Sunday 2 April 2023

The double-edged sword of self-improvement

Back in 2004, a friend of mine responded incredulously to the news that I’d been in a relationship for five years but wasn’t married yet. He asked a rather personal question after, and I felt judged and exposed. 

Was the problem mine or his? Had he touched a nerve, highlighted an area in my life that I needed to change? Knowing him as I did, his questioning would have come from  a kind place, but my feelings told me to be offended by the inference regarding the state of my relationship rather than spring into action to forge a better life. 

Circumstances, rather than my friend’s directness, ensured that we would drift apart, and when we met again last December, it was the first time in over a decade. Even then, after the smiles and the hug, he had a good-faith withering statement for me:

“So you didn’t become a journalist then?”

I don’t recall airing this as an ambition, although I had shown him some of my writing, which I was hopeful of turning into a book. Nevertheless, I could live with the career-based judgement, seeing as I agreed with it. 

I wrote match reports and player articles as part of a club fanzine for all the Sunday League teams I played for. Before a match in 97- 98, a team mate said I should be writing for Maxim or FHM, a remark that distracted me for a large part of the first half, my mind elsewhere from the thing I loved to do the most, suggesting that maybe writing was actually the thing I loved to do the most. 

My tools for self-improvement set me up with a move to a better football team for next season, bringing trophies and new friends, while my work life continued to drift, delivering no purpose beyond a salary. In fairness, I did cut my full-time drudgery in the hotel industry to go part-time in a sorting office so that I could create time to write my book, but I just ended up sleeping too much until I had to move out of home and find another full-time job.

Nearly twenty years on from my friend’s dismissive assessment of my relationship, I am still with the same person and still unmarried, but happily so, while the job is better but still not what I always dreamed of doing. I guess that’s the case for most of us. Some of us fight for fulfilment and satisfaction, while some of us aren’t quite so sure of ourselves. Some are happy with drifting along.

FIFA can never be accused of drift. Please don’t say that about them. Their thirst for more is unquenching. Bigger World Cup. Bigger Champions League. Bigger World Club Cup. World Cup every two years. Always pushing the envelope, which is A5 only for now.

I wonder if the FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, ever had a friend who questioned him. He recently turned up to the FIFA Best Awards in a navy blue suit and white trainers, although his fashion sense is the least of the things that he should be receiving a supportive word about. The Best Awards are symbolic of FIFA’s self-serving manifesto, grotesque, short-sighted and decadent in a world where people are struggling to heat their homes and put petrol in their cars. 

Infantino probably thinks his show of glitz and gluttony is a public service to the needy. He is, if you recall, someone who feels gay and disabled, statements of fact, vis-a-vis the justification of a Qatar World Cup. He didn’t go as far as identifying as a woman or a black man, so maybe he does have a friend who can help him reach a compromise, even if that person is actually his speech writer. 

Infantino has certainly made his mark on the world, never deny him that. But one day he might finally get round to doing something good.

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