It’s that opposite time of the year again. For most people going about their daily lives the longer days and expected sunlight create a natural momentum and a flow of movement. If people are going to exercise at all, this is certainly the time. Just look at the available number of cycling, running and walking events and you’ll see that spring into summer is flex time.
For many students however, the opposite applies. It’s a case
of heads down over the laptop, writing out index cards, slurp a warm drink, procrastinate
a little, sip a little more, realign the pencils and hunch again back over the laptop.
As an examiner it’s an odd summer for me because for the
first time in 6 years I’m not on the cusp of marking any papers at all because this
time around; I’m the student!
I’m finishing off a 10 month course in educational
assessment and although I do not have to sit exams, I do have a long report to
research and write up and from a seasonal perspective; it feels wrong. I wrote an
essay over December and January and found it much easier to lock myself away,
pull the curtains and do what was required. The winter months feel like a much
more appropriate time to spend indoors and think.
I suppose it has to be this way because the academic year runs
from September to June (and nobody’s rushing to change that in a hurry) and we
in the system have constructed a necessity for assessments, tests and all other
Systems Of Summary to come along now, like a pan national swarm of full stops.
I’m not offering any change or amendment, but I am saying to
students and parents do remember that teachers, moderators, invigilators and
examiners know what you’re going through. We live through it ourselves each
year and remember our own time at the sharp end. We are in fact still there because
your success it ours. Educators do it for the vocation and the desire to help.
If things go wrong the Sunday Mail will be quick to point and blame and quite
frankly, even when things go well, they’ll do the same.
Take it from an insider, your teachers are better than ours
were. What you learn is useful and of great value and a secret that others may
not like to share; there’s no immediate rush. There’s always tomorrow. See a
poor result not as a sign that you’re not up to it but that you’re travelling
at a slower pace than the system wants, but you’re still travelling. If you can
extract some enjoyment from the subject, you can definitely make it and even if
you don’t like it that much, with time you can still arrive.
The nearing horizon flattens and remarkably the third World Cup since I’ve been blogging about football bends into view.
I have in some ways detached myself from the sport. There are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ reasons for this. The primary ‘good’ reason is that I have as far as my writing is concerned, successfully transferred my football thinking over to other topics and because of this have reached more people. I always intended to use football as a metaphor and am glad my hunch was right, people do ‘get’ it.
The ‘negative’ reasons for me being less involved in football are more basic. Both my domestic and my international teams have embraced mediocrity and achieved little. There is nothing as powerful as failure if you want to un-love something and both Arsenal and Italy have done this for and to me. They have lost a lot and are withered, weak and imperfect.
I have frequently written about the emotional pain that is football’s inevitable long shadow and that fans buy into a team because they somehow value the particular flavour of the pain/pleasure doled out by their side. I have also confessed how I’d like to be completely un-committed to any team and am frustrated as to why I am forever pulled towards an entity, a pseudo tribe that knows nothing of nor cares for me.
In 2012 I began to sidestep soccer and address other (more important) subjects such as mental health, emotional wellbeing, isolation and nostalgia. Although these subjects may have random elements in common with each other I now realise that as a group they reflect the fact that our lives and our world are dominated by flaws. It always was and shall always be this way. Even if something appears to be perfect e.g. a ball bearing, when examined under a microscope it is dented and scratched and even worse its constituent neutrons keep shivering and shaking. Dancing a jig as if to poke fun at observers who talk about objects being solid and reliable. There is basically nothing fixed or in a steady state in the world. It’s all in flux and vulnerable.
It’s as if hidden within the collective psyche people sense the imperfections of existence. It defines our mortality and confirms our impermanent nature and I suggest the single greatest reason why humans have invented and bought into faiths and dogmas is that they come with seemingly perfect frameworks on which questions and answers are hung side by side. As theories and paper-bound manifestos these things appear all knowing and protective but the physical realities of life can undermine any scheme in a moment.
Being of a Learning & Development disposition I have tried in these blogs to come up with ways of vaulting over or at very least, accepting life’s pitfalls. However, ‘Positive thinking’ and I divorced some six years ago when I was picked up in a seedy bar by a dominatrix called Madame Stoicism. In no time at all she signed me up and ever since then I’ve been an almost committed (reminder, I am Mr 70%) modern stoic. Phrases like it’s pretty bad, but as not as bad is it could be andexpect the worst and hope for something just a bit better have helped me see things from a better perspective that has its strength based around having lower expectations.
Taking matters further, Madame S. introduced me to the Japanese philosophy of WABI-SABI. A concept more sedate and demure then stoicism, Wabi Sabi is based on the notion that flaws are inevitable and can be seen as differences not errors. They should therefore be embraced and even enhanced. A good example is that of older people. An old person has crinkled skin and failing eyes but their insight and experience can add to many situations and ought to be valued. Equally, a person with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder might have different ways of dealing with life and can bring other skills to the party such as deep knowledge of a special interest or have the ability to see into and around a quagmire of numeric data that looks like random digits to most neuro-typical people.
Completing the centre circle.
WABI SABI is purloined from Buddhist teachings that look at the three marks of existence; suffering, impermanence and emptiness.
If this trio doesn’t sum up being a football fan, then nothing does but when it brings in the acceptance of differences as part of the whole we can maybe feel the suffering a little less. It also brings us nearer to the Olympic ideal that: The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well. (Baron Pierre de Coubertin). Given that my team is not in this World Cup I shall observe the unfolding events and with an impartial view accept flaws and difference within the concept of a beautiful game without having to feel sad.
It’s no secret that I frequent charity shops (for American readers; Thrift Store). There are various motives. One is that it winds up my wife that while she constantly donates stuff I go to these places to buy stuff. Although annoying my wife is not a primary motivation in my life this kind of low level nudging is amusing and she would, if pushed, admit from time to time some of my purchases are quite impressive.
I tend to buy ‘designer’ menswear, sports clothing and art books i.e. those with lots of pictures. I noticed today that while I was browsing the Cancer Research Shop’s bookshelf I actually laughed out loud. I had spotted a charity shop favourite; John Berger’s Ways of Seeing. We humans make some odd noises which are I suppose a kind of sub-language and if this chuckle/snort had been properly worded it would have said: I know that book, I have owned it since 1978 and somebody has decided they don’t need it. They’re wrong, it’s a very good book. It influenced me a lot. The author died last year, so why did they ditch him? At least, however, somebody out there once had something in common with me. I am not alone, but then again I’ve kept my copy, so maybe I am alone after all.
Another reason I might let forth an exclamation is that some clothing labels tap into the depths of my nostalgia. Only last week I tried on a London Fog raincoat, not because I need it, but a voice from the1960’s returned to my mind to inform me that this was a respected American brand worn by Madmen styled New Yorkers in an age when men last wore (proper) hats. Over the years I’ve unearthed gear by Burberry, Armani, Lacoste, Etro and many other Premier League clothiers and every time I’ve set eyes on the item it has given an instant sense of pleasure because I recognise it.
It’s partly a case of being able to afford an unaffordable thing, but it’s also the treasure finder’s feeling of triumph of discovery. Somewhat like the detectorist that pulls up a Roman coin, much of the pleasure lies in the secrecy of the find. There’s the feeling of picking up a personal message from the past. Like looking up at a blinking star and knowing that its explosion came and went many thousands of years ago and, as the viewer, I’m experiencing a message from a private history. It’s them to me and as the light traverses time and space my eyes pick up a unique signature at the end of a letter that nobody else was shown because it was written to me. With kind regards…
With reference to silence and calmness, the senses I have been out to capture, they can, it feels, be touched in an unpredictable way. Somewhere wrapped up between the nostalgia of my own past and the recognition that a momentary deja-vu is so personal. As it is meant for my eyes and ears only it forms a vacuum pocket that is hermetically sealed in a moment for me forever. If ageing offers just one thing it is perhaps the ability to smile inwardly (even if I may laugh out loud) when something of this nature happens. A younger person still reaches out for meaning and explanation, but the mature one can appreciate a split second of irony or familiarity for the history of their own journey.
And talking of journeys, I previously mentioned Slow TV. There is a kind of viewing revolution afoot and its’ heart is the notion that people no longer watch TV just for entertainment or data gathering (i.e. the news). We are now able to watch our screens to observe relax and exhale.
Simple TV is loveable.
Assuming that producers and critics highly value programmes that capture the viewer’s imagination I have over the last few years developed a preference for the opposite; programmes from which I can walk away. Call it simple TV. If I can go off to pour a glass of beer, delete some emails or jot down an idea, I am a richer person because I am owning greater control of my own mind and body and am semi-free from the screen.
I do not think that the first makers of Slow TV thought of this as a plus point of the genre and this is probably an oblique approach, but Slow TV at its centre is raw and in the nicest way, crude. In my view, it is better for the fact that it comes across as a back drop rather than a central activity. My favourite type of Slow TV programmes are railway films. I do not mean Murder on the Orient Express, Brief Encounter or even Michael Portillo’s documentaries (although I do enjoy them), but film shot from cameras mounted in the driver’s window and/or other locations on the engine. The viewing experience is a simple form of virtual reality and allows you to experience journeys of varying lengths. The most famous is Norwegian TV’s 7 hours plus journey from Bergen to Oslo but they also offer a snow blinding trip across Norway that lasts for over 20 hours. Additionally, Slow TV also offers experiences of canal trips and Norway’s National Knitting Evening.
The box (TV, laptop, ‘phone, tablet…) is becoming a window and through the pane we can observe, sit back and take in as much or as little as we need. I’d call that a definition of calm.
Since my Silence Project stalled some 13 months ago that there is now new hope for those of us that embrace calm and quiet. In part two I shall expand on Slow TV and the appreciation of zero action but today it’s purely about silence.
To recap, in February 2017 I went to the British Library in London on a rainy Saturday to read a book about silence and to experience the concept in a pure environment. When I returned the book to the librarian she asked me in hushed tones why I had borrowed that book as it was the first time it had been requested. When I told her I was in search of silence both on paper and in her place of work she guffawed ‘Silence in this place? That’s a joke!” When I asked for an explanation she told me about humming heating/air conditioning, frustrated academics closing heavy tomes and lots of sighing. I also noticed two professor types pacing between desks as if they were auditioning for the art of ‘deep thinking cop’ in a Scandi crime drama.
I lost heart in the project and walked away from it. This was not only because of what the librarian said but in that short time I realised that the peace of mindfulness I was seeking was not going to be unearthed.
In the greater scheme of Mental Health I do not have any deep problems. I do have some anxieties but having witnessed profound anxiety closely I feel my own condition is not that of a sufferer and is more akin to that of the frustrated artist coupled with what I never wanted, but always predicted; regret of things not achieved.
As a young man I dabbled in various creative tangents but found neither the great talent within me nor the passion to dive into anything that might have lead to greatness. I held a conservative course and am paying the cost now. The good news is that because I kind of knew this would occur my regret is dampened and my anxiety is with the aid of a few legal chemicals, maintained at a low level.
I am surrounded by people that vent, splutter and dish out commands and find that with my Duck’s Back approach, I can handle most days. I have worked out that if I look and act calm then I can be so. This is amusing because when I trained as an actor in the 1980’s and a Performance Coach in the 2000’s the approaches were to work on the inside and to let it work its way out. Somewhat like a cold, a bowel movement or even love itself. ‘Learn to love yourself’ they’d say and then others will love you too.
I am not saying that these ideas are rubbish, but I am saying that sometimes if you hold an external position, it can internalise in a positive way too. These can lead to moments of quiet anguish and a fuddled brain but thus far it has worked. I have learned to stand still and stoic. Madness happens around and I can let the brickbats hit me knowing the longer I avoid retort, the stronger my position becomes. As I said, this can lead to a build up of internal damage, but in a world where everyone seems to be firing off all the time, it is right now, the better option.
4.43 a.m. I was standing at a window looking across the street. The silence as I now know was fake. I could hear my own head-buzz, I could sense the electricity in the street lamps and could certainly hear the nagging of Ted the cat. Yet despite the noisy quietness I found a new thing; stillness. All was still and the street scene became one of visual silence. It was certainly not an absolute, nor one that can be kept going for long, yet for the few moments before I broke away to run the bath tap for Ted to drink from, I sensed a new way of touching calmness.
I have just returned from a routine visit to the GP. She was a young, pleasant public-school type person who I have never met before, and given her locum status and imminent maternity leave, shall probably never see again. And there you have it, a present day meeting with a doctor takes 3 weeks to organise and when you meet her it’s short sharp and a one off. Health issues cannot resolved with such brief interventions, but the system can pretend.
To become a GP she would I guess, have been a brilliant student. This brilliance coupled with her smile and ‘I’m listening’ tilt of the head culled from Lesson One of ‘Body Language in times of conflict’ demonstrated a kind of rudimentary awareness, but where she really excelled was with the speed and efficiency with which she brushed me off and sent me away empty handed.
I had a list of things to go through and yet none of them were dealt with in the way that was satisfactory.
Allow me to share my below the brain and above the belt issues.
Shallow breathing. I am fitter than I’ve ever been. I run 5km once a week on top of the 2 x 2km walk to/from work each day, yet I cannot put on my socks without panting. This I self-diagnosed is because I’m still unfit, anxious or am in need of a sock butler.
I have developed a literal pain in the neck that shoots through my shoulder, down my mousing arm and halts before the carpal tunnel zone. The cure for this would I’m sure, be 3 sessions of simple physiotherapy and some sweet sweet Tramadol. I know, because it’s worked before.
I’ve got a couple of re-grown subcutaneous bumps that simply need hacking out of my back. Again, this works because I had the procedure some years ago. She confirmed my benign diagnosis and closed the case when I closed my shirt.
The up shot is that the shallow breathing dominates everything else. I’ve been sent for a blood test and a heart examination. I asked if I could in the meantime be referred to a physiotherapist and get some kite-high pain killers. She said NO. I asked if I could get the lumps removed and she said NO. I needed these small pounds of (my own) flesh because if nothing else, two items would have come off my list and my mental health would have benefitted. Although I do not have an Autism Spectrum disorder, I have mental lists and feel better from seeing them being ticked off. I was not helped to feel better.
Everything depends on the breathing inspired Medical Tests before anything else. I asked why these tests had to be first when pills and physiotherapy would at least attack the pain. She told me ‘we’re a surgery, medical tests is what we do’. This was not delivered either rudely or with sarcasm, but I felt like all the doctor was doing was sending me for tests rather than coming up with a fix. Perhaps this is sensible, yet I know that getting another appointment will take ages and I will not get to see the same practitioner and it’ll be like going back to square one; Snakes & Ladders: Ladders & Snakes.
The other thing that came out of the discussion was that she wanted to approach my issues in a kind of flow chart order and in isolation of each other. To her, a medical approach meant looking at the breathing first (I suppose because it was Number 1 in my diary) and each problem on a stand-alone basis. She eschewed the idea of looking at me as a person. I really wanted to ask her why a young practitioner was taking this old school approach and was not looking at me holistically. I suppose she missed the optional seminar ’The Holistic Approach to Medicine: take it or leave it, you’re cleverer than your patients and you must let them know it’.
I also think that by using a divide and rule approach it was a simple way of kicking my can down the road and making sure she didn’t have to be around for anything that might transpire. She could happily report back to the practice manager that this particular patient may or may not have problems that are linked and the tests results (which will probably get lost in the post) can be overseen by an intern in the hospital. Pressure off and on with the next tactic of dodging the bullet.
A feature of having a December birthday is that if you are minded to review the year gone by you can run a parallel between your own and the calendar one. If however you are on the cusp of closing off a decade it is less easy to draw seasonal parallels because the task that daunts is to review several tens of years in one go. I am choosing to not do that.
This blog has in the past discussed rock stars that have influenced me (in particular Bolan, Bowie & Mercury) but one musician I have not so far discussed is Renato Zero.
I came across Renato Zero when I was living in Venice in the summer of ’74. The TV guide described him as the Italian Bowie, yet his look, which not only channelled but also out-camped British Glam Rock was very Freddie. His music was more challenging to get into because it was, and in 2017, still is, not really rock. It generally consists of power ballads played by swirling acoustic orchestras, over which his deep gritty voice (all Italian singers sound like Rod Stewart) rasps in tones of great drama, deep injustice or extrovert melancholia. Subject matter tends to range from dark vice ridden alleys to the bright vice ridden circus and back to the dark alleys again. The Italian public long ago accepted Zero as a national treasure and he still tours and records today. The look has changed, after all 40+ years of success have taken a toll and let’s face it, if you live in Rome and are an economic success there is little point in remaining pale wan and thin when you are surrounded by the best food and wine the planet can offer. Nowadays he wears all-covering black cloaks and ‘professor’ glasses in the style of Johnny Depp’s Willy Wonka.
There are two reasons why I feel it appropriate to mention Renato Zero in this, the last blog of my 50’s:
He has been with me since I was 16. The same time as my Holy Holy Rock Trinity began, except he is still alive and somehow manages to cast occasional tunes of tragedy and nostalgia over my ageing ear drums.
When in 2010, Renato reached the big ‘Six Oh’ he produced a music album and a book called ‘Sei Zero’ (Sei is the Italian for 6 and for ‘you are’) and so archly translates as ‘YOU ARE NOTHING’. This was supported by a written reflection based on him being told when he was a child that ZILCH was all he would amount to. When therefore he selected a stage persona, he went for ZERO with a sense of irony and an erect middle finger. All good stuff.
Perhaps it’s quite easy to look back at your detractors and laugh at them if you are sixty and still famous. You have eager record company executives, publishers and a loyal fan base. The inner artistic demons might still be present but if you can create products, the platforms are there. Renato Zero used a mini essay to rebuke his early critics but turned most of his 60th celebration into a positive dedication to the city of Rome and people he lives among.
Over these last 60 years I have learned that if you are not widely known there is little point in digging up ghosts from the past because the humiliation you might wish to inflict will fall on a wasteland and will just make you look foolish. So although there are people who I’d have liked to sneer at (mainly maths teachers and the odd work-place boss) I neither have the platform nor the need and will instead look, like Mr Zero at the good in the places and people around me.
This is a positive position and one that remains staunchly stoic. On the plus side, things are more or less under control and are not so bad but I have to say too that on the disappointing side nothing has really amazed or stunned me. I’ve seen my children born and grow, I’ve seen my football teams win championships and The World Cup and I have been present at death. I have even contemplated various metaphorical navels and earlier this year I embarked on a project whereby I pursued the joys and detailed thinking afforded by SILENCE. (See blog from February 2017) yet like Blue Tack, nothing really stuck for long. I once looked off a mountain top in The Rockies, said ‘wow’ aloud and tried so hard to be awestruck but somehow my inner me checked it off a minor bucket list and gently, without risk, I skied down to safety.
My eldest daughter recently told me she was disappointed in my current mindset because I only seem to engage in comedic entertainments (film, TV, theatre, books) and my desire for documentary and serious deep drama has waned. She is right. I find myself attracted to television programmes from which I can walk away and even if I’m at the 85% mark, I feel no regret when I do so. I avoid so-called Box Sets because I don’t need any more commitment in my life and will still only read a book if it has a maximum of 330 pages. My years are getting longer and my attention span is getting shorter. This is not a fear of my dying before reaching the end but is to do with the fact that I have experienced every kind of denouement and nothing can pleasantly surprise me anymore.
Story tellers and philosophers tell us that the joy is in the journey and not the destination and as I get on, this is ever clearer but I must also add that avoiding pain along the way has become a priority.
As I walked to work this morning I passed the spot, as I do every day, where I had a motorbike accident in 1975 (ok, it was a 50cc moped).
I was young, drunk and considering I flew headlong into the glass window of what is today a bank, lucky to be alive. I learned this the following morning when a nurse strapped up my shoulder and berated me. That moment, when I was 17, was the last big risk I took. It re-shaped me and even if I was a potential risk-taker before the collision, I never was afterwards.
This is not a note of regret, just an observation and it is with this approach that I shall carry on. It’s not as if nothing really matters, because it does but if I have succeeded in one thing it’s to have established a benevolent split persona. My inside remains the frustrated 20th Century Boy with dreams and artistic pretentions, yet the success I seek is no longer that elusive publishing deal (I achieved that one) but simple approval (and payment) from 3rd parties that hire me to mark exam papers and to give the odd lecture on my own philosophies (I quit acting in the 1980’s because I was bored with reciting other peoples’ words and the same applies to delivering seminars and training sessions). My outside is a much better and fortunate place. I am surrounded by a group of females I had never expected. Women were a deep mystery to me as I grew up. I either avoided them or over-killed (myself) with them. Now my wife and three daughters give me a before–the-fall King Lear strength I had never envisaged. As a family we are like an office chair with 5 wheeled feet (4 wheels were deemed unsafe some 20+ years ago). The chair gets shoved around the office yet stays upright. It bangs into desks and chips the paint, but never falls over. Even if any one of the wheels gets sticky or becomes loose the chair remains stable albeit a touch wobbly.
And so, returning to the message of the Stoic, I hereby count my blessings because tomorrow, or tomorrow’s tomorrow something will attack them and by committing the good things to paper, or indeed a blog, their confirmation in the here and now exists forever.
How do you know that you’re right? If you’re not nervous anymore It’s not so bad, it’s not so bad
I feel my vision slipping in and out of focus But I’m pushing on for that horizon I’m pushing on Now I’ve got that blowing wind against my face
I spent a morning in a conference room listening to these speakers;
Two tax experts whose joint message, to my ears, was ’you’ve blown it now. Your pension is misguided and small and you’ll spend your few remaining years in poverty. But, if you know anyone younger who’s happy to pay our fees, do please send them my way’.
One retired (mid 50’s) millionaire with a hair transplant who has bought and sold over 30 companies and that was his ‘work’. His personal message to me was to get a time machine, go back 41 years, avoid education, work hard and all will be well.
Following Mr Pubic-Hair Head was
One tall Welsh ex, (but not famous) with intact ears and nose, rugby player that had climbed Everest during the 2015 quake that killed 6000 people below and 19 of his climbing ‘colleagues’. Thankfully his passion and talent helped him survive and he made it back to the highest ever champagne dinner that he shared with his mates and the best paid surviving Sherpa in Nepal. He omitted to mention how many dead/dying bodies littering his downward path he assisted on the descent, but the good news for we delegates is that we got to meet him. Oh and did I say he delivered all this with immense passion and talent? I hope I did because that is what he wanted us to know.
At this I messaged my broker and told him/her to buy me 20,000 shares in cruise liner standard vomit bags but before he/she could confirm the deal, the rugby player with the straight as a dye nose and non-cauliflower ears finished and there wasn’t even a joke about sheep (yes I know, I know.)
At this point the organisers played a video about a charity they are supporting and I walked out.
Some months ago I wrote a piece on STOICISM and I suppose that if I gleaned anything from today’s motivational morning it’s that my position hasn’t shifted.
The points above had two effects on me. As already stated, the money monkeys and tax tinkers just made me feel inadequate, poor and too old to sort it out. The two ‘successful’ men exuded a strain of smug ‘I’m alright Jack’ that made the Wolf of Wall Street look meek.
And as for the charity video, perhaps I’m doing it an injustice, but why wasn’t a representative from the charity giving a live presentation at the very beginning of the day? I’d have felt much more comfortable if this had been the starting point and backdrop to proceedings so that when tax experts hint at helping with avoidance/evasion and Wide Boy/City Boy reports how cushy his life is, the delegates would have had a dose of humility from the start.
The event lacked humility. Conceivably it humbled down after lunch but by then, this delegate had lost the desire and was happier to buy a sandwich from the CO-OP than scrounge from the buffet networking with suits.
I have attended many business events over the years and never liked them. Until today, I did not know why, but now I do.
I went to these events because I thought I was going to learn something new but now I believe that with very few exceptions these various congresses, conferences, workshops and summits are built around agency pushed speakers that boast about how well they’ve done and how the hang-dog faces in the crowd can do well too. This is meant to be motivating but I for one cannot get spurred on by somebody that punches the air and says ‘Hell yeah’.
Speakers need to realise that the people in the audience are possibly uncertain, unhappy and even desperate. If they were successful they’d be elsewhere, not fishing for opportunities.
If I were a motivational speaker giving talks during this, the filling of the Recession Sandwich (2008 in the past, Brexit in the future) I’d say to the people that it’s good they’re still here because many of our peers aren’t.
If I were a motivational speaker I’d be telling them that this country has had no viable government for as long as memory stretches and yet we can all breathe (albeit polluted air).
If I were a motivational speaker I’d say ‘if you’re not in pain and you’re not suffering from mental health issues, you’re doing as well as can be expected.’
If I were a motivational speaker I’d say ‘If you haven’t anything on your mind other than your godless business and your focus on money, look at helping the homeless and speak to the tax authorities you’re so keen to avoid. As their sugar daddy order them to invest your donations to support those with hidden and visible disabilities and if they fancy a fight, tell them to take action against the corporations who at once scare you rigid and simultaneously sell you coffee coloured tepid water.
Gazzetta dello Sport, the Italian daily sports paper recently carried an article (and it’s adequately translated into English here) discussing how 58 per cent of top level footballers suffer from depression. Considering people can be depressed but aren’t even aware of it, I would suggest this percentage could be higher. (Click here to look at some salient UK Mental health statistics)
But why is this? Don’t these young men ‘have everything’?
Most of them are being very well paid for doing what they want to do whereas their peers are likely to either be unemployed or doing uninspiring, lower paid jobs.
With top level football comes a lifestyle of glamour, attractive partners, uninsurably expensive cars and long holidays (yes, that’s right, the season finishes in May and training resumes in mid-July. That’s around eight weeks). The list of advantages goes on, so what’s the problem? Why are these physically strong, living-the-dream young, successful people feeling depressed?
Here are some educated guesses:
Homesickness. I mentioned in my previous blog that a famous Premiership manager told me that one of his team building tasks was to mold young boys from around the globe into a new common culture. Hitherto they’d had nothing in common other than their passion for soccer but now many of them are assembled in a club far from home and are being trained and focussed on becoming a cohesive sporting unit for one or two matches a week.
When I lived abroad the loneliest moments were when I wasn’t at work. I had jobs that occupied me for 6 or 7 days a week, but footballers, training aside, probably accumulate 20 or 30 weekly hours of ‘down time’. Time in which they can become bored and isolated and cut off.
Footballers have been subject to transfers since the sport began and the earliest move was reported as being 120 years ago. Until quite recently however, international transfers were less common than those in the same country and clubs recruited local boys to play. Although local recruitment still occurs, clubs have a tendancy to develop and sell them and in turn, the monied ones at least buy in the lads that other clubs have nurtured and invested in. It’s a strange circus that does not look like changing.
The Fear of Failure & Fear of Success. Regulars will know I’ve written about these terrible twins in other contexts, but they always seem to rear their Janus-like heads. The fear of failure is fairly obvious. To have become a top level player you have survived a series of trials and culls. You’ve seen many mates fail and been relieved at your success. You know however, that you are an injury or a drop-of-form away from falling from grace.
On the other hand, the fear of success can be equally as difficult to handle. The pressures from the media, your agent and the fans who emblazon your name on their replica shirts must bring a heavy and unpredicted weight and it’s hard to cope. On a deeper level the Fear Of Success can occur when you achieve what you set out for and you don’t know what’s next. This too can be depressing.