All posts by Matt D

The Start-Up of You

Quick tip for book lenders: unless someone has asked you to borrow the book, they don’t want it. They’ll probably accept it, because they don’t want to insult you or your reading habits. But they’ll resent you for it, because when they get home, it will sit in the corner, looking at them for weeks, and making them feel guilty for not having started it yet. If you begin asking them questions about it, like “Did you get a chance to read it yet?” they’ll start avoiding you like you have Ebola or something. This will be your fault.

Eventually, out of guilt and resentment, they will return the book and say they ‘couldn’t get on with it’. What they mean is, they haven’t looked at it, and never intended to. Let that be a lesson to you.

Anyway, the other day, a well-meaning friend lent me a book. Actually, it’s my own fault. Since I complain about my job all the time, sometimes well-meaning friends get the funny idea that it’s a cry for help of some sort, and not just my favourite pastime, and they offer suggestions or advice about shifting jobs or careers, unaware that for me, shifting careers has about the same appeal as selecting coffins does for someone on Death Row.

This book was called ‘The Start-Up of You’, a title which manages to combine all the things I hate about modern publishing, or actually life, in a pithy and disgusting four-word phrase. Well done. The subtitle was: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career.

Transform Your Career? Transform it into what? What are they talking about? Naturally, I was terrified, and threw it in the corner. Later on, sheer morbidity prompted me to pick it up and browse the contents page. The first chapter was called “All Humans Are Entrepreneurs”. What? Was this book written by an alien? Or are there other species on Earth who can read now? I continued. Later chapters developed the theme: “New World of Work”, “Strengthening Risks”, “Structure and Maintain Your Network”, and so on.

I’m sure you are getting the gist. The gist is, the world of work isn’t what it used to be. Gone are the days when you left school and cosily snuggled up under the protective wing of a large and benevolent enterprise, who would pay you a steadily increasing salary, plus healthcare and pension, as you moved inexorably up the escalator. These days, wages are stagnant, add-ons cost extra and, where once you could confidently say, ‘the world will always need customer service subscriber managers’, now things are not quite so predictable. Quite frankly, an answering machine could probably do your job better than you, and next week it probably will.

The keyword now is ‘flexibility’. The Start-Up of You teaches you how to think and act like an entrepreneur, all the time.  The usual examples are trotted out: that wanker who started Facebook, and look how rich he is, and what about Fuckface who invented that app nobody likes but everybody uses? How did Fuckface get to start his Fortune 500 company? Why, by exploiting his network, you imbecile. There are many other similar examples. You have to be thinking creatively, pivoting constantly, and if you do nothing, then a career tsunami is going to come along and sweep you out into the street where you’ll be eating cat food out of bins for the rest of your life, and you’ll deserve it.

The whole prospect, of course, is designed to terrify. Nothing sells like total fear, and for those of us (like me), who spent the first thirty years of life just  getting over the trauma of being alive, and never bothered about career until it was too late, the prospect of having to suddenly build network intelligence and navigate career opportunities is pure gothic horror. Already, in my reasonably steady, horrible job, I spend a fair amount of time with my hands resting on the keyboard, staring out of the window thinking, “What the fuck am I doing? What the fuck am I doing?” over and over again. In the past we were allowed to be quietly but complacently miserable. Those days are gone.

Back in the old days, you sold your soul to a company, but at least when you’d put in your working hours they let you alone, to go home and watch TV or something. Now, unless you bounce out of bed with fifteen different ideas about how you can maximise your skill set and generate career opportunities, you are basically a slacker, an old-world caveman who deserves to be swept away in the tsunami.

The world of work, formerly contained in offices and factories, has come spilling out into the streets and cafes, where hipsters line up their identical Macbook Pros and develop their profiles. Work follows you home like some blob from a 1950s horror movie, and it sits in your house, making you feel guilty for watching TV instead of expanding your network. TV is no escape. Everyone is at it on every channel – thinking like an entrepreneur. Christ, round me, even the beggars have been reading The Start-Up of You. They used to just beg. Now they all have a sideline in selling stolen books or doing performance outsider art. Soon they will be asking me to endorse them on LinkedIn for smelling of piss and drinking K cider. What chance have I got?

The Start-Up of Me makes an executive decision. I decide to place The Start-Up of You in an out-of-the-way spot where it can languish for enough time so I can give it back to my friend. Later on, I will tell him it was interesting in parts but I couldn’t really get on with it. I enjoy a horror story as much as the next guy, but some things are just too awful to contemplate.

Shot, beheaded or barbecued

I have to admit I don’t generally keep up with the news. It’s not that it’s too depressing – the truth is, I’m too depressing, and the news just can’t keep up with me. It just constantly reminds me how much better everyone else in the world’s life is.

Unless, that is, you’re unlucky enough to be getting shot, beheaded or barbecued by ISIS. This is a terrorist outfit that simply must win PR firm of the year, or it’s all a big fix, since it’s got every media outlet in the west doing its recruiting for it. There now surely can’t be a single person in the west that isn’t aware that despite sounding like a trustworthy car hire firm, these are the last people whose car you want to get into.

What I have understood about ISIS is that they want to establish a caliphate, or Islamic state, where their particular version of what God, who may or may not be Santa Claus, may or may not have said to someone 1,500 years ago, will reign supreme. The obvious first step to achieving this goal is to wipe out the group of people whose beliefs most closely align to theirs, but who differ on certain technicalities, such as whether to throw overarm or underarm when stoning people to death. After that, they can take on the really big job, which is killing everybody else in the world. Okay, sounds perfectly reasonable – where do I get my membership card?

Politicians are desperately try to stem the evil tide. I heard David Cameron on TV calling it a ‘death cult’. Sorry, Dave – a ‘cult’ is a phenomenon or movement with strictly minority appeal – like the Conservative Party for example. Current estimates have ISIS membership at around 200,000 (though not all of them filled in their census forms on time), while the Conservative Party is reckoned to have around 150,000 members these days. That means that significantly more people would rather die in the desert than join the Conservative Party. What an endorsement. Has anyone seen George Osborne lately?

Well, who can blame them really? It is, of course, all about a search for meaning. And the meaning is: killing people is really fun. Nobody who’s played Call of Duty would argue with that assessment. Who wouldn’t want to have a go on an M79 rocket launcher, when the alternative is standing in a queue in the Jobcentre Plus with your P45 job launcher, to be asked by an even bigger failure than you exactly how many call centre positions you’ve applied for this week?

Well, I’m just keeping my head down, on, together, whatever – I’m basically staying as far away from those mad bastards as possible, and if I have to claim asylum in China eventually to escape the screaming hordes of global retribution, then so be it. Anything is better than Tory Britain.