Photo: La Caixa Forum, here in Madrid
I hated ‘Careers evenings’ at school. They made me feel suffocated, locked in, stuck. None of the options at the booths set up in the school hall were appealing – law, architecture, medicine, the ‘Forces’ – all these mostly useful, necessary, middle class careers that we were being educated to slot into.
These were the choices, we were all but told, which one are you going to pick?
But I didn’t want to do any of them and they made me feel squashed.
The limits are so clearly (yet invisibly) drawn around our world when we are growing up. Being this type of person, from this type of background, at this type of school, this is where you are meant to go.
Instead of a smart lawyer in a three piece suit telling us how wonderful the world of the law courts was, what I needed at the careers evening was a booth with a great big question mark on the front, with a relaxed guy sitting in a chair shrugging his shoulders and saying, “How should I know what you want to be when you get out of here? The job you want to do may not have even been invented yet!”
And funnily enough, in my case, it hadn’t. I’ve ended up making my most successful living so far as a podcaster and blogger, words that didn’t even exist when I left university, let alone school.
But at our school careers evenings, far from the mystery booth with the big question mark on the front, there wasn’t even a booth for ‘artist’, or ‘writer’, or ‘explorer’. I had a friend called Joe, whose dad, he always told me, was an ‘entrepreneur’. That sounded like the most exciting job I’d ever heard of, but there wasn’t a booth for that either.
So we are given a set of limits, we become ‘the kind of people that do a certain kind of thing’, and either we accept that and it brings us happiness (which is fine!), or we connect with an underlying disquiet, an urge, a non-conformity, and, if we can give ourselves permission enough, we eventually manage to step outside the lines that have been drawn around us.
We un-define ourselves.
The band Radiohead went to our school, I imagine they didn’t find careers evenings much use either, and without a backward glance, they un-defined themselves within moments of leaving school, and did exactly what their hearts told them to.
It took me a lot longer. I had to move to Spain aged 26 to help me step outside the lines. And I’m still working on it. Still working on the permission side of it all. The voices that say, “yes, but you have to be responsible, don’t you?”
One thing I’m absolutely sure of though: if I don’t give all my attention to the nagging disquiet and urges that don’t need the lines that have been drawn around me, if I don’t follow the creative urges that tell me to follow my heart and see where it all ends up, then I end up far from a state of happiness, quite quickly.
Un-defining myself, stepping outside the lines in the direction I want to go, is freedom. Exploring that freedom is happiness. It’s creating the path, step by step, even if I don’t know where it’s going.
And in the face of all the scary uncertainty that all this freedom brings – Hang in there… trust… keep going… see where you end up!