- The scourge of success -

24th November '17

In the immediate aftermath of turning my PS4 off, I started feeling better. Happier. And I was sleeping better.

No longer trying to play for an hour before bed, my evenings became more relaxed, and I wouldn't be in a rush to cook and eat dinner.

I'd get into bed earlier, no longer having to resist the urge of 'just one more game,' and I'd close my eyes being mentally, much more at peace.

This was the opposite of playing a game of Battlefield before bed, for example, which is a first person World War I simulation, where I'd climb into bed afterwards, and close my eyes with the images of people charging at me with bayonets, and the sounds of gunshots ringing through my ears.

So the immediate ramifications were actually very positive. Whenever you remove something that takes up time in your day though, there's an inevitable feeling of boredom and emptiness for a while, until that time gets filled with something else.

And initially I was able to fill this time positively.

I used that time to meditate. I went back and studied my old Thai flash cards a few times.

It didn't last though, because frankly, I just don't have the motivation to learn Thai right now. I simply don't care enough.

I've lived in Bangkok for what? Four years in total? Without Thai.

I don't need it. And I certainly don't want to put in the effort when I can't even say with any certainty that I'll still be here twelve months from now.

I've always had a problem, that if I ever do anything, then I do it to death, and I eventually learn to hate it.

It was kind of what had happened with my PS4. It was something fun, that I enjoyed doing, so I did it more, and more, and more, to the point where I had to actually stop and take a break.

It was the same thing I did to myself when I was studying Thai.

Not only did I start by studying at a school five days per week whilst still working my job. But then I had the great idea to make and study ultimately thousands of flash cards, driving me to the point of giving up because it all became too much.

And sure, I made an amazing deck of flash cards during that process. But the time invested in simply making them was huge. I also tried to study them for over an hour a day.

And what happened?

I drove myself to the point of exhaustion and ultimately gave up studying altogether.

I do the same thing with music. If I ever hear a song I like, I just play it so often, that I eventually learn to hate it.

I'm perhaps even doing it now going to yoga so much, although I'll get into that later.

But anyway, what ultimately happened, was that after trying to fill this newly-free time with positive things, which didn't last very long, I ended up filling it with things even less benefical than video games.

People like to hate on video games; old people especially. I think because they often just don't understand them. But I could give a long list of reasons why gaming is better for you and more engaging than reading a book or watching a movie, so I don't subscribe to the idea that they're all bad.

And some things that I started doing instead were perhaps positive. I started watching/listening to podcasts a bit more, and I started relaxing more.

If I had an hour to fill before work, why not just lie in bed and look out the window if I can't use my PS4.

But then my addictive personality had to satisfy its hunger somewhere, and I found that I just started spending more and more time on Reddit.

It's my primary source of news nowadays, so I'd check it a couple of times per day anyway. But suddenly I was checking it thirty times per day. What karma score have my comments got?

I never cared about that before.

I started using Reddit like many people use Facebook; just checking it continually and...

Alright, I think I was better when I had a PS4.

So after more than a week, video game free, I got my controller out of the box in the cupboard again. But I did so under two conditions:

I figured that if I don't play after 9pm then it'll stop it from disrupting my sleep, because don't forget, I don't get back from work until 10pm on weekdays.

And then with the second rule, meaning that I always have a clear day either side of playing, should (in theory) stop be from becoming so involved in a game that it stops it from being fun, and it'll force me to do something else with my time as well.

That was the theory. And up to this point, almost two weeks later, I've stuck rigidly to these rules.

For how much longer?

Probably not very much longer, because quite frankly, they've become rather a pain.

Do I feel happier now?

Nope, I haven't felt good at all for this last week, and I'll get into that later.

Am I still sleeping better?

Not really, no.

And the only reason I was able to play so much in the first place was because I had a week off. When I have to go to work everyday anyway, and I'm going to the gym almost everyday too... then fuck off, let me play on my damn Playstation when I want to.

So as has seemingly become customary in my life, and also a fucking pain, I spent a lot of time since writing the last blog, thinking about my future.

I don't really like the phrase 'life-changing decision' because every decision you make changes your life.

But what I will say is that this is probably the one thing I've had to decide with the most obvious and immediate consequences on the direction of my life, since I left China and flew back to England, unsure what I was going to do next.

The difference being, that then I had a fallback plan of 'if I haven't figured anything out within a month, then I'll fly back to Thailand and take it from there.' Which is exactly what I did.

So I started thinking about that. I started thinking that if I haven't made any progress by next September (which is likely), then I'll do...

Something.

I still don't know what.

And the boring, or "safe" choice as I see it, is education.

If I go back into education, then barring something unforeseen, I come out of it with a master's degree or equivalent.

If I do any of the other things that I've talked about, then I might come out of it with an obsolete website, an app no one wants to use, or a book no one wants to read.

And as some of my colleagues have demonstrated, going back into education doesn't even necessarily mean changing my current circumstances too much.

There's one teacher here who's doing a master's degree at a Thai university while still working in this job.

I think that he's finding it too much, and will soon quit, but it is possible. And at his particular university, it's not very expensive either. A little over £2,000 for two years of tuition.

That unfortunately isn't reflected in all Thai universities. The top schools here are as expensive as in England, so I'd have to accept going somewhere shitty, but... well it's a possibility.

Another girl at my school is doing a master's degree remotely, and this is more what interests me.

It's an online course with a British university, and the fees reflect that. It costs roughly the same as studying for a degree in person (roughly £9,000). But she can continue her job here, study in her own time, and not have to foot the living costs of going to the UK.

If I do opt for education, then that's more what I'm thinking about. Studying remotely, allowing me to continue my current job and living situation, and still coming out of it with a degree from a, ahem, more reputable country than Thailand.

These two teachers are doing studies related to what they currently do. One is studying education, the other linguistics.

I'm not dead-set on that.

Maybe something on writing or media. Maybe something on web or app development would be more up my street.

And of course, I can only think of things like this, because I have a job where I don't start work until 6:45pm every weekday.

Could you imagine trying to get a degree at the same time as working my first Bangkok job, where I didn't even have the time to sleep eight hours per night as it was?

But yet every term that passes, I start to feel less and less secure in this job.

After the email and subsequent 'light' schedule that I wrote about in the previous blog, the manager called an optional teacher meeting to discuss everything, because he'd had to field so many questions about the state of the branch and the future. And...

Only seven teachers actually showed-up to this, which was a little surprising. You'd think that more people would want as best an idea as possible of what the future holds.

But I came out of this meeting feeling... a little bleak.

There wasn't too much that was said, that I didn't know already. And it wasn't like I didn't know that the situation wasn't already dire. Rather it was more about how unfixable everything is.

The one thing that I left this meeting knowing that I didn't know going in, is that this manager has put in a transfer request.

He seems confident that he'll be leaving my branch at the end of this term, and that news was collectively greeted with despondency.

He's a great manager; one of the good guys. And with him going, and seemingly no one to replace him, we currently don't even know who our manager will be next term, or if we'll even have one. Whoever it is though...

Bye-bye great schedules. I'll probably have to start planning new classes again, which sucks.

It was more why he was leaving that had me feeling so bleak though.

He told us that he came to this branch because he wanted to wield more influence and effect change. And being the head office and flagship branch of my school, you'd think that the manager here would be able to do so.

In fact, as he told us, the opposite was true.

When he worked at his own branch, he could make all of his own decisions. Here...

I'm reading between the lines a bit from what he said, but it sounded like many of his responsibilites as manager were actually in someone else's hands.

For example, if he needed a classroom redecorated in his old branch, then he'd just have it done, no questions asked. Here though, someone else is in charge of that; I think the finance person.

So if he ever needed anything done, he would have to go to them and ask. But yet he wouldn't be greeted by congratulations for doing his job. Instead he would find himself scalded.

For a start, this is Thailand. And in Thailand you don't question those in positions above you. It's much more of a yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir kind of culture.

What your boss says is gospel, and to ask them for something that is under the remit of their responsibility, means that they lose face. Someone beneath me is telling me what to do, and implying that I'm not doing my job properly.

Like I said, I'm reading between the lines here, but that is how I understood it.

So it sounded like the big decision makers are my school are not only completely unapproachable, but also incompetent.

Most of the decisions that get made at this school would back that up.

We got a new logo recently. I didn't actually notice, but when someone pointed it out, I realised that we have had a new logo for about a year.

How much did they spend on it?

10,000,000 baht (around £230,000).

What? For a new logo that could've been designed by a ten year old?

There might have been some kind of marketing included in these costs; it wasn't entirely clear, but that's another thing.

These people, these "managers" for lack of a better word, hide behind a keypad-locked door in my school.

I've worked here for more than two years; on the same floor as these people every single day. Yet I wouldn't know one of them if I walked past them in the hallway.

So that's how approachable they are, and how much they actually make themselves known on the school floor. So maybe there is justification for spending 10,000,000 baht on a new logo but... like I say, in Thai culture, you don't question your boss. You're supposed to just assume that the decision they've made is right, and they don't have to explain it to you. But lacking that explanation, the decision makers here come across as completely, completely incompetent.

And what I took from this meeting, the thing that I really left feeling, is that they're clueless, stubborn, and unapproachable.

My outlook for this school hadn't been entirely bleak before. Because if you look at our situation, everyone in the teacher's room has ideas, some costing little to no money, for how we could increase student numbers.

Numbers of English students are in decline industry-wide, but I still felt that in the medium-term, our situation was salvageable. We could attract enough of the pool of students to bring the numbers back up to where they were when I started.

But then I came out of this meeting feeling like the biggest problem that my school has isn't the declining student numbers, or the poor location of my school (on the 21st floor of an office building) or anything like that. The biggest problem is the managers are incompetent. And for so long as they're occupying those seats, the decline will continue.

And like I say, any kind of communication from them to say 'we made this decision for this reason, and this is why we're doing this etc.' might alleviate these concerns. If me and everyone else understood why decisions were actually made then we might be able to get on board with them. But... well I don't see it happening.

And it's not like I see this school closing in the immediate future; I don't think that my job is unsafe... yet. Although the number of hours available might be (I get paid hourly). This school has been running for more than sixty years afterall. But I definitely don't see it as a long-term option.

At the seminar in the middle of the last term, one woman retired after forty years here.

I have very little faith that this school will still be here for me to retire from when I get that old. So it's a... medium-term job, shall I say.

It makes the need to start working towards 'What's next?' even stronger.

Schools industry-wide are reporting declining numbers of students, in large part because they're being lost to technology. Apps and websites that allow students to study in their own time. And well... if you can't beat them, join them.

If English teaching jobs are being taken by apps, then why not be the person that makes the apps?

I'm not saying that I want to make English teaching apps, but with the current state of the world, app development seems a somewhat future-proofed skill. And when I think about education... that's definitely one area I'm thinking about.

I might be a little long in the tooth to learn software development but... fuck it.

And I don't even really mean at university either.

Let's say, hypothetically speaking, that I did want to develop apps. That's something that I'm thinking about, although I'm also aware that it would be a long, long road that might ultimately lead to nowhere. But let's say I do want to do that.

My current laptop is painfully slow, and will need replacing soon anyway. So if instead of spending £300 on a new Windows laptop like I did six years ago, I spent £1,000 on an Apple laptop, I could have a new hobby, teaching myself app development, that would basically be free thereafter.

Just a personal hobby. Planting some seeds, and maybe they'll grow into something, but if they don't I'll have a new computer and some new knowledge to show for it.

Or maybe I could start writing, again as a hobby thanks to my job that gifts me a lot of free time. And if I happen to write something that people want to read, then great. If not, what have I lost?

This may sound a foolish thing to say, but university almost feels like a dated way of becoming educated.

Thousands of pounds spent to gain what, in today's world, you could learn for free by other means, the only real benefit being a certificate.

That certificate may well help you in the future but... it's a lot of money to commit to what is essentially just a piece of paper.

You're also forced to learn things that someone else thinks you should know. You don't have so much freedom to learn what you think you should know.

In the words of Christina Aguilera, which is a sentence I never thought that I'd say:

"Life is a journey, it can take you anywhere you need to go. As long as you're learning, you'll find all you'll ever need to know."

Admittedly she's singing about a girl who's being abused, but this song came onto Spotify as I was thinking about all of this, and I thought that it fit rather well.

And I have to ask myself the question, do I want a degree or an education?

That might sound stupid to say, but with the ease of access to information that there is nowadays, I think that it's a legitimate question.

Am I interested in knowledge? Well then all I could want to know is accessible without paying thousands of pounds to a school.

Or am I interested in a degree, and the doors that such a certificate will open for me?

It's a little bit sad that I need to make such a distinction, because in an ideal world more knowledge would lead to more opportunity but...

Well it's the state of the world, really. After a new technology comes in, it takes a generation for all the old people, set in their ways, to die-off, before the younger people who understand the new world take the reigns.

That's kind of how I feel about my school actually. It feels like it's being run by dinosaurs, clueless to the realities of today's world, determined to stick to what was done when they were young and learning.

Thanks to having no PS4 to play after work, I've been listening to podcasts in the evening instead. And that was what inspired a lot of this. In fact one podcast in particular, a three-hour conversation between Joe Rogan (UFC commentator, stand-up comic, podcaster) and Dan Carlin (history podcaster), which I recommend watching in its entirety if you have three hours spare, I found very motivating.

I won't add the whole thing to this blog, but watch this short clip if you have the time:

Regret is held, not by those that failed, but by those who never tried.

To adapt an old NFL quote for my own uses here:

'The pain of failure is nothing compared to the pain of regret.'

I long sought-out a job like I have now, where I enjoy my work, I make enough money to live comfortably, and I have free time in abundance.

I love my life right now.

The downside to that, is that there's very little incentive to undertake risk, because why unnecessarily jeopardise what I already have?

If I was in a minimum wage job, hating my life, then the motivation to try something new would be far stronger.

But despite being in a situation that I'm happy with now, it doesn't mean that I won't have regret when I reach the age of incompetence, if I don't at least try, and perhaps fail, doing something new and ambitious.

Only those who dare to chase dreams, are the ones who catch them.

I think that I'm someone who generally gets cripped by the idea of failure; certainly public failure.

I pride myself on my competence. Very little have I ever tried and not become good at.

There are obvious exceptions, like learning Thai, so I'm not saying I'm perfect. But as a general rule, if I apply myself to something, I have a high degree of success.

I don't want to sound too arrogant, but I think that I'm a damn good English teacher. Better, in my opinion, than some or all of the people that I work with.

My personality is well-built for standing in front of a class of people and building a connection with them, and the scope of my imagination allows me to approach this job with more ingenuity than my peers.

But again, that air of competence, while obviously a good thing, in turn proves demotivating when it comes to risk.

Why jeopardise that feeling that I have about myself, on something that might fail?

If I had the view of myself as a complete loser, then I'd have the motivation to risk it all trying something new. But I don't see myself like that. I like myself.

So in a sense, I'm trying to overcome my high self-esteem and my success in building a life that I love, to find the motivation to risk it and try something new. Because at this rate; if I continue doing exactly what I'm doing now, will I have a bad life?

Not at all. I have nothing in my life that warrants complaint.

But will I live a life of regret?

I probably will. I'll probably regret if I accept my status as an above average TEFL teacher as the pinnacle of my existence. I'll regret if I don't try something new and ambitious. If I don't risk failure, just to know if I could succeed.

Will I regret failure?

Not as long as I can make amends with any loss of face (and money). And certainly not as much as I could regret not trying anything at all.

And with the low risk in trying new things nowadays; if I want to develop an app, for example, then sure I'll have to buy an Apple computer (and they're not cheap), and sure I'll have to invest a lot of time in educating myself, and then creating something. But apart from that, what will it have really cost me?

We're no longer in an age where if you want to start a business selling something, you have to take out a bank loan, and rent a space, and risk huge debt if it fails.

I could write a book, and put it in shops like iTunes at negligible financial cost. I could make an app and get it on the AppStore, simply for the cost (I think $99 per year) of registering as a developer.

There's always a risk with anything. And at the very least, there's an opportunity cost of investing time into something like a book or an app. But compared to at other times in history, the technological age is a very low-risk, high-reward time.

And when I have a job that blesses me with free time, to fall back on in the event of failure, there's never been a more opportune time to try... something.

But what?

And to bring it full-circle to how I started this blog, it's very easy for me to spend too long on my PS4 and say 'that's the PS4's fault, I need to limit how much I use it.' Where as what I perhaps should be thinking, is if the desire to do everything else in my life is outweighed by my desire to play a video game that I'm into, then maybe that's more a reflection of the other things in my life.

Perhaps I should be looking at it and saying that I need to change the other things that I have in my life to things that I'm more passionate about.

If there were other things that I really cared about, then I'd spend more time doing them, and less time on my PS4, naturally. Without imposing rules.

It's kind of the debate of austerity versus exuberance.

In the currency of reward, do I put rules in place to limit how much reward I can get from one thing, so that it is on par with everything else? Or do I try to raise the reward gained from other things to match it?

So over these past couple of weeks I've become very motivated. Motivated to not live my life with regret for the things that I didn't try. Motivated by the stark realisation that my current job isn't a long-term option. And motivation is... it's a good thing, right?

I wouldn't quite say that it's made me depressed. But perhaps a little more stressed-out, and a little more unhappy that I was when living a life of ignorance.

At other times I've been so content that I have such a great life that... I wake-up everyday smiling.

That's not really been the case this term. Instead I wake-up with a determination that I have to change something, and I have to try something new, and I've been thinking about it endlessly, and it's made me believe that my life isn't as perfect as I once did.

I've been acting like, and have had the mood to reflect, that something in my life needs to change. And that might be motivating, and it might be driving me to try something for the future. But it also adds stress, and takes away the feeling of actualisation.

I feel tired as I write this blog. Mentally and physically exhausted.

Mentally, perhaps because I've been thinking about this all so much. Physically...

I would normally be at a yoga class at this very moment on a Friday. I've done four hours of yoga, every week since August. I've been doing bodyweight training, and lifting weights on some days too.

I never like to make the distinction between physical and mental (even though I just did it above), because you are one thing. You can't be tired mentally, but feeling good physically or vice-versa. It all works together.

But perhaps adding this mental strain on top of what was already quite physically demanding, it's just... I'm exhausted, to put it bluntly. I just got to the point yesterday where I was like... ok, I need some time off from the gym. I'm taking today off. I might even take a week-off. I just feel physically and mentally exhausted, and that's not having any positive outcomes.

It's harder to smile when you're tired. I did a bodyweight class at the gym yesterday, and I normally enjoy those, but I just couldn't be bothered. And the instructor, who I've done this class with every week since August, was asking me if I was ok. Normally the pain and challenge of being out of breath brings a smile to my face, but this time everything she was telling me to do just made me angry.

Yesterday as I was leaving work, one of my former students was talking to me as I waited for the lift.

I'm not a big fan of hers, but normally you make the effort to pretend you like students, even when you don't. But when the lift door opened, I got in and pressed the button for the ground floor. She stood outside and shouted to her friend who was talking to someone else, and I think normal protocol would have been to hold the doors open for them. But I couldn't be bothered.

I couldn't be bothered to make conversation as we descended twenty-one floors. And quite frankly, I didn't even have the energy to lift my arm to press the open doors button. So the doors just kind of closed naturally, and it was only once the lift was moving I was like... fuck, that was kind of rude.

So I hope that she didn't take offence to it. She's an older woman who has a somewhat high opinion of herself, so she probably did, and now I'm spending my day-off worried that she'll put in some kind of complaint, because she is that kind of person (hence, why I'm not the biggest fan of hers).

But I was just feeling so tired that it was just a case of... I can't be fucking bothered.

But you know where all of this has taken me?

I'm taking days, or possibly even a week-off from the gym. My body needs to recover. I'm trying not to think too much about the future for a bit either, because that's just adding stress to my life. And when you don't want to think too much, and you don't want to exert yourself physically, you know what's perfect?

Playing on a PS4.

I honestly don't know how I got here.

In the space of three weeks, I went from having to stop myself playing on my PS4 because I was playing too much and it just wasn't healthy, to making myself play on my PS4 because without it I've become drained and I need it to help me relax.

What the actual fuck?

And so where I am now, is really just trying to get through this term.

Another reason that I'm not very surprised that I feel like this, is do you remember how I always used to say that eight weeks... eight weeks is about as long as you can spend in one routine, before you need to break it up or it starts driving you crazy?

It's one reason I love this job. I have at least a week-off in between each term, that gives me some respite, every six weeks.

Well thanks to the annual seminar, this was the one time that didn't really happen.

The first two days of the holiday were spent at work anyway. The next day I was filling in the reflection forms. I think there was one work-free day, until on the next I got my schedule, and started thinking about this term.

It didn't feel like I had a break before this term, so it feels like I've been stuck in the same routine for what is now nine or ten weeks. And if my theories based on my own experiences are correct, then this is when I start to feel shit.

So I'm already looking to Christmas. I'm just trying to make it through to the Christmas holiday without doing or saying something that I'll end up regretting later, like not bothering to hold the lift doors open for the annoying older woman who's likely to complain if you do something like that. Or getting frustrated at the gym, or anything like that.

I'm just trying to keep myself in high enough spirits that I don't do that and then... even if I don't go anywhere, and I still hope to, although I'm yet to actually plan anything. But even if I don't go anywhere, those three, glorious, work-free weeks are... they're just what the doctor ordered.

I've just got to make it to them without doing anything stupid.

I should be safe if I just sit here on my PS4.