shop in our area when I was growing up. The type where you could get a coldrink, cigarettes, milk or a lotto ticket. We came to know the owners — both sets of them. My mother and I would stop there often. Next to it was a small liquor store and then a butchery. Like the Smithfield restaurant that shop is long gone too. Much longer. How many others like it? In the name of progress we steamroller over the small, the unique, the memorable. The grocer and the restaurant in Smithfield are one and the same. Relics of another time and place. Forced out of that time and place by a world that just consumes and moves on.

And here I am now in London in 2019, looking at these books, remembering the night I bought them. Of course, they’ll always be in my shelf, because they will always tell more than one story. They’ll remind me over and over again of a world that was.

The Rewarding Things About Writing A Novel

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So I’ve written a novel. Still quite hard to believe it’s done. But it somehow is. A novel that started alone at home in Johannesburg and ended in a North East corner of London a year later. I wrote it in coffee shops, in bed, on trains, in restaurants and in living rooms. At 46 000 words it ended up being much shorter than I initially anticipated.

It’s called Better Demons and is set in the Karoo region of South Africa. Maybe one day I can link to it on Amazon from here. Maybe. The novel could be great, and it could be utter trash. That’s part of the fun though – creating something that you genuinely don’t know the quality of, but creating nonetheless. Such is life, sometimes you just have to do it.

While I look for an agent who might be interested, it gives me a chance to reflect on the experience, which was a rewarding one. And while the lengthy process of writing a novel is not really for everyone, I do think act of writing is beneficial no matter who you are.

In terms of my own experience, here are the things I took out of it:

  1. Your voice is your voice

About three quarters of the way through writing my book, I picked up Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Part of me wanted to just give up. How could I compete with this? Conrad’s eloquent use of language and his majestic, sweeping descriptions made me feel incredibly useless, and of course, next to a titan like that, I am a bit. But a week or two later I picked up Charles Bukowski’s first novel Post Office. In his typical style, it’s rugged, real and gritty. It doesn’t conform to any ‘style’ and certainly isn’t eloquent in the classic sense. Yet it’s utterly readable.

This was an important realisation for me. Every writer has their own style. Every artist, in fact. Writing is art, and art should be an expression of something within you. Why should one worry about conformity of style? I don’t care if my novel doesn’t read like complicated work of William Faulkner or if it isn’t the length of a Dostoevsky novel, complete with paragraphs two pages long. My style is my style. I’m willing to own it.

  1. You learn about yourself

I recognised early on in the novel that the main characters were essentially versions of myself. The interesting part about all writing is that the act of getting words down on the page requires you to dig deep into yourself to find the truth and the right words. The process leaves plenty of time for doubt. Is this really what I think? Is that right? That’s not always as easy as it sounds. Any fool can talk, read news articles and have thoughts swirling around their head about what they think is their point of view on things. But the act of writing forces one to put the microscope on those thoughts and worldviews and make them visible.

I couldn’t just have one character putting opinions similar to mine out there. These thoughts needed to be challenged by another character, which I realised was also me. In this way I did realise that some of the things I believed with certainty maybe weren’t so certain, when you’re finding the best possible argument against them.

  1. You have to love the process

If you want to do anything well, that is. Whether my work is good or not, I still don’t know. What I do know though is that I could never have finished it if I didn’t enjoy the process. I’ve realised you have to have this philosophy in order to achieve anything worthwhile in life. You have to love the process.

If you want a fit, lean body, you have to love the act of working out. If you want to thrive in your career, it will be quite difficult, if not impossible to do that if you hate your job or the work you do. If you want to raise successful, good kids, you probably need to enjoy the process of parenting. And so on.

Writing a novel was no different. In order to finish it, I had to love the process. Whether it gets published or not is a little irrelevant to me in the bigger scheme of things. I’ve discovered with certainty something I love doing, and something I will keep doing.

Notes From A Muddy Island: Transport

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It’s two months this week since we took the rather life changing trip from South Africa to the UK to come live and work here. Instead of one long post on everything, I thought I’d stagger it into bite sized chunks, dedicated to one topic at a time.

Let me talk about transport first, because it is one of the more iconic things about London, in some strange way. We’re spoiled in South Africa – because assuming we’re financially ok and in the workforce, we generally drive everywhere. Or are we spoiled? I’m not sure.

Back in Johannesburg I’d step out of my house at around 07:00, dodge a couple of somewhat large lizards around the car a few metres from the front door, and set off on the twenty minute drive to work. Comfortably lost in my own thoughts, until I pulled up in the parking lot of my office, to ascend the stairs and get to work. Total steps – probably 20.

London is slightly different. You have to be ready for a personal space invasion. I get on the tube at Buckhurst Hill station, up on the edge of town, and then get off at Holborn to walk to work. As the train gets closer to the city centre the train fills. And fills. And fills. Before you know it some big geezer in front of you backs further and further into you, to a point where you can study the hairs in his ears, make patterns with the wrinkles on his neck, or worse, smell that he may not have showered that morning. Total steps – probably around 6000.

Walking. So much walking. After just two days of going into work and back my trusted Woolies work shoes were badly wounded. A hole at the bottom and the sole coming apart. Off I went to buy new shoes, a massive grudge purchase for someone trying to limit spending. For the first time I was paying more attention to a shoe’s sole and heel strength than their design. This in itself was a mistake, as I should have been paying attention to how the shoe felt on the back of my ankle. Naively I decided to do the entire work journey the next day in brand new shoes. My feet were destroyed, specifically the back of the ankle. They’d even bled quite badly, to a point that I was worried the bleeding behind my foot might be noticeable.

On the following day, equipped with two pairs of socks, at around midday I had to go with a colleague across town to an agency. A trip that involved lots of, you guessed it . . . walking. My feet screamed with each step. My rather good looking female colleague glided along like someone ice skating, while I struggled to keep up, trudging along like Big Foot holding one in on an urgent trip to the lavvy. Do all South Africans walk like this, or just this weirdo?  

In the evenings I have to make my way from The Strand through Covent Garden to get back to Holborn Station. The area is densely populated with tourists from all corners of the earth. It’s quite a thing walking through endless tourists while not being a tourist. There’s a rather annoying holiday euphoria about  them all, as they stroll along, in the high spirits one tends to be while travelling. It left me with an interesting question one day. Is the primary reason people travel more to do with getting away from their mundane lives or actually seeing interesting things? I’m starting to believe it’s the former. I’ve followed tourists over the Waterloo Bridge and noticed that they hardly looked up from their phones.

But it’s not all negative. Having worked out that I walk 5km per day, I feel quite good about the whole ordeal. I’m walking 5km per day more than I was at home. As a consequence I’ve actually lost weight, despite drinking more beer than I was in SA (see post on that in the next few days).

The issue of the shoes and feet was quickly resolved by using my orange trainers, and then swapping them out at work. I can pull off the look with jeans and a K-Way jacket. I haven’t attempted the orange shoes with a suit jacket yet. But hey, I’m in London, nobody knows me. Who the hell cares if I look like a spaz. Better that than broken feet.

Speaking of shoes, you notice them. Particularly in the underground, if you’re lucky enough to sit. Usually because you have nothing else to do and you’re tired of what’s going on on your phone. You don’t want to disturb the people sitting directly in front of you by looking looking straight at them, so you glance above them, or you look down . . . at their shoes. Old ones, new ones, vellies, loafers, work shoes, high heels, trainers, trainers trainers. So many trainers. But also, so many questions. Often I look at some shoes and wonder How the fuck do you walk more than 500 metres in those without ruining your feet? I never thought I’d look at shoes this way before.

For the first time in my adult life I’m not driving. And it’s ok. Actually, at times it’s great. No car repayments, no car insurance, no despondent Fuck! under your breath as you read about a petrol price increase next week of R1,73. No road rage. In Johannesburg driving was a bit of a schlep, often leaving me with serious doubts about my fellow human beings and their intelligence. Now a leisurely walk to the train in the morning allows some sort of reflection and peace. Similarly, the walk from the train in the evenings in the all too fresh air is often pleasant, and much needed after a day cooped up in an office.  Unless it’s windy and raining. Then give me the damn car.

This reliable public transport reminds me again of another thing South Africa has failed at. Comparing the busses that are always on time and the reliable trains to a dilapidated taxi veering around Johannesburg breaking traffic laws that haven’t even been invented yet brings me quite a bit of sadness. Also, in a tube carriage it’s quite strange to see people who could very well be some sort of high level director alongside, for example, a construction worker. Social classes mashed up together like woolly sardines. As if that would happen in SA.

So much to observe. Even on the trains. Especially on the trains. Often I observe the non-observance of others. I’ve noticed people who never looked up from their phone at all in a 30 minute train ride, their expression remaining completely unchanged. In the evenings I look at one or two faces and wonder what types of lives they’re going back to. What types of homes wait for them? Is he going back to a loving family for a wholesome meal, or is he going back to sit on his own in a dirty apartment, doing a little cocaine while death metal plays in the background?

Ordinary lives. And I’m one of them.

Bukowski – The Unlikely Hero

Discovering Charles Bukowski’s writing was a bit like discovering Pink Floyd. In both cases I didn’t know a great deal about the creative artist in question. But there was something that drew me to them. Some unseen force which made me pick up their product from the shelves and buy it. With Pink Floyd it was back in 2002 or so. Bukowski was more recent.

It was in Hyde Park’s Exclusive Books in Johannesburg. I remember it being December 2016, just before Christmas. It was the first book of poetry I ever bought. “Pleasures of the Damned” – a collection of his poems over a few decades. Ever since that moment I was hooked.

It’s worth pointing out that Bukowski is the archetypical example of a writer who is ‘not for everyone’. Not by a long way. Bukowski himself was an unattractive, crude, womanising alcoholic who spent most of his life in poverty, living one drunken bout to the rest, drifting in and out of endless dead end jobs. I think he was even homeless for a while.

His writing was as crude as his life. Brash, unapologetic, real. Despite everything about Bukowski, no other writer has ever given me the sense that the author knew exactly how I felt. At the worst times in my life, it was usually Bukowski that dragged me out. Not through some inspirational pieces or uplifting passages. You never found those in a Bukowski. Oddly, it was the opposite. He wrote about the downtrodden, the misfits, the outsiders. He wrote about life, death and absurdity of it all. He wrote with heart. With soul. He got it. He looked the shittest parts of life in the eyes and never flinched.

His writing sort of made me feel like Hey, its ok. I’m ok. Someone gets it. Someone gets me.  There’s a strange comfort in reading something and knowing that someone else just understood. They just understood. Even though it was written decades ago by a man now long dead.

I tend to think we all need a writer or two like this. The ones who speak to our darkest parts, the ones who recognise us humans as the imperfect creatures we are. The ones we feel oddly connected to. 

I sometimes think, in some ways, Bukowski saved my life.

Home is Temporary, Roots are Permanent

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There’s a novel by John Steinbeck, a famous one called The Grapes of Wrath. It centres around a family (and many other families), venturing thousands of miles westward to California in search of a better life, escaping the harsh dust bowl of Oklahoma in the 1930’s. One scene early in the book depicts how the women would watch their farmer husbands in the wake of devastating dust storms to see their reaction:

“The women watched the men, watched to see whether the break had come at last. The women stood silently and watched. And where a number of men gathered together, the fear went from their faces, and anger took its place. And the women sighed with relief, for they knew it was all right – the break had not come; and the break would never come as long as fear could turn to wrath.”

Yes, at the end of this month I am leaving South Africa for the UK. It is still difficult to grasp the fact that it’s happening, but it is. I was always one of those who saw the realities of South Africa, yet always remained positive that things would be fine, and that we could live happy lives here. But like the poor farmers in the Steinbeck novel, the fear for the future of South Africa has turned to wrath, one time too many. Needless to say, my wrath is aimed at the South African government. I never like being forced into something – ask my wife this, or any of my friends. This is a prime example. This feels forced.  I look forward to the adventure, and feel positive, of course. But still, if South Africa was thriving and hope was high, I wouldn’t be doing this.

This isn’t a political post, but this is unfortunately a political issue. Many of my political rants of the past (some on this blog) have argued against the ever increasing sizes and extents of governments and government interventions around the world. The concept of a government, I maintain, is one of the most dangerous entities operating around the world today, which is why they need to be kept to a minimum in size and kept in check. A bloated, morally bankrupt government with a bad ideology can destroy an entire country, which is what is happening in South Africa. There are many other examples of this through the 20th century which I won’t mention, for fear of making this a political post. This is why I always support the ideal of small government and individual autonomy.

You can take a lot of things from a person, and they can carry on almost perfectly ok. Little bits of freedom, little bits of safety, little bits of disposable income, little bits of patience. But as soon as you start chipping away at hope, you have someone who takes action. That action is to say goodbye to my country.

Contrary to my outward appearances, I’m actually an incredibly sentimental person, bordering on melancholic at times.  This is despite my rather awkward, somewhat cold disposition. I hate saying goodbye to things, it always leaves me with a sense of emptiness and sadness. When I drop relatives off at the airport in Joburg or say goodbye to them in Port Elizabeth as I leave, it usually takes me a while to recover from my gloomy stupor.

Leaving a country, your home country, will be no different, I suspect. Perhaps even more severe. I’m not sure what I’ll be feeling when the plane takes off from OR Tambo International, but I’m sure the sadness, albeit temporary, will outweigh the excitement. But what is it that I really love about South Africa? I don’t feel any particular affinity or sense of belonging with the people here. I don’t do the whole South African pride thing. I probably won’t wear South African apparel in the UK. A small, dark part of me is so angry I want to disown the place.

It’s the more permanent, non-human elements that I love and will undoubtedly miss. Some weird deep love of the land. Like an old oak tree, it’s like a fixed rootedness, an attachment to the land that’s near impossible to displace. I’ve always had a keen interest in where it is I came from. Who were the people who came before me, and what did they do? Maybe knowing that my forefathers landed here in 1690 and have been here since then has something to do with my attachment to this land, in a way that goes beyond sentimentality into the spiritual, energy side. I tend to think some have a greater attachment than others, and I tend to think my roots are very entrenched in this land. It’s quite hard to put words to this. Some will understand this, but many won’t. This isn’t necessarily a good thing. It just makes leaving that much heavier.

The smell of a braai as you light the firelighter and the relaxed feeling that follows. The beautiful severity of Johannesburg thunderstorm. The chorus of birds at 4:30am. The calm serenity of the Karoo at sunset. Driving 100km of road without passing a car. Reaching a royal hotel at 5pm after 8 hours of driving in the heat and the magnificence of drinking that ice cold lager. The feeling of entering Cape wine country after going over a Cedarberg mountain pass. These are the ways one’s roots speak to you. These are the odd things so hard to let go, because they’ve become part of who I am, and how I identify with my roots. Nature and the land are powerful things.

Unlike roots, which are permanent, home is not. Home is temporary. Home is moveable. When I moved to Johannesburg in 2012, one thing became very clear to me, and it’s something I seem to have forgotten in the few years that followed: Home is not a place. Home is where your family is. Home is a feeling. A feeling of safety and familiarity. A place where you truly are your real self. That’s why moving from your home country is so daunting. You go beyond the familiar into the unknown. But it is impermanent, because in no time the UK will be home, feel like home and be familiar. This is why I’m not at all worried about settling.

I’m also reminded, painfully, that nothing is permanent in this life. The sentimentalist in me keeps recognising the last times I’ll be doing things (for a while at least). The last time I put petrol in my car. The last time I have those amazing chips from that restaurant. The last time I drive a certain road across the country or see certain towns. The last time I jog down certain streets. The last time I have a get together with good people. The last time I look at my bookshelf before it’s sold and the books packed away. The last time (for a while) that I leisurely watch football in my own house on a Saturday afternoon, with the braai burning outside. Yet all the ‘last times’ experienced will inevitably be balanced out by a whole lot of first times as I do things for the first time. Everything changes. Always.

I could come back from the UK in a year after a failed experience and none of the above is relevant. I could love it and become highly successful there, staying long term. One thing I’ve learned in life is that you never know what’s around the next corner. And that’s ok. We’re ok. I’m ok.

What can one do but smile, put some classic rock on the headphones, some wine in the glass, and roll the crazy wave of life.