I know, I know, I like dramatising things, but with the graduation ceremony just behind me - let me indulge myself.
I’ve finished school when I was seventeen, that was twelve years ago - in 2002. I didn’t have the slightest idea of what I wanted to do in life. And to me it seemed at the time, like I was the only one in my class who didn’t have his life all planned out. Which felt slightly discouraging. I decided to trust my parents instead, surely they know me well enough to know what I want better than I do. So I listened to my dad and went to Moscow State University to study Law.
After having lived seventeen years in small, relatively quiet, you can almost but not quite say “rural” Riga - Moscow blew my socks off. An enormous city, pulsating with life, a cacophony of people from all over the place doing stuff twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. Crisp after-taste of cultural undertones in every street, metro station and building. Moscow conquered me without a battle.
Now it’s worth digressing a little and mentioning that even though I was born in Latvia - at the time I definitely was not considering myself to be a Latvian. There is a social divide of sorts in Latvia, where a part of the Russian-speaking populace considers themselves to be as Russian as a crate of vodka, which is weird, I know. So up until then I was brought up to be a russophile, a perception of Latvian reality that inevitably makes you feel alienated from the rest of the population of the country for completely logical reasons. You can’t expect to show two fingers to the rest of the population, saying: “Screw you guys, I’m not like you, I don’t even associate myself with your country” and feel like a valid, essential part of the community. Well, that’s what’s happening to about 30-35% of the Latvian population (my numbers might be a bit off).
So then I come to Moscow and it turns out that it doesn’t matter how Russian I feel - I’m not. I’m still a foreigner there, and I feel like a foreigner at home, so you can see how this situation inevitably sucks. But my fascination with the city was overweighting the disappointment.
Law turned out to be completely, utterly, unimaginably boring. With a small exception of subjects like Latin and Logics (and maybe English) - everything else felt suicidally uninteresting. But I felt then that you need to invest time into understanding something, and then out of that deep[er] understanding passion will come. Well, after a year and a half of spending my parents’ money on education (and, trust me, a Law degree in Moscow isn’t cheap), accommodation, food and booze - I gave up.
I came back to Latvia, it was weird. I found a job at a tool warehouse, where I would work as hard as I could and still be called a slacker; where the manager’s idea of keeping you warm in a flimsy unheated warehouse in the middle of winter was suggesting you drink hot tea. But it was my first job, and it was ok. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’ve just wasted a year and a half of my life and, what’s more important, quite a bit of my parents’ money, so I wasn’t even trying to think of the future for a while. Just worked my ass off and thought that maybe my parents were wrong - I’m not special, I’m not supposed to work on this amazing job that I’ll enjoy for the rest of my life, and the quicker I get used to this idea - the better. Thankfully, this passed, the crappier my job got - the more motivated I felt to try something else.
So I sat down and started thinking about my future. I still didn’t particularly know what I wanted to do in the long run, but I was intrigued by the field of advertising, or rather the way it was presented in books like “Thank You For Smoking”. I also thought that, well, “Public Relations” has the word “relations” in it, maybe it will teach me to be more sociable with people I don’t know (something I had a huge problem with at the time). So I applied for and got into Baltic International Academy. And I have to admit - it was fun. The subjects we studied were interesting, some of them didn’t feel particularly relevant (and in hindsight they weren’t), sure, but they were interesting nonetheless. I started getting good grades and it was a novel experience, I haven’t gotten good marks since, maybe, tenth grade, so that was encouraging. I still worked in the warehouse and paid for my own education, not wanting to put my parents into additional debt or something.
Then I graduated in 2008, with something like 80% overall score and felt elated for the first couple of months. A feeling that slowly dissipated as I found that my diploma wasn’t exactly attracting job offers. The public relations field in Latvia was overpopulated and very different from my idea of it. By that time I switched jobs and started working in an office, translating law documents from Russian to English, from English to Russian, and doing odd jobs around the office. For a while I thought that maybe it didn’t matter that I couldn’t find a job I was studying for and kind of wanted - ideally public relations without the “public” part, though. Maybe what mattered was that I was making enough money to not worry much about the fact that I didn’t know what I wanted. Maybe it was ok to live in a country you don’t particularly like because of reasons, and that doesn’t particularly like you because of you not liking it. Maybe it’s absolutely fine to do monotonous boring translations day after day, or sometimes just sitting there in the office doing nothing, because there’s nothing to do - for days. Maybe everyone else is also not satisfied with their public and private lives, but they just don’t show it. Maybe it’s positively normal to come to work and listen to your colleagues dissing Latvia, Latvian culture, Latvian way of life and politics day after day, after day. But maybe it isn’t.
When all of that piled up - I sat down and gave a serious thought to what I really-really wanted to do in life. I was twenty four and felt like this was my last chance. It probably would not have been, but don’t forget - I like dramatising. This time I didn’t think about what sort of interest a degree might foster in me, instead I looked for a degree that would cover my already existing interests. I suddenly remembered how when I was thirteen-fourteen years old I’ve dreamt of making computer games. I was ok with computers, I didn’t do much programming since school - but at least it was a concept I was familiar with. And, well, if I failed at the coding side of things badly - surely the field is wide enough to accommodate my other interests - I’ve always enjoyed writing, for example, I could write game stories, right? But it was also important, after the previous degree’s experience, to pick a university that was good. So I started going through university ratings. UK universities seemed particularly good and I already had friends living in England, so I applied to five different places and got four unconditional offers. Of course I also found out that because of my previous degree I’m not eligible for a student loan. So I asked to postpone the start of my studies and started saving up money.
The company where I was working went bankrupt around that time, so that sucked. With some help I got a job at a local general goods store. The wages weren’t enough to pay for UK education, but they certainly were enough to save up and pay for a trip to UK and a few months of accommodation. And that was all I needed. After a half a year of an uninteresting job and a crazy money saving routine - I saved and borrowed enough money. I only told my parents that I was leaving a month before my flight. On January 17th I was in Bath, UK. I had a thousand and one hundred pounds on my account, I had seven months to make enough money to pay for some of the tuition and accommodation fees, and also I had no idea what I was doing.
I don’t know what would’ve happened if I didn’t have a friend in Bath who let me stay at their place for the first couple of weeks, I have no idea what it would’ve been like if I didn’t manage to find a cheap room above a pub across the road from the Ministry of Defence, I certainly haven’t got the slightest about what would’ve happened if I didn’t manage to find that job at a Fish and Chips shop in the first couple of weeks. But I did, and all of that happened. And slowly, at the pace of 60 hours per week I started making and saving up money. I started off as a guy who stands on a street with a sign and a stupid face, then got to work as a waiter, then got promoted to cook and a month before I left - was offered a manager position. The experience was liberating. The work was hard, but the city was gorgeous, the people were so friendly that I kept falling in love with every person who smiled at me. Russia had nothing on England, my love for the intricacies of the Russian soul with its odd expectation of immediate cronyism on the basis of ethnicity has quickly dissipated, giving way to the British charm of friendliness, politeness and triumph of common sense. I finally felt free, like I was where I was supposed to be, and it felt good.
Seven months later I arrived to Newcastle upon Tyne with enough money to pay for almost a year of education and accommodation. It took a while, but I found another job, first working night shifts at ASDA and studying full-time at Newcastle University. Then working evening shifts at ASDA and evening shifts at a local restaurant and studying full-time. Then settling for just one job with evening shifts (at ASDA) and full-time education.
The degree was fantastic. I had lecturers who managed to convey their passion for the industry; as well as lecturers who taught me that you’re not supposed to know everything, sometimes having the general idea of how something works is enough to work out the details when you need them; I had lecturers who showed that it’s ok to be weird; I had plenty of lecturers that demonstrated the wide variety of different fascinating fields within computer science; and I had plenty of lecturers who showed that computer science is interesting as fuck. When I started my placement year at IBM - I immediately knew that this was the kind of stuff I wanted to do for the rest of my life - I wanted to be surrounded by all these wonderful intelligent people, work on these amazing puzzling problems. And I suddenly realized that I was good at it too. I transferred from the Games Development degree to Software Engineering. I got an offer to come back to IBM after graduation, I was ecstatic. And then, on the 11th of July I graduated. I’m twenty nine and I think that finally, twelve years later my search for who I really am and can be is finished, I managed to find a path that I’m happy with, it took longer than I expected but I think that in the end I got there.
It is kind of interesting that all of this probably would not have happened if I didn’t get help in finding that general goods store job in Riga, if I wouldn’t have found an affordable place to stay or a job in Bath, if I wouldn’t have found a job in time in Newcastle, if I didn’t make the friends I did, whom I treasure dearly, or if I continued being a wuss when my manager at ASDA didn’t want to let me go to the IBM Assessment Centre.
If there is some sort of conclusion or moral to the story to be made out of all of this - it’s that it’s ok to not know what you want to do, as it is ok to know exactly what you want to do from the beginning. What is not ok - is moaning about your life while not doing shit about it - I’ve met plenty of people like that. It is also ok to fail, it still teaches you something. I think it’s quite important to follow your own dreams no matter how silly they might appear to be to other people. It is your life after all, and no one should get to tell you how to live it.