I wonder if careers advisors know how powerful they are. At my statutory careers interview, aged 16, I was given the choices: A-levels, BTEC or full-time job? My O-level results were good, so I was advised to stay at school to do A-levels, "And then I might be able to go to university and get a really good job." And if I don't want to stay at school? "Well, there's always further ed college.." And if I don't want to do A-levels? I recollect this answer clearly: "Your life chances are greatly reduced without them."
My life chances? What, I'm going to die if I don't take them? Of course she didn't mean that. She meant my life chances in terms of money, position and promotion. This was a girls' grammar school in the early 1980s, where cookery and childcare lessons were still on offer, but the more intelligent girls were expected to study science and maths instead and we were all made to write essays on single motherhood, with those who painted the most gruesome picture of it given the highest marks. I wrote about a young woman living eight floors up in a decrepit tower block, (lift broken of course,) complete with ubiquitous heavy shopping and screaming children. I was asked to read this out to the class. Twice, in case someone missed it the first time.
Yes, the real lessons we were being taught at school were:
- and I've proved all of the above wrong, in my life so far.
Of course, they didn't teach us...
Perhaps they didn't know.
My sons now, aged 16 and 18, have avoided the statutory careers interview. They won't be persuaded to talk to careers advisors - not because of anything I've said, because I haven't talked to them about that. They just seem to be instinctively averse to the idea.
Tom went to work for our local builder again yesterday: this happens from time to time when the builder is short of men and Tom is short of money. The builder offered Tom a full-time job again: well-paid, with accredited training, and Tom politely declined again, saying he liked his time to be his own. So the builder offered Tom regular part-time work, which he again declined for the same reason. So the builder offered to let Tom completely dictate his own terms of employment, and Tom said: "This is fine: just ask for me when you're short of men, and if I'm short of money I'll come." He prefers to spend his time working on his own game designing projects, and he doesn't need a lot of cash.
Ali is doing volunteer work at the Buddhist centre again today. He's learning to cook, clean, work in the garden and he's also been fixing their computers. There's no money involved of course, and it's a beautiful place, with a relaxing peaceful atmosphere. He relates some conversations to me sometimes, that he has with the people there. They certainly make him think. He arranged the volunteering entirely by himself, only mentioning it to me afterwards in passing. He was going to go and help out at the RSPCA too, but changed his mind when they said he'd have to have a tetanus vaccination. His decision, of course. Not one in which I had any input whatsoever.
So am I worried, that my boys aren't studying for their A-levels? Applying to colleges and universities? Working out how to earn or make lots of money? Absolutely not. I'm delighted and relieved that they're staying in charge of their lives and refusing to be seduced by offers of money, security and structure. They don't seem to make fear-based decisions, they don't mindlessly follow the crowd and they don't care what anyone else thinks. They will ask for advice on their terms, when they think they need it and then listen respectfully, but still make up their own minds.
I'm incredibly proud of them and the way they're turning out. They're going to continue to own their lives and follow their interests and passions, come what may, which is all I've ever wanted for them.