Friday, October 02, 2009

The Pressure to Succeed

When I was in year 12, the media was starting to carry on about the stress of the HSC. Some of the people I was at school with might have even felt that stress. I wasn't one of them - I was aiming pretty low in terms of entrance requirements for uni, and academic achievement was my strong suit anyway. Still, not a huge proportion of the people I went to school with wanted to go to uni. Most of them didn't want to do things that uni prepared you for.

Since then, more careers have required university degrees (to what purpose I can't possibly imagine, but there it is) and successive governments have decided that the best way to keep youth unemployment down is to keep them in education longer - indefinitely if at all possible. OK, maybe not indefinitely, because then they might have to pay for higher education in a more effective way, but definitely for as long as possible. At the same time, the media has really bought into the HSC stress hype, and all of these things have combined to blow the HSC all out of proportion in terms of its significance in a person's life and to make it the stressful year from hell that so many people experience it as.

Worse still, it doesn't stop there. In order to get into the courses you need to do to in year 12, to get the marks you need to get into uni, to do the course you want, to get into the career you'll probably change out of within 5 years anyway - you need to do well enough in the school certificate in year 10. That means you need to get into that selective school in year 7 (have I ranted about them before? If not - it's coming). That means you need to get into the OC class in year 5. That means you need start to take a long hard look if things aren't going swimmingly in year 3.

WTF? How did we create a world where people can start to be concerned about their child's progress at age 8? How did we allow a system to actually create advantage for those kids who shine earlier? Obviously we need to keep the early bloomers interested, but do we really need a formal OC course which funnels into selective schools and all the way on up? What about those who come into their own at 13, 15 or 24? I'm sorry, you were the wrong kind of kid - you didn't excel in our narrow little world of junior primary school, and while we won't actually stop you using your later arriving talent, or your talent outside our definition of valuable, we certainly won't help you. And we definitely won't make it easy for you to realise that there are other paths to happiness and fulfillment.

We need, en masse, to reject this idea. We need to try very hard to relax and not worry if our kids are on the "right track". We need to yell loudly about TAFE courses and mature age enrollment at uni and apprenticeships and good old fashioned job experience. We need to remember that happiness and fulfillment are not made only of jobs. We are not defined by our employment. Some people will be happiest with a regular job with minimal stress that is left at work, and will do their real good outside the employment sphere.

And if you ever find yourself in a hiring role, or influencing hiring anywhere - remember to consider training staff yourself. Remember that a degree (in most fields) only demonstrates that a person can learn. Look for other indicators that people can learn. Think about other ways to employ people - can you hire a couple of junior casuals and one qualified person rather than two qualified people? Junior casuals are an excellent no-blame, no-shame way of finding out who's suitable for a career. Parents returning to the workforce may have a whole host of skills you may not have considered that can be very valuable - would that be a better option?

Ultimately, don't let the business world dictate every moment of our lives. Our worth is not measured by our employment, and our happiness does not depend on it. Certainly earning money is a necessity, but as a society, we can bring much more pressure to bear on the terms of that earning, and we need to do so now, if not sooner.


  1. *stands and applauds*

    But of course you already know how much I agree with you on this stuff :-)

  2. True, but I don't object to hearing it! :)

  3. Not worrying about a child's progress until age 8 actually impresses me.

    Here people start worrying about it before age three. There's all this pressure to get into the RIGHT preschool.

    There was actually a documentary about it. The funny thing is the director of the preschool I worked at is in it. (haven't seen it yet, but saw info about it). Apparently, she stopped working as a preschool director and now works as a consultant for parents trying to get their kids into the "right" schools. She charges a huge fee, and parents pay.

    It's really sad.

  4. @Dina: Yeah, I think a little of that goes on in Sydney too, I just don't have much contact with it - the overlap between those who consider which preschool to go to and those who send their children to public school is almost zero.

    So I guess my point is, some people worry about preschools, but many, many start worrying by age 8!

    But it really is ridiculous, isn't it? When people are paying for this kind of thing, putting their kids on waiting lists for schools while they are still in utero....

    And paying for school consultants? That is a whole new level of insanity that I hadn't come across before. Sheesh.

    (Sorry for such a long delay in responding to you, crazy busy here at the moment)