OK. Here's a worry I didn't expect to have.
Em is in her final 2 years of school. In NSW the students sit for the Higher School Certificate at the end of Year 12 (for Em these exams will be in October 2010). Universities use the results of these exams to calculate a Universities Admissions Index (UAI), and determine the student's eligibility to enter particular courses. The highest possible UAI is 100, and each year I'm amazed that out of the 40,000 or so students who sit the exams, a couple actually attain a perfect score.
In choosing her subjects for her final 2 years of school Em had some dilemmas as she had no idea what she wanted to pursue as a career. All she knew was that she didn't want to be a teacher, a doctor, a nurse or a vet. Other than that...well, all options were open. Though corporate lawyer was out too, thanks to the ugly example of one of my brothers. Anyway, her theory was she'd just study really hard and keep all options open.
Last Sunday we had lunch with friends who are lecturers at our local uni. During conversation with Yun and Suh who are of Chinese origin, Yun told Em that in Confucian culture to have intellect and not use it, is considered a shameful thing. He encouraged Em to think seriously about her future and not just take easy options. Em listened intently and said she had no interest in making lots of money, rather she wanted to do something that helped people (ah yes, wonderful teenage idealism!). Well, said Yun, medicine is the best way of helping the most people. He talked about the needs in rural Australia, the needs amongst our indigenous population and the needs of those in third world countries. Em was sold.
Medicine has become her reason for studying, her end goal. That one career she'd always been adamant she didn't want to do.
Smart kids are often told they should be doctors or lawyers and Em wasn't going to do something just because that's what's expected of her. Something a little off beat is more her style. Though I have never suggested to Em that she should pursue either medicine or law, Medecins San Frontieres is an organisation which comes up a bit in conversation in our house, as friends of friends work for it. Yet in talking to Yun, Em claimed to have never heard of it! Yep. Her hearing is every bit as selective as the next teenager's. Anyway, now that she's actually allowed her ears to hear because it wasn't her mother's voice saying the words, Em wants to work for Medecins Sans Frontieres. As a doctor no less.
Oh, did I mention that the UAI required for medicine is like, 98.5 or above?
Yeah, says Em, that's achievable. And I guess it is. IF SHE WORKS! She's bright, but no-one gets these marks without working their butts off - not something Em's ever shown an inclination to do.
So here I am, the parent of a child with a heap of ability which she is combining with newfound ambition, and I feel afraid! Afraid of her failing. Afraid of her setting herself an unachievable dream. Afraid she'll get sick at important exam times. Afraid people will mock her for her lofty ambitions. Afraid she'll be left with egg on her face. Afraid she'll be disappointed. Afraid she'll hold onto the ambition only until the going gets a bit tough. Afraid she'll work herself into the ground and lose her gorgeous, easy-going nature. Afraid people will see me as a pushy parent. Afraid this current career thought will be as transient as others. Afraid, afraid, afraid.
What's that all about? Am I really so afraid of my child failing that I don't want her to give it a go?
I've always downplayed my children's abilities as I've seen in my own family how academic achievement doesn't equate to success as a human being. Being a decent person rates far more highly in my book. Yet that doesn't explain my fear. Em has always received academic honours, yet I've never encouraged her to be academically ambitious. I'm wondering now if it's because I have some deeply hidden thought that if she ever didn't achieve highly I could always say she didn't really try, while secretly harbouring the thought that if she'd tried she'd outshine everyone. Perhaps I'm afraid that if she really gives this a shot and doesn't reach her goal I'll have some of my secret pride in her ability dashed. Pride that is so secret I haven't acknowledged it to myself before this.
I think it's time I lost my fear and genuinely encouraged my Em to do whatever she wants. Even if it is setting herself goals which will require hard work and discipline. And which she may fall short of.
I think it's me that needs a stern talking to this time, rather than my teenager.