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Holland Park Press

Changing Course!

27 January 2012 Zie Nederlandse versie
by Arnold Jansen op de Haar

Sergei Polunin is just twenty-one and was the youngest ever principal at the Royal Ballet. Yet this week he announced that he no longer wanted to dance for them and was resigning with immediate effect. That’s what I want to discuss this week.

Maybe you’re reading this in the office during working hours. Well, it’s probably not allowed, but you are your own person. Your colleagues respect you and you’re looking forward to a glittering career.

You simply smile at the fact that half your colleagues sport a ridiculous moustache – ‘Grow your moustache to save the rainforest’. So what, if at this very moment some of your colleagues are running a sponsored marathon dressed as a penguin or a banana?

There’s always someone who is on sick leave most of the time. During his rare appearances in the office, this pretend invalid makes himself heard and strongly voices his disagreement in meetings.

For a long time you didn’t mind all this, because one day you will change everything. You are going to be very successful – actually, this is already the case: everyone expects you to end up as CEO.

Yet all is not well; you’re becoming more and more like a spectator. Being a bit of an outsider is fine, but recently it has become a full-time job; something is very wrong indeed.

This brings us back to Sergei Polunin. You may not like ballet, but I do. Sergei is a fantastic dancer and one of the greatest talents at the Royal Ballet. Thousands of boys would love to take his place but he has just walked out.

This week I read that he has already become the co-owner of a tattoo parlour in North London. As I write, I don’t know how this story will turn out. He may well end up joining another company – well, that’s what I hope will happen.

Some people jump before being pushed; they really had to go anyway. This can make you feel good, but it’s even better when you leave unexpectedly without any reason. They think you’re wonderful and still you quit.

I highly recommend it. I have done it twice, at the ages of thirty-three and forty-six, two of the happiest days of my life.

The first time, I exchanged my career as army officer for being a writer. The second time, I resigned as a newspaper columnist, a position I had held for ten years. Both times I was urged to stay on: ‘Just one more month? A week?’ ‘Absolutely not,’ I answered, ‘it’s all or nothing.’

So you might think: anyway, I’ll be the CEO in twenty years’ time. However, in twenty years’ time the same sad jokes are doing the rounds and the same people are still around, just older. As an act of defiance you can start something exciting with your PA or buy an outrageous pair of glasses; or not, as the case may be.

From time to time I walk past an office block near Paddington Station. You can glimpse a glum-looking chap all alone in an office. When someone enters he becomes important, so I walk past a second time. He actually cheers me up, because it’s not me sitting in that office. Occasionally I even wave at him.

Aha, your boss has arrived, and you do it: you think of Sergei Polunin. You, too, think of all the things you could still do in life, things you’re good at, and of people you would like to work with. So you say it: ‘I’m quitting, I won’t be back tomorrow!’

At this point, examine your boss’s pale face: through wrinkles betraying lost years his eyes scream, ‘It’s too late for me!’

At home you whisper in your beloved’s ear, ‘From now on we’re only going to do things we really enjoy.’ She sighs and you nibble her earlobe.

© Arnold Jansen op de Haar
© Translation Holland Park Press

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