Life I was cleaning out a cupboard a couple of days ago when I found a blue bag filled like a time-capsule of my education. It was full of school reports spanning 10 years of my life and between them was everything from certificates celebrating my attendance through to my acceptance letter for secondary school and then, finally, congratulation cards for my first “proper” job.
What was notable about it was it didn’t contain a single element that I would put on my CV, I assume my degree certificates and professional qualifications are in another blue bag in a different cupboard elsewhere. But here it was a lengthy description of how I was doing at the age of 7 – 18. I was never very good a sport, for example, but quite good at writing.
There was one line in there that stood out though from when I was seven. “A quiet, rather unsure little boy.” As a statement it still stung me now. Was I? It’s a bit of a Barnum Statement really, which children do not face doubts at that age.
The thing that sticks in the mind though is, I wasn’t very confident as a child, but I’m not sure when that change happened. The more I think about it the more I consider that it was around this time. I do wonder the impact of reading that, at a time when I was trying to work out what kind if little boy I was.
So here’s what I’ve learned this year, or rather what I already knew but it’s the best advice I’ve got today. This is what I’d tell that seven year old boy. The world is full of experts that don’t know you but still feel they need to impose themselves on you. The most damaging thing I can possibly imagine is telling a child drawing a picture or writing a short story that their work is “fair“ and nothing else.
We are so obsessed with running towards the next thing, to recreate something else that replicates what we believe is good work, that we forget the value in all art, or the value in just creation.
Imagine telling a seven-year-old his creative ideas aren’t good enough. Then we plump them in front of X Factor at the weekends and show them armies of teenagers being informed that their impression of Al Green or Dusty Springfield isn’t up to snuff. We tell them that singing and enjoying performing isn’t enough. What they’re really being told in that crushing five minutes of their lives is that a panel of judges don’t think they can sell enough records off their back. They are reduced to a commercial failure without the benefit of having to try and then get the benefit of being patted on the back and told they are being done a favour. “Back to Tesco you go and no more of this nonsense about performing for others.”
There are also experts who always seem to pop up at University lectures as guests or the person who gives you “the talk” at work experience. Though a mix of nostalgia and a wish to reduce the competition, you’ll be told that it isn’t as good as it was. You’ll be told that the opportunities have gone and you might as well not bother. They’re the worst, they’re the ones who ignore the fact that the world changes and things improve and it’s them that haven’t adapted. They tarnish the young with the same ideas as their own failures. They accept that the rules can’t be changed because they don’t know how. They don’t understand that we need young people, it’s them that will push us all forwards. That won’t happen if we keep on telling them that they need to be only as good as the last good thing and woe betide if you try and innovate.
I couldn’t imagine not writing now, that quiet little boy has two successful podcast series and a book under his belt, along with a fair few years in journalism too and, probably, would have had more done by now if he wasn’t so unsure of himself. If that teacher had decided to do a little more of their job in educating and motivating, rather than being snide, then I might have done more.
So if you want to write, then do so. Do all you can. Grab the opportunities and write and write and write. Do it because you love it and want to keep on doing it. If you want to sing then do so, sing and sing and sing. Because every moment that you write, sing, dance and work you drown out those whose only contribution is to make you feel small.
The saddest thing about reading that report was I couldn’t remember a single thing that teacher had taught me - not one moment from her lessons.
That’s the biggest waste.
You can follow Chris on Twitter @orange_monkey.