This is a translation of text from my Polish blog. I apologise in advance for the references to the 1990s and the fall of communism to all those who lived in Western countries, but these were our realities here and I cannot leave them out.
I don’t know what the 1990s were like a moment after the fall of communism. No one from my generation knows. Of course, I remember the toys, the grey clothes and the worried faces of my parents, but I was too young to experience the change of regime consciously. I was probably very lucky, because I have relatively good memories of my childhood. The nineties in small towns had their charm.
I was a child when the shape of this country and its economy was being created. When the rules of adulthood were being made – I was playing football on the field. Nobody asked me what I thought. When I grew up, I was handed these rules and told to play. I didn’t protest, I didn’t know I could.
Could I? No.
Growing up in a small town – and that’s the majority in this country – had a certain unpleasant consequence. It didn’t provide many opportunities to speak out. It is easier to stay out of the race having been given a flat as a gift. I envy all those who have been given a flat as a gift. No, I am not judging negatively in any way. It’s like judging negatively someone who received a gift on their birthday. He or she got it. One should congratulate him or her and hope that he or she uses it in a way that does not hurt anyone.
I didn’t protest because I had no choice. No, I’m not making excuses. Living with your parents until you are forty is not a choice. It is the delusion of choice. It took some time before I realised that it made no sense to participate in the game under the rules presented to me. I couldn’t win. The rules did not provide for that possibility. By playing by them I could minimise my own losses and get the opportunity to make another choice – a non-choice. A flat loan and decades of living in fear of losing my job, or relative career freedom at the expense of living in fear of losing my flat?
I chose the latter and so far – I don’t regret it. What I do regret are all those people who didn’t even have that choice. Because there was someone around them who was better at keeping to the rules of the game and when they grew up they didn’t even know they had a choice. Maybe it’s for the better, they didn’t get depressed. Although some did get sick. Some could afford therapy, some couldn’t. Some are no longer there.
Well, not everyone can. Most can’t. Many try, but… are still playing a game whose rules were created for them without them. Startups fail. Executives in corporations lose their positions. Or families. Or their health. No matter how many promises are made to us – this game cannot be won.
But you have to play. If you’ve already started, you have to. Because you have to eat something. To live somewhere. To go to the doctor for something. For therapy. For an English course. This is something that some people don’t need because they spent a few years studying abroad, but – it’s the same as with housing. Some got a flat, some got a study in London. Some both. I’m still not judging. I only ask not to be judged. Without a flat and studying in London, it is also possible to survive and achieve something there. Sometimes it’s just a bit harder. Sometimes it’s a little easier, because all too often the gifts aren’t exactly selfless. They are an investment. A commitment. That’s why I envy a little and sympathise a little.
With or without gifts, however, we are riding in the same boat. The rules of the game apply to everyone, and so do the promises made without any cover.
With hard work you can achieve anything. You can’t.
Just three more years and two more promotions and I’ll be free. You won’t.
I’ll take that loan and finally be on my own. You won’t.
If I don’t take the loan, I’ll be free to change jobs. You won’t.
My hard work will make me appreciated. You won’t be.
Fortunately, all this doesn’t really matter. It never really did. Career? Money? Positions? It happens, but it’s not forever. What is given can be taken away at any time. The feeling of being at peace with oneself, however, can never be taken away from anyone. Just like the satisfaction of doing a job you enjoy. The smile of a business partner. The sense of togetherness with the team with whom we completed a difficult project. The people we have met, the smiles, the experiences, the complaining and enjoying together – this stays forever. A job today is like this, tomorrow it is different, a corporation may suddenly cut your salary by 20%, arguing that it is for extensive savings. Nothing is forever. What is given can be taken away.
And I still remember the fact that – despite everything – I belong to this privileged social group. Others have it much worse. And they don’t have the opportunity to say so. They don’t know how to start a blog. Perhaps they don’t have a computer.
What you can’t take away – it’s the sense of fulfilment, it’s the relationships, it’s the people who mean something to me.
But this is not written in the rules of the game. Nor is it written that key positions are already filled, good business ideas used up (and wasted) and most small businesses eventually fail. That startups are interesting to investors as long as any profit can be squeezed out of them. That investment funds are not charities and will expect a return on investment.
This is the world that was built for me and this is the world in which I function. I did not take part in its construction, because if I had, it would look different. How?
I would like to live in a world of equal opportunities and open possibilities, but I do not. I would like to live in a world that is not threatened by climate catastrophe, where people have the right to express themselves as they wish, to decide about their bodies, about their love, about themselves. But I am not living. Hopeless stubbornness and innate naivety, allow me to believe that maybe someday. Acquired realism and instilled cynicism bring me down to earth. This game is still impossible to win.
It is also impossible not to play.
I was not given a say when the rules of the game were made. A game that I was then told to play. A game whose rules are no longer negotiable. They cannot be changed.
I didn’t build the world that I have to live in. So why is someone judging me now that I am not coping? That I’m not succeeding? That sometimes I feel like fucking it all up, locking myself in my house and waiting for someone to finally understand what a fucked up world I’ve been made in?
Acquired realism tells me that this will never happen, so all that remains is to play the game.
But playing with the knowledge that the game is rigged, the outcome known in advance and fucking up yes, it does produce a result, but to someone else – it helps a little to cope with the overwhelming feeling of helplessness.