Blog: If change is the only constant, why do we ask kids to plan so far ahead?

I have unexpectedly found myself on the opposite side of the world facing a winter Christmas. Just as my city (the longest locked-down city in the world) started waking up and warming up, my life took a surprising turn.

My gorgeous sister-in-law got a ‘c-bomb’. There was no way my wife and myself were going to let her face cancer treatment without us by her side. So we rallied. Previously looking forward to finishing her degree and travelling the world, now she has no clue what’s coming one week to the next.

If there’s one thing that has become very clear to me over the past few weeks (and years), it is that nothing stays the same forever. We are all vulnerable to the unexpected. The pandemic has taught us all that literally anything could happen at any time.

The permanence of impermanence is something we all understand on some level, yet many of us live in a manner that would attempt to control and order everything around us – almost as though we are trying to resist this change that is so permeable and necessary.

Those who choose to accept and harness the ebb and flow of life, smugly watch the rest of us battle as they joyfully get swept along for the ride, taking opportunities as they arise and finding silver linings even in the greatest pain. I’ve got the capacity for both ways of life in me, but the battle between them seems constant.

A few years ago I created an online course that explored career planning from this perspective. My key question was ‘How do we plan for security, yet remain adaptive enough to cope with the reality of wild and unpredictable change?’

I’ve long wondered why we think we know best when a child turns to us and says, “This is a waste of my time, when am I ever going to need [insert topic/skill of choice]?” The truth is, I have never used a quadratic equation since I left school. Not even as a relief teacher. So why were my parents and teachers so adamant that studying Maths until Year 12 was keeping my options open and worth the agony and extra hours I had to dedicate to it? By year 7 it was very clear I had a leaning towards arts and social studies and well away from the sciences. If I had my time again, I wouldn’t choose Maths – that’s for sure.

We ask teenagers to decide what careers they want, even giving them tests that seemingly tell all the philosophical kids they should be diplomats or uni lecturers and all the kind kids they should be nurses or teachers. Is that really preparing them for this world of evolving technology and social upheaval? Even I am currently doing a job that didn’t exist when I was a teenager. I have worked solely remotely and online for two years and I never even used the internet until I was 17; and even then it was a poor replacement for a library database.

I wonder how different school and adulting might be if we focused less on goal setting and career planning (which they all groan about anyway) and focused more on innovating to work with or around obstacles and leveraging opportunities and change to our advantage?

I was lucky enough to meet a falconer last week and fondle his owls. He is a successful business owner who just ‘fell into it’ and now seems to have the best job ever, training his hawks and chatting to nature-loving tourists. What would have become of him if he’d been determined to obtain a career goal of being an engineer? What would have happened to the business he took over? Would I have the chance to meet him or his wonderful birds? Most likely not. That would have been a great loss.

I dare you to consider: how unstructured could we afford to make school (and life) before it all falls to pieces? But then… isn’t life just like that? You never know what you’re gonna get… so what if it falls to pieces? Won’t it just teach us how to rise from the ashes?

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