Ruben, 24, Belgian, Bike Mechanic
By Tolu Oshodi
What is your biggest struggle as a millennial?
Just figuring out what my purpose is in life… I’ve always been told “get a degree” – I never did.
Or “Get a decent job”… My parents have always been very “do this, do that”. But we live in a world where everything is uncertain, and having a degree is almost the same as not having one. I feel as though I’m always having an existential crisis and I think a lot of other millennials have the same problem. But I think I’ve finally figured out what I want to do and feel like that’s also the reason why I’m in London.
What brought you to London?
I was like “what do I want to do with my life?”. I like working with my hands and I grew up with bicycles because my parents are Dutch, so I started doing an evening bicycle mechanic course and then a friend of my sister called me to ask if I wanted to help them with their new start-up bicycle shop, in London. So I was like, yeah!
They couldn’t really pay me but they taught me everything they could and I could stay with them for free so there were only positives and no negatives (apart from working for free). So I’m here to explore my interest in bicycles and to explore myself, get out of my comfort zone.
What has been your best life experience so far?
Probably going to Brazil a second time because I already knew a bit of Portuguese, I already had some friends there, we did some amazing stuff. It was just really great hanging out with nice, open minded people, kinda druggy people but it was nice! Going into favelas, the funk parties, being strip searched by a 15 year old, that’s probably something most people don’t experience, but I was really fortunate enough to do it all. Being one of the few cyclists in a city of 8 million people was quite amazing.
What is your biggest regret?
I guess not doing a foreign exchange programme. I would have loved to go to somewhere in Scandinavia, or somewhere in South America. I would have loved to get travelling sooner, and just study abroad. I also regret not finishing my university education.
Do you think a degree is worth much these days?
Well, it proves that you can follow through, it proves that you’re up to certain tasks, but it doesn’t prove you’re smart. It doesn’t prove much but it does prove your dedication to something. It’s kind of cliché but other than that, I think that experience, dedication and passion for something are much more valuable than a degree.
What would you say to yourself 5 years ago?
Explore the things you love, life is not that serious, you’ll figure it out, the race is long and you should take the opportunities you get. That’s what I would tell myself, to grasp the opportunities you get and abuse the shit out of them because you only get so many. If you squander them all you’ll end up in a boring call centre and end up committing suicide probably… Well, I would! So yeah, take the opportunities you get because they are limited.
5 years from now?
I don’t know, I have no idea where I will be in five years, I hope I will still be doing the things I love. I hope I’ll be successful at the things I love. I’d probably tell myself to take it easy, don’t stress out too much, work hard, play hard. All round, take the opportunities you get because if you don’t, somebody else will.
What do your parents say about your decisions?
I haven’t been the best child I guess, like I said, I have squandered a few of my opportunities and I think they feel quite mad/sad/disappointed about that. But I think they just hope that I will find my way in life and that’s why they both fully supported my decision to come here, because it’s an opportunity you don’t get that often. It involves something I like to do and yeah I don’t get paid but my father does support me financially a bit. We meet halfway and I’m really thankful for that, because otherwise we wouldn’t be drinking Red Stripes right now! My parents are great, they’ve always supported me. I think they wish I partied less and studied more in the past but I turned out fine I guess.
What keeps you awake at night?
Honestly, not smoking weed keeps me awake at night, working hard during the day keeps me asleep at night. Mosquitoes keep me awake at night. Hot air keeps me awake at night… The poor life decisions I’ve made do too. Personal things I’m struggling with keep me awake at night. All of the problems of the world…
I’m a pretty pessimistic person to be honest, and whenever I have a deep conversation just before I go to bed, that keeps me awake. It just makes me wonder how the world will be in 50 years and I’m like, it’s gonna be total chaos. I guess the word “Weltschmerz” keeps me awake at night. It’s basically the pain of all the world on your shoulders. I think many of us can relate to that if we have a half decent brain and actually give a fuck about what’s going on.
All the bullshit from the generations before us fucking up the world and now all the responsibility is on our shoulders and we “better do something about it”. Well, I feel like it’s kind of too late to do something about it but I want to and that’s why I stay awake at night thinking about what I can do to try and make this world a better place. The intention is there.
What’s the dream?
I have the plan to make a bike project which involves homeless people, ex prisoners and people who have been marginalised from society. I want to teach them how to repair and build a bicycle so they can have the transport and the freedom to go wherever they want. For example, if they have good baking skills they could deliver home cooked meals to people on a regular basis and earn a bit of money… that’s my dream; to enable people to do things with their lives with the use of bikes. And this keeps me awake at night too because I’m trying to figure out how to do this when I’m still working out my own life. I just hope I can do it one day soon.