Many of my close friends might disagree (perhaps that’s why we’re friends in the first place) but there’s a fairly strong cultural notion of ‘success’ that is intimately linked to the accumulation of wealth and things in general. I do admit that while I was employed and earning a salary, I too fell prey to this and got concerned with bonuses, pay increments and the like and though one should blame nobody but oneself, there is a case for culture playing a role.
Think of the normal life-cycle of an urbanite – born, grow a little, go to pre-school, move up to primary school, get worried about exams because everyone else is, go to secondary school, get even more worried about exams, go to tertiary education, get more stressed. Move up to higher tertiary education/university, get less stressed and sometimes smashed. Get a job, complain about low pay and long working hours, find someone to spend your life with, get married, buy a place to live. Continue to complain about low pay and working hours while striving to maintain the mythical work-life balance. Have children, continue complaints. Watch children grow up, try to move to a bigger/better place. Get stressed about children in school (see above) and then get stressed when children grow bigger. Retire and hope that the low pay and long hours leaves enough for the rest of one’s days. Cue sunset and couple on beach gazing out to sea.
While there many may say that I’m making a gross generalisation, the lives of many can be variations on a similar theme. Just like Elgar and the Enigma but I digress. The problem or result of this life-cycle is the constant need to get ahead through the accumulation of wealth and the consequent want to get better pay to feed this need may lead to one getting stuck in a proverbial hamster wheel of work, bills to pay and the constant search for bigger hamster wheels that would lead to easier payment of bills. It all seems natural until one steps out and sees the possibility of something else.
I’m neither criticising nor condemning the life-cycle but I am advocating a recognition that it could be there and that we could be accepting something similar because of the societal norms around us. We’re often appraised by others based on the jobs we hold, the money we earn and when we get married or have children. My conscious stepping out of this to do what I will be doing reminds me that doing so makes me an ‘other’ and an occasional object of pity, friendly derision and respect – sometimes all at the same time. I’m almost proud to be counter-cultural (for once) and view the stepping out as the start of an alternate journey. The freedoms that one used to have are no longer there but the freedom from having to be in the normal race to complete the cycle.
Stepping out is the but the first part of a long journey. The irony is that the change that I’m heading towards could be another hamster wheel in itself but one is comforted that it’s a wheel less run too. More or less.