The glass ceiling, and who puts it there…

I’ve been thinking quite a lot, recently, about fulfilling potential, and setting aspirations, and other related matters. I’ve been trying to work out what the fundamental difference is between intelligent, accomplished, creative people like me, and the ones who earn six-figure salaries. I mean, is there a difference?

On one level, I’m sure I have the capability to be one of those high-flying types. I’m clever enough, emotionally aware, academically accomplished. I have A Levels and degrees, and a proven ability to learn both technical things, and more philosophical ones. Somehow, though, I’ve never really seen myself as a six-figure-salary person. Why not? What am I lacking?

My mum says it’s an innate and genetic form of laziness. People who Achieve in this world pour their heart and soul into doing so, and I was never prepared to do that. What she means, to translate that into a slightly less insulting sentence (do you have to do that when your mum talks, as well?), is that I’m not actually motivated in that direction, because my priorities are elsewhere.

Put like that, I’m glad my priorities are elsewhere. I’m glad that I don’t believe in working sixty hour weeks, and changing jobs every twelve months, going hell-for-leather to Get On in that sense. I’m much more of a Stop and Smell the Flowers type, and I think my quality of life is much better as a result. I think that was just as true when I was out with my friends instead of revising for GCSEs, as it’s been at every stage since, including this one, where I ditched the rat race altogether to stay at home with Daisy.

I wonder, though, whether I grew of up with a sense of a limit to what People Like Me could achieve in life, and set myself fairly low goals as a result. At one point, when I was about seventeen, I went around telling people I was going to be the Director General of the BBC. It was a goal, and ambition, a stated direction to travel in. In the end, I never even attempted to get into the media industry, because that popular wisdom was that it was too cut-throat, and I just couldn’t imagine myself succeeding against ambitious people. In fact, by the time I was 21, I was in the university careers office, dismissing out of hand any graduate employers who asked for “motivated and ambitious” people, because I really didn’t think I was either. I couldn’t understand where the jobs were for the rest of us.

The Director General thing was never much more than a joke – I never really thought it would happen. Was I, deep down, pretty astute in my understanding of myself? Or did I limit my horizons? And if so, why did I limit them? Was it about the aspirations that were being set for me by my family? My mum shattered the aspirations and goals set by her family, by being cleverer than they could comprehend, and going to college, and becoming a teacher. Yet she’s always thought she’s stupid – at the bottom of the top class in the grammar school, narrowly missing the degree route of her teaching course, always feeling like she was running to keep up, and not quite making the grade. She was the first in her family to break out of the working class background into a profession, and that’s a huge achievement for anyone. I’m just not sure that, that done, there was anything comprehensible left for me to achieve. More of the same. I got a degree, I suppose, but so would mum if she’d gone to college twenty-five years later. She’s got postgrad qualifications now, anyway, so it’s all been superceded.

People would ask me, at school, if I was planning to be a teacher like my mum. Interestingly enough, no-one thought it appropriate to ask if I was planning to be a vicar, like my dad. I really couldn’t think of anything I wanted less – partly because I knew too much about the politics of state-sector teaching, and partly because… I don’t know. I wanted something else. Something more, bigger. I wanted to feel like I , as the next generation, was pushing the family’s collective achievement a step further. But I never knew what that thing might look like. And whilst I have, to some extent (there’s no-one else in my family with MA after their name…), I feel like I took the tiniest possible step in that Value Added direction, and went no further. Because that was my limit? Because I couldn’t be bothered? Because I was so afraid of failure, I was only prepared to reach a tiny way further on?

I don’t know. But it all makes it quite difficult to work out what to do with Daisy. If I was limited by a lack of confidence in myself, then I want to free her from the same trap, somehow. But the very thing that binds me, will affect the messages I pass on to her, and that’s a hard cycle to break. On the other hand, if my material achievements were basically limited by a fairly unmaterialistic value system, then that’s tied in with all the things I do want to pass on to her, including my faith. That makes it all a bit of a paradox, really, and I’m not sure I’d ever know whether I’d successfully resolved it or not.