Wednesday, February 03, 2010

A Dog Chasing A Car

The below is a necessarily meandering defense of the directionless life. A more academic tone could not do the job of arguing my point.

A question frequently asked in job interviews is "Where do you see yourself in ten years' time?"

The Financial Crisis of 2008 ruined or set back many people's plans for the future: factories in China closed, forcing workers to lose their jobs; office-departments merged or closed down, forcing workers to lose their jobs, these aren't original observations I know.
The Financial Crisis happened at the end of a summer in which the blockbuster film was "The Dark Knight." In the film's most memorable performance, Heath Ledger inquires "Do I look like a guy with a plan?...I'm a dog chasing cars. I wouldn't know what to do with one if I caught it...I try to show the schemers how pathetic their attempts to control really are. "

I am not encouraging all young people to become a dog chasing a car. But the working-lives of my generation will be different to our parents' and their parents' working-lives. As for any generation, making a living and making a life are both difficult processes. But for mine, the two processes seem particularly separate.

Before I continue, I should explain which generation I'm from, and why, at 26, I still haven't started (or even selected) a career. I came to China in May 2007, eight months after graduating from my Masters Degree. Some people think of teaching English in China as an anti-career, as a way of avoiding entering the real world. Although many English teachers in China are unsuccessful in their own countries, I don't encourage anybody to measure their worth as a human being in terms of how much money they make, or their position in society. Teaching English in China is a good way of simultaneously making a living and making a life. And, no it's not a way of escaping working for THE MAN, it's merely a different kind of rat-race.

My coming to China happened shortly before the credit-crunch which was followed by the Financial Crisis. There were lay-offs across a variety of sectors, and those suffering most were those with the least experience, on this basis, it could be argued that my coming to China was a good career move. But, in the words of Baz Luhrmann in a song that means a lot to the people who were teenagers of the 1990s and 2000s: "Whatever you do, don't congratulate yourself too much, and don't berate yourself too much either. Your decisions are half chance. So are everybody else's"

A popular saying at the time of my graduation was "Business is the new rock 'n' roll." In Britain, businessmen such as Simon Cowell and Peter Jones are icons and figures projected as role-models for the young. But in my meager experience, business was not the new rock 'n' roll but the new religion. In the summer after finishing my undergraduate degree I entered into a work experience where conformity was forced, cash was worshiped, and views that dissented from the values of the business I worked for were mocked.

Before coming to China, there were many things that I wanted to do with my life, but they were all incompatible to paid work. Any job I had sought would merely have been a way of supporting my hobbies: playing the guitar; creative writing; critical writing. I agree that: "When pleasure is the business of life, it ceases to be pleasure."
So for the time being, I will continue with the teaching-in-China, although there is clearly no future in it. It's a job that enables me to meet interesting people, grow as a teacher, push myself to keep learning (in order to grow as a teacher) and frees up enough time to pursue other things.

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