THE BLOG

Why I'm Becoming a Student Again

13/06/2013 12:57 BST | Updated 13/08/2013 10:12 BST

One of my favourite daydreams at the moment is to imagine myself, today, meeting myself, five years ago, as I graduated from university. At this meeting, I would tell my twenty one year old self that in five years' time, I would be living in Brussels, working in the European Parliament and about to return to university to study theology. To my twenty one year old self, I would explain that my main interests would be my flowerboxes on my balcony, attempting (and failing) to phase meat out of my diet and going to a spinning class three days a week to sweat in front of a mirror.

My twenty one year old self, on hearing such absurd things, would not very politely say 'f*ck off' and then continue the never-ending party that characterised his early twenties. I would also warn this individual that bleached hair is not something to be proud of, his first job would, despite its focus being waste incineration policy, set him up for bigger, better things and that the absence of love in his life was a temporary feature.

This may sound like the beginning of some god-awful holiday novel. I suppose, in a sense, it is because I have to say that right now I do feel like I'm on my way to somewhere quite pleasant.

Until recently, my main concern in life was ensuring people knew who I was. That meant trying to be the centre of attention at work, in bars and on Facebook. I lived on the basis that if I dictated to life what I wanted from it, then I would not only get what I wanted but also be assured of happiness.

The problem with this approach was that the things I thought brought happiness didn't really do those things at all. My notion of success, embedded in me from the moment I left my mum's womb and then elaborated and clarified as I grew up, involved being rich, being successful, being recognised, being beautiful and being loud. As a consequence, I spent all my time worrying about getting these things or, on acquiring them, ensuring I didn't lose them.

Thankfully I realised a few months ago that what I had would never have been enough. I had been brainwashed into thinking that the future is brighter, that the grass is always greener, that my lot is insufficient and that I must always strive for more. I was brainwashed into thinking that if only I had a nice flat in the centre of a fun city, if only I had a busy social life, if only I wore the clothes I thought would make look 'cool', if only I went on glamorous holidays and had the body of a porn star, then I would be happy.

However, despite living in a nice flat in the centre of a fun city, despite having a busy social life, despite wearing the clothes I thought would make me look cool, despite going on extravagant holidays and having a decent body, I was permanently frustrated. And because of this, I thought that I needed a nicer flat, a busier social life and cooler, more expensive clothes, sunnier holidays and harder abs. A vicious cycle was developing.

On realising that none of these things were actually making me happy, I decided to stop running and sit down. So I sat down for a few months, had a think about what really make me happy and then reassessed my horribly distorted priorities.

Having done so, I discovered that I had been wasting my today by worrying about tomorrow, next week, next month, next year. So I made a conscious decision to focus my attention on the next twenty four hours. Living my life day by day has been hard at times, but ultimately has made me infinitely more content.

I also deleted my Facebook account (I strongly recommend giving this a go, it is astonishing how life can become focused around your profile, your status updates and the illusion of intimacy). I stopped going to bars and clubs in search of sensory oblivion. I stopped doing the things I thought other people wanted me to do.

Yesterday it was revealed that wages have dramatically shrunk or stagnated since the crisis began in 2008. Youth unemployment is higher than ever. The western world is mired in recession. The prospects of the 'millenial' generation, those who are today between the ages of 18 and 30, have never been worse.

Having the tendency to feel sorry for myself, it has been tempting to blame other people, politicians, parents, the elderly, for my generation's prospects. However I started to try to accept life on life's terms and do what I can do make something of my life. I enjoy reading and writing, so that is what I am going to do, despite the doubt that washes over me when I read the headlines in the news.

As a eurocrat, I live a comfortable life (although nothing like the champagned-infused existence Ukip would have you believe). From September, I will be taking a huge pay cut. I will be moving out of my nice flat into something smaller, in a less exciting suburb of Brussels. I will be making a conscious decision to slide off the greasy career pole I had been clambering up.

Living in a world that teaches me that money, power and fame are the things I need to find happiness, I often doubt my decision to become a poverty-stricken student again. But all I need do is rewind things to a few months back and remember that these things did not make me truly happy. Sure, they brought me short, sharp bursts of fun, but it was fun that was surface-deep and ephemeral.

What makes me happy is reading science fiction and writing about things I find interesting, like God and Ukip. I find joy in seeing close friends for a coffee to chat about their fears, my fears, their dreams and my dreams. These things conveniently do not require a Facebook profile, a huge pay cheque or vast penthouse apartment.

Now my main worry is how I will move my flowerboxes from my flat in the centre of Brussels to the flat I will hopefully find soon in its suburbs. Overall life is a lot more pleasant now I'm not worrying about the future!