A Good Man (AEU Column June 2018)

Ask adolescents what their dreams are for the future and some of them are quick to respond and others will dart a look at the door for inspiration. Those fast on the uptake are likely parroting parents’ projected shattered dreams and the few who already know what they want to be when they grow up are single minded. Stand-Up Comedian and Rapper feature prominently. Others just want to get though their VCE.

Overall though most of them are pragmatic but not pessimistic. It’s harder to get a job these days and when I do it might only be casual. Even if you’ve got qualifications you might have to just find an unpaid internship before you get a real job. I’ll probably have a lot of career changes. It’ll be okay.

Most schools provide career guidance and a few of them devote at least half a day to ‘Myers-Briggs personality aptitude style testing’ to help students make ‘good choices’ about their futures. This is the ‘sell’ from a school I taught in last week:

The majority of people fit into one of two categories – those who take it as it comes, and those who take responsibility for their own choices. One path leads to accepting what is offered or suggested by others; and the other path provides you with the freedom to take control, to search for and dare to follow your dreams.

And what if a student with big plans spends half a day of her life only to be told she’s not suited to dreaming after all? Remember that Simpson’s episode when after doing one of those tests, Lisa, who’s determined to be scientist, is informed that she’s best suited to be a home maker. Lisa’s dreams are crushed. Now what?

Capitalism may be the best democratic model we have right now but Capitalist society encourages a hyper competitive individualism that has more and more of us pushing ourselves as brands rather than citizens. In our ‘goal-orientated, be your best, just do it, choose it, follow your dreams, selfies are us, you can be anything if you want it enough’ and where there exists a spurious correlation between freedom and choice, the message is that those who (God forbid!), simply ‘accept’ what’s on offer are not going to be as happy or fulfilled as those who ‘dare to follow their dreams.’

I’m as conflicted this as the next person.  I worry my Year 10 son doesn’t have a clue what he wants to do with his life so I do push him hard to work for As and not to accept the Bs or Cs because if he does an excellent VCE he’ll just have so many choices in life, blah, blah.

But then I tell him that I did a pretty good VCE and after faffing around for a few years and dropping out of uni, I went to drama school. Then I faffed around some more as an actress, a teacher’s-aide and a waitress. I then worked for a Community Radio Station and while there completed an underwhelming undergraduate and then a Dip Ed. I then started a Masters but after some more faffing got picked up by the ABC and had a shambolic ‘career’ with Auntie. I had good and bad boyfriends, saw lots of theatre, lived in too many group houses and drank too much Stones Ginger Beer. I taught full-time, part-time and casually, in state schools, private schools, TAFES and universities. And then I had a baby and then I started writing about theatre and books and parenting for street rags and magazines and got picked up by the Age and The Oz and had a shambolic career as a freelance writer. Still do.

And then, and then, and then… You get the picture.

If you look at the narrative (everything is a ‘narrative’ these days in case you hadn’t noticed), it’s non-linear, messy, incoherent, unplanned and rarely did I feel ‘freedom’ or ‘control’ of anything much.

So tomorrow morning when my son is preparing to sit for half a day in the school gymnasium with 3 sharpened black-lead pencils and an eraser, hunched over a tiny desk worried he has no dreams for the future, I will say to him.

‘It’s okay not to ‘dare to follow your dreams’ you know. Just dare to be good enough. Dare to be a good man.’



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