A little while later I came across another quote by Ken Robinson, in his TED talk Changing Paradigms (www.ted.com). He says, "most people leave education with no idea what their real abilities are."
All due respect to those hardworking teachers, but I know what my education didn’t do for me: it didn’t prepare me for life, or show me how to be happy. It also didn’t teach me how to fix a dripping tap without flooding my flat, or drive a car, or save a friend from choking. It didn’t teach me how to invest in the stock market (or anything else), grow my own food, or manage my emotions. It makes me wonder what I was doing all that time. No wonder I ended up graduating in the sciences and then spending twenty years trying to carve out a niche in the arts without any training.
Perhaps, as one of my students said, 'it's life that teaches us who we are'. Well…yes. But in that case, should we be spending eighteen years of our most formative years sitting in classrooms rather than experiencing 'life'? Did we really need all those days, weeks, years shut in one room in order to learn to read and write and do some basic arithmetic? I certainly can't remember more than a few random facts of what else I learned.
What about educating ourselves by following our bliss rather than having the information that other people think we need to know pushed into us? What about being encouraged to be creative in order to find out who we really are - which is surely the starting point for anyone?
But never in those eighteen years do I recall anyone ever asking me: Who are you? What makes you tick? What can you contribute?
The first time anyone helped me find myself was when I took a month-long government-run course for out-of-work ‘artists’ when I was living in Canada. I didn’t even consider myself an artist at the time – but the course was free and I was paying my rent with my credit card and didn't have a clue what I was good at. I had just graduated with a degree in the sciences and couldn't even get work as a temp...
The acronym for the course was SEARCH, and I forget what it stood for. But on this course they asked us who we were. They helped us put together our own mission statements. They helped us create resumes composed of our genuine skills, not just our employment histories. They told us that our only hope in life was to be who we really were. I was thirty-three.
For the first time since I was seven years old, I remembered that I was really a writer, and then found out how and where I could apply those skills. Two weeks after leaving that four-week course (and without any qualifications in writing; just certainty) I had a job that paid double what I’d ever earned before. Six weeks after that I had another job which paid double again. Two months later I had my first picture book published.
Do you know who you are? Who helped you to find out?
Heather Dyer - children's author and Royal Literary Fund Consultant Fellow
- For enquiries about creative writing workshops for children or adults, or editorial services, go to www.heatherdyer.co.uk
- For enquiries about academic writing workshops, go to: http://rlfconsultants.com/consultants/heather-dyer/