Mind The Gap

13 01 2010

Think of all of the people that you know, or know of.

Visualise a scale from 1 to 10 and give the person you admire the most a 10.

Now score yourself. Less than 10? Am I right?

Pretty much everyone has this gap between how they see themselves and how they would like to be and most of us work to close that gap. But no matter how hard we try to close it the gap persists as our ambitions alter,  our aspirations shift  and our circumstances change.

So, how realistic is it to think that the gap can ever be closed completely?

Completely unrealistic in my opinion, so does this mean that we shouldn’t try to close the gap?

Absolutely not, as the gap between where/who we are and where/who we would like to be is what keeps us motivated to try new things….it keeps us moving forward with our lives.

And here’s the thing.  While the goal is important it is not as important as the journey.  Ursula K LeGuin put it beautifully when she said “it is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters in the end”.

This is a way of thinking that I find particularly helpful in my yoga practice and a lesson that I take into my life.  Here’s an example I used to give my yoga students to help them understand the difference between the destination and the journey.  If you decide that you are going to walk to the park you set out, head down, brisk strides and sometime later you get to the park. That’s fine. If you decide to go out for a walk then you enjoy the walk, you experience the walk, feeling the sun, the breeze, smelling the air, hearing the sounds of the birds or the traffic. Some time later you may find yourself in the park. The end point is the same but experience will have been completely different.

Whatever your goals, whatever your destination, however big the gap is between where you are and where you want to be, make sure that you experience the journey.

Be careful what you wish for

11 01 2010

My grandfather was a railwayman on the Liverpool Docks.  He worked from being 14 to a very short retirement as death came quickly brought about by years of hard labour and inhalation of all manner of industrial pollutants.

He could see that those better educated than him had an easier time, working in offices out of the cold and rain and away from the banks of the Mersey. So he made sure that his children studied hard so that they would not have to do the “ignorant” work required of him.

My father left school and went to work, as my grandfather hoped, in a white-collar job as an industrial chemist. He was very good at his job and a very able manager. He worked his way up through supervisory and junior management posts and was in charge of the whole factory by his mid-twenties. He became a hugely successful businessman, with several directorships and was able to take a planned, very comfortable, early retirement aged just 53.  Twenty years later he and my mum are still enjoying that comfortable retirement.

However, throughout his career he could see that people with degrees were able to miss out the first few steps of the ladder, coming straight into business at management level. While he valued the experience he had gained by working up from the bottom he, like his father before him,  wanted his children to have things easier than he’d had.

So I studied, got great exam results, a fantastic degree and started work a couple of steps up the ladder. While I worked I took an MBA and further qualifications along the way but I soon realised that now everyone had degrees.  I was on the board of an international pharmaceutical company by the time I was 29 but decided that the way to make real progress was to work for myself. And this is what I have done, from running an advertising agency to writing a novel, from selling paintings and sculptures to running an internet retail company. My success has come from being prepared to try something new and not from my long list of qualifications.

So why am I telling you this?

I think it is only natural, as I have shown in my own potted family history, to want better for your children. So naturally, this is what I wanted for my son; that he would have the self-confidence to make his own decisions and to chose his own path. He is intelligent, personable, artistic, articulate and charming. As he has been growing up he has done his homework but I haven’t pushed him to study.  After all, I don’t think his future success or otherwise will be built upon exam results, do I?

So now most of my friends are preparing to send their children off to University. Their kids have hundreds of standard grades and highers and higher stills. I don’t think it will make any difference to the future careers of all but the lawyers and doctors amongst them but, and it’s a big but, their kids will be settled in a college and no reason for their parents to worry about their futures for at least 4 years!

The downside of having an adventurous child, who isn’t likely to take the road well travelled, is that while he is comfortable with the uncertainty I,  suddenly, am not. How much easier it must be for parents who have a child who knows that they want to be a teacher in their home town school!

So, while it is impossible not to let your own experiences and beliefs influence the way you bring up your children, and while I wouldn’t change a single moment …be careful what you wish for as it might just come true …..and it will bring it’s own, unexpected, consequences.