As I See It: Catherine Drea’s fortnightly column for the Waterford News & Star
IT was Sigmund Freud who said that the two most important things in life are love and work. While most of us prioritise love, in the end we will spend the majority of our waking hours at work, so it deserves at least as much consideration.
Right now, young people are agonising about which course of study will lead to a well-paid job. In a fast changing world, is it still possible to experiment, to follow your heart, to be open to other possibilities? For some jobs the route is clear but for others, work and study weave in and out of our lives all the way through. There is no obvious path. Sometimes one thing just leads to another.
You are you. You will be you all your life. This is why matching what you are happy doing, with what you are good at is vital. Meanwhile why not get out and experiment to see how you fare? Try things out; and the younger, the better.
I was excited about going to work. Somehow the women in my family had found ways around the barriers to working and earning their own living. Following their own path in the world seemed to make them confident and happy.
We never really got pocket money back then, and I remember my Father sighing and looking under duress as we paraded our lists of wants on our way out to school every morning.
If you wanted something, in my case a bike, you had to save up for it yourself. I used years of birthday and Christmas money to buy my first two wheeler. Independence was a great motivator, so as soon as the chance came to earn a few bob, I was out working like a shot.
I learned many lessons from working at an early age; how to focus, getting what is required done on time, solving problems, fitting into any number of teams. I also discovered the difference between a good employer and an awful one. There were no mentorships in those days. It was pretty basic, get a job to survive or emigrate. Most of my friends went abroad.
The first work I was paid to do was babysitting. As the eldest of four girls, I was a pro by about 12. It turned out that there was a big demand and soon we had a small business going at the weekends. The phone in the hall would be hopping with requests and whoever was available would be hired.
At about the age of 15, I started working as a waitress during my holidays from school. In my first job, on my very first day, I served the main course before the soup to a large family. I had completely forgotten to order the starters from the kitchen. I was mortified. It taught me to listen, to get the details right, that I could survive mistakes.
Amongst my other summer jobs were working for the British Government in the Tax Office in Crouch End, working in a Chinese cocktail bar in New York, serving with a young Denis O’Brien in a Bistro in Dublin.
I also busked around Germany making pavement art, sang for my supper in Scandinavia, scrubbed bathrooms and made beds in fancy hotels.
Choosing art as a subject to study went against all the advice I was given, especially by my Father. But after experiencing paid work, I wanted time to enjoy and explore.
So in spite of everything, I followed my dream and worked every summer to pay for it. Leaving college with qualifications in art, in those days, didn’t immediately deliver the kind of job I dreamt about. But I would never prove my Father right. I wasn’t going to starve in any garrett! And in spite of everything I have had a very happy and productive working life.
Art can lead in interesting directions. It allows you to stay open and empathetic. It makes you question things. Artists can bring fresh thinking into academic, business or traditional settings. They can think outside the box when other people get stuck. I think this is worth remembering when advising young people. We need artists and creatives more than ever.
Education is great. It’s a privilege. But finding or creating your own working life, is where it will lead in the end. Work that is meaningful, fun, fulfilling, is what we all want.
The sooner we start to learn about the world of work the better. It’s a shame that tighter legislation can make it so much more difficult to get these opportunities early in life. Learning how to work is just as important as talent.
Freud also mentioned the importance of love. Love and work, remember? But that’s a whole other story for another day…
Catherine Drea blogs at Foxglovelane.com