Stepping Back into The Matrix, a Letter from Dusseldorf

The Rhine in Dusseldorf: photo from www.triphobo.com

So, I’m back in, albeit temporarily. I’m back inside The Matrix.

I’m alone in a hotel in Dusseldorf, a few minutes walk from the Rhine, although I’m closer to the huge corporate offices (impressive in a ‘did you really have to make it this oppulent’ sort of way) of the client I’m working for, so probably won’t see the mighty river, not that I care much if I’m honest. Life at the moment is pretty weird, as it would be for someone stepping back into The Matrix I guess?

A few weeks ago I was sat on a mountain side for four days waiting for the Tour de France to blast past, staring for hours at Mont Blanc in the distance, muscled upwards on the shoulders of snow-capped Alps. After the tour had passed, we stayed put another day, there was no rush. And this was all at the end of seven months of slow travel, which itself was at the end of a year or so more slow travel.

I was well and truly out of The Matrix. I could hardly remember the thing, although it was quietly drawing me in it turned out.

For me there was no PowerPoint, no Word, no scheduled meetings, no deadlines (or very few, and they were usually self-set). There was no-one to say where I Could Be, or what I Could Say, and I was physically and emotionally as distant as you could get from Performance Reviews and pension TUPEs. The people I bumped into were frequently much like me, ‘ex-professionals’, if you like, retirees who’d opted for a simpler life, and were slowly drifting about. Most of them were deeply content.

So how does it feel, four weeks into a contract, working again for a multi-national?

As the company is an off-shoot of one I worked for for a decade, I know many of the people. Good folks, long-tenured many of them, and familiar, easy to work with, they know their stuff and are comfortable in their skills. But at the same time I’m not the old me, not any more, and I will never again ‘fit’ into this world. I’m an outsider, looking inwards. I long ago sensed the trade of my time for money and in turn for stuff was a poor one, and I now find myself continually at odds with the world around me.

Today my boss told me a younger colleague had given him this advice (something along these lines): “this work environment might be a bit pants, but no need to worry, as it’s not real, it’s not the real world”. While I understand what he means (corporations can feel surreal at times), IT MADE ME SERIOUSLY CRINGE!!! We’re awake for about 100 hours a week and spend 50 (or more) of ’em at work or travelling to/from work. THIS IS YOUR LIFE, OR AT LEAST HALF OF IT, GOODDDAAAMMITTT!!!! YOU CANNOT GET IT BACK!!!! DON’T FLUSH YOUR TIME, YOUR LIFE FORCE, DOWN THE BLOODY TOILET SO EASILY!

Ahem. I’m actually in more of a guesthouse than a hotel, as even though the company pays my expenses over here, I just can’t justify the outrageous amount the ‘normal company hotel’ around the corner charges at times (the rates vary with demand). It’s double what I’m paying in here, and is a couple of hundred meters away. The last time I was here I used that hotel, as the price was more reasonable, and they charged me €3.50 for a thimble of no-brand coke. I half expected someone to burst out laughing.

I got the tram across the city from the airport, for the grand sum of €2.70, rather than the €25 everyone else is paying for a taxi. It’s not that I’m saving mine and Ju’s money, I **should** be milking it, but I JUST CAN’T BLOW MONEY like that. At the end of the day, in my wee simple mind, it’s not ‘The Company’s Money’, it’s the punter who buys the goods, and this being a huge electricity generator, that’ll be you. I totally understand why my colleagues live it up a little – they’re giving half their lives or more to the damned company so deserve to get back some bling-bling.

The office I’m sat in while I’m in the UK is again populated with nice people, good people. And to a large degree they’re only there (I strongly suspect) because they have to be. The low-level cynicism which often permeates the air crumbles away the edge of my mind. At the same time my soon-to-be erstwhile colleagues plough the traditional furrow, buying bigger, shinier, nicer, rewards for having to dedicate so much of their lives to something they don’t much like doing?

Like that ghost from Scrooge, who whisks a reuluctant tight-git off to see his own grave, I wonder which of us will look back from our deathbeds with a sudden realisation we right royally f****d it up, and spent 50% of most of our lives not enjoying what we were doing and, in a wide-eyed panic, kick the bucket in the grip of regret? The fear of this state of affairs has me a mild panic most of the time, but no-one else seems to ever ponder it?

I remind myself from time to time that I don’t have the ‘answer to life’ any more than anyone else does. How do I know what is the right thing for someone else to do with their life? Back to The Matrix analogy – would I be comfortable telling someone whether to stay in the ‘comfort’ of The Matrix, or telling them to take on the fear and wonder of running your own life out in the cold? No, not really. It’s for someone to decide for themselves what works for them.

But I do wish more folks would do more serious, slow, deep and thoughtful life examination, to not so willingly hand over 50% of their heartbeats to something which doesn’t fire them up with joy. Ignorance is the enemy, I think, alongside fear. If you’re able to face these two head on, a continual challenge for all of us, then I hope you stand a good chance of lying there at the end in the full knowledge you’re taking your final breaths, and smile.

Cheers, Jay

P.S. I realise my own inherent stupidity in this piece. I’m not exactly overjoyed to be sat here alone in this hotel room, with two days of workshops ahead of me, and a get-home time of about 12:30am on Wed night. I really don’t need the money, and we have no plans for what to do with what I’m being paid for these heartbeats, so why on Earth am I here? Watch this space: all may be revealed, if I ever work it out myself…

4 thoughts on “Stepping Back into The Matrix, a Letter from Dusseldorf

  • September 5, 2017 at 10:14 am
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    One explanation is the voluntary discomfort theory. You have a bad time one the work trip and you feel better about everything when you get home
    Exactly the same reason I go camping in the UK, 2 weeks intense suffering leads to 50 weeks of marvel at how comfortable houses are. Now if I took 2 weeks in Mauritius in a 5* resort, I would then have 50 weeks of misery about how inferior my domestic set up is
    Voluntary discomfort theory is a fine weapon in the old armoury..

    • September 6, 2017 at 6:30 pm
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      Could be? A bit of accidental stoicism?

  • September 8, 2017 at 1:14 pm
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    I hear you Jay,

    I, in 2005 at 36 quit the job, sold the house, bought a MH packed the house, wife and kids(10, 12, 14) into it and cut free from the matrix. We toured Europe for a year and although the kids n wife were happy I had Stockholm syndrome with the matrix. I convinced myself that if we returned to the UK, we would get the girls through school and the wife and I would head off again! The matrix got a hold of me again……The girls all got through school…..uni……their own kids are now born…… and we are still here. I have finally quit again and we are heading off again in Jan 2018. This is 5 years later than I had hoped for however, if I can do it TWICE then I also urge people to question their reasons for WORK/life imbalance.

    One point from your post I question is the notion that people work because they have to. I still believe that they work because of the “choices” they make. Be it car/house/location/toys/holidays they are still choices therefore they choose the matrix.

    I have many friends who make different choices and are seen as poor but to me, they are very rich.

    Good luck Jay and look forward to hearing your plans but please beware the matrix.

    Ciao

  • September 14, 2017 at 9:19 am
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    > [deathbed] The fear of this state of affairs has me a mild panic most of the time, but no-one else seems to ever ponder it?

    Ah, but when you are in the Matrix you are in the flow of it. I still look back and wonder how my 30-40 year old self was so gormless. Only when things changed in the GFC and it became clear to me that I wasn’t going to make it to 60 did I stick my head above the wall and ask my self now how the hell am I going to get a hold of the steering wheel in front of me and get myself off this track.

    So congratulations for asking yourself that question early, when your actions will have more effect for longer!

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