Daily, I have conversations with our children about the importance of studying hard to lay firm foundations for the future. Not for the sake of status and pride, but in pursuit of ease and comfort in years to come. These reflections borne of my own malaise, feeling constrained and constricted by my circumstances.
By now, my eldest brother has been practising law for over 25 years, well respected in his field, senior partner at a top tier planning practice. My middle brother is a diplomat, 25 years into his career at the Foreign Office. My PhD doctor younger sister works in academia. My father, meanwhile, practiced law until his fifties, rising to managing partner, before training to be a priest in the latter years of his career. High-fliers, all of them.
By contrast, my career has been a bloody mess. I obtained a higher degree, but could not secure a commensurable job on graduation. Indeed, in those early days, I couldn’t even secure a job normally filled by those without any qualifications at all. If I did get to interview, I couldn’t convincingly sell myself. Over the past fifteen years, I have found some stability, rising through the grades with the support of a kind manager, now long gone.
When I started in this role, my line-manager was one who had left school at sixteen with only the minimum of qualifications, working their way up the ladder through hard work and determination. I was pivoting into a developer role from a series of dreary admin jobs, facilitated by a previous manager desperate to get rid of me during one of the many mergers and reorganisations I have experienced in my career.
Over the past decade and a half, I have developed skills and expertise, but still don’t consider myself a real professional. In fact, I consider myself a fraud. In my time in post, I have seen so many people come and go, moving on to ever greater opportunities, developing their careers. But as for me? Those opportunities intimidate me. I don’t have that self-belief that would enable me to move on up. So here we remain, with these constraints.
I worry now about affording university for our children. I don’t have the means to help them buy houses of their own in the future, as seems to be the ambition of so many friends, living as we do in one of the most expensive parts of the country. And those extravagant weddings everyone speaks of? I kind of hope they will choose to have a shoe-string wedding, like I did. In my mid-forties, my failings decades ago have hit me hard.
So to the daily conversations with the kids in the car on the way to school. “Work hard,” I tell them, as we drive past houses I like, but would never be able to afford. “We only want what’s best for you,” I say, as they begin to grumble. “I didn’t understand these realities when I was young,” I tell our son, who would rather like to just be a builder.
Our daughter seems to get it. Our son, less so. He’s annoyed because I insisted on him taking computing, which he hates. I did too, but I regret not taking it. I found it boring, sharing one computer between three of us, peering over another student’s shoulder as they tapped Basic commands into a terminal. But if I had known back then how computing would come to define our world, perhaps everything would have been different.
Instead of studying International Development, with visions of helping the poor, I might have studied Software Development, and then everything would have been different. “Whatever field you work in,” I tell our lad, “you will need those skills. Engineering. Science. Accountancy. Enterprise. It’s a good foundation.” But he just groans at me, as I suppose I must have done in my youth, dreaming of my homestead farm set on spring-fed lands.
For sure, I’m in a better situation than many. Perhaps it’s just the company I keep: too many high-fliers accumulating vast wealth, still worrying despite multiple properties bringing in rent. I guess that saying is true: that if man was given a valley of gold, he would still want another one. Perhaps I should spend more time amongst the down-and-outs, and then be more grateful for our blessings. Still, the kids don’t need to hear those reflections. For them, that daily advice will remain: “Study hard, and lay firm foundations.”