You are allowed to live your life on your own terms

From lager, benefits and tabloids in the Danish “Trump lands” to Fairtrade coffee, sour dough and academic debate at Aarhus University. Author and psychologist Glenn Bech broke his cycle of disadvantage when he studied at university following a working-class upbringing in Horsens. For most of his studies, he felt torn between his background and the academic environment around him, but the acclaimed alumnus now wishes he’d spent less time trying to fit in.

[Translate to English:] Forfatter og psykolog Glenn Bech
“It was difficult to be gay in Horsens. It was easier once I moved to Aarhus to study. Aarhus has always meant a lot to me. It was my stepping stone – it saved me. When I visit Aarhus today, I still know everything, and many of the places are nostalgic for me. But the city has also lost it’s magic. It doesn’t feel like such a big city anymore”, says Glenn Bech. Photo: Sara Galbiati

I never doubted my mother’s love. But after my father committed suicide, she couldn’t protect my brother and me, and I got involved in things children shouldn’t be involved in. I was the oldest and I got a lot of responsibility. This meant that I became extremely hard working, neglected myself and never learned to take time off. Perhaps these things played a role in my being the first person in my family to get an upper secondary school education from the business college in Horsens and later to graduate with an MSc in psychology from Aarhus University.

Glenn Bech

  • Born in 1991 in Horsens
  • Awarded an MSc in psychology from Aarhus University in 2017
  • Graduated from the Danish Academy of Creative Writing in 2019
  • Published debut novel “Farskibet” [The Father Ship] in 2021 – a semi-autobiographical novel about class, gender, violence and betrayal
  • Released second book, the manifesto “Jeg anerkender ikke længere jeres autoritet” [I no longer recognise your authority], in 2022
  • Has received both the Blixen Prize and the Munch-Christensen Culture Grant
  • Participates actively in debates on platforms such as Altinget on topics such as the class society and homophobia
  • Lives in Copenhagen with his partner
  •

I started on the political science programme in 2011 and dropped out six months later. I wasn’t interested in the topic, and it felt like the wrong degree for me. When we played ‘Bezzerwizzer’ [Know-it-all] on the introductory trip, I discovered that I had no idea about the world. Many of the other students lived in houses bought by their parents and had time to take on voluntary board work in order to improve their CV. Whereas I had months of anxiety just trying to find a place to live in Aarhus, and I had to work and work in order to have enough money. I became quiet and withdrawn and was torn between my background and the academic environment I found myself in. I distanced myself from my family during those years, but I was also frustrated that my fellow students couldn’t see how much they had been given from home.

I still felt torn when I started my psychology degree in 2012. But I was more interested in the subject and I made good friends. In my first semester, I took part in a weekend seminar on developmental and personality psychology with Professor Jan Tønnesvang. It was fantastic. It was philosophical, inspiring, aspirational and idealistic, and it allowed room for different interpretations. We read a really interesting text about narcissism by the sociologist Erving Goffman. I loved reading that text, sentence by sentence.

There were also topics on the psychology programme I wasn’t interested in. The methodological part of it didn’t suit me too well – just giving accounts of other people’s thoughts – but I did it anyway. I worked hard into the night and was eventually employed as a research assistant. My motivation was mainly to have something to put on my CV. In my group, the general consensus was that the best job to get was a research job. Being a therapist or working for PPR, for example, was not considered particularly appealing. There were towering expectations of what people should do with their degree, and that affected me.

I started going to a writing school at Godsbanen whilst I worked on my Master’s thesis. It was like being in a magical universe. Imagine sitting for three hours and discussing a poem! I loved it, and I met other people who loved it too. I showed up to class half an hour early and was the last person to leave, and this meant that I started to neglect my Master’s thesis. I had a good supervisor, but I forgot to reply to her and didn’t meet my deadlines because I was so motivated by the writing school.

I ended up having a huge cry and handing it in blank. I couldn’t recognise myself in my Master’s thesis, which was about the effect of therapy on the relatives of cancer patients. I decided to extend my degree programme by four months and to formulate a completely different research question, which was about gender identity in the computer game World of Warcraft. It wasn’t something I could promote on LinkedIn, but, if I was going to complete a Master’s thesis, I needed to find a topic that interested me. As soon as I received my psychology degree, I was accepted at the Danish Academy of Creative Writing, and this is where I found my true niche.

Psychology is part of me and influences the way I see the world. I am pleased I studied psychology. I have my own practice, where I see patients two days a week. This requires a huge amount and presence and empathy, so I am completely exhausted afterwards. But it’s very life-affirming to be something for someone, and it gives me an insight into all different kinds of worlds. And, of course: Regardless of what happens with my writing career, I always have my psychology degree to fall back on.

Universities can be better at improving social mobility. Firstly, we have to acknowledge that there is inequality in society – and learn more about how this inequality affects people. We need to have objectives for issues regarding diversity and social class. We need to make sure that students have role models who come from low-income groups. If you meet someone who doesn’t understand the room, who has toe-curling opinions, who smokes and who has another taste in music, see passed this and get to know the person behind it.

If I could give myself some advice as a student, I would say: Don’t work as hard. Trust in the fact that your grades will not completely determine your future. Spend more time finding out who you are. Be part of the group.  You don’t need to run ten times faster than all the others just to keep up. You are allowed to live your life on your own terms.

My life is very strange at the moment. I have had a lot of success very quickly as an author, and now I’m in the situation where people are throwing job offers at me. It’s a complete change. Everything you learn at university and the job centre about doing things that are relevant for your CV and applying for a wide range of jobs – I am in a completely different reality now and have gone from one extreme to the other. At the moment, I am practising saying no and setting limits. For example, I don’t want to be part of a political party. I enjoy writing and am currently writing two books. And I would like to find a bank that would lend me some money so that I can get on the housing ladder.