Feeling Pressured?

You’ve probably heard somewhere along the way that life is a journey? I imagine so, or some other analogy such as life being thought of as an adventure, etc. Whether you use the word, ‘journey’ or ‘adventure’, both suggest movement; heading from one place to another. So who is plotting the course in your travels? Is anyone behind the wheel or are you aimlessly floating along being sent off in numerous directions based on how the wind blows?

Some misconstrue this idea of Life being a journey meaning they aren’t really living unless they go out and physically travel the world. Whether you are a jet-setter visiting different time zones or countries on a regular basis or someone who has never been out of your town of birth, you’re still on that journey.

But I want to talk about things from a more personal perspective and at a different level. Forget for a moment the idea of physical travel to far away places, and let’s look at the regular day-to-day existence. In your daily life, who is calling the shots? For example why are you in the kind of work you are now, or looking for a certain kind of employment? Did you choose the job because it was expected of you by someone else? Did you make the consciousness choice on your own because it presented itself as something you wanted to do?

For many people, parents are one of our earliest guides. We take for granted they know what’s best for us, they steer us along helping us grow up. Some parents give their kids at some point the freedom to make their own choices and with that, the consequences of those decisions in order to prepare them for bigger decisions later in life. Other parents do everything for their kids and make all the decisions, which can ill-prepare those same kids as adults later on who haven’t developed those decision-making skills and the responsibility for the consequences that follow.

Conflict can happen when family members put pressure on a young adult to, “do something with your life”, and comments like, “you should have figured things out by now” made to a 21-year-old are really value judgement statements. These can be detrimental because they come across as negative assessments of the person. You haven’t figured out at 21 what you should be doing for the next 40 years therefore you are a failure; a disappointment, somehow faulty.

The same kind of feelings – not measuring up in some way – can occur when a person compares themselves to friends or other family members. “Why can’t you be more like Brenda? Brenda has a great job, she’s a real go-getter, and I hear she’s expecting!” Or the classic, “Why can’t you be more like your big brother?” Ouch. The only thing that might be worse is if you are being compared to a younger not older sibling.

In trying to please everyone you may please no one, and that can lead to poor self-esteem. If the people closest to us who know us best all see us as a disappointment and underperforming, then maybe it’s true; we are. That leap in thought is dangerous and wrong.

Your life is, well…YOUR life. I’ve always thought the role of parents is to help their children when they are young develop some life skills. In teaching their children as they grow with small decisions and consequences, exploring choices etc., they then can consider themselves to have done a good job of parenting if the children can then go out into the world and continue to take responsibility for their own choices. Certainly most parents want their children to succeed, but being successful can have many meanings.

So are you living your life or the life someone else wants for you? Are you in University or College because it was determined by someone else that you would pursue a certain career? If you enter school for one career but learn about others are you free to switch your major and go after a different degree leading to a different career or job? Would you parents approve if you announced you were going to be an Electrician instead of a Nurse?

There is in my opinion, too much pressure on young adults to have the next 30 or 40 years all mapped out. Your early years as an adult is a great time to experience many jobs, learn about work you didn’t even know existed, dream a little, try things; some that will work out and some that won’t. Even jobs that you thought you’d enjoy but find out you don’t are still valuable experiences. I really think any work you do be it paid or volunteer will at some point down your road pay off and give you a richer appreciation or understanding later in life, and that makes it useful.

Sure it’s good to talk with people: parents, guidance counsellors, career advisors, friends, teachers etc. All the advice and suggestions you’ll get could be helpful. In the end however, finding your own way – whether it’s by design or accident is still your way and it’s perfectly okay.

Trial and error, falling and getting back up, falling again, rising again, getting hired, maybe fired, rejected and accepted; that’s the journey. And if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.




The Healing Sweater

I’m going to share with you a very special story that demonstrates a group of Educator’s going beyond their job description, the thoughtfulness of a child, and the lasting impact on a recipient of a gift carefully chosen.

Approximately 18 or 19 years ago now, my daughter was attending primary school in Bobcaygeon, Ontario. It’s a small community roughly 150 kilometres north-east of Toronto Canada if you’re wondering. One late fall day, she came home with a letter from the teachers in the school, and the letter asked parents to consider donating either new items they had around the house they didn’t want, or gently used items in excellent shape. These items were going to be all put on tables in the gymnasium, and class by class, students would get to go to the gym and for 25 cents an item, students would purchase and wrap a Christmas present for both mom and dad.

This always struck me in year’s since as such a fabulously touching idea. You see this way, neither parent would know what two gifts under the tree were; one for each of them. Every other year, I’d take my daughter out and together we’d pick out something for my wife from her, and then my wife took her out and bought something for me. Parental influence was evident both times. But in this case, it was truly entirely up to the child as to what they thought mom or dad would really want. So there was anticipation building to see what was going on in that precious little mind!

Although I’ve long forgot what the 25 cents per item was raised for, I have never forgot the idea, the generosity behind it, and the gift itself. When I opened my gift that Christmas morning so long ago now, it turned out to be a dark burgundy gable sweater. The arms were about 8 inches too long, and the overall length went to mid-thigh; clearly donated from a home where the man of the house was much bigger than I.

I loved the thing. I put it on and it was loose-fitting, really warm and light weight despite it’s size. Because it didn’t fit correctly I never wore it to work or out in public, but around the house it was comforting and great lounge wear. One day I can recall having the chills from a cold, and donning the sweater to ward off a long cold, I immediately felt snug and warm, like a big old hug. Hence, “The Healing Sweater” was born. I’d wear that sweater for years every time I was home ill, or just needed that comfort feeling people seek when they make comfort food on a cold winter’s day.

Ah but things don’t last. Eventually the sweater got stretched through use and the washing machine, holes appeared, and common sense told me it needed to go. To this day however, I’ve always got a sweat top or sweater that when lounging around on a Sunday in the winter at home, or feeling cold or ill, that I’ll put on and announce I’m wearing the healing sweater to ward off a lengthy illness.

So tying this story back to job advice, I often think about the person or group of people more likely, who thought of the idea in the first place up at Bobcaygeon Public School. Why did they do it? I mean sure the gifts were donated, and some parents donated wrapping paper, tags, bows and tape for each child to wrap their purchased gift. So it wouldn’t have cost the school anything at all to do the activity. And at 25 cents an item, I supposed they raised a few hundred dollars which may have gone toward school-related expenses of some sort. But it was never really about the fundraising.

I think looking back, it was a small school doing something to connect the children and their families to each other. No one complained about this being a Christian celebration that I know of, and the town did have at that time families from other cultures and faiths. It was a shining example of a group of teachers in this case who came up with an idea that got unwanted items out of homes and into the hands of others who would use them, built anticipation both for the children to see the reaction from their parents, and for the parents to see what their children purchased and wrapped for them. It was just such a win-win on so many levels.

And there’s an example of some people in a workplace who collectively put forth the effort to go above and beyond. The labour involved to get all those items displayed on tables in a gym, parade all the classes down, collect the money, help the child wrap all those presents and label them, then take the classes down again for other people in the family when there were still items left; that was a lot of work.

Does your workplace do anything on a social basis perhaps that gives back to the community? Some staff yesterday at my workplace exchanged gifts with a twist. Each gift had to be what you imagine they might have wanted as a child. After being unwrapped, all gifts were collected and donated to a toy drive for Christmas. No one went home with any gift, but everybody received so much more.