I have been wanting to blog about this for quite some time. But I have to confess I’ve been a little nervous and anxious about writing it because I’m not quite sure of the best way to say what I want to say.
Perhaps I’ll start with a little story of when my brothers and I were younger and living at home.
When I was 12 all I wanted to be was a marine biologist.
I wanted to swim with dolphins and whales and be like the kid from Free Willy. (I was a 90s kid!). My parents showed me the things I would need to learn. I would need biology and chemistry. I would probably study something like zoology and then I would probably have to research and label samples of plankton for a long time before I got to just spend all day mermaiding around with dolphins. I think that was when I changed my mind about that!
When I was an older teenager I got really into learning foreign languages. I loved Spanish and I decided to study languages at university and spend a year in Peru before going to take the opportunity to do two things I really wanted to do: learn Spanish as fluently as possible and work with really disadvantaged people. My parents went with me to open days and information evenings and talked with me as I excitedly explained how I was going to go and live in South America as a translator and work with people who lived on the edge of nothing.
When my brother was about 15 he wanted to go to clown college. He is a really talented juggler and all he wanted to do was learn more. He used to spend hours on the driveway hanging onto the kitchen windowsill while he practised going backwards and forwards on his unicycle before he could ride around the street juggling clubs at the same time. I remember going with him down to London to the open day at a circus skills college. My parents paid for the tickets and wished us all the best as we went and wanted to hear everything about it when we got back. As it happened my brother’s path changed as he got older and he chose not to go to university but to work within wiring and electronics. My parents could see straight away that he’d found his niche as he’s very good at his job. In fact when he was really young all he wanted to do was work at Lego Land building the models. I think there are definitely some similar skills going on there!
I have another brother who chose at about the age of 2 and half that he wanted to be a drummer. My parents bought him a drum kit and eventually a sound proof room to go with it, much to the relief of the rest of the street! They proceeded to help him carry his drum kits around for the next 19 years or so as they drove him to concert after concert and gig after gig. He’s now graduated with his degree in jazz drumming and is doing the only thing he’s ever wanted to do.
I hope I haven’t bored you with our childhood history. And I wonder if you might have picked up on the main thing that I’m trying to say. No matter what we wanted to do when we were children, our parents said ‘fantastic, that sounds great.’ Clown college, translating in South America, bashing the living daylights out of drums… All our parents ever said to us was ‘do what makes you happy and work hard at it.’
I know other people, both my age and younger, whose parents don’t say this. They say ‘you must work really hard and get into a good university. That’s how you will be successful.’ When my friends used to tell me these stories I felt sorry for them. I have had conversations with people older than me, my age and in their teens who tell me that the main message they get from their parents is ‘get into a good university and get a good job’. I want to cry.
Success is not measured by what university you go to, or if you go at all. Success is not about getting a highly paid job. Success is not about fitting into a mould that someone else has made for you. Success is about finding what makes you happy, what makes you tick, what makes you passionate and working hard to get there.
No child, teenager or adult should ever be made to feel that they have to make choices in life that they don’t want to but feel that they have to because that will please their parents.
The message we all should be getting in our lives is work hard and be happy. This is not a rehearsal. This is the only life we get and it makes me so angry that there are scores of teenagers in schools making decisions on GCSEs, A-levels or university degrees that they think they have to because their parents want them to. I’m afraid I just can’t understand why a child’s happiness and fulfilment in life isn’t more important that what university or what job.
I know that to my parents it didn’t matter one inch whether we were jugglers, biologists, drummers or anything else. What matters to them, and what should matter to everyone’s parents is that their children are happy, fulfilled and do their best and what they’ve chosen to do.