I have had an up and down day today.
It started with an up. The first email I received this morning came from the UK Council Tax authorities. As a non-UK resident, I always struggle to grasp the concept of a “council tax”. I am convinced that not even the local people fully understand how it works and, more importantly, WHERE it goes. The amount is not unsubstantial. Mine is about 10 per cent of my rent – or, I should probably say, on top of my rent. And, man, is my rent high. I live in London, remember.
Anyway, back to the UK Council Tax. A couple of weeks ago, I finally did what I should have done in the first place – namely, referred my hapless tax query to Wikipedia. But I didn’t get much further than the third sentence. Because the third sentence read: “The basis for the tax is residential property, with discounts for single people”.
Single people get discounts on the Council Tax? The official sources soon confirmed my ground-breaking Wikipedia discovery. Yes, sole occupiers of a property in the UK are eligible for a 25 per cent discount on their Council Tax bill. About which I had absolutely no idea. Not in the four years I lived in London and especially not those two years I have spent in my current property. Alone. Now had I been massively generous towards my Council Tax authorities or what.
Convinced that my case was long overdue, I nevertheless applied for, one, a reduction in my Council Tax going forward and, two, a claw-back of the two past years worth of discount. And oh gracious Heavens above!
The first email I received this morning came from the UK Council Tax authorities. Who casually informed me that, one, my records had been updated going forward and, two, that the overpaid funds were being compensated into my account immediately! That’s 500 pounds in one go. Fallen from the skies! And I can forget all about the hole in my budget from the Rio flight. I can sigh in relief. Phew.
That was an excellent start to the day. A major UP.
Sadly, things did not progress quite as positively afterwards. A few moments later, I found myself looking forward to a lunch with a very interesting person. To say the least. I generally like finding out more about interesting people. And I love one-to-one conversations. The dynamic of the group works well if two people have little in common or struggle to find something to talk about. That same dynamic fails when two people potentially have a tonne to discuss but have to tone it all down for the benefit of the group.
To keep the philosophy short, the lunch turned out to be more of a group affair than planned. And our conversation reduced to something a lot less interesting than I was (secretly) hoping for. A clear DOWN. Down, down, down.
Thankfully, I did not stay down for too long. Next in line for this manic day was the yearly appraisal with my boss. A woman I regard very highly – yet a woman known for being sometimes unpredictable. I was not sure what to expect from our little chat. Just to be on the safe side, I prepared for the worst. I mean, you never know.
But the reality was more than uplifting. Santa must have received my letter; the appraisal went well! It seems that I can totally start looking forward to promotion – and with it, a new fancy title, more responsibility, more business travel – and, most important of all, more cash to travel privately! I felt like waltzing, not walking, on my way out of the boss’s office. I was happy. That was a big fat UP.
Back at my desk, there was a strange email sticking out of my Inbox. The CFA Institute? Was it already Tuesday, 25 January? The results from my CFA Level 1 exam must have arrived – on the dot of the 9:00 ET they were due.
My heart sank. An overwhelming sense of irreversibility shot right through my stomach, leaving a bitter aftertaste. I knew I had failed my CFA exam even before I took it. My “A sure way to fail your CFA exam” blog post has had its share of modest success; try typing “fail cfa exam” into Google and see whose story is consistently hitting top 15 search results.
Yes, I knew I had failed. But I was hoping for a miracle – that, having barely opened my study books, I would just show up at the exam, waltz right though and listen to loud fanfares a few weeks later. I used to be a top student at university. The idea of failing an exam was excitingly refreshing – but just a little too new and scary to embrace. Top students never quite grow out of their “I am the best, I cannot fail” kind of illusion. They never do.
But I should stop here. Stop here because, of course, miracles never happen. I have failed my CFA. I scored in the top decile of those who failed, but that was more regretful than a consolation. Since I was so close, I might as well have passed. Or should never have bothered taking that exam in the first place. Blame my employer, etc.
In short, a DOWN. Another down in barely an hour. Ouch, how much it hurt.
By that point, I was already afraid to open my emails. More out of habit than willingly though, I cast a short look at my Yahoo Inbox. Some strange Greek name was sitting there, among the dozen Flickr comments and automated Norwegian messages from Facebook (yes, my Facebook is set to Norwegian – Bokmål, obviously, not Nynorsk). I cautiously pulled at the corner of the email. One can never know what to expect from those Greeks, can they.
But – oh, relief! – that email had nothing to do with useless exams. Or even their results. Or other depressing aspects of life. Instead, I was being told that a bunch of my pictures were published in a book. In a real book with a real ISBN, available for sale on real Amazon in the real US of A!
The story is simple. About a year ago, I got an email from someone called Alexandros (as Greek as it gets, folks) asking to submit my pictures of Greece’s Zagorochoria villages for a potential publication. A publication promoting the nature and environment of the Epirus region – namely, the Pindos National Park in the North-west of Greece. I had a tonne of photos which I duly sent over. And they were published! With my name – the real one, not this anjči business – mentioned! And a free copy being shipped to my address in London. Dance, baby, dance.
Now were we back into the UP phase or what.
I have truly had an up and down day today. And the experience has taught me a few lessons. First, a “down” hurts infinitely more when you are remotely hoping for an “up”. The reverse also holds: an “up” is much more enjoyable when more of a “down” was expected in the first place. So stay alert.
Second, you never know what to expect, so it may actually be wise to expect the worst. In that lunch example, I should have perhaps assumed my counterpart was a boring old fart to start with. Even if “a boring old fart” were the absolutely last way I would ever tag him. EVER. Anything beating that benchmark would thus be, well, a bonus. And I would have avoided a major disappointment foregoing getting to know “that delta interesting guy” better in private – when it turned out half of his friends – and their grandmother – were tagging along. Lesson learnt.
Finally – and sorry for stating the obvious – LIFE is made of both ups and downs. Some you win, some you lose. Nothing stays exclusively positive or negative for too long. So a good strategy would be to make the most of the up moments for as long as they last – and surface the up memories as soon as the down moments come by. It is all about achieving balance, after all.
I have learnt my lessons. I am only hoping that, next time, my ups and my downs will arrive a little better prepared. And will manage their whole “who comes first and when” thing a little more effectively. And will arrange themselves a little less densely within a given week.
And perhaps not just a few short minutes apart, either.