Saturday, May 27, 2006

Expect the unexpected (a semi-rant and musings)

At eighteen, I thought I had things figured out. In reality, I was clueless.

My plan was to go to university, graduate with a degree in nursing, then spend the next few years working on the S.S. HOPE, a peacetime hospital ship that brought healthcare and education programs to countries around the world. Little did I know it would make its last voyage the year I graduated. It ends up it didn't really matter. I met my husband-to-be while in university and we married the year I graduated. Since then, my life has taken all sorts of twists and turns.

I’m a romantic idealist at heart, but I’m pragmatic when it comes to everyday life. I tend to carry on, no matter what happens. I figure, there’s not much choice – sit and mope - or live life. Yet, it would’ve been helpful to know at a younger age that there’s no such thing as life going according to “plan”. Life is messy.

I think it’s a disservice to young people (to me, young is anyone under 30) when we give them the illusion they can plan out their future at the age of eighteen; that a university degree insures success and the lack of a degree dooms them to failure. I hate - yes, hate - hearing adults tell teenagers they MUST get a university degree, choose a major and a career before they even know who they are. I’ve known far too many people get university degrees, follow a proscribed career path because it was expected of them, then end up miserable. If everyone needs a university degree to insure success, then what about all the workers and trades people who don’t have degrees. Are they all failures? Of course not.

It bothers me when I see people feeling trapped and pulled along a life path where they don’t think they have a choice except to continue what they’re doing no matter how dreary, unhappy or desperate they feel. They have a choice. It just might not be an easy one. I think it’s often fear of the unknown and leaving their comfort zone that traps people – not the actual circumstances in which they find themselves. (The people who really don’t have choices are those caught in situations beyond their control – in wars, or third-world poverty – but that’s another blog.)

A few personal observations I’ve learned along the way (or stuff I wish someone had told me earlier):

  • University graduates aren’t always the most intelligent people
  • The most intelligent people aren’t always university graduates
  • Sometimes a job is just a job. It puts money in your pocket, pays the bills and puts food on the table. It’s not necessary to love your job. It would be nice to, but not necessary. As long as it’s tolerable and doesn’t go against your own ethical standards (which, to me would be a biggie), what’s wrong with viewing it pragmatically - a means to an end. Which brings me to . . .
  • There’s more to life than job or career. Friends, family, hobbies, life passions (whether they be art, literature, social causes, . . .) make for a more satisfying life journey.
  • It’s not a race. Who says you MUST graduate with a degree by age xy? Who says you MUST own a home by xx? Everyone gets to where they’re going regardless of the timetable. Or as someone told me once, we all end up where we end up when we get there.
  • Happiness is not a goal. You’re either happy or unhappy because of what’s going on in your life. Anyone who says they’re happy all the time are either lying or blissed out on some kind of pharmaceutical.
  • Money ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. Money does not equal success. Success does not equal money. Money is necessary and it’s better to have it than not, but it shouldn’t be the end goal. Seems obvious, but hard to truly believe when we’re inundated with advertising that encourages a gluttony of consumerism that only money can satiate.
  • Everyone makes mistakes. It’s okay to make mistakes and admit it. It’s even okay to fail sometimes. But you can’t live the rest of your life beating up on yourself for past mistakes. Learn. Move on.
  • Don’t let people take away your ideals. I’ve been told I’m too idealistic. But without ideals, what’s the point?
  • Plans have a nasty habit of going awry. It’s better to be flexible than to have set-in-stone plans.
  • There’s always something more to learn. Just when you think you’ve got it figured out, life proves you wrong.

When I began today’s blog, I wasn’t sure exactly where I was going except that I wanted to address the pressure we put on our young people to make choices and be successful - as if it were some precise road or path that can be planned. Instead, I see that I’ve rambled on more about my life philosophy than anything else.

But maybe it’s all connected: Being flexible, not believing there’s only one path through life or to success, always learning and going with what life gives you rather than expecting life to unfold in a particular way. These are things I wish I’d known back in high school when guidance counsellors made everyone believe you could choose your life’s career by answering a few interest inventory questions.

From time to time, I like reading the following quote about success. It helps me keep things in perspective:

To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children, to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends, to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

This blog is dedicated to my sons, nieces and nephews.


Anonymous said...

I am so glad I have had time to catch up on your blog today. I really enjoyed reading your musings. I think a second read is in order!

Anonymous said...

I love this post! I've photocopied that quote and given it to students and told them what you wrote. I'm idealistic, too, and glad I have them. This was written so thoughtfully and articulately. Glad you're back!