Only EUR 100 in his pockets and the certainty that once you stop, life is over, was all that Oliver Perkins, founder of Brainovate, had when he arrived in the 'Wild West' around 1997. “Or was it 1996?” He can’t recall the year precisely but it was definitely summer and doubtlessly hot. In a funny twist of history, back in the ‘90s, Wild West meant for some people South-Eastern Europe. For Oliver, it was Bucharest.
“It was the land of opportunities. Everything was possible and impossible at the same time.” He came here to visit, but he soon discovered a valuable thing: he was among the big fish in a small pond. So he stayed, attracted by the possibilities. Romania was different to Oliver, but Oliver was already used to different.
“Growing up in Belfast in the 1970s was the same as for any teenager anywhere in the Western world; dealing with puberty, flirting, listening to music and trying to get an education. Ok, granted we had a few bombs and bullets to contend with but that ironically became our normality. I had nothing else to compare it to, so in retrospect “the troubles” weren’t difficult or strange, you just had to learn to get on with it, to become a survivor if you like.”
Amidst the bigger tensions, a question quietly, unexpectedly sneaked in. “What do you want to be? teachers were asking us.” It was the everyday life demanding its rights and sending a question which sounded odd to Oliver. “It was like Japanese to me. I wanted lots of things.”
Now in his forties, always looking in the eyes of people and curious about their stories, Oliver has never really answered this question. He wanted to define life himself, not follow ready-made definitions. He wanted to have his own thing when he was 18, so he opened his first business in the disco and clubbing industry. He traveled all over Ireland DJ-ing in some of its best and worst clubs. He went to the Durham University in the early 90s, as a mature student. He then ran and taught at his own language school in London.
“You can sit in the living room all your life. Or you can go explore the other rooms or the neighborhood. I love seeing what’s around the corner.”
Romania at the end of the 90s allowed him to customize life. It was raw, rules were flexible and the individual was stronger than the community. “Romanians seem to share Margaret Thatcher’s view that there is no such thing as a society, there are only individuals. I always thought that she should have retired to Romania.”
About seven years ago, Oliver Perkins opened his company called Brainovate, which offers a sort of therapy for companies: consultancy and problem solving services, coaching and feedback. “When something goes wrong in a company, I think they know what’s wrong with them. I come in saying in have the questions. I’m helping them be honest to themselves. We’re all dishonest, or simply lazy, at certain moments in our lives.”
Oliver says that such counseling is helpful because you start painting a picture with your words. Once it comes visual, you are better off at understanding it. “Anyway, I’m not a magician. In order to be helped, people need to be in the place where they want to be helped.”
“I have spent most of my professional life coaching and helping others, in one way or another to find their elusive goal. Basically after years of talking to people and self reflection I have discovered that happiness is not “out there”, but it’s within us and we all have the capacity to be happy if we really choose to do so.”
Even more difficult than helping others find their goals and direction is understanding your own search. When asked what his goal is, Oliver thinks for a few second and then answers: “I want to live ‘til I die, like Eddie Izzard, the British stand-up comedian, says.”
By Diana Mesesan, features writer
(photo courtesy of Oliver Perkins)