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Achievement: Education vs. Credentialing(2)

In the previous entry Education vs. Credentialing a number of interesting comments and insights were provided by Cyn, Rob, Aaron and my son Justin. I wrote the entry in a manner that attempted to link a conversation I had with my son about education and careers to complimentary ideas expressed by Joseph Campbell and Jane Jacobs. As sometimes happens in weblogging, the comments made in response to an entry become the focal point and I thought it would be interesting to explore them further here. Since my original thought was to write about a conversation I had with my son, and he took the time to write some interesting insights about it, I'll try using his words as the starting point here and see if I can capture some of the interaction taking place...

A very well written summary of our conversation this past weekend.

My dad’s fourth paragraph sums up very well what I was previously feeling, and what I am now feeling in light of this revelation.

  • Note - The fourth paragraph: "With respect to a career and work, it seems to me that if we are following our bliss a career and the work we do are sources of energy and constant revitalization. In the presence of bliss, we grow stronger as individuals on a personal level and on a community (giving) level. If we are not following our bliss, a career and work can seem like a virtual prison that traps us in routines and processes that literally sap energy and revitalization from our being. Simply, a career and work in the absence of our own unique bliss is a recipe for exhaustion and confusion."

This is an issue, to my thinking, that is not given enough attention. I have met many people who have successful careers, earning more than enough money to live one, have the big house, and so on, yet they are adrift in life. Some are fundamentally unhappy and can't quite put their finger on why that is. Worse, some have linked their own identity to the status of their career in some bizarre and delusional notion that because their career is somehow "more important" than another individual's career, they are therefore "more important." This is what is known as arrogance and stupidity. We also need to ask why so many students are fundamentally unhappy in our education systems without attempting to design some kind of curriculum response to promote happiness.

For the past two and a half years I've been playing a game with myself. That game has been to try and free up as much time away from my 'career' as possible while still succeeding. It was going well, but the past few months spent working full time and researching 'careers' have led me to a conclusion that was inevitable from the start – that was one game I could not win. Be it tomorrow, next year, or forty years from now, I will have to wake up in the morning faced with what I have to do on that day - a thought that scared me last week. A thought I’m very grateful had such an impact on me.

Here, fear is an ally - a friend - a welcomed companion. Fear serves to inform us when we are in danger both physically, mentally and emotionally. The importance of fear is captured by Cyn, "We can only ask ourselves 'who we are' when we strip away the shit, so to speak. We can't know who we are and what we love until we take the plunge. The examples of our own lives and how we live them are the most powerful messages and bits of advice we can give to our children. What a great thing it is when we are able to present them with real life."

In a very real sense, fear helps us to strip away the shit that's been continually hurled upon us by a society that denigrates human life to economic utility. Fear encourages us to "take the plunge" - perhaps fear even demands that we take it. In many ways, I see fear as the warning system of the soul.

Rob picks up on this too, "Never have I known such fear. For years I have used the story that Frankl tells of the gates of the camp being open and the guards gone and yet the inmates stay inside. The camp is all they know and freedom is but a word and the outside seems more terrible than the death camp. It is fully realized for me now. No longer a "story" but my own choice."

The camp is not unlike the cave, a dark woods, or a journey through a dark forest. The familiar, even if desolate, seems to be more comforting than the risk of something better. But the familiar can be a camp, and the unfamiliar a gateway. Whether we like it or not, I believe one of the functions of bliss is to take us, kicking and screaming and clawing, to the gate and firmly kicking our backsides through it. Bliss can be a brutal disciplinarian.

The comments posted have led my thoughts down a (perhaps) more important route – Why? Why did I let this happen? Why was I convinced that the very wrong path I had laid out for myself was the right choice? Why did it take me this long to realize it was the wrong path? Now, these are very easy questions for me to answer.

Simply knowing the right questions to ask is often the biggest hurdle. We are told and educated to think in a certain manner, yet our souls can easily lay waste to all of that. As Aaron points out, "Reading Joseph Campbell as a confused 21-year-old was a pivotal moment in my decision to follow my bliss instead of someone else's path." Like fear, confusion here is a welcome companion - the dark forest - however, it is best not to journey through it for too long. Like looking into an abyss, the abyss will sometimes look back.

This all stems back to the ridiculous age of 16 - the age that the government of Ontario has decided for us all that we must start thinking about our ‘careers’. It starts with a short course worth half a credit that they appropriately named “Career Studies”. The purpose of the course was to fill out aptitude tests and browse career cruising websites so we could find careers that were ‘right’ for us. Of course, the definition of ‘right’ used was just plain wrong. Filling out a standardized test and looking up careers based on it makes absolutely no sense. This course is made compulsory to any student shooting for that diploma. This is preparation for what comes next – selecting our courses for grade 11. This is when we’re expected to decide what we’d like to do with our lives. From here, they hit us with two phrases: career and options.

The very notion of "career" is hopelessly adrift in economic utility. Clearly, government regulation of the education system under such propaganda as providing education for all, and so on, is trite nonsense. Worse, it does have the potential to destroy lives. All too often, the accepted notion of couseling is really nothing more than a set of intellectual procedures designed to instill a specific kind of thinking within an individual - to impart a set of beliefs.

From a very young age all of us are encouraged to think along the lines of a career. All of us have our dream jobs when we’re young. Personally, I went back and forth between police officer and lawyer when I was young. Lawyer? Oh boy… Anyway, from there, the education system engrains in our minds that a career is all about job security, salaries and the size of our homes. It’s this line of thinking that is heavy in our thoughts when we decide our futures.

A line of thinking that is not only heavy, it is completely misguided. No one would argue that finding some kind of career to sustain a lifestyle has importance. But at what personal cost? There is a very clear connection between this and Jane Jacobs' comment, "... student enrollment statistics have become the unofficial appendix to stock market performance."

For those of us who have succumbed to the fear of not having a solid career, the idea of ‘options’ is presented. I think back to a guidance appointment I had in grade 11. It was clear my passion was history, and I knew I would take as many history courses as I could in my final year of high school. That much was decided. Then the councillor hit me with it: “What if I change my mind?” I hadn’t given it much thought at that point. He encouraged me to take Calculus and Data Management in grade 12, as this would allow me to go into business if I changed my mind. I was always a good math student, and I didn’t have to sacrifice the history courses I enjoyed, so why not? A year later I gave in and made what could have been the biggest mistake of my young life: I applied to a commerce programme in the name of a career.

It is amazing to me, sadly, the number of times I hear an individual state their passion in life only to have it stepped on by others. "Oh, that's not practical." "Oh you can't make money doing that." And these criticisms all framed against an underlying assumption that our society is sane. We are so heavily immersed in propaganda that neither the trees nor the forest can be seen for the walls.

There is clearly some very powerful socialization going on at far too young an age within our education system. I agree that this is creating a very unhealthy society, indeed.

Myth and fantasy has been a part of me in more ways than I can count since March 5, 1996 when I was given my first Dragonlance book for my birthday. It’s no coincidence I was given another on March 5, 2005. This is what I want to do with my life, and I’m going to do it despite any obstacles. I’m beginning to see this clearly, and I count myself among the lucky to have come to this realization now and not forty years from now.

  • Aaron states: "Having experienced joy in the midst of hardship while following the call, I can totally agree with Campbell's claim that if you follow your bliss, whether you have money or not, you still have your bliss. It's very true."

  • Rob states: "I cannot be consultant any more. I too have been distanced from my path as an actor in my own life - the doer rather than than the advisor. The individual rather than the role player."

  • Cyn states: "On a personal note, Wayne and I are thankful we have been paying attention to our passions and subsequent 'work lives'. There are no signs of despair as Wayne makes another shift in his 'work'. 12 years ago he 'awakened' to another way of life and chose to leave the 'heart attack' job with the feds and step out on his own. He has shifted a few times since and is now alive, breathing, playing his music, listening to his heart and generally spending his time doing the things that bring him joy."

I’ve started reading Pathways to Bliss and have already gained a great deal of respect for Joseph Campbell. To me it’s just an added bonus that his bliss and my own are interrelated (he also has an avid interest in mythology). This is the ideology that should be taught in schools. I know from this point forward I’ll be doing what I find fulfilling. I’ve already started the process of switching my major come this September, and the Humanities department at McMaster welcomed me with open arms to history. Going through the course calendar I ran into the problem of there being more history courses I want to take than I have room for at the moment. I laughed.

I am reminded here of David Whyte who encourages us to think about our lives as a lifelong pilgrimmage held together by a firm persuasion: "Failure in truly creative work is not some mechanical breakdown but the prospect of a failure in our very essence, a kind of living death. Little wonder we often choose the less vunerable, more familiar approach, that places work mostly in terms of provision."

And... Hermann Hesse: "There are many types and kinds of vocation, but the core of the experience is always the same: the soul is awakened by it, transformed or exalted, so that instead of dreams and presentments from within a summons comes from without. A portion of reality presents itself and makes its claim. - Hermann Hesse in The Glass Bead Game"

... as well as Hesse's warning: "For, after all, obliteration of individuality, the maximum integration of the individual into the hierarchy of the educators and scholars, has ever been one of our ruling principles. ...The hierarchic organization cherishes the ideal of anonymity, and comes very close to the realization of that ideal. -Hermann Hesse in The Glass Bead Game"

And.. Mark Twain: "Soap and education are not as sudden as a massacre, but they are more deadly in the long run. - Mark Twain in A Curious Dream"

“My son was able to turn the tables back on me - but that is another discussion altogether.”

I don’t know about that…

Ha ha - nudge nudge - wink wink - know what I mean? - know what I mean?

Of course, being on one's life path, or following one's bliss, does not in any way mean that life is without problems and challenges or pain and anguish. But the possibility of happiness and contentment is ever more present in the face of the inevitable difficulties life will present. And the energy we bring to trying circumstances is more resilient - more purposeful - when we are in tune with our inner selves. Denial of bliss is a denial of life itself - or as David Whyte says, "...a failure in our very essence, a kind of living death." And any system, social or cultural, that denies this is also a failure in our very essence - a kind of living death.

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Thanks from me too.

Thank you Brian

Thank you Brian

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