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.

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My son will probably never have a JOB

17 11 2009

My son is 17, wears trousers that hang low enough to expose virtually all of his boxer shorts, plays xbox and studies far less than I would like.   I try not to worry about him;  he is an articulate,  charming and intelligent boy-but I do worry for him. He doesn’t know what is coming.  With the pace of change in the world, none of us do.

This afternoon I had to wait at Glasgow Central Station. There was a boy standing, apparently waiting for a train to arrive. He wasn’t causing any problem. There was no hoodie. There wasn’t a gang. He made me think.  He looked to be about the same age as my son. He was clean, pale-faced and thin. He didn’t look ill or ill-treated but his clothes were torn and dirty. I started to wonder what he was doing here. What he did. Why he was standing in the station in the early part of the afternoon. I looked down to pick up my bag and when I turned round he was gone.

Then I looked across to the newspaper seller – a wasted man, thin, dirty and with the look of an addict. With him was a boy of about 17 years old.  He was laughing and cursing and hopping around from foot to foot.

And then there were the teenagers serving in Burger King….and I realised that I have no idea about JOBS.

I am middle-class. I could make a very good case for being working class based on the struggles of my grandparents in the early trade union movements of the industrial northwest of England in the early 20th century. The truth is that  their struggle and their efforts allowed their children, my parents, to become middle class…..and, therefore, so am I.

So, I read The Guardian and worry about my son but I have NO IDEA. I think in terms of careers and so, very probably, do you. I don’t think in terms of him getting A JOB, any job, 9-5 in order to pay the rent. They are working class choices.

While we are busy being inspired entrepreneurs or dynamic coaches or miracle mentors let’s not forget that there are still JOBS to be done and think how we can inspire some of these kids, to allow them to have progression and a career path and life choices beyond taking any job just to pay the rent.