Getting Better

Brussels is wet ‘n’ wild today (no, not like that). Almost every bin I see on the streets is overflowing with discarded, fractured umbrellas, their skinny arms and flapping material looking like giant broken bat wings. As I walk down the street the wind keeps shoving me in the back as if to say “Come on! Get a move on!”

Still, I’d rather light a candle than curse the…er, wind…that’s trying to blow it out (phew! great recovery there, even if I did end up sounding like Elton John), so today I’ve been thinking about personal improvement. Not in the sense of taking a self-help course, but just in the sense of thinking about how I used to be and ways in which I’ve changed, hopefully for the better.

1. Confidence and Assertiveness. I used to be terribly English in this respect. If you want to know what I mean, walk down an English street and deliberately bump into someone. They’ll apologise to you. Anyway, I used to be very bad at sticking up for myself. Not that I now go throwing my weight around and kicking sand in people’s faces, but if someone’s taking the piss (especially in a “customer service” context), I’m now much better at saying “No, hang on a minute, that’s not good enough”. Then, once it’s sorted out, I’ll mutter “Sorry to have made such a fuss” and scuttle away. I can also now talk to strangers, make presentations in front of groups of people, and generally function in society without cringeing and apologising for my very existence.

2. Priorities. As previously noted, with age I’m becoming more discerning and am less willing to waste time. I like to think that I’m pretty good at keeping things in perspective and identifying what’s worth spending time on and what isn’t. Having children to deal with helps, as time becomes an ever more precious commodity, absolutely not to be wasted (although I still spend a lot of time on YouTube, so I have some work to do in this area).

3. Willingness to Learn. New challenges keep things fresh, and I’ve learnt quite a few new things recently. I don’t just mean “learning” facts by watching documentaries on tv, or “learning” how to change nappies. In 2000 I learnt Italian (not all of it, obviously, but I made a start), in 2004 I learnt to drive (admittedly this was somewhat forced on me by the impending arrival of our first child. My wife was unaccountably unenthusiastic about the prospect of driving herself to hospital while having contractions), and in 2005 I started learning to play the piano. Admittedly this fell by the wayside after 9 months, due to the arrival of our second child and the consequent loss of leisure time, but I made an effort, and learnt some interesting stuff (don’t ask me to play anything though, unless you’re keen on glacially slow sub-Satie ambient noodlings). I’m still doing a course to improve my French, and I’m determined to start Dutch at some point.
On the other hand, maybe Homer has a point:  “How is education supposed to make me feel smarter? Besides, every time I learn something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my brain. Remember when I took that home winemaking course, and I forgot how to drive?”

Of course, as my school reports never failed to note, I “could do better” (who couldn’t?), but it’s nice to think that I’ve made some progress.