Success vs. Happiness

I have been an educator for over 16 years, and even though I made the decision to not have children, I was a very involved step parent for 13 years, before the divorce. I have always maintained a close relationship with many of my former students and even some of their parents. I love being an involved teacher, going way off and beyond the curriculum to get to know my students…who they are, what their families are like, their interests and goals, how their parents think.

What I have learnt over the past decades is that almost all parents that I have encountered, truly want the very best education and opportunities for their children; they want them to be successful in life and in their careers; they want better for them than they had. I have to assume that if I was a parent, I’d feel the same way. But I am not a parent. So, I have the advantage of seeing it all from the outside. And sometimes what I see isn’t always pretty.

Our education system forces students to choose school subjects at the age of 14. These subjects determine what subjects they can then do at a higher level of secondary education. These choices, of course, affect what they would have the pre-requisites for at university level. Therefore, the choices they make at 14 years old, in essence, dictate their future careers. This entire process is disturbing to me on so many different levels, but seems so normal and to so many other educators and parents. The fact that they find nothing senseless about a teenager making major life choices at that age and stage of development seems almost cruel to me.

To compound this already dire situation, I meet parents and teachers all the time who decide for their children and charges, what career they will pursue. It’s almost always the same answers I get – she wants to do medicine, law, architecture, engineering, actuarial science, leaving me amazed that they all believe that a 14 year old actually knows what these fields entail and actually have a passion for any of them!

In many cases, the subjects that a child loves, aren’t the ones they are encouraged to pursue. In fact, many parents discourage any thought of following a path any less than the careers previously mentioned. In all my years as an educator, I have never had a parent tell me that their child wants to be a business owner, accountant, fashion designer, dancer, athlete, physiotherapist, HR manager…or God forbid, a teacher.

There are the students who hate the science subjects and are not very good at them, if we base it on the marks achieved. Yet their parents insist that they must do the sciences in order to enter a good, high paying profession. I would ask if the children had a say in what they wanted to do, knowing how much they loved and how good they were at art, literature and the social sciences. Parents tell me all the time that it didn’t matter. She is to get a degree in the sciences and change careers later on if she wants. So a particular student that always stood out to me, did as she was told and succeeded at all her science subjects, hating every minute of it. And her parents continued to be oblivious to her self-harming, unhappiness and resentment. But at least she is on her way to an excellent career, if not a happy, healthy life.

These stories are endless over the years of me teaching and they differ in subject areas, families and careers. The constant is always that she must get a good job in order to be successful. In speaking with and more so, in listening to my students overs the years, I have come to understand that their parents have taught them that success has been equated with wealth, and that happiness comes from that genre of success.

What we are doing, essentially, is raising generations of children and students who see success in terms of prestigious jobs and wealth. While not wanting be a hypocrite and undervalue the importance of a good education, a substantial standard of living and a successful life, I wonder why we are not teaching our charges about what happiness should really be. I have not met a parent in many years who has said to me that I want my child to follow whatever path will make him/her happy. Job satisfaction no longer seems to be that feeling of fulfillment you get on an afternoon when you get home, or that excitement you feel on a morning to go to work. Job happiness seems to be determined by the pay cheque received at the end of the month.

So many of these very parents are in jobs that they hate, in which they are underpaid and miserable. Yet, they are seeing no value in preventing THIS outcome for their child. To hear parents of toddlers saying that he is going to become a lawyer seems only psychic to me, rather than ambitious.

I had a conversation with some students recently, and was of course very careful not to present views that were opposing to the ones in which their parents raised them. I explained to them, that I teach Dance and French, my two passions, and there is no greater feeling than to be paid for what I love to do most in this world. Because I am academically qualified in both areas, I am paid the same salary as the teachers who teach the ‘important’ subjects. I told them the truth – I don’t feel Monday blues; I don’t dread the end of a vacation; I love what I do. This is all that I want for them as well.

Now I am not saying that becoming a lawyer or doctor cannot be someone’s passion. I know a doctor who is young and vibrant, thorough and caring. I have never met a doctor who loves what he does more than him. He has transformed his practice into s very dependable, high tech machine that is still surrounded by love and care. His parents should be enormously proud of him, but not for BEING a doctor, but for BEING so happy at his job. That is his true success, whether he realises it or not.

Parents are admirable for wanting what is best for their children. But what is the best for them? Why are we proliferating a life full of success is success is wealth? Why aren’t we encouraging them to be happy in what they do? The money will always come. But to become a professional who loves your job is the true success and will bring true happiness. We were not all made equal or alike and not all of us fit the moulds of the same professions. My former dance teacher always told us that, ‘God is not a Communist, we aren’t all the same.’ This has always resonated with me, regardless of how funny she made it sound.

Parents and educators are no longer tapping into the real strengths and passions of students in order to really help them choose a career path. We are helping them to make loads of money when they are adults. So essentially, we are helping to mould generations of rich, miserable professionals who resent what they do and who made them do it. But at least they can buy nice things.

One thought on “Success vs. Happiness

  1. Hi Vanessa,
    I enjoy reading your blog! I love the honestly and perspective in your piece here….as a parent of 11 and 9 year olds, I share some of your views here and hope that we can see some changes in our local education system, which has serves us all very well for many years…however requires some umph and spunk for our Millennials….whose mantra I think sounds like “the world is not flat!”
    BTW you may remember me as a fellow SAGHS girl, class of 1995

    Like

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