Friday 3 May 2013

Get Wise Slow

Part Three in the "Has Batsby Lost the Plot? Why Isn't He Ranting On About Politics?" Series, covers the flipside of instant riches. You may surmise quite accurately that since Wednesday the exact number of people who donated a fiver to my genius get-rich-quick scheme was approximately “Not Quite Enough”. Or, to put it in more precise terms, zero, zilch, nada... you miserable fuckers. All I wanted was to have more money than sense; fifty quid would have sufficed.

My own pursuit of the filthy lucre started young when I would happily pull potatoes out of the ground, or crawl on my hands and knees weeding entire fields of young crops, row by row, plant by plant for pennies. The brief strawberry season was an annual treat – the only time you were practically guaranteed to earn more per day than the treatment for your impending early onset arthritis would be likely to cost. Happy days.

From there and on to university, when that opportunity was open to so few and meant so much. Grammar schools granted the prospect of social mobility to working class kids like me in a way that the hideous socialism of the comprehensive system can never, aptly enough, comprehend. But passing the eleven-plus and gaining a Grammar School place guaranteed nothing. It was merely a low rung on the slippery ladder of society.

Since those days I have earned little in the way of glitter but learned something much more valuable. My first ever post-graduate job was by far my best-paying. Ever. Nothing since has come even close to touching it in terms of outright income. But not knowing that and not being able to see into the future I gave it up on a whim. Ah, callow youth. At least it bought me a house at the age of twenty-three, in those days, with 15%  mortgage interest, something of an achievement.

Adaptable, that’s me. Well, that’s my excuse; my CV looks like a load of disconnected rubbish but for variety you’d be hard pushed to match it. I’ve cooked and cleaned, I’ve measured and calculated, I’ve persuaded and lead and created and copied, but most of all I’ve managed; I’ve got by. I’ve also learned a great deal about many things but most of all about myself, which is the most precious knowledge of all. I know for a fact I’ll never be employed in a job that can pay me what I believe my life’s experience is worth. But I know also that the measure of my worth to society is neither more nor less than society pays me. That’s how it works and no amount of hand-wringing can change it.

All of which makes it not a little tragic that while my attitudes to work were always about how good I could become in a job and hence earn my keep and maybe a bit more, a recent American study appears to show a disturbingly opposite trend in the future work force; that the priorities of today’s job seekers are not so much what they can do for their country but what theircountry can do for them.

This report was echoed when I serendipitously listened to In Business on Radio 4 last night, which explored the job prospects of today’s ubiquitous UK graduates. The youngsters sounded so much more confident than we did forty years ago, yet for all their bluster their ambitions sounded hollow and their experiences artificially inflated. Chasing the dream they have been sold that work is there for their benefit and not the other way around, the programme focused not on what the employers needed but on what the employees wanted.

Thus instead of plain talking they spoke of ‘solid experience in retail’ and ‘vital customer facing roles’ when they meant ‘shop assistant’. Utterance such as ‘outgoing’ and ‘good communicator’ came over as shorthand for cocksure and gobby and all their flaunting of ‘transferable skills’ meant nothing so much as that they’d once held a Saturday job at Top Shop. In the post-Alistair Campbell world spin, it seems, is everything.

I can’t turn back time, but I don’t need to. I might not be able to see into the future, but I can do better than that; I can see the past with a clarity that only comes from a mixture of experience and honesty. I blame nobody else for decisions I have made, I accept and have dealt with the consequences of those decisions. I take credit for the good stuff and try not to dwell on the bad. In short, unlike many, I have learned from everything I have done and I have replaced illusory, longed-for beliefs with realistic, pragmatic ones.

It's everybody else's oyster, too - smell the roses!

So, young ‘uns, calm down. If you’re worth it the wages will come, but only the very best of you will ever earn a living doing what you love. Fewer still will successfully start and run valuable businesses. But the good news? With the benefit of hindsight, the tortoise usually does okay; there’s more than enough space for reliable plodders. By all means go for the gelt today but to paraphrase an old saying, there’s no fool like a young fool. Get out there and get wise slow.


  1. I too went spud-picking when I was a kid. Great times. Back-breaking but loved it. I was ten. Would be called slave-labour today. I don't agree. I wasn't forced, I chose. There's a difference. Far too much PC today ..

    1. Did you read the article i linked to? It sort of gives you licence to point and laugh at a certain kind of kid.

  2. There is a basic law that needs to be remembered, which Henry George, the political economist, took as one of his axioms in the discussion of economics: "Everyone seeks to obtain the maximum reward for the least exertion," which, translated from the Gilded Age locution, is "Everybody wants something for nothing." Of course, there is Robert Heinlein's corollary: "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch." And then there is Sir Michael Jagger, who observed, "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you just might find you get what you need." So this question has intrigued many through the years. But the ones I give the credit for this state of affairs we find ourselves in today is the Self-Esteem crowd who have sold our children a bill of goods that they are simply in virtue of being who they are something special (and, no, not THAT kind of "special" our Mums used to say about certain other "slow" kids), which, if you possessed the critical thinking skills to parse, would lead to the conclusion that if EVERYBODY is special, then NOBODY is. (Hey, I take that back, maybe some of these kids today ARE that kind of "special," after all.) Yes, everyone is an individual worthy of respect, and yes, we may all have talents, some more well-developed than others have-- c'est la vie-- but nobody is owed anything as a result of those facts. It is the whole "Reward me for what I AM" mentality, rather than the "Reward me for what I can do, and it might reward you too" mentality, that kids have been educated with and must be disabused of. People laugh at the moral simplicity quaintness of Horatio Alger stories, which were so fulsomely earnest they were lampooned even in their own day, but Alger's basic message, plug away, learn your work and get better at it, and put yourself out there to at least try to be in the right place at the right time, and sooner or later, you're bound to find something better than you have now, rings true in enough situations enough of the time with enough people that it cannot be dismissed out of hand as a life lesson to teach kids as they are growing up.