I'm not always the best person to follow.
If there are a number of lines at airline check-in, or passport control, I'll invariably be in the one that is moving the slowest.
If I drive a different route to avoid slow traffic, it will be the one where a bus has broken down in the middle of the road.
Recently I voted in local and european elections and a referendum on citizenship. The councillor and the putative member of the European Parliament whom I favoured didn't make it, and my stance on the referendum was the opposite of the view held by four-fifths of the people who voted.
So I'm not exactly a bellweather of good fortune.
But at least I make decisions. If they prove to be the wrong ones, well, that's part of life.
On car launches the drill is that we drive in pairs, taking turns to navigate and drive. As a navigator I can guarantee that I will get my colleague lost early in the proceedings.
But there's an even stronger guarantee that I will get us back to base eventually. Even if both of us get to see scenery that was never in the plan of the designers of the run.
Maybe that's a nice thing. Maybe life shouldn't be perfect. Shouldn't be run to a map, either.
Mine hasn't been. And I don't have a 'tulip' book to guide me forward for the rest of whatever is my natural.
(A 'tulip' is a book of the car test course given to motor journalists to help navigate them around the run.)
I know people who have planned their lives. Who have set themselves goals from early on. Who sometimes have achieved them.
And I've known ones who did all that and didn't make it.
I'm not sure which are the poorest. Many of the ones who planned it all the way and it worked out didn't have much real fun, didn't have the joy of meeting the unexpected.
The others actually might be better off, because they tried even if they failed. And, if they were lucky or had the right attitude, or a bit of both, failing prompted them to try something new, to get off the plan.
That last requires an ability to realise when it is time to throw in the towel. To understand that they really should take that other fork in the road, the one without a signpost.
Often, even when we are doing that, many of us don't actually know it at the time. And if some of us don't throw in the towel when that seems right, it can often turn out to be the correct decision against the odds.
We usually see it all in retrospect. When we find a time to look back.
Maybe that's just as well, because if we knew the futures where various paths would take us, we'd be so bogged down in trying to decide our route that we'd likely not travel any furthr anywhere.
These thoughts are prompted in a way because my youngest son, who has been going part of the way down various career roads, still hasn't found the one which he wants to find the end to.
Since he is twenty-one, I've this week felt the need to give him the mandatory father-to-son word on expectation not always being achievable. And that he should at least get some kind of qualification before going wandering again.
Which travelling he wants to do more than ever after a backpacking vacation which took him to Egypt, Israel and Jordan. And on which he early on threw away his original Egypt-only itinerary.
He went to Tel Aviv and saw ordinary people walking around with pistols in their pockets. He went to Bethlehem where the claimed Saviour of the World was in legend born. He looked at the raising wall between Israel and Palestine. And he saw in Ramallah in Palestine the ravages of Israeli retribution for suicide bombing.
By contrast he visited the lost city of Petra carved out of the windswept sandstone cliffs in southern Jordan, and he walked through the gates where tolls were charged to all those who wanted to enter either for safety or to trade their goods.
And he also got, in the Red Sea, his basic Diving Instructor qualification.
Back home, he feels unsettled, and yet more sure of what he wants to do for the next few years. Go back to the Red Sea and teach diving. Opt out of another year in the sound techniques course he has been doing as part of his ambition to produce his own music. He is an accomplished and self-taught musician.
I know he is going to go away again. I don't feel worried about it, really, because I believe in his own judgement, even if he doesn't believe that I do. He wants to travel and he will travel. To different countries, earning his living in different ways, and probably both getting lost and finding his way back to ... somewhere. Someday.
I feel fortunate. I'm still travelling in my own way through my life. Still sometimes taking alternate roads. Still learning new things. Still getting lost regularly. And in doing that last, often finding things that I probably would not otherwise have discovered.
I'm not advising that anybody particularly follow me, because so far my way of life has not been a recipe for getting rich. Not in financial terms anyway.
But if you do get stuck in that line that I'm the real cause of it being the slowest one, there's no knowing where you might eventually end up.
Certainly it is likely not to be where you expected to go.
If that turns you on, feel free to take my road. Or the other one.
You might meet my youngest son. He might teach you to dive, and you might discover even more worlds.
And that last, however we do it, is real riches, isn't it?
Wednesday, July 28, 2004
I'm not always the best person to follow.