“To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labour.” – Robert Louis Stevenson
Working at the British Broadcasting Corporation, assisting Oscar-winning film directors, and teaching on a billionaire’s luxury superyacht around the south of France: these were not opportunities I believed were possible when I was spending my weekends as a teen working at my parent’s Chinese takeaway. And as trite as it may sound, I owe it all to one simple thing: education.
Neither of my parents went to university and they both stressed to me how a lack of education limited their life choices. An appreciation of this reality dawned on me very quickly, from roughly age 13, when my childhood splintered into a double life spending weekdays as a pupil at an independent day school “where every child is known and valued”, and my weekend evenings serving stir-fried savory food to frequently unsavory characters.
Whilst I do not advocate my parents’ casual violation of child labour laws, it was an invaluable and influential experience to witness first hand the hard toil of my parents, as well as enduring the long, arduous, grease-covered hours myself. The futility of mopping floors at the end of a long Saturday night shift, knowing that they would inevitably get dirty again, would make anyone conscious of the importance of how a goal can provide meaning to your work.
But we must consider: what is the goal of education? All too often it is equated with the end product and a conveyor belt mentality that going to a “good school”, in turn will lead to a “good university” and therefore a “good job” and a “good salary”. But education is not merely academic and should not only be represented as a certificate, a grade, or a percentage; it is an experience that continues and grows with you well beyond graduation.
Of course, every parent wishes their children to have a bright future and to succeed, to become independent in the world, but success and fulfillment are definitions that are personal to everyone. And the problem with creating a solely achievement-based incentive is that you focus on the result, and not the process. Education becomes a binary concept of pass or fail, which is neither truthful nor inspiring: you may cultivate a thirst for knowledge, but will not instil a love of learning, which is key to any form of independence. And it is this independence and freedom to which education should be equated: freedom to decide what you want to do with your life, freedom to make choices, equipped with the confidence and ability to pursue those choices.
It is this concept of education that has led me to a wealth of experience and a motivation to continue learning. After graduating from Bristol University with a 1st Class in English Literature, I was lucky enough to be afforded opportunities working in London at the BBC and Channel 4. I gained experience working on feature films with directors I had admired in my youth, and eventually teaching enabled me to travel and experience luxuries my parents never had. But my academic results were only one small aspect of the broader education that allowed me these opportunities. And whilst I wouldn’t dispute that being served champagne was far preferable to having to serve chow mein, material rewards and success are always ephemeral. It is the experiences that are ultimately fulfilling, and it is the experiences that continue to be educational milestones on the lifelong journey of self-discovery.
Therefore, a good education is not simply a passport to a world of new opportunities and experiences, but also, more importantly, it provides you with a map to navigate independently through the choices that are important to you, knowledge and confidence to decide on a direction that is meaningful to you. That is why education should be thought of as a continuous journey, not as leading to a destination.
The big secret that everybody learns is that you never really feel like you have arrived. And what every adult knows is that success always feels fleeting, an eventual and ever-moving destination, and so what is actually nourishing and rewarding is the work: the pleasure is in the process. As Robert Louis Stevenson says, “to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labour.” The earlier children can learn this, the better off they will be for it.
The greatest gift you can give your child is an education, but we should teach our children to appreciate it in terms of its value, not in terms of its price, or an eventual prize.