By Josh Clare
The thing which I most enjoy about each Christmas since I learnt that there wasn’t a magical man bringing me countless gifts is the time available for reflection. This year as I sit by the open fire of my mother’s house, far too full on turkey next to the sleeping dog there is only one thing that I can think – how lucky I am. Sure, I have a rigorous job, but it’s certainly nothing like the dirty, tiring job my dad had or the chicken farm jobs my far-too-young mum had to take on as a child. I’m the first generation in my family to be enabled to think for a job and when I stop to contemplate about what that means I’m so grateful for the sacrifices that others have made to get me here but also, sadly, embarrassed by how I’m spending my opportunity, my ability.
I’m nothing special, don’t get me wrong. I got below average A-Levels, went to Birmingham’s 4th choice university and left with a degree classification that makes me wince when I have to write it down. But compared to those before me, I have so many breaks- so many chances to be a positive influence in the world beyond my door.
If you deliver training to other people, you learn about a concept known as the four stages of competence. Whilst it’s probably not the right theory to apply to the situation I’m facing, I’m comfortable with it so I’m going to shoehorn it and make it fit. The theory goes that when you’re starting out on learning a new skill, you start at a level of unconscious incompetence – a state of being rubbish at something without even know how bad you are. Some people never move from here and sail through life doing something badly and never recognise they’re bad at it. The “level up” is conscious incompetence – you still suck but at least you know you suck. People who get to this point normally have a thirst to change and suck less. It requires a certain amount of effort and passion to develop to this point. Up from here we find conscious competence (you’re good at it but you have to think carefully about being good) and finally, the holy grail – unconscious competence. The state of being good at something which you now perform easily because it’s second nature- you just know it.
When I’m thinking about where I sit in recognising my great and powerful position in life, I probably too often teeter about level one and two. In my late 20s (oh dear…) I’m just starting to recognise that I can make the world better, I can go out and do something to improve things for others. Too often though I’m so caught up in the day-to-day that I kid myself into thinking that the minimal effort I put in is enough. I’ve signed the petition, I’ve made the £5 donation, I’ve bought the Big Issue.
And I suppose this is the crux of this article and the thoughts I’ve been having this Christmas. I could do more but I placate my activist, change-maker inclinations that have been allowed by my privileged position with small, relevantly inconsequential activity. I tell myself that it’s okay to leave the real change to someone else, someone better, someone in the position to make it happen before I even take the time to recognise my potential role in making the change myself. It’s easy to be an armchair-activist, chirping up to set the world to rights about government spending on Trident. It’s harder to be the one actively involved in challenging decision-makers on the things we care about.
It’s easy to be an armchair-activist, chirping up to set the world to rights
about government spending on Trident
We in higher education are powerful people and the more of us that realise that the better. Young, left leaning, socially responsible people who question where this country is heading can make a difference to its direction. My new year’s resolution is going to be “spend more time recognising the direct impact I could make on the world and stop being happy leaving my action to others”. I call on you to think the same- if you have a set of beliefs or want to see something change, why not be a part of making it better? Why not, instead of just signing the petition and feeling like you’ve played your part, question what more you could do (and I don’t just mean sharing it on your Facebook timeline!) We’re all guilty of spreading our passion thinly which inevitably leads to little impact. Be smart which your time and recognise the impact you can have. Believe in the power of people with passion and use your opportunities wisely- let’s make 2016 the year that we all push the envelope.