It’s 12:22 on Saturday 24th September 2011 and I’m sat in a friend’s flat in Berlin. At about this time 10 years ago I first set foot in this city, the start of a remarkable journey through European politics, work and further studies that has been a brilliant rollercoaster ride in many ways.

But did I do it all wrong? And am I still doing it all wrong?

The point of my visit is an example. At 15:30 this afternoon I’ll cross the start line for the Berlin Inline Skate marathon. I’ll complete the 42km in about 1 hour and 20 minutes, all being well, placing me among the better skaters. But I’m not going to be right up with the best of them because I do not have the dedication to give my life over to the sport. I may well not be skilled enough either, but I’ve never got to the stage to really know.

Conversely a few thousand Labour Party members will be congregating today in Liverpool for Labour Party Conference. I’ll be there tomorrow, for 3 days, but if I were really dedicated to the pursuit of a career in politics I should be there for every moment, tweeting sycophantically on #lab11 and schmoozing with the top brass rather than growing frustrated at the same old talking heads blathering away at the fringe events.

Professionally, looking at it one way, things have not moved on either – I worked freelance for the first time in 2002 (just after my first Berlin stint), and I still am, to all intents and purposes, a freelancer. Some of the projects I do are a little more responsible these days, but beyond that…?

Then, lastly, there’s the matter of place. 12 months ago I moved on from Brussels, and considered Berlin as a place to live. I thought London was a better bet, professionally. That may indeed eventually prove to be the case, and there are other up-sides of the choice that I could not have foreseen, but being back in Berlin makes me wonder once more whether I actually made the right choice.

Perhaps it’s not right to say I’m doing everything wrong, but I do feel I’m doing everything by halves. What should I really get my teeth stuck into? I don’t know the answer to that just at the moment, and it’s nagging at me.


  1. Martin Keegan

    Jon, this reminds me somewhat of your Brussels Bubble Deflation post, in which you cast a keener eye over fat lobbyists, though this time the comparison is with Labour party hacks.

    You should be proud you never sold out, and managed to leave Brussels with your integrity intact. There’s a lot more to engagement in public life than electoral politics, wonkery and the rubber chicken circuit, indeed the more interesting work will be in how information technology and collective action can transform and improve politcs and policy. You’re already in the right area, and a lack of strong institutional links may well be a positive.

  2. Thanks for the further kind comments!

  3. European Citizen

    Maybe doing everything ‘by halves’ allows you to maintain that distance which is necessary for anyone who wants to see things critically. I think precisely because you are not totally dedicated to pursuing a political career through Labour, you can see things differently and make observations that others cannot. I think labour needs people like you; they are usually the ones with innovative thinking, bringing a fresh perspective.
    On the other hand, maybe it’s just your personality: you have so many different interests that you just don’t want to specialize. That’s OK: we have so many people who know too much about too little. I think you have a huge advantage: I’ve met people, in their mid-30s, who have established a career and now feel that they need a break or a change of direction. When you get tired, you can just turn to one of your other interests without the need to change your life dramatically. Enjoy the diversity of the projects you are involved with, it’s a blessing 🙂

  4. Interesting blog post, and covering a subject that many of us have, I’m sure, thought about. I certainly have. “What if I’d studied harder, or put more effort into something, or another?” But the point is, we did what we thought was best at the time; and we put in the amount of effort we thought appropriate.

    I always consider myself lazy, thinking I could have achieved more, or gone further, but others around me wouldn’t; and when I’ve told them what think of myself, they laugh and tell me not to be silly.

    The point is, you did what made you happy at the time. If you’d spent more of your time doing one thing, to make yourself better at it, you’d have had less enjoyment doing other things which made you happy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

    Life’s for living, and I have difficulty understanding how people can be so dedicated to one thing, to the exclusion of all others, just to get to try to get to a place they may never reach; and having no fun, and much stress in the process.

    From what I can see, you’ve achieved a lot, and been not unreasonably successful as a result. I vote you continue as you are, and remember life’s meant to be for enjoying. You might get run over by a bus tomorrow.

  5. Jon, relax. For a starter put a slightly more optimistic image for your profile – and enjoy Berlin. I think mid-life crisis still has time to hit you, don’t rush!

  6. Thank you! 🙂 Not resorting to sycophantic tweets – you can count on that for sure…

  7. Ask yourself this first: what’s not to like about your current situation? So you’re multidisciplinary and multi-city – what’s not to like?

    If you want to force yourself to make the difficult choices, get married & decide to have kids. Or just the latter, You’ll find either (should) concentrate the mind wonderfully. But kiss goodbye to a career in politics first.

    Alternatively, decide to never have kids and (a) have a career in politics; or (b) just keep floating around, but allow yourself to enjoy it fully, without nagging doubts.

    Enjoy Berlin, enjoy #lab11 and – please – never lapse into sycophantic tweets. I get enough of that in my Twitter stream here in Brussels already.

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