My eldest God-daughter has just reached that epochal moment in her life when she needed to make that life-defining choice of choosing her options: what she wants to be; what she wants to study; what career she wants to lead.
Sixteen is such a difficult age for anyone; such a turbulent and emotional place to be: your thoughts are so transient, your rebellious nature straining against what others want you to do and how they believe you should feel. So at a time when Rhi, that’s as much of her name as I’ll publicly reveal, was looking for help from others – she managed to, yet again, be the one teaching me.
How many of you have been in that position; where you are advising a son, a daughter, nephew or niece of the life-path they may want to choose to follow? How many of us have offered advice on colleges, courses, career prospects and the art of making decisions – whilst struggling to ensure the advice is “all about you” and not “all about me?”
So I am sure you can all imagine the scene as Rhi flicks through her prospectus and ‘umms’ and ‘ahhs’ followed by the fully anticipated ‘but I don’t know what I want to do!’ I am also confident that you can already predict my responses of ‘what are your interests? What lessons did you like? In five-years time, what do you see?’
All of those questions we all shrugged at and fumed at – as we all know, sixteen is the age where you don’t even know who you are, let alone who you would dearly like to be.
So what do we do? We attempt to steer the young and impressionable mind down the path of least resistance or, more likely, down the path that we can foresee. We think about things such as status, job-satisfaction, fulfilment, opportunities for progression and ultimately how much of an opportunity for ‘success’ (money) there will be.
And it is here where children always teach us a lesson. It is here that they always make us hold up a mirror to face truths we might not like to see. They often misquote that famous saying “out of the mouths of babes…” but it always has a profound, unnerving and frightening ring of accuracy.
Because – as I thought of all of the ultimately superficial, materialistic and practical life choices (career options) I could see – Rhi looked up with absolute conviction and humility and said ‘I’d like to help people – I think I want to be a social-worker or counsellor – someone who helps others, yes – that’s what I want to be!’
As I challenged her decision-making, not to make her change her mind; more to ensure it was well thought out and considered – she came back time and time again with the answers that proved a Counsellor or Social-Worker is what she absolutely should be.
She spoke of her favourite subjects, the grades she had banked already, the lessons she would have to revisit, the colleges that provided her with the best options and she displayed a new-found sense of serenity.
As we spoke of the hazards, the potential for disappointment the burdens she could look forward to – she focused on the small, precious, little victories.
So at a time when the papers are full of criticism for the social services, when they ‘get it wrong’ when ‘the systems fails’, I would like to ask you all:-
Who would be a social worker? Who could devote their life, forgo earning a fortune, to tend to others needs?
I am not sure I would have that courage, that level of conviction. And for that reason – I am so proud of