By Ron Marken
VISITING FOREIGN DESTINATIONS
A home game is a fierce contest. The Ducks visit the Owls, and excited students come out by the thousands to cheer the Owls to victory. They show team spirit, the pride of identity, and a passionate appreciation for a game well-played. The Owls don’t always win, of course. But none of those three qualities – esprit de corps, pride, passion – disappear, even after a loss.
But I’m not speaking of athletic supporters. Other home games deserve close attention, too. Games played at home, among family. If you think the rules of football, cricket, or chess are complicated, just think for a moment about the rules of the home game, played at your dining room table, in the living room, in the car. What opinions, values, and pressures are played out in your home when your family discusses You and Higher Education? Answers to that question will be as multitudinous, painful, rewarding, and varied as there are families in Canada. And to make matters even more interesting, every family makes up its own rules. And every player in every family has their own sub-set of rules, rules they can change without telling you.
The conversations started before you were born.
Your mother dreamed of you and your Dad working together in the family engineering firm. Your father dreamed of you wearing a Stanley Cup ring. Your grandmother wanted you to be a priest. Your grandfather still thinks all high school students are rude layabouts and university is a waste of money. Last month, your older sister dropped out of law school and married a Muslim. Your younger brother has never seen a video game he didn’t like. As you grow, you absorb everyone’s opinions, hopes, and aspirations. You even have a few of your own. So, when the time comes, and you want to go to university, your father urges you to play Junior hockey. Your Mom hopes you will be a great engineer, and your sister’s friends think you are one cool bass guitarist. They want you in their band, “Amazon Jangle.”
For some reason, you suddenly wish you could backpack down the west coast of Australia for a couple of years, surfing. Then, buy a Harley, live the life of an opal prospector making jewelry in the outback.
None of these alternatives is actually “wrong.”
Although, depending upon your position in the family, some appear much more practical than others. Some appear more liberating, too. But you can’t win an argument with your parents by yelling, “You’re wrong! Nobody understands me!” If your parents want grandchildren, and if they want you to have financial security, and if you want to sleep on the open ground under a southern sky after a meal of wild rabbit, someone will have to compromise. Is “success” defined by the stock portfolio or by the heart? If you answer, “Both,” then you have no issues.
But if you don’t care about the money, you might need a time out. Take a gap year to review your goals and those of your parents. To pay rent you can work in retail, sell appliances, wait on tables, or try busking in the subway. There’s no great rush to go from age 19 to age 50. It will all happen fast enough.
Right now, you have the gift of time, time to ponder and talk about your future. Time to ask yourself hard questions about your values, your abilities, your stamina. If you don’t stop to breathe, you might slide straight from your high school grad prom into the Faculty of Dentistry. Three years later, you could find yourself trying out for a musical in the Drama Department, while your dentistry grades slide into the toilet. Then you could fall in love with an agriculture student who wants to give it all up, fly to New York, and become a super-model. But that was before she told you she’s pregnant. Can life get messier, or more interesting?
And what happened to university? Where is your education going? Every issue has quickly become infinitely complex.
- Are you sufficiently mature and independent financially to go to the other side of the world and hitch-hike from beach to beach?
- Do you honestly see yourself in surgery or in a clinic or in Africa?
- Are you willing to stand up to your parents, to risk their disapproval?
- Do you even belong in university or college? Apprenticeship, entrepreneurialism, self-employment, writing novels – goals like these aren’t always best served in college classrooms.
- Is your work and study ethic sufficiently intense to allow you to succeed in a fiercely competitive academic atmosphere?
If you want to become an actor or a radio announcer, have you told your parents about your dream? If they still need an MD in the family, and if your long-term happiness is at stake, you might have to defy their wishes. And prove them wrong. Or right.
As they say, “You live, then you die.”
Do you want to squander your one life by being miserable? Develop courage, independence, compassion, and an ability to make honest compromises. Above all, develop unquenchable Curiosity. Life itself is complex beyond imagining, so never stop asking questions. Your family loves you. You love them. You could step back, become the lawyer they always wanted you to be, and live peacefully with them. Or you could choose to become a ski instructor and live happily in your skin. No one says it’s easy.
Millions of elderly men and women, looking back on their lives, have said, “I wouldn’t have done anything differently. I had a wonderful life.” On the other hand, millions have also said, “I don’t regret anything I did, but I do regret all the things I didn’t do.”
Ron Marken, Professor Emeritus, English Department, University of Saskatchewan, and 3M National Teaching Fellow.