How can you know what you want to be if you don’t know who you are?
My eldest is a quick learner. Just a few brief visits to my place of work were enough to convince her that she never wants to work in an office.
I work in a marketing agency with people half my age and a “vibe”, so I’m sure there are worse office environments. Nonetheless she saw right through the loft-living veneer and correctly identified the potential for tedium and poor posture that comes with hunching over a laptop between any four walls, no matter how cool.
I know my daughter well enough to know that she means it. An office job is not for her. She has effectively ruled out a lot of career options with one grand, sweeping statement of non intent.
She is thinking outside the box marked “what I want to do with my life”.
By a process of elimination, the size and shape of the box is being defined by what lies beyond its walls, by what she doesn’t want to do.
But the box itself remains empty. There are no serious candidates for what she does want to do. Nothing has been ruled in.
I am relaxed, happy even, about this. It is as it should be. There is no such thing as certain knowledge at her age.
She is sixteen and three quarter years old.
I just wish that the system would allow her to be as relaxed as me.
At the end of August she will begin her final year at school.
Next stop university for most of her peers.
If my daughter chooses that path she has to make her university applications in the Autumn. And her final year school courses need to be chosen with these university applications in mind.
But those final year choices (and by implication her university preferences) need to be confirmed within days of returning to school.
She will have had less than three months between the end of her year 5 exams and some high-pressure decision making about her future.
This is from the school guide issued to parents and pupils:
Pupils are expected to return at the beginning of S6 with clear ideas as to their future…
Maybe some kids do have clear ideas as to their future at this age. Well in my humble opinion they shouldn’t. And I’m glad that my daughter doesn’t.
But she’s feeling the pressure.
The pressure to know stuff that she doesn’t actually need to know, and can’t actually hope to know at her age.
How can she know what she wants to be or do, if she doesn’t know who she is?
And what should I be doing as her (only) parent to expedite matters?
Less than I thought as it turns out.
Molly is on a mission to discover herself for herself.
So I can lend her the excellent book Gig (Americans Talk About Their Jobs) to open her mind to the sheer,mind-blowing variety that exists under the prosaic heading of “work”.
But most other things that I’d advise Molly to do, she’s doing for herself.
She’s on a mission to collect experiences and insights and hence grow her self awareness.
She is doing as much as she can as quickly as she can to give form, and hopefully content, to that there box.
She is not long back from a life-changing trip to Kenya, where she lived and worked on a game reserve, and also did community work in a local school. Tellingly she preferred the school to the safari.
She has decided to take a Gap Year between school and university and has got herself onto a great-looking selection course with Project Trust on an island off the west coast of Scotland in October. This time next year she could be in South America, Asia or Africa doing social care work, teaching or working on worthwhile community projects.
And, in a nod to her passion for photography, she has secured work experience in a film production company for a few weeks this summer.
She is a smart, sensible cookie.
(I have no idea where her mother and I went right.)
I do know that the concept of a career as it applies to Molly’s generation will be radically different to that experienced by mine.
Goodbye jobs for life. Goodbye logical, linear progression. Goodbye security.
Hello handbrake turns and hiatuses.
Hello work-as-adventure if you have the right attitude and the right level of self awareness.
Molly definitely has the former, and she is working on the latter.