Have you ever been woken up by a noisy alarmclock which you were, strangely enough, guilty of setting yourself, but which now, in the morning, makes you wonder if it really, really matters, universally speaking, if you don’t get up and go to work today?
I’ve figured out the answer:
You’ll get one phonecall,
but you don’t need to answer.
On a drizzling Saturday afternoon a couple of weeks ago I meet Michael. We’re at a gasstation near Sittard in the south of Holland and while I’ve got a oversized backpack with me, he has got a car. Michael seems a nice guy, isn’t scared by 1m90 high hitchhikers and even though most space in his car is occupied by his racebike and bike accessoires, there’s also some space left for me and my kingsize backpack. Michael tells me that he has just come back from a giant 160 kilometer bikeride through the Belgium hills. Quite a nice idea of relaxation.. Without doubt it’s a good way to spend your excess energy and to get some excercise. As Michael tells me: “I bike a couple of times a week, and look at least 20 years younger than my colleageus who are all couch potatoes.”
Work is always a popular conversation topic, and allthough we manage to avoid it for a while, we’re starting to drift in this direction anyway. And thus this early-middle-aged guy tells me how he managed to get a nice job working in the area of Knowledge Systems; and when he’s talking about his current job his eyes start shining: “First I studied for four years, then I continued my life at university for another four years to get a promotion. It was hard work and low paid. Then I got a job, but of course, after eight years at university there’s a lot you don’t know. So the first couple of years you’re going to get a lousy job, while learning everything you need to know on the job, especially the social skills. Just accept this and deal with it. After these first years I got moved to more interesting projects and now I’ve got a really satisfying job.” Then we get to the gasstation, so it’s time to say goodbye, but not without taking his stories with me…
An idea I see a lot around me is that you should get degrees, even if you don’t like the process of getting them. Then these degrees are useful for getting a good job, which earns you more money and gives more pleasure as the studying life. (The money is also there for pleasure, although it should also be used for getting security besides.) The idea that the first couple of working years you should put up with an unsatisfying job is new to me though.
About 10 days later I find myself yet again on a gasstation – a small local one in Emden, Germany. It’s quite out of my way, but well, a hitchhiker should always be prepared to do some sight-seeing and exploring. After a couple of minutes a car stops, and a young guy jumps out and hurries to the counter. I throw him a question in passing: “Do you go to direction Bremen?” To which he hastily replies: “I don’t know, I’ve to go Hannover. I’m asking inside where it is.” Of course I know this route quite well and I’d love to go to Hannover, so I tell him this, to which he answers that I should throw my backpack on the backseat.
Tom turns out to be a 23 year old guy with a lot of travel experience. This year he spent a couple of months in Haiti, working in a hotel for a while, then in a pizzeria at the beach and after half a year finally returned to Germany. In Haiti he had met some people who offered him another job – in a cafe on the island of Borkum in Germany. Now Borkum is sometimes pictured as a hip young island. And, in fact an old schoolmate of mine from the gymnasium suprised me by showing up as the advertising man behind a one million euro campaign to promote Borkum as a cool foreign island and the place for students to go and get some sun! Likewise, Tom was told that it was a cool & hip place. How wrong an idea! He spent a couple of months there, with nothing to do, except to pour sherry for the visitors of the cafÆ’Ã†â€™â€šÂ©.
So after a couple of months of working, one morning he wakes up and starts wondering about his job; it wasn’t what he expected, it’s not very fullfilling and his colleagues are not at all motivating people. So Tom asks the big question: “Why should I go to work today, if I don’t want to? What will be the consequences if I don’t go?” Being a sensible guy, a couple of minutes later he has packed his stuff and is on his way to the mainland. Which is where I meet him. He tells me he just had to get out, and even didn’t take the time to talk to his boss. Which seems irresponsible, but logical to me; because your boss, and the other people around you will want to talk you into staying and they’d probably succeed in tricking you into following your mind instead of your heart. So, we drive for hours, do some talking, then listen to the radio until after a while Tom turns the volume down: “I’m supposed to go working in 5 minutes, so my boss will probably call me.” And indeed, about 10 minutes later the phone rings. And it rings again. And again. Tom is just continueing driving however, and not just because it’s forbidden to drive and call at the same time. What is there to say? His former chief might, after all, still trick him into going back to a job which he doesn’t like.