I’ll keep this super quick because this morning I have to finish watching/listening to the opera Rigoletto on Youtube (I’m at minute 36 out of two hours and eight minutes, so a way to go yet)!
After that I need to prepare the shop product for Monday’s new easy reader, by no coincidence, also Rigoletto (see the others in our Opera series here.)
And then, and then, and then.
Despite this being Friday, my To Do list is bulging at the seams, so to speak. It’s as long as my arm!
In part that’s because I copied over all the things that I didn’t manage to do yesterday. And yesterday’s list only got part completed (like about a fifth of everything on it) because it was bulked out with all the things I hadn’t got to on Wednesday. And so on.
Occasionally I’ll remember the days when I worked for the British Council, here in Bologna. Amble in at around nine, an unhurried trip to the bar with colleagues at eleven, then lunch to look foward to, read the newspaper online, and a few bits and pieces to while away the time until it was time to go home, around four-ish.
I don’t suppose I was nearly as idle as I remember now, but it was a shock when I started my own language school (in 2005) and ended up working every single day of the year, including weekends, usually late into the night, and for little or no return.
That said, one thing I really, really HATED about being ’employed’, gainfully or otherwise, was hearing that this or that interesting task was ‘not your job’, and I should please stick to what I was being paid to do. Other, wiser people made the decisions and my opinion was not deemed necessary (actually not so ‘wiser’ as the British Council closed its Bologna branch in 2005 and we all lost our jobs…)
I found being a cog in a machine stiffling to the point at which the thought of starting on my own in a declining industry (language teaching), in the stagnant, bureaucracy-strangled economy of a country that was not my own and where I couldn’t even speak the language, seemed like a breath of fresh air.
I would get to do whatever I wanted. The joy!
In fact, of course, I ended up doing very little of what I chose, and lots of what I would have preferred not to do, so the tasks that we couldn’t afford to pay professionals to take on (marketing, for instance, like this email) and which my partners and colleagues refused to even try: “I’m a teacher”, they’d say, “I don’t do spreadsheets!”
Così. At least it was varied. There were always a million things to do, which was both stimulating and a drag. But learning to do them was, invariably, satisfying.
Which brings me back to Rigoletto. Given that the weekend starts shortly, I’ll be busy shopping for food, cooking and serving it, and – in between – taking our energetic little animal for long walks, so as to give Stefi some peace.
Rigoletto has to get done THIS MORNING! And watching and listening to opera in the original is hard at first, and time-consuming always.
That’s the stressor, one of the cons of being the boss, having things that you really can’t (or at least, shouldn’t) avoid, even if you want to.
Owning the business means no sick leave, no holiday, no going home time. Things that have to be done, have to be done. Some club members will recall me typing articles from Bologna’s Stroke Unit in 2021. Those with very long memories might remember the heart attack article (now lost in the mists of time) from 2010.
But anyway, and on the other hand, it was me that decided to do the opera project. I was the one that commissioned the texts from Francesca, our writer, and paid her for them, then managed all the other freelancers who had a hand in things. I have only myself to blame.
I must have known, I suppose, that sooner or later I’d end up trying to flog the ebooks, which would mean actually watching the operas, writing the blurbs for the ebook shop product descriptions, and so on.
In the corner of my mind, the thought of being forced to watch eight or nine operas, a cultural form I’d been avoiding all my life, was of some vague interest, especially after reading six classics of Italian literature during the pandemic, an experience I’d enjoyed more than I’d expected.
Insomma, my To Do list is a constant burden (the con) which only I am responsible for imposing on myself. But I got to choose this (the pro), and expect to grow as a consequence of doing it (another pro).
The trick, I suspect, is to be more circumspect about the number of projects/tasks I take on, though that’s more easily said than done when you command an army of, um, zero (we employ lots of teachers, but what use are teachers?)
And the language-learning parallel?
I came across an article in the British online newspaper, The Guardian, the other day, about Duolingo, which must have the sort of PR/Marketing department that I could only dream of, given that The Guardian has never written about our club.
Many, perhaps most, club members will be familiar with DL. I’ve used it myself, for Swedish, Turkish, French and Spanish, not that I learnt much, but it’s free, and good for getting started with, if you don’t have better ideas. E’ un passatempo, diciamo.
The article itself was the usual puff, written by someone who has to earn a living churning out such stuff (at least she’s getting paid for bashing away at the keyboard), but what interested me more was the comments section, particularly the number of people moaning about the recent changes DL have made to their courses.
(To see the comments, view this link in a browser, scroll right down to the bottom, after the ads, and press the red ‘View more comments’ button. There are thousands of them, so just take a peek, then come back here, OK?)
Ready? Shall I go on?
Bene. DL, for language learners, is the multinational. When the cigar-puffing CEO decides to change something, then it’ll get changed, for better or worse.
Customers/employees of multinationals don’t get to choose, or at least, only within defined limits. You know the old saying, ‘If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product!‘
DL is so successful, in part because it’s free, in part because of the ‘gamification’, but mostly – in my humble opinion – because learners or would-be learners, don’t have to think much.
To use their website or app, you don’t need existing skills and experience. You just turn up, put in the metaphorical hours, and voilà, here’s your salary at the end of the month, in this case a badge, a streak, some sort of token recognition of your constancy. Bravo/a to you!
But if you then quit, or get fired, and so have to leave the multinational behind, what do you have to pack into your cardboard box to take home with you, in terms of learning skills and experience?
Probably not that much, and little of what you earned has any application outside of the DL ecosystem. Your 1000 day streak? Who cares?
WHEREAS if you take the leap to become your own boss, language-learning wise, then every decision, every success and every failure, every single experience you ever profit from or endure, will stay with you.
You can fail. You can sack yourself.
No matter. You’ll still be your own boss, and as any self-employed person can tell you, if you then decide to leap back in and try again, it’ll be much easier the second time.
My first business was painful and profitless for a decade or more, but the second, third and fourth were much easier, as I had a better idea of what I was doing, and so what to avoid.
Ditto with my language learning.
Schoolboy French, I hated. More recent experiences as an adult learner have been fun, and satisfying.
It took me twenty-five years to learn imperfect Italian, so I never thought I’d be the sort of person who could listen to the news in Swedish, read a newspaper in French or Spanish, chat to customers in Turkish, and so on.
But there you go – steering your own ship might mean getting up frequently during the night to check the course and the weather – but you’ll be the captain!
Did you read/listen to Thursday’s FREE bulletin of ‘easy’ Italian news?
There’ll be another FREE bulletin tomorrow (Saturday).
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