My 7-year-old says to me often ‘Mum, when I grow up I don’t want to do anything. I just want to be me. Like I am now’. And I tell her that sounds like the perfect person to be.
What she means is, her answer to the common question of ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ that many people ask little children, is that she just wants to be herself. Picking one thing is too limiting. She has many interests. She tells me ‘Mum, I’m a dancer, and an artist, and an explorer, and a story writer, and a helper, and a big sister, and a scientist!’ And she is. She is already someone, and she knows very well who that someone is.
And that fills me with joy.
Everyone should know who they really are. What inspires them, what they enjoy, what they believe and why, what lights them up.
By the time you become an adult hopefully you’ve spent your childhood finding these things out, and you’re then ready to make decisions about what you would like to do next. Too often this is not the case. We get to age 17 and we’re expected to decide on a career path or a University degree and we have no idea what we want to do. Some people take a gap year to ‘find themselves’. And I wonder, when did they lose themselves?
I think I know the answer.
If you spend 5 days a week for 13 years of your childhood doing what other people tell you to do, learning what other people tell you to learn, thinking what other people tell you to think, then is it any wonder you might lose sight of who you truly are?
If you are always told which subjects you must invest in and for how long, is there any time left over to explore your true passions?
If you are kept motivated by extrinsic rewards and punishments, is it surprising that when those are removed you find it hard to get motivated? Even more cruelly, teenagers who experience this are then criticised for being ‘lazy’ and lacking direction when we have likely made them this way.
The chance to spend childhood as it should be spent, getting to know yourself, gaining skills for your unique life, and growing up to be who you are meant to be, is something I wish for all children. Surely they have the same rights as adults to be in control of their own mind, what interests them, what they learn, and what they devote their time to? Maybe if more children were allowed that then we would have less young adults needing to ‘find themselves’ at the ripe old age of 17.
What good is it if you’ve ticked off all the boxes on a curriculum but you have no passion for life? What a massive injustice we do by taking so much of childhood and exchanging it for a far less satisfying, adult imposed, ‘education’. Turning out adults who then move into jobs that they find equally unfulfilling because they know no different.
Maybe if we gave back childhood, and let children learn how they are supposed to learn, there would be more passionate, fulfilled, happy adults in the world. Maybe children wouldn’t have to sacrifice their sense of self for the sake of an ‘education‘.
I don’t know what my children will do when they grow up. But, as they don’t go to school, chances are good they will not lose themselves in the process. That is too high of a price to pay for an education.