THERE is nothing scarier than a bunch of teenagers sitting across the table, young enough to be your own kids yet bold and brave enough to ask how much you earn every month.
I attended a career day at an international school last week. There were no presentations or speeches, which was a good thing. Every speaker sat at a table on which a piece of card indicated his or her job title — the one on my desk said “freelance writer/blogger”.
The other tables in the hall read “actor”, “lawyer”, “chartered accountant” and “mechanical engineer”, to name a few — in short, everyone else in hall made more money than me.
The doors opened at 8.30am and in came the students.
Three girls and a boy plonked themselves on the chairs around my table. Two other girls joined them and one of the committee members went to look for more chairs.
“What’s a normal day like for you?” a girl asked. (I told her).
“How do you get paid?” (“Based on articles or projects”).
“What’s your book about?” (“I haven’t written one yet”).
“What do you love about your job?” (“That I don’t work in an office”).
“You must travel a lot then?” (“Yes, that I do”).
“Are you rich?” (That was when I erupted into laughter).
I was approached by more girls than boys, but all the students I met spoke about how they love writing and how it makes them happy. I had a wonderful conversation with an excitable pair of twins (one loves to write and the other loves to draw) who, as clichéd as it may sound, kept completing each other’s sentences. Before the end of our chat, the twins had decided to come up with their own comic book.
Some of them were painfully shy. I remember a girl who spoke so softly that I had to ask for her to repeat her questions more than once even though she sat right next to me. “I love to write but sometimes I don’t have any ideas,” she whispered. Read a lot and look at the world around you, I told her.
The issue of money arose more than once. “I want to be a journalist, but my father says I won’t be rich,” one boy said. I told him that it was true and that his father was right to point that out.
“Unless you’re a super famous author, you won’t be rich. But if that doesn’t bother you and if writing makes you happy, you should try to tell your father that,” I said, short of shouting carpe diem and being told to leave the hall.
If there is one thing I learnt yesterday, it is that there is something uplifting about speaking with teenagers who are full of ideas and dreams. (Also, when I speak to teens, I get to use words like “cool”, “super” and “awesome” without sounding silly).
As grown-ups, we all know what a challenging place the world out there is, but young people remind you of the dreams you had when you were growing up and why you had them in the first place.
Many adults forget and lose sight of their dreams because of personal or work commitments and the passage of time. In the saddest of cases, some of us may reach a stage where we’re too tired to travel the world, learn how to play the guitar or hike up Machu Picchu in Peru.Sometimes, the cure lies in a conversation with a starry-eyed teenager with dreams.
ANIS IBRAHIM - NST Columnist 5 OCTOBER 2014 @ 8:05 AM