I have started having conversations with our children about life. About the importance of thinking about the future. About making good decisions. About having a vision.

I wish I had had those conversations when I was young too. I had strange dreams. Impractical dreams. There was the straw-bail house I thought I would one day build, set on spring-fed lands, where I would enjoy a subsistence lifestyle.

There were the fleeting dreams: the passing desire to study agriculture at Bishop Burton College and become a farmer. Or to study horticulture and become a landscape gardener.

There were the momentary dreams, dismissed out of hand by those around me. To be an architect (dismissed because I was “bad” at maths). To be a graphic designer (dismissed because it wasn’t a “proper” career).

In the end, I had no clear direction. I didn’t know what I was doing. I did a random collection of A-Levels, one of which included metalwork and welding. Bizarre. I didn’t know where I was going. Contemplating university, I finally had my heart set on graphic design, but was advised to obtain a “proper” degree from a “proper” university. So I studied International Development in London, which should probably have led me on into the Foreign Office or United Nations. No, but I still didn’t know what I was doing, or where I was going. I had no vision.

By the time I properly entered the job market, I was already a lost cause. I attended numerous interviews, but nothing seemed to work. I didn’t have a personality capable of selling myself; I didn’t have the requisite self-confidence to tell people, “Employ me”. As a new Muslim, my halalometer was set to “very sensitive”, so most city jobs were quickly discounted; likewise publishing in the financial sector. Many an interview was obliterated by my asking about permission to perform salat in work time.

The first proper job I got was a temporary position through an agency with a change-management consultancy, where I just made myself indispensable until they finally offered me a permanent job. It was, I thought, a start, but a year later, just months into my marriage, I was made redundant. I was back where I started. For a while I was a freelancer, but those were long hard years — may God bless my wife for her patience. I shudder thinking back to those days, when I brought in a paltry income, and friends frequently took me to task for being such a failure.

I have only really been in continuous, secure employment since 2004. But alas I didn’t secure anything that required a “proper” degree from a “proper” university or a post-grad. I just took what I could, and worked my way up the ladder, very, very slowly. Yet even now, I don’t have the confidence to move on and look for new opportunities. I dare not shift even a little to the side, lest I capsize and sink. I wonder if I should retrain and start again, but I have no idea how to.

For me, the present is a time of great regrets. My beloved perpetually puts a positive spin on all I have achieved, but against my peers I honestly feel like a complete failure. Most of my companions are professionals, who have built impressive careers. Some of the most impressive started with nothing, coming from deprived households and socio-economic disadvantage. I came from the opposite, which makes my position even worse.

Most of my superiors at work are “less” qualified than me; ironically, their vocational degrees from “lesser” universities have helped them get ahead. I feel like I have reached a dead-end, but have become too comfortable in collecting my regular salary and outputting a standard pattern of work. Some colleagues have recently earned promotions partially as a result of my efforts, but I don’t have the inclination to wave, “Actually, that was me.”

So to those conversations with my children. I have started telling them the importance of pursuing a genuine profession, and pursuing a professional degree. Of course, that only heightens my disquiet, as I realise I will need to save £10K+ per child per year for the duration of their studies to ensure they are not settled with debt for the rest of their lives. Shock-horror, I have started to suggest to my daughter that she might consider Law.

These are conversations I wish I had had years ago, though of course I probably wouldn’t have been receptive to them then, my head too much in the clouds. I guess our kids have an advantage I didn’t: they have seen the effect of a lack of vision. Perhaps they will chase after bigger dreams.

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