I picked this link up from a Facebook post and it resonated with me for a couple of reasons. First of all, I just went to listen to a colleague presenting her doctoral thesis in which she was talking about Gifted and Talented girls and how they develop. She interviewed several successful young women about how they perceived their development and achievement and the things that influenced them and encouraged them. One of the comments that some of them made that struck me was that they often felt “lonely”, apart from their peers because they were “different”. They even said that they sometimes purposely chose to isolate themselves from socialising because they were so focussed on succeeding in both their academic lives and their artistic or sporting lives. They are single minded in their determination to succeed but it made me wonder about how that might be detrimental to their personal and social development. We talk about academics in their “Ivory Towers”, alienated from the real world, unable to connect to the people and the real world about them. Is there also an “Ivory Tower” of success, a place where the very high achieving in all sorts of spheres, business, sporting, politics, academic, the arts exist, lonely in their talent domain, unable to truly communicate with the rest of us?
I suppose that traditionally, it has been men in that world that we have seen as being lacking in social, inter- and intra-personal skills; women are the world’s communicators, the carers, those with emotional intelligence, empathy and the ability to build bridges, negotiate and bring out the best in people. But what if this generation of women, the product of the femimists of the 1970s and 1980s, Generation Y, a generation that has grown up with more opportunities, a greater acceptance that they have a place in leadership, higher expectations of what they can achieve, has also morphed, just a little and taken on the traditional qualities that identify successful men of the past? Competitiveness, singlemindedness, determination, isolation, and more limited communication skills, social skills – loneliness?
It is true that young women are putting off having children until much later, often into their late 30s and even early 40s so that they can concentrate on their careers. Medical advances have made this much more possible too. I know that when I was asked at the age of 18 about what I wanted to do with my life, my answer was that I wasn’t really sure but that I wanted to “do stuff” first and have children later. Maybe being the child of parents who were in their 30s (unusual in the 1960s) influenced my ideas. Maybe having a father who told me that it was no point studying for A Levels or going to University because I was a girl and would just get married and have babies triggered my innate sense of anarchism and led me to revolt? But I also know that I was very certain that I did want to have children at some point. As it happened, I did “do stuff”, then had children and now I am sort of having a career! Not really a conventional route, but then can we ever really plan out our lives with any certainty?
It concerns me when I listen to my students telling me their plans. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is great to have plans, to have some direction, some idea of what you want to do, to give you the motivation to progress. I am constantly wracked with concern about the apparent lack of direction and motivation of my very talented eldest son. I also know that he will find his direction, he will work out what he wants to do, he just has to go on his journey and find out for himself. You see my dilemma? The parent of a gifted son and the teacher of gifted girls! How do I reconcile those two opposites? However, I am worried about how certain some of my high achieving students are about how their lives “are going to be”. It worries me that their lives won’t live up to their expectations, or that their plans will limit their potential, will stop them taking chances, close doors of opportunity that could be open to them if they could just be a little more flexible and be a little less focussed on the outcomes and think more about the journey.