First day at school


My daughter went off for her first day at school yesterday. All went well, she came home happy, but quickly got bored of the barrage of questions we fired at her to try and extract every ounce of information about her day. Like parents all over the country I’m breathing a sigh of relief that it all seems to be going well and reflecting on what it means to be moving into this next stage.


In general I’m pretty happy about her starting school but my inner hippy rebels against her entering a world of formal institutions and dealing with testing, certification and the various other hoops of formal learning. Home schooling appeals as a place that I could run weird Illichian experiments on my offspring, but the practicalities of giving up work and learning how to teach a four year old anything in a purposeful way mitigate against this. I also recognise the benefits of school as a place of socialising and being socialised into something that approaches the kinds of relations that she will have to deal with for the rest of her life. So off she goes…


First day at school is one of the BIG staging posts that mark our journey through life. I eased into work gradually with a succession of paper rounds, Saturday jobs and vacation temping so I can’t really put my finger on when my first day at work was. I do remember leaving home and going to university and for me it is only this event that really registers on the same scale as the first day at school. The various ceremonies of life (births, deaths, graduation, marriage) are suppose to serve a similar purpose, formalising our moves from one stage to the next, periodising our life and providing us with staging posts on our life and career ‘journey’. These are important as they help us to chunk up our experience into bits that we can deal with. Whenever I do a quiz and I’m asked to remember what year a particular event happened or record was number one I always start from “well I know I was working at XXXXX when that came out so it much have been 1996 or 1997”. Without these staging points we would struggle to organise our memories into anything other than a jumble.

It seems to me that we need to impose periods on our life and that we use staging posts as ways to try and recognise when those periods start and end. Obviously we deal with multiple overlayed periods at the same time. I’m at once in a period where I work at CRAC and one where Freya has started school. I’ll probably use these two periodisations to organise different sets of memories (work vs family). When I start my new job at iCeGS I’ll probably feel that I’ve turned over a page or if I’m feeling grand, that a new era has begun. I might even try to make personal changes e.g. manage my inbox better, keep a better grip on work/life balance and so on. So these staging posts provide a key point for career learning and reflection. It would be interesting to try and make some more formal career interventions at these points encouraging people to think about their own relationship to education when their kids go to school, supporting them to think about what they are hoping for from their career as they take up new roles and so on. Unfortunately people are usually more likely to seek out careers advice before these changes happen in order to bring them about (how can I get a new job/qualification/life) and it is this that frequently bounces career professionals into a narrow focus on recruitment rather than broader thinking about career.


The image that I’ve included in this post shows Freya walking off to school. It is the sort of image that is frequently used to represent careers. The individual walking down the road on a journey. I’ve utilised this journey metaphor when I’ve talked about ‘staging posts’ in this post. However, one of the other things that Freya’s start to school has made me consider is how inadequate and constructed this metaphor of the lone journey is. We’ve taken loads of pictures of Freya’s first day that mainly focus on her. However her experience of going to school is not at all a lone journey and we’ve had to artificially construct these photo ops, moving the rest of the family out of the way. She started the day with me and her mother fussing round her and her brother trying to get in on the action. She then moved into a new environment surrounded by friends, potential friends and teachers. She didn’t really have a moment to herself. Likewise as I move from job to job I take contacts with me and impact on those at both my new and my old roles. Our career journeys are full of people, they are not lonely expeditions, we should probably represent them with pictures of parties where you and others circulate gradually round talking to others most of the time, moving from group to group, and only rarely alone.

Obviously the lone journey metaphor has its uses, but I think that we need to get some other people into the picture if it is really going to represent what the lived experience of a career is really like.


  1. Firstly, I agree with Mark, your post is charming, and I wonder what Freya will make of it when she older.In addition to the anchoring or recording of events and experiences in our lives, issues of culture and individualism arise. It is interesting how we do focus on individuals, be they four, forty or… which I think is important, but that we often do not recognise, value and validate how each individual has and continues to ‘become who they are’ in relation to other people and the wider world.I am acutely aware of this fact and tend to find myself seeking out the often ‘unsung heroes/heroines, and had this exact conversation with someone on a train last night!

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