Goodbye

I left the Warwick campus today. Much as I arrived: in the pouring rain.

And now I’m back in London, in my new home. A cheerful top floor of a pleasantly scruffy house down south. Lying on an unfamiliar bed, in the dim light of an dusky lamp, stone cold sober, thinking. And trying not to think too much about the one inescapable fact: I’m not going back there.

The richest experiences are rich precisely because they end quickly. A skydive, a jungle trek, even a month backpacking. You troll through the time taking action to take things forward. But the MBA had a community. When you’re working and studying in each others’ pockets and half the cohort lives a two minute walk away, you feel wanted, part of everything, alive, even in the most despairing moments late at night before an exam you know you’re not ready for. It wasn’t a year out; it was a life. And now it’s gone and I’m already missing it.

Lots to do, lots on the calendar. But the dreamy green campus is behind me now, and I’m sad. In just two week there’ll be another crop of bright-eyed MBA students using our Syndicate rooms, eating our doughnuts, sleeping in our beds. (And, if this year’s anything to go by, each other’s beds too.)

It was a great year. Thank you, Warwick University. Signing off…. now.

Sucks like a Dyson on steroids

This sucks. Too many goodbyes, too much work, surrounded by packing boxes that only remind me this life is about to end. I’m fighting the dark pool of sadness welling up inside me, but it hurts.

Somehow, this year’s been about more than an MBA; it’s been about constructing a different life, something humanscale and close-knit instead of the broadness and infinity of cities like London. And although it’s contained some very dark moments, I think it’s been the best year of my life. I’ve trekked across scorching deserts and jumped out of aeroplanes just to feel something, but sometimes all you need is a little room on a greenfield campus and the warmth of a great institution around you to feel part of something amazing.

And now it’s almost over.

This sucks.

Sorting out life, intense as uncut wasabi

Mission almost accomplished. This week I’ve part-sorted my next role, confirmed some other work that’d take about a day a week for some extra pocket money, and talked about a potential project in Paris that’d pay off a chunk of MBA debt. And I saw my new home.

In keeping with my year-long principle of ‘letting go’, not deliberately controlling my environment – in order to open myself up to more possibilities – I’m not going back to my own little chunk of the London property market next month. I’m going to take a step back, and share a vast house in south London with three friends. A sprawling space to kick back in, a few stops by train from central London, and a big room at the top of the house to crash. Brilliant.

Training back to Victoria after checking it out last night, the lights of the city ranged below me, I felt that same cocktail of sad-and-happy I’ve had before. This year at Warwick University really has been a great year: painful at times, but it’s taught me much cut, with plenty of laughs. The rolling green campus, its iconic Modernist buildings of University House and the Business School that make my heart soar with architectural joy … it’s been a far greater year than I ever expected.

And I got it by kicking back. Not being in control. The last ten months my timetable’s been set for me; that was the point. Handing the reins to someone else for a while had the converse effect of self-actualising me even further.

The quote that drove me to do an MBA – from ‘Batman Begins’, “You know how to fight six men. We can teach you to engage six hundred.” – still holds. I could take on an army now. More interestingly, I could build one of my own.

I think I’ll bunk off project work this afternoon and see ‘The Dark Knight’ in Leicester Square. It’d just fit somehow.

Growing young disgracefully

“But I was so much older, then – I’m younger than that now.”Bob Dylan

Sometime in the last year, I discovered the secret of not getting old.

The secret is… don’t get old!

It’s no harder or simpler than that. Your body and mind are self-renewing tools. Down the decades they may need some patching up, but plot medical advances on a curve and life expectancy seems to be increasing about ten years every decade; already, the old have stopped dying. (The USA and Japan’s fastest growing demographic: octogenerians.) The dream of immortality is within our grasp. But technology is immaterial: what matters to staying young is attitude. And at some point since January, I got myself a new one.

It wasn’t forging a new identity; it was getting rid of an old one. Working for a living since my teens meant I’d always felt ‘older’, but when I hit campus I started reverting. I’d spent much of the previous ten years in jeans and T shirt dreaming up headlines; hardly an adult occupation, after all. I started thinking: maybe I’m young after all. And I think the process is now complete.

I just caught sight of myself in a window and the figure strolling in step with me was a young man. Tall, fresh, strong, relaxed, even with a perceptible stomach and squishy limbs after four months away from the gym. Somehow, against all the odds, I’m at peace.

It had nothing to do with body and everything to do with mind. I just stopped worrying about stuff and JUST DID IT. (I mean, joining a University skydiving club at 37?)

A couple of years back I made an effort to pursue a ‘normal’ life, worrying: where is the wife? The children? The car and the lawnmower? I was aging, weakening, not in body but in mind. Then this year came the apocalyptic realisation: that I really, really, don’t want that.

I wasn’t falling behind; I was ahead of the game. I like being alone, having my own space, doing my own thing. And for the next ten years – where I’ll concentrate on making money – a ‘normal’ life would be an annoying distraction.

(Of course, since having that realisation I’ve had women buzzing around me as if I’m made of chocolate, but that’s by the by. I’m much too young for a serious girlfriend.)

When I restart my physical fitness routine post grad, it’ll be different. Aerobic and meditative exercises centred on other things, the heartbeat and breathing, going for poise and agility rather than strength and speed. I still plan an Ironman next year, but it’ll be a side result of my training rather than a goal. With the right attitude, even an Ironman triathlon is easy. Fitness for events is one thing; fitness for life is another.

Before, I worried about losing what I had. Now as I reach the end of an expensive year, I have nothing at all… and it doesn’t worry me in the slightest. No money? I’ll make more. No home? I’ll buy another one. No friends? I’ll go out and make some more. Everything is easy now.

I used to worry about all that stuff… back when I was old.

Among the new faces

Back on campus. With skydiving, London trips, and overnighters elsewhere, I’ve spent precisely two nights in the last 15 in my own room, although I’ve sort of adapted; I don’t feel I’m running on empty, far from it (life’s actually full of adrenalin.) But one thing I notice this morning is the predominance of new faces around Lakeside.

Summer courses and short modules abound in ‘Term 4’, the near-mythical part of the university calendar that spans summer, and the school puts its empty residential blocks to good use. So there’s an influx of changing faces around the student village, none of whom I recognise. (Even on a 5000 strong campus population you see the same set of faces during the academic year.) And now that villagey feel has gone. Just another sign it’s all coming to an end…

And just like that – they’re gone

Sunday afternoon. The University year is over, although not my year (yet). And suddenly, in the last 48 hours, the energetic lifeblood of the Warwick campus has drained away.

I got back on Friday night. Instead of the hordes of undergrads enjoying the warm weather on the piazza, there was only a handful of them. They’ve all gone, the 12,000 sub-22 year olds that make up two-thirds of this university’s daytime population. Summer has begun and the kids have departed, maybe for a season overseas, sleeping on the steps of cathedrals or riding pillion across India. Because they have the time.

I envy them. Because the only thing I’ve ever wanted is more time. I wish I could have my time again, a thousand times over: I’ve lived the best of all possible lives, but there’s a multitude of bests, and I want them all.

And sadness. The sadness that comes from the constant reminders that, all too soon, this strangest of years in my life will be over.

Goodbye, undergrads.