The smartest guy I ever knew: ignoring the Joneses

Robert Jacobs was boy in my class at school. He was popular, funny, good at sport, though not outstanding, intelligent and able to get along with just about anybody. Let me explain; I went to an…urban school. The school was ninety to ninety-five percent black students, mostly of working class, labour parented backgrounds. It was the late seventies into the eighties. Before social media and blogs. Before the proliferation of ‘talent’ shows, before everyone owned a mobile phone, before having a new car was a common thing, before it was necessary to have a college degree to work in a retail outlet and before metrosexuality. I went to a boy’s school where being a man was not only an aspiration, it was expected.
Life then was about appearance. We were teenagers, some with older brothers, trying to be men. How tough you were – I wasn’t – what trainers you had – strike two – and how good you were at football – always a last pick – school was tough.
We aspired to the things most urban, cash strapped, youth do; to be respected, famous maybe, make money. This was the message we had got from our parents and elders; make money, live better, be respected.
For most of us, our family members and their friends were not exactly captains of industry. For a lot of boys, the ‘big’ dream was to become a mechanic, a footballer or an entertainer of some description.
Robert Jacobs was, as I mentioned, talented. In fact he was so talented, that he earned a scholarship to Italia Conti performing arts school, the best and most prestigious of its kind in the country. He was on the up. As I said, he was popular, so no one begrudged him the opportunity. Even so young, we understood that he was perhaps destined for better things than the rest of us. Good luck.
Fast forward a decade of so and I see his older brother, also a nice guy, but much more a background kind of person, chilled. We chat, pleasantries, and we get around to chatting about Robert. I ask what he is up to, expecting that he is on the road to some sort of media career. What I hear takes me aback. He’s moved to Jamaica, the country of his parents birth, grown locks and become a farmer! A farmer?! Why would he do that? It was simple. That’s what made him happy. He had the talent, charisma, intelligence to do whatever he wanted. He decided he wanted a simple life. He wanted to be a farmer.
I have recalled that moment a few times over the years; as I’ve negotiated the rush hour traffic, struggled with weight, tried to build a business, changed relationships and tried to keep up with the Joneses. Robert Jacobs was not only a talented guy, he was a smart one. He knew where his happiness lay; not through the eyes of his peers or expectations of the wider world. He followed his heart and found his bliss. How many people can say the same?

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