You know, growing up, I was told that I could be anything. That I was smart and bright, had intelligence for days and that as long as I put my mind to it and worked hard, I could be anything I wanted to be. I don’t think that I was the only one who heard these words, and why would I be?
Your parents want to see you succeed. Your parents always want you to achieve one bar higher than them, or at least generally speaking they do assuming they are good parents. The world is moving constantly forwards, and so your parents believe that when you reach their age, by the time you are seen as an equal adult, you should be one step ahead of them in the game.
I don’t blame my parents for telling me this, in whatever words they chose to use. It’s just natural, after all. But it has dawned on me, and it has probably dawned on others by this point too, that we were not prepared for the society we live in. We were not told the reality of what we would live in because, really, who could have known?
Who could have known that hard work doesn’t guarantee you success? Gone are the years where as long as you worked hard, you would be recognised by potential employers, or by your boss. Gone are the years where as long as you kept asking, and kept working hard to achieve a goal, you were almost guaranteed success. Gone are the years where homes were affordable for the average person and where landlords only charge a price that was reasonable to expect a renter to pay. The world has changed. The world has moved on.
I wasn’t taught how to do taxes by my school. I wasn’t taught about my tax code by my school or by my parents until it was already a problem at work. I wasn’t taught about how to negotiate for a fair and equal wage. I wasn’t taught how to defend myself against the corporate machine and negotiate for fair and reasonable prices. I still don’t entirely know how insurance works, despite being told I should consider getting it. I have concepts of these things, and technically I could go and learn them all with the help of Google too, but I was not taught them.
Nobody taught me about real, actual life.
By the time I was sixteen, I was told that I could be anything as long as I worked hard. I was told that success was a guarantee.
Nobody set me a reasonable expectation that I would fail. And nobody taught me how to cope with that failure, either. Nobody told me that I would actually fail repeatedly. Nobody told me I’d have a job that would make me miserable. Nobody told me that I’d have an employer that tried to take advantage of my lack of knowledge.
Modern society did not prepare me to live in modern society. It promised me a society that it knew it would never give me. It made me an ideal little worker ant, willing and ready to break my own mind and shatter myself into pieces so that I could fit into the corporate machine. I was groomed to be the perfect employee, who wouldn’t ask for fair wages, who would work through lunch breaks, who would work overtime, who wouldn’t question my superiors, and most importantly, who would only blame myself when things went wrong.
When I fail, it is because I haven’t worked hard enough. My failures outweigh my achievements a dozen to one on the best of days, and so my achievements feel worthless and I blame myself for that, too. When I feel like I am going nowhere, stuck in a hell of arrested development with no tools to deal with the situation I find myself in, I feel like it can only possibly be my fault, because the world surely wouldn’t have left me so woefully unprepared for it. That’s why we have school, isn’t it? To teach us how to be adults!
But school didn’t do that. School does not do that, even now.
At sixteen, school was telling me that everything was achievable, and that failure only existed for the lazy who didn’t work hard enough. By eighteen, it threw me out and told me to be an adult… and I realised it hadn’t taught me how to be an adult at all. It had given me nothing. I could do algebra, I could write a novel on Shakespeare, I could recite the periodic table to you by heart, I could go into some incredible detail about World War 2 and the impact it had on any number of countries! But I didn’t know how to write a CV or a cover letter, and I didn’t even know that tax codes existed, and I didn’t know what a fair wage was for an hour of work, and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.
Nine years later – I’ve just turned twenty seven this month, happy birthday me – and I still know only rudimentary things about very immediate adult problems. I’m as under-prepared right now for the adult I am already supposed to be as I was when school spat me out. And now that I’m not in school, well, I can’t be anything any more, either. At sixteen you’re told that you can achieve any dream job you want as long as you work hard. At twenty-seven, you’re told you should accept anything that comes your way and be glad of it. You can’t be anything any more, and in reality you never could be; at best you can be average.
I don’t think anybody meant to lie to me when I was a child. I don’t think it was a personal decision made by my parents or by my teachers to tell me to dream big, because dreams are the embodiment of a childhood in the first place and we all love a good success story. But I was never taught realistic expectations, and school isn’t designed to make me an astronaut or a vet tech or an author, it’s just designed to make me a good little girl who won’t see the value in herself when she joins the work force because she hasn’t actually been taught how anything works at all.
A lot of people around my age feel the same. We’re stuck in an arrested development we can’t escape from; we were told we were children until we were twenty, twenty one, twenty two – told we were young and had plenty of time – and then at twenty-three we were told that we were childish and entitled and we were asking for too much from the world. As we grew up, we were fed on the “dream big” ideal, it was all we were ever told, made fat with the idea that hard work was a guaranteed road to success and that if you failed it was because you simply weren’t working hard enough. Then we grew up and got two jobs because one wasn’t enough to pay for things, and we were told that it was our own fault and that we were being greedy, that things would be easier if we just worked a little harder, that clearly we were doing something wrong because our parents certainly hadn’t had these issues and the system? Well the system just works.
I don’t know what job I want. I know even less how to go about finding it. I’m almost certainly underqualified for it compared to a great number of my peers at my age, which makes me even more undesirable to hire, still. I tell myself I have failed, on every conceivable level that there is for me to fail on, and that the only recourse is to work harder, longer, at the expense of my own health. When my own health fails me, I tell myself that that’s my fault too, because any normal human being should surely be just fine with this.
And I’d like to remind you that this is the system working. This is society doing what it is meant to do. This is the children society breeds, and the adults they turn into are the ones society blames. I can say with some pretty large amount of confidence; humans aren’t meant to live like this. Not a single god damn one of us.