The Opportunity to Discover, the Freedom to Choose


I am running through the university campus, along one path and then another, looking for the right building. I push through a heavy wooden door and hurry along a recently emptied corridor, my shoes sounding noisily on the polished floorboards. I check room numbers as I go. Then I stop. 

I hesitate on the threshold of room 67, peering through the doorway at all the seated students. Will anyone notice if I slip in? Where will I sit? Will the tutor say, “Why haven’t you been coming to my lectures?” Will he even know who I am?


I slide onto an empty chair just in time to hear the words, “Before you leave today, please place your assignments on my desk.”

Assignments? A feeling of panic shoots through me. I haven’t done this assignment, or the last one. In fact, I haven’t completed any of the year’s work. I have no lecture notes either. How will I pass the end-of-the-year exam that is looming? Is there time for me to catch up? Or should I just admit to my parents I haven’t been attending any of my classes, that I haven’t been able to make myself sit through hour after hour of tedious lectures? What will they say if I tell them I don’t want to do this course?

The recurring nightmare finally comes to an end, and I wake up, soaked with sweat, my heart beating rapidly. I open my eyes with relief. I am me, Sue Elvis, married adult with children, in charge of my own life. My student days are far behind me. No one is standing over me making me do something I don’t want to do. There are no exams waiting to chew me up.

The other night, I fell into this dream again, but this time, before waking up, I dreamt something new.

My mother arrives at the university to visit me. I wonder if I should tell her I want to leave, that I hate my course, that I feel sick with worry because I haven’t completed the necessary work. There are so many things she might say… 

“How could you have done that? It doesn’t matter if you liked the work or not. You just should have knuckled down and got on with it.”

“You’ll have to catch up with all the work. You have no choice. You need a university education. You can’t do anything worthwhile without one.”

“It would be such a waste if you gave up now.” 

“You can’t become a university drop out. What will everyone think?”

I don’t want to hear any of these words but I have had enough. I can’t carry on, and so I say, “I don’t want to do this university course. I’m not interested in science. It’s wrong for me.”

And my mother turns to me with a gentle smile, and says, “You’ll find the right thing to do if you keep looking. Of course you can’t stay here. Let’s collect your things and take you home.”

In my dream I feel the tears of relief slip from my eyes.

Of course, things didn’t happen like that in real life. I did actually finish my degree course. I completed all the assignments, attended all the necessary lectures and passed all the exams. I graduated with honours. I used that degree to find employment in a university research lab. But it was all wrong. A science degree wasn’t what I was meant to do. I hadn’t had the opportunity to discover my talents and passions. I just passed along the education conveyor belt with all the other clueless school leavers, doing what was expected, enduring rather than enjoying. And although I wasn’t very happy, I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t feel I had much choice.

When I was a child I had a large cardboard box crammed full of loose papers, which were covered with my untidy handwriting. These were my stories. I loved making up stories. My dreams were full of them. Somewhere along the way, my stories were pushed to one side as I moved onto more ‘important’ and ‘serious’ work. They were forgotten. But years later, I finally have the opportunity to do what I love best: write.

What about my own children? 

I want my children to have the opportunity to discover their talents, and the freedom to pursue their dreams, whether or not I feel they will lead to a good career. Of course, they might make a few mistakes along the way, go down a few dead ends and have to start again. But that’s okay. They have my unconditional encouragement and support whatever they choose to do.

I think again about my dream. My mother had said, “You’ll find the right thing to do if you keep looking. Of course you can’t stay here. Let’s collect your things and take you home.” She listened. She understood. She accepted my choice. That felt so good. That’s how I want my own children to feel. I don’t want them to experience recurring nightmares like me.

It’s funny how an experience can affect us so deeply. It can surface in a dream and be remembered for many years after. Except it isn’t funny at all.


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Comments

  1. Reply

    I've had similar nightmares. I had dreams of being an artist but I ended up doing an Economics degree. Then, working as an Economist just prolonged the agony!

    The system is all based on fear, isn't it? If we were all courageous enough to follow God's will, not matter where it led, I wonder if we'd all be great saints instead of socially acceptable citizens.

    I'm loving these posts, Sue. Thank you for sharing.

    God bless:-)

    1. Reply

      Vicky,

      "Then, working as an Economist just prolonged the agony!" Sometimes we get so far down a particular track, it's hard to turn back. All that time and effort we've invested makes us continue even when we know we are going in the wrong direction.

      I wonder if part of the problem is that certain disciplines like the arts aren't valued enough. They're interesting to study but what are the chances of making a career out of them? "How will you get a job if you study art? Not everyone will be a famous artist." "You want to write books? Not many people write best sellers and earn a good living. You need to get a proper job." Yes, we can get frightened, and we are persuaded to stick to something 'safe'.

      I do believe we all have talents which we are meant to use, and yes, it does take courage to follow a passion. But we both got there eventually, and we can still encourage our children to follow their dreams. Who knows what exciting places God will lead them to!

      Thank you for your encouraging words!

  2. Reply

    I can so closely identify with this, except your nightmare was my reality as a young lady – I felt forced into university and hated the course I started. I dropped out, disappointing my parents terribly and wasting the money they had invested in my education.
    I feel very sorry for that, I feel like they had so much hope in having a "university educated" child.
    But, like all negative experiences the positive impact is often not seen until later, and now, i feel exactly as you do about the future of my children. My goal for them is Heaven, and a happy, holy life.

    My 7 and 4 year old girls are sitting with me at the screen and they noticed the picture of Thomas so we've had a little chat about him and how you all must look forward so much to being with him again in Heaven. Gemma said she thinks he would have been a really beautiful brother 🙂
    God bless
    Kelly

    1. Reply

      Kelly,

      I'm sorry to hear you had an unhappy university experience too, even harder than mine because of the feeling of letting people down.

      But yes, no experience is ever wasted. We learn something even (especially?) from the unhappy and difficult times. As you said, we both want to spare our children the nightmare of feeling they have no choice but to follow a certain pathway.

      A university education can be good but there are more important things in life. I have two uni students at the moment. I think they are both committed because their courses are of their own choice. They seem to know where they are headed. But I remember when Callum dropped out of his nursing degree a couple of years ago. He just wasn't happy and I didn't pressure him to continue. Now he's busy under the bonnet of his cars and he hopes to become a mechanic. That would suit him much better.

      I am really touched by your conversation about Thomas. One day we will find out exactly how beautiful a brother and son he really is. I look forward to that!

  3. Reply

    For me the recurring nightmare was Algebra! It is so important for us to follow our God given passions/talents and to discern how He wants us to use them. That is when we are most happy. I want this for my kids – whether that means college – or not. Me being a teacher, and saying that, would probably flip some people out!!

    1. Reply

      Dana,

      "It is so important for us to follow our God given passions/talents and to discern how He wants us to use them." Yes! I agree that's the way to a happy and fulfilling life.

      When I was a teenager, if you did well enough in your final exams, you were expected to go to university/college. To have the ability and not go onto the next stage was unusual. Only those who had not done well academically got a job straight out of school, or did vocational training. So it was assumed I'd go to university, and I did. These days I think we recognise that college/uni isn't the only option for our children. Maybe we've also been forced to accept that view because tertiary education is no longer funded by the government (as it was when I was younger). Our kids have to decide whether their further education is worth the debt they will incur.

      It sounds like you want similar things for your kids as me! It really doesn't matter what other people think as long as our children do what is right for them. Actually, the longer I parent, the less I worry about outside opinions and expectations. These were such a burden years ago!

  4. Reply

    I've had similar nightmares, Sue, luckily not for a long time though! There is the one where I never got my college degree, then waking up and being relieved because it wasn't true. I also have one where I'm unfaithful to my husband in the dream, but not the reality. Dreams are symbolic, and they may represent some underlying, current issue. Interesting how so many people share similar themes! I loved college and did study my heart's desire–English literature. But when I was a junior my mom told me people were asking her what I was going to be when I graduated. When I said a writer, she did not want to tell people that. I don't know why. She wanted me to be a teacher, and eventually I worked at a Montessori school, which was a wonderful experience. I was excellent with children, and I can apply so much now to my homeschooling. Also, I shared my interest in poetry with them. I wrote many poems, published one at OSU, and even won an honorable mention in a contest. I worked as a freelance writer and editor for a children's publishing company too. I am now passionate about blog writing, like you. And even though I did use my writing talents, I never really went for it, if you know what I mean. I took a children's writing workshop and sent my story a few places for publication, but it was rejected and I gave up on it. Now I have another story in the works many years later, and a book on the Virgin Mary and the sacred feminine in Christianity. Maybe I will finally be a professional writer! Thanks for the reminder not to give up on the dream. I think we do often compromise, whether with society's expectations, or like in my case, let ourselves be discouraged before we even get started by someone else's hang ups and insecurities. And we have the chance as homeschooling mothers to give our kids a better start to being who God intends them to be, not just when they grow up, but now. You're a great writer!

    1. Reply

      Rita,

      "Interesting how so many people share similar themes!" Yes! It's amazing how many of us suffer strange nightmares connected to our education.

      I would have loved to have studied English literature like you. My daughter Imogen is doing a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing and Publishing. I would have enjoyed a similar course too.

      I guess our parents thought they were taking a sensible attitude, pushing us towards careers where we could be assured of jobs. I have thought about this with my own children, and I'm trying to resist doing something similar. Imogen wants to write. Who knows? She may very well be a successful writer. Even though relatively few people succeed in some areas, why shouldn't it be our children who excel? They can't give up on their dreams before they've even tried. And yes, it's not too late for us either!

      Going for it… I find I have lots of ideas and projects but not the constant drive to finish a project and promote myself. It might have been different if I'd written when I was younger. These days I have so many other things in my life claiming my attention. But like you, I do have several books I'm working on. I'd love to hear more about your writings. Have you thought about working again on your children's story and then self-publishing it? This seems to be a very acceptable way to go.

      Thank you so much for sharing your story, and for your kind words. Glad to share with another passionate blogger!

    • Gina
    • July 18, 2013
    Reply

    I have a high school dream every few months. In it I either can't remember my locker combination or I haven't studied for a test or I have a diaper bag and am trying to figure out when to change the baby! In that last one, I think my mind is combining my high school experience with my current life.
    Gina

    1. Reply

      Gina,

      It is so strange how we mix up the different stages of our lives in a dream! Not studying for tests seems to be a common worry. Obviously being tested is a very stressful experience. I'm glad my children will never have to go through that. I really feel that tests have no place in children's lives… and all those hours of homework. So glad we're able to homeschool our children and avoid all that!

  5. Reply

    It's interesting that so many people share this nightmare. My husband has almost that exact nightmare, but I never have. I was very blessed to get a scholarship that allowed me to take whatever classes I wanted, and I really did take what I wanted, much to my adviser's chagrin! It was a liberal arts college and I was getting a "concentration" in biology, but I was taking lots of photography courses and science courses that weren't in my "concentration."

    I had a great time, and I never had that nightmare – I think because my college experience wasn't stressful, it was about self discovery. I've never thought of it this way, but college was the first time since young childhood when I was free to just learn about all the things I was interested in.

    The one thing that stressed me out was relatives who wanted to know what my job prospects were. I didn't get a job lined up until I had left college, which was too chancy for them. Amusingly, Sue, within a month of looking, I got the exact job you did! I was a research tech at a university, except I loved the job, I'd always loved doing experiments and had been keenly disappointed when I learned that "real scientists" (the job my adviser considered appropriate) didn't do their own experiments.

    1. Reply

      Wendy,

      Your university experience sounds perfect. You obviously enjoyed your time studying there. Tertiary education can be good!

      What sort of research were you involved with, Wendy? I worked in a veterinary physiology department where we had grants to research such things as a possible injectable chemical that might cause sheep wool to fall out, to eliminate the need for shearing.

      I'm glad to hear you enjoyed your job! I wonder if your children are interested in science, and if your positive experience affects your homeschooling.

  6. Reply

    I had a friend in college who had adopted a baby with AIDS, and, shortly before I graduated, her child died. When I saw an opening in a lab doing HIV vaccine research, I jumped at it. I worked there 3 or 4 years and loved the work, and loved collaborating with people from Africa and India. But I was also working with radiation, and I knew I didn't want to be doing that while pregnant, so I switched to a related lab doing cancer vaccines.

    There we were taking people getting bone marrow transplants and essentially vaccinating their new marrow to hunt out and destroy metastasized cancer cells. I was working in a mouse model as well as culturing prostate cancer cells to supply the vaccine for the human trials. It was so fun! And they also had an international team in that lab, which I loved. My favorite part of the job was sitting, doing long experiments, and chatting with people from other places.

    The "bald sheep" chemical, which I know would be very useful, cracked me up because I tend to think of human applications… Might not be a big call for it with people! Did you ever get it to work?

    I think we do a lot of science because I can't imagine anyone not being fascinated and amazed by it, and, yes, my kids love science! To me it is seeing God's fingerprints on creation – this is how God does things!!

    Right now I am gearing up to teach a class of Anatomy and Physiology this fall. It was my favorite class ever, and I'm so excited to be finally teaching it! The kind of teaching I love is showing people why a subject is fascinating.

    It's kind of baffling to me that most of the home schoolers I personally know don't like to teach and many of them don't seem to have any subjects they are personally interested in. It was very frustrating when we were in a co-op because I wanted people to show my kids what was amazing about things I didn't know about, and they were interested in not having to teach art.

    That's why I'm so grateful for your blog! I may not be a straight up unschooler, but I have much more in common with you and your family's approach to learning, than with the people physically closer. I appreciate the encouragement, even more now that many of the curriculum bound home schoolers burned out and dumped their kids in school.:(

    1. Reply

      Wendy,

      I can really feel the passion you had for your research work! It must have been such satisfying work, knowing you were working on things that could make such a difference to people's lives. I am so glad you shared your story.

      Bald sheep… That wasn't life and death research but it was a novel and interesting idea! I left the university (because I was pregnant) before the research was finished, but later I heard a chemical was found that did the job. However, it couldn't have been feasible in some way because the company never marketed the drug. Perhaps farmers are hard to convince when it comes to new techniques? Maybe the wool fell out at inconvenient times? Who knows? Sheep are still being shorn the old fashioned way!

      "To me it is seeing God's fingerprints on creation – this is how God does things!!" Oh yes! I agree. I love maths for a similar reason. I am amazed how the world runs to precise mathematical laws. Maths really is the language of creation.

      Even though science is not my first love, I am grateful I can share it with my children. Charlotte loves chemistry. EVERYTHING is chemistry which fascinates us.

      Teaching… I've been thinking about this. Learning from a person who is passionate about something is a wonderful experience. All that enthusiasm is contagious. People should want to share their talents and skills. It always gives me a great buzz whenever anyone wants to know about things I am good at.

      We may not fit the traditional roles of teacher and students, but my children and I do share a lot of learning together. My kids are always interested in what I know and eager to listen, and I learn so much from them too.

      Wendy, I love sharing ideas and experiences with you. I don't have any friends who unschool who also live near us, so I'm grateful too for these opportunities to share with you online.

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