Last week one of my favourite websites, Humans of New York, posted the cutest picture ever:
I have mentioned before how much I love this page, and how particular posts inspire me, make me think about life or be thankful for all I have. This particular post had a completely different effect: it made me go back in time.
When I was a kid I wanted to be a fairy too. In my head you could grow up to be a doctor, a teacher, other things and… a fairy. I wanted to have wings and magic and make people’s dreams come true. Or maybe, like the girl in the picture, I just wanted to fly.
I don’t recall anyone in particular crushing that dream, but I think with the usual reaction, you know, the ‘hahah so silly, you can’t be a fairy, there’s no such thing as a fairy job!’ or ‘oh she is at that stage where she wants to be a fairy, how adorable’, you get the message pretty quickly that that’s not really acceptable.
For the record there is a place where you can be a fairy. It’s called Disneyland. Maybe it won’t turn out to be as magical as you expected but at least you’ll be working at the happiest place on earth. Or you can be an actress, and play the role of a fairy.
The problem is that when grown-ups ask that question ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ they’re not really on the same level of imagination as kids. Nor do they keep their options open for the answer.
Or maybe grown-ups have certain expectations of you. For instance, after wanting to be a fairy (and a mermaid – I was 6, little mermaid was out, get over it) I wanted to be a cashier (no idea why). That’s a job in the real world, but somehow you learn that is not exactly a good answer (again I don’t remember exact reactions). As you start growing up it becomes more acceptable to say things like: ‘a vet’, ‘a teacher’, ‘a DNA researcher’, ‘a biochemist’, ‘a hotel manager’, ‘an events manager’, ‘a marketeer’; rather than what’s really going through your mind: ‘a trapeze artist’, ‘a gymnast’, ‘a dancer’, ‘an actress’.
At some point I did say I wanted to become an actress. I joined the school theatre group, and I was good. I was invited to work for a professional group, but this was right before starting high-school and fact is there’s an inaudible pressure for you to focus on school instead because ‘those are the years before University’.
The problem with school and the current model of education is that it is a ‘one size fits all’, aimed at kids who are the precise opposite: different shapes, sizes, skills and dreams. Like a sheep you are just meant to follow whatever path you were told to follow, and if you’re different well then ‘we’ll get tutors to help you keep up’.
Now don’t get me wrong, I know how lucky we are to live in countries with educational systems that support education for boys and girls across the country till they’re 18 for free (state schools). I am just saying, school isn’t made for everyone. It’s crafted to a specific group of people and you either fit in or you’ll (probably) lose interest.
Until the 3rd grade I was pretty lucky; I went to a school with a different educational programme, where kids are encouraged to be curious and develop their own projects and interests. I could be a fairy and a mermaid there. But afterwards ‘normal school’ pretty much sucked. Even though I was a good student, I wasn’t curious or interested about most of the things I was learning. I would only study for the exams so I could have good enough grades to go to Uni, because that’s what you’re supposed to do.
I applied to Uni, didn’t like my degree, change degree, had no idea what to do afterwards, applied for a masters and then off to work (slightly more complex, obviously).
And just like that a whole path is laid down for kids until they are grown-ups, where you aren’t taught to question anything, you aren’t taught to be curious, you aren’t taught much about the real world (how to apply for mortgage, fill your tax form, etc.) – you just know you have to do good at school, go to Uni, get a degree and a good job (whatever that is) and then you die in your sleep when you’re very old. Probably dreaming you’re a fairy.
Life isn’t like that though. Even if you follow every step of that path, you may end up not being able to get a ‘safe’ job, or getting it and not enjoying it, or forgetting to question what makes you happy and if indeed you are happy. You end up losing your curiosity and therefore your interest. Oh, and statistically speaking you probably won’t die in your sleep.
Don’t get me wrong, as unstable as my path has been so far, I don’t regret any of it. I learned something at every turn, from everyone I met, every place I have been. I think you should always accept the decisions you make, even if it’s a mistake, and learn from it. And most of all you should always check if you are happy. If you keep that attitude you’ll end up fine. Or like me: working hard, no money, happy as a bunny.
I have no kids, but I hope that one day when I do I can encourage them to let their imagination run free. Let them be whatever they want to be. Let them fly around with their friends and explore all the possibilities of this world. Because I love fairies better than a sheep.
And you know what the funniest thing is? I still wish my job was to make people’s dreams come true, with or without magic. And even though I don’t have that ability, I have noticed in the last few years that the more I am me, the more positive impact I have on others. I have been told several times I am like a ray of sunshine. I guess that comes pretty close to being a fairy as well? I’ll settle for ‘yes, it does.’