I have been asked, in the past year and something, quite frequently "Why do you study Social Policy? I mean, like, what do you want to do with it?"
And for a year and something I got very frustrated every time someone would ask me that bloody question because I had no way of wording to myself, let alone to someone else, an adequate and satisfactory answer. Which lead to the effort of thinking of an answer being pushed aside, like some cigarette you've lit up and realised you don't really want to smoke right this moment. This went on for a while and I had more important business to attend to and more important things to ponder on. Apparently, I felt reading about some silly man in Russia trying to annex countries and start wars was a greater priority to my life, than figuring out why the hell I was spending £9k of the British government's money a year on my degree.
I knew and I know now firmly and with no less confidence, that I love my degree. I also love the fact that I gave up everything to chase some sort of academic dreamland in a different and quite scary country. I knew, with complete certainty, that what I am doing is right and purposeful for me. But, for the life of me, there was no saying why exactly I was doing it and how it was contributing to my goal.
Now, that is rather important. It is important because it is completely non-existent. It's bullshit, it's balls, it's Santa Clause buying a Hanukah card for the Easter Bunny. When asked "What do You want to do with Your life?" at 03:00 in some bar or another, or some house or another, or some bus stop or another (because these are the usual circumstances for such existential, getting-to-know-each-other questions to be asked), I would normally turn my delicately intoxicated smile towards the enquirer and reply with a cheerful answer out of a 1998 Miss Universe competition "Do good. Save the world. That kinda thing."
That, if you have any idea how the world works, is a rather stupid answer. Especially if you're going to University for it.
Well, today I have changed this answer. I sat down with a lovely 20 year old Hunter S. Thompson and discussed the nature of humans and goals and how to live your life and he gave me a few brilliant ideas and his genius, carried to me across the years via the magic of the Internet, inspired in me those evasive words, which somehow managed to formulate an answer in my head. A stance I can take. A claim I can make.
Fuck goals and fuck the idea of "WHAT" I want to become. I happen to have been born a female human on Earth in a small village in a small country with questionable ethnic origins and even more so questionable moral beliefs. I, having been fondled, mangled, kissed and thrashed by my circumstance and surroundings, became a somewhat conscious being at some point and ever since have been building on that solid ground of being.
We are asked, often, what we want to be. Examples given are a soldier, a dancer, a parent, a teacher, a scientist. Well, I dare ask, who was the first soldier? Who created the archetype of the artist or the teacher, or the politician? Who dared to think "I want to do this or that and be me, and achieve this and that, and whether this is a profession, or whether this is a goal, or an idea, or even a sane thought, I care not, for I wish only to become what I have always been and to achieve what my inner voice yells at me and at the world, and I need no definition and no name and no praise, because doing what is, for my being, fundamentally right, is, alone, the very core path of life, which I physically need to follow."
I don't know what I want to be. I don't know whether I want to be anything. I don't know exactly what I want to do. I have no great talents - I am no artist, no musician, no scientist or mathematician, no philosophy flows out my mouth, no poetry flows out my pen, I have mastered no sport or craft. However, in my heart, all I want is to do good and be useful. And so I have taken up a course in how to be useful to help me understand in what way my limited skill and wit can be put to good use to give back what I have been given by the world. Yet, there is no certain goal. There is no image of greatness and splendour at the end of my degree. There is a self that I have somehow gathered, an idea of what I am, and my degree is an addition to that self, which I have decided would be useful and fulfilling to complete.
All too often, we look at such decisions in life as means to ends. University has become in recent years a re-birth of the human into an industrial being, stripped of human-ness, stripped of individuality, inserted with new ideas, knowledge specific for the profession they have chosen and skills, useful in no way other than academic prolificness. This is, after all, what education was meant to be. Academia finds its roots in the industrial revolution and its purpose is to provide the industry with ready-made working bodies to execute the ever more complicated tasks the modern workforce is required to command. We now see it as a sort of training and initiation for this entirely new creature, which will climb out of your pens and mouths and onto your diploma and spread itself out as the new, adult version of you and will grab you by the arm, dragging you to Jobland, where you will now begin your adult life.
That's not how these things generally work.
Your University investment is a part of You. It is a diploma, which will contribute to Your life with knowledge and accreditation. It is a new pool of knowledge to help You achieve Your self and to make You understand better topics, which are of interest to You and aid You in working on projects and ideas, which You would have wanted to work on with or without having spent four years drinking your head off at pub-crawls and socials.
There is apt supply of workers. There is a great lack of people. There is quite a few goals set up by quite a few million young creatures. There is quite a few creatures that are lead to believe that they will become people, whilst really they are being lead to put on the meatsuits of the jobs they will become. I say jobs because a job is just that - a position, shaped as a human, where one has no self, because one is too busy doing accounting. A career requires a human. A life requires a person. We can no longer afford to produce the new generations in the likes of a physical product, with no individual effort placed, no identity, no life. We brand youth the way we brand shirts, with the name of an institution spread across the sweatshirt they've had since their first week at University, and which ends up being used for the Sunday jog they will do before spending lunch with the family and ending the day with rubbish television and entry-level vodka. In a way, these memorabilia we buy to commemorate one of the greatest achievements of our lives are reminiscent of the faith of higher education today.
Is this what the question "What do you want to be after University?" poses for me as a possible answer? Perhaps. I, however, think not. We need to talk about what futures education gives us. We need to think about not WHAT we want to become but HOW we want to develop. By the time we enter University, we have a "self". Various and wonderful, the self of today's youth takes many shapes and forms and continuously breaks social norms, grows to be ever more accepting and anti-normative. Then, I ask, why do we continue to normalise ideas about professional development? There is a distinct feeling of unease and discomfort in the student body, when faced with the future, in those rare moments of life-sobriety, in which we ask ourselves what is to become of our lives. Most of us are told or tell themselves, that these thoughts, these frictions are natural - do we not all fear the unknown, do we not all fear the morrow and what it brings?
Perhaps it is so. However, do consider this: in the past 20 years we have come a great way in de-normalising sexuality, de-centralising ideas about gender, class, art, style, personality, proper/improper behaviour. I many ways we have experienced a personality revolution, where our personal lives have been brought into the centre of public scrutiny, to be criticised at first and accepted later. Why has this not applied to our professional lives? At the same time that we de-normalised our selves we also alienated our personal contributions, our identities and our lives from work. As we broke the confinements of personality-boxes and stereotypes, we seem to have hyper-stereotyped and completely separated our work from those personalities. We have taken all our individuality from our work and implanted it into our self-time. We have drained our self from any professional relation and have deepened the confinements of what we are expected to be as part of our work. Young people feel frightened because as they discover their selves and as they free their personality, they simultaneously are being educated into fitting within a narrow idea of business-look and serious-behaviour. We teach young adults that there is some mythical THING they are expected to become and give them three years of higher education as the deadline.
Make your education a part of your self. Make your self a part of your profession and vice versa. Your work is not an abstract idea of labour, it is physical activity, it is a verb and it can be as big or as small a part of your life as you make it. Do not look at your work as the end goal - it is the means to the goal. If you want to stat a small cafe in a beautiful Italian town, preferably in Tuscany, you use accounting and planning to achieve that goal. Your profession might be an accountant but accounting is not the goal, it's the means. We need to stop aspiring to achieving means for somebody else's goals. We need to make this shit personal. We need to stop trying to become a job and start trying to realise our personalities.
My dear beloved Hunter S. Thompson once took to advising a friend on the purpose of life and said this to him:
"To put our faith in tangible goals would seem to be, at best, unwise. So we do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor policemen, nor doctors. WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES.
But don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean that we can’t BE firemen, bankers, or doctors—but that we must make the goal conform to the individual, rather than make the individual conform to the goal. In every man, heredity and environment have combined to produce a creature of certain abilities and desires—including a deeply ingrained need to function in such a way that his life will be MEANINGFUL. A man has to BE something; he has to matter."