I recently enjoyed listening to a podcast by Todd Henry on Accidental Creative, in which he went through three bits of advice he would give his 22 year old self. Go ahead and read the post, but they boil down to:
1. Know what long-term goal you’re working towards
2. Define what success for you would be
3. Go to school every day (i.e. keep learning)
I thought that was pretty good, and I’ve been reflecting this weekend on how I use my spare time, given that the Ebola emergency is dying down and I actually have my weekends back. I don’t really have much in the question of responsibilities (my family isn’t living with me) or chores (I have someone who comes and cleans the house and washes my clothes, and someone else who repairs my car when it breaks down, which it frequently does). I’m pretty conscious about working out my long-term goals, I think I need to be better about imagining what success looks like, and I think I do reasonably well at being in school, though I need more practical exercises.
This weekend I spent several hours going through a couple of long IMF reports and writing a blog post about the figures (aside from reading Ivorian blogs and newspapers). Why did I do all that? I don’t live in Ivory Coast and it has nothing to do with my work. It’s reasonably enjoyable but I could think of more fun stuff to do. So why do I do it?
I think the answer is that one of the things I’ve identified as important to me in my future is Ivory Coast. And so, I’m investing almost every day in keeping up to speed with developments, making connections with new people in Abidjan through social networks, and keeping in touch with old friends. I could potentially drop all that and have more time for fun things in Sierra Leone (like going to the beach). But the person I want to be in 15 years time, needs to have these years of investing in my Ivory Coast ‘portfolio’. And one day, I’ll get a job back in Abidjan, and it’ll all be worth it.
But sometimes you need to live in the present. So, enjoy the evening. I’m off to play my first ever game of water polo…
In the Spring of 2002, I spent three months in Grenoble, France, trying to learn French through immersion. I didn’t make much progress (but I did read War and Peace). I have a memory of one evening when my Swedish and German student housemates invited me out to a friend’s house to watch a movie. That sounded like a great idea, and we walked over there. When we got there, the friend had a large collection of films downloaded on to a hard drive, though I immediately realised they were all illegal copies. Having something of a sensitive conscience, I made my excuses and said I didn’t feel comfortable with watching the films, so I would head back home. I honestly didn’t regret coming, it had been nice to see them, and it had been a good evening, so they shouldn’t feel bad about me leaving. I’m not sure if I succeeded.
I thought about that experience recently when I was reflecting on whether I’ve become softer on such issues. I have watched at least two pirated films since that time (and I grew up playing pirated computer games). But still, I’m pretty much the same person and I still struggle with these issues (not what is right and wrong, but the social awkwardness of expressing your views on such matters). As far as I can tell, I’m not judgemental about such things and I desperately don’t want to offend (one of my weaknesses) or sound superior, but I also don’t want to do things I’m not comfortable with. This leads to all sorts of funny work arounds which generally just leave me looking odd. A recent housemate said he had some great films on a USB stick and gave it to me to copy. Did I a) tell him ‘No I feel it’s wrong’ or b) copy the films and watch them, or c) copy the films, then immediately delete them, and make excuses when he asked me if I’d watched them. Of course the latter. For a recent tv series that we’d watched together he told me I could get the next series from a colleague at work. He kept asking me if I’d got them, and I said I hadn’t. I then bought the series on iTunes and watched them on my Mac. He didn’t really understand why I’d done this, and I just found it too awkward to explain.
It’s probably pretty obvious that I’m a very un-confrontational guy who doesn’t want to make others feel bad. That is a definite weakness, but something I struggle to fix. I prefer to look inexplicably weird than to seem judgmental.
At the end of the day though, I do think this issue is something of a blind spot in the circles I move in. Last summer I was shocked when an Ivorian aid worker friend returned from a trip back home with several new CDs, all of them pirated. Legal CDs with the Burida sticker on them only cost $6-$8 in Abidjan, hardly something that breaks the bank for an international aid worker. Last week in Abidjan, there was an outcry when the Independent Electoral Commission used someone’s Facebook photo on a billboard ad for voter registration without their permission. It was pretty outrageous, but then some of the same people will watch pirated US tv shows and not see that there’s a least some similar issues at play.