The bank holiday saw the end of our sailing dreams. For those of you who don’t know, we have been renovating a little sailing boat. It’s been lots of hard work but we’ve had some lovely outings on her. Sadly this weekend saw her last voyage. As Big Dreamer and my brother-in-law rounded the buoy, heading back for shore, something snapped and she sprang a fatal leak. She capsized, tipping Big Dreamer, my brother-in-law, Little Owl, Finch, and my niece into the water. Fortunately the water wasn’t deep, the lads were able to stand. We had to wait until low tide to be able to get the trailer out across the sands to rescue her. Little Owl thought it was quite the adventure. Finch has sworn he will never get in a boat again! It was all very disappointing but in the end, we think she’s just too old and was left neglected for too long.
It got me thinking a bit about disappointment. When I talk to friends of ours who are the same age as Big Dreamer and I, we all agree we were told some pretty unhelpful things about life when we were school age. We all got a lot of the ‘dream big and work hard and you can do anything’ train of thought. Most of us have learnt the hard way that you can work as hard as you like, there are a whole host of reasons why your dreams won’t come true. When I talk to friends who are a bit younger than us, they got more of the ‘it’s all about talent, find your strengths and mould your dreams to those’ message. All that did was make them feel that if something didn’t come naturally almost immediately then there was no point carrying on.
Most of us feel now that ‘talent’ doesn’t really exist but is the lucky combination of motivation and practice. The kid who loves kicking her football around every day doesn’t notice how much work she’s putting in, then is suddenly labeled ‘talented’ at age 11. But the journey to dream-fulfillment is paved with a whole host of other factors: opportunity, exposure, support, finances, time, health and physical suitability. Most of these are outside of the scope of one individual to influence. ‘Talented’ people are often just ‘lucky’ people: born in the right set of circumstances with the right mentality. Two children alike in all ways, but one born in a year group with a higher birth rate, have vastly divergent chances of going to university purely based on volume. Yet, our highly individualised society places the responsibility for ‘failure’ and ‘disappointment’ squarely on the shoulders of an individual young person.
The thing we say to our kids is to try lots of different things but to be realistic. Have a go at horse riding but realistically, we’re not a family with the sort of income or connections that can support a young person to the Olympics in horse jumping. We also say that to be good at things everyone needs to practice. Once they find a few things they really like doing, they’ll need to practice to get better. We tell them that sometimes they’ll hit a wall and feel like they’re not progressing, and that’s when they’ll have to look around for advice and guidance. Everyone needs help now and again. They will need to put themselves in the way of opportunity. We tell them there’s no such thing as failure and that mistakes are an essential part of learning. We tell them that disappointment happens to everyone, sometimes something you’ve worked hard towards just doesn’t work out. Then it’s important to take a moment and consider your options. It isn’t always right to keep on hammering away at something. That’s the point to make sure you really know yourself. Sometimes the hidden opportunities found in the darkest of moments were the right ones all along.
We tell them to do their best and be thankful in the moment they’ve been given to be alive. Who knows what wider trends will be exerting influence on their lives at crucial moments? Perhaps a financial crash just as they launch their new business idea or a dodgy housebuilder goes bust just as they’ve exchanged house contracts. We’ll tell them to concentrate on their own journey and not to get caught up in looking at what other people appear to be doing. We’ll tell them that sometimes going back is actually going forwards. Hopefully in those times they’ll remember capsizing out of a little wooden sailing boat that had had copious amounts of time (in a time-pressed family) and cash (in a cash-pressed family) spent on it. Hopefully they will remember that their Dad and Uncle called it a day with a weary smile but were immensely thankful for happy memories of pottering about on the water with their kids. Disappointing but not a failure by any stretch of the imagination.