Stop and Think

Aydın Soysal
7 minutes

Budva… Montenegro, a small resort city in Montenegro. Don’t mind me calling it a city. It’s a small settlement. But in summer you can’t find a place to step on the street or sit in the cafes. It has a magnificent castle built in the ninth century, which has suffered many earthquakes and has been restored. It is a historical building protected by Unesco. Of course, it has remained tiny in the shadow of “modern” buildings and hotels erected one after another. I should stop here, because this is not a tourism article. But I can’t leave out the corner shops with great pizzas.

I was recently caught up in the fad of setting up a company in Montenegro. It didn’t last long, but it was a good experience. A life lesson I learned in the job interviews while setting up the company should perhaps have been written in the bottom line for all the effort I put into it. I was interviewing a male candidate in his early forties, a young man who spoke English above the regional average, had built up a good network, and had experience in a variety of jobs. Most recently he was the manager of a well-known café. I asked him how much money he earns on average per month. “I earn 1000-1200 Euros with tips and stuff,” he said. “Is it enough?” I asked. “It’s above average, but it’s not my only income. I also have a small house, inherited from my father. I rent it out from Air BNB in the summer, and that brings me about that amount of money per month on average.” “That’s how many people live here anyway”. “Have you seen our houses?” he asked. I had not seen the inside of the old Budva houses, but I had heard that they lived in small houses of fifty to sixty square meters. “Do you know why?” he asked. “The bigger the house, the more furniture. And the more furniture there is, the more closets there are. The more closets, the more clothes and things you have. And you don’t use most of it”. But instead of spending money on these things, I prefer to spend it on experiences. Every winter I go skiing, every summer I take a trip to Europe. It is already very crowded here in summer.” I don’t know if this was a Montenegrin lifestyle or the life philosophy of the man I spoke to, but that was not the point. For me it was a call to “stop and think”.

As you know, what makes us who we are is the sum of our genes and what we have learned from our experiences. Just as the things we attribute to our genes come from a complex treasure trove ranging from “just like mother” to “just like grandfather”, the experiences we go through are embellished with new experiences and become our companions in our lifelong transformation. Family values, neighborhood pressure, competition with the neighbor’s child or classmates or colleagues drive us towards certain goals and aspirations. There are eras or regions where “being a civil servant or a teacher” is acceptable, and there are generations where understanding “cryptocurrency or blockchain” whets the appetite.

What’s in fashion now? To go abroad! My children lined up too. But this is a very general goal. And abroad, where, what, why? A man with an engineer’s degree here says “I am happier as a courier” in Europe. Maybe he really is right. Maybe the economic crisis we are going through has given him a “stop and think” too. Maybe you can live like a king in Peru with the money you can barely live on in London. You may not have cool instagram pictures from New York, but you may have a happier life in your tiny shop on the beach in the Bahamas. What do you feel will make you happy?

Years ago, a friend of mine living in America told me that his wife refused to accept a promotion at work. When I asked him why, he told me that he said, “I won’t be able to do my morning run, I’ll be writing reports all the time, I’ll be away from my customers, I don’t want the extra money I’ll earn to buy these things” and he continued his life as a waiter instead of a restaurant manager.

Do those who do not pursue the professions they studied at a young age come to their senses later in life, or do those who persevere and continue in the profession they have entered continue life with blinders on? Who knows? “It’s a job or a life I don’t really want, but what the hell”, or “of course I’m going to do it, it’s what suits us”, or “I changed jobs right away”? None of them has a definitive answer, one way or the other. In fact, these questions are not even true. The right question is not about how it looks to whom, but how much it is my own conscious choice. Or am I just getting carried away? Did I feel I had no choice? I didn’t dare to try? Did I not analyze the situation well?

Years ago, when I was working at Gillette, I went to Mexico for Sales and Marketing training. They gave me a guy called Alonzo to show me around the grocery stores, dealers and explain the dynamics of the field. He was 50-60 years old. And “salesman”, salesman. “Brother,” I said, “why didn’t they promote you?” “I didn’t want to,” he said. “I know and love my job, I know my customers, I know them and they know me. I have been working for the company for twenty-odd years and they raise my salary very well. I don’t like filling out reports. I can’t ask my subordinates to do work I don’t like. I can’t deal with their competitive struggles, their whims and caprices. The problems of my customers are enough for me. I didn’t want to be a chief, manager, executive or anything like that. I wanted to remain a salesman and I am happy like this.” In my passionate devotion and captivity to my career plans at the time, I laughed it off, saying “your brother must have gotten a sunstroke in the Mexican heat”.

Budva, America, Mexico… Each one is a life story… I thought about my own life. It was very cool to work for a foreign company after university. And it paid well. That was the target then. Then to move up in that company. If possible, to be assigned to other markets with an international career. Or move to other companies here and rise to the top. Is it done? It’s done. What am I doing now? I try to stay away from that life as much as possible, even if I can’t manage it completely, and I do learning programs for companies with horses. No position, no title, not even a goal, no job, but love. It’s an occupation I enjoy immensely. When did I realize? Fifty years old. Late? It’s not. Am I writing so you can see me and recognize me sooner? No! At every moment of life, at every decision point, I am writing to make you stop, take a step back and ask. Do I really want this?

Is this my conscious choice?

Simple? Yes.

Is it easy? No, no, no.

But if we suspend what is imposed on us and what we are told is the truth, and I say, put on the table how much knowledge we have about the subject we are going to decide, how much of our abilities are sufficient to make this decision, and even if they are insufficient, what needs to be improved, and whether you have the breath and enthusiasm for this improvement.

And be sure to write.

It’s not just “I turned it over in my head”. When I started writing, my head became enlightened. I mean, I think. I’m still writing, see…

I’m actually writing to myself…

Because there are many things to decide and you have to ask each one of them: Is it my choice?

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