When I was younger, I used to spend a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to be when I grew up. I loved school. I was a good student who loved to learn and couldn’t get enough. I always felt weird, and out of place, but this is, of course, part and parcel of growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness.
From my love of education there grew my desire to stay in school in some way. It was a safe place for me. My dad, despite doing a great job of convincing everyone we were the perfect spiritual family, was a violent bully. He wanted to teach us from home. My mum never stood up to him about anything, but she was surprisingly firm on this subject.
I was grateful for her insistence we stayed in school. It meant eight or nine hours a day my dad didn’t know what I was doing. I wasn’t badly behaved. I didn’t dare be. But I was free.
Teachers were the objects of inspiration and heroism. They were the subject of many a misplaced crush. I wanted to be them, and by the time I was fourteen, it was clear that teaching was my only goal.
But a Jehovah’s Witness child can’t dream about being a teacher. Even if they’re getting high marks, and good reports, and the staff in school are pushing them to aim for the stars. A good Jehovah’s Witness must stop their education as soon as possible.
A-Levels (two years of optional education after compulsory high school in the UK ends at 16) were all right. They weren’t considered higher education. After all, as my dad once put it, “you might only end up working at Woolworths, but why not be educated and work at Woolworths?”
So I got my A-levels, and had to explain to the head of university applications that even though I’d done enough to go to further, I had to stop. He was confused. But I wasn’t. This world was going to pass away, but he was ignorant of the truth. The poor guy. He didn’t know any better. But me, an eighteen year old with a B in A-Level Sociology, clearly knew better.
I pioneered straight from college. I worked in a supermarket. And when my parents became apostates overnight, I cut them off and moved out of the house. A good Jehovah’s Witness, right? I didn’t bother joining the work pension. I didn’t make any plans for the future unless they involved getting a bible study or making my time for the month.
Once I accepted the fact that as a gay woman I wanted more than a life settling down with a man and praying the gay away, I left the organization. I reconnected with my apostate family. I still lived in fear that I was going to die at Armageddon for kissing girls and clinking my glass against another’s at parties.
I finally went to university. I applied to study English literature, and I was so thrilled to walk into a lecture hall, even though I was four years older than the other kids there.
My time at university lasted a little over a year. I dropped out. I failed. A couple of years later, I applied for another course. I dropped out of that, too. I started a journalism course when I was twenty-seven. I gave up after a few weeks.
Two years ago, I married a Greek woman, and last year, we moved to Greece. I’d been in basic administration jobs for the past ten years, never even managing a team. I didn’t really care about getting ahead in my career, but I’d always enjoyed writing. Here in Greece, I’ve become a freelance author. I write romantic fiction as a ghostwriter and sell my stories.
Most of the time, I don’t want to write. I sit and home and play on my phone or watch TV and feel guilty about procrastinating so much. I write maybe fifty words and then I check social media. I can’t help but waste so much time and it drives me mad.
I carry debt, and the repayments mean I don’t have the cash to go out and do the things I’d like to do on the weekends. I could write more, and pay it all off quicker, but I don’t.
There’s a reason for this story, and there’s a reason for why I am the way I am. Believe me, some of it is sheer laziness, but there’s a deeper, more difficult issue that only made sense when a relative stranger pointed it out to me.
As Jehovah’s Witnesses, we’re told that this life doesn’t matter. Education doesn’t matter because Armageddon’s coming soon and we won’t need schools. We won’t need doctors, or solicitors, or even teachers. We won’t need to read books because they’ll be destroyed at Armageddon, and we’ll spend forever reading only the society’s literature.
Work doesn’t matter. A career as a pioneer is the only one that Jehovah cares about. Don’t get training. Don’t aim to be anything other than someone on the bottom of the ladder. You’ll be the one laughing when Armageddon comes and your CEO goes up in a ball of flames.
Studying to be anything other than a drone doesn’t matter. Your opinion doesn’t matter. Your very identity is wrapped up in being “one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
Even when I left, I still wore that coat. That skin of “this world doesn’t matter.” It’s the reason I started courses and didn’t finish them. It’s why I’ve never thought about saving money. Because we’re told that pensions won’t matter because we won’t live long enough to need them.
It’s not true. We’re going to get old, and die, and whatever happens after that is up for debate. Before then, we only have eighty years if we’re lucky, and we shouldn’t waste another minute.
Take the course, but finish it. Put away a little bit of cash whenever you can because one day, you will need it. Try and de-program yourself from the lies you’ve been fed in the organization. Read. Talk. Meet others. Learn. Just learn.
Somebody mentioned practicing mindfulness. I should start it one of these days, like everything else. But some habits are harder to break than others.
This life matters. I’ve only just realized it, so it’s going to take some time to build better habits. Don’t waste any more time. Today is important.
I’ve been meaning to write this blog post for a while. I got round to it eventually. And it feels good.