Listen And Look To Your Younger Self

Robyn Lamb, RCV founder, Cape Town

December 06 2017

At RCV International, a Cape Town- based recruitment agency, we try very hard to attract people for our clients who are full of enthusiasm about what they do. Genuine enthusiasm is a warm and immensely appealing quality. Employers want people who are interested in the work that they do and the industry as a whole, and are excited about working for their company. Unfortunately, by the time they reach their teens, many young people have had much of their natural inclination to express enthusiasm for learning knocked out of them ‒often by their peers. If we think back to our school days, most of us will recall the jeering looks and cutting comments of our fellows if we were so uncool as to ask a teacher a keen, interested question. Not surprisingly, many of our applicants have got into the habit of speaking in dead toneless voices particularly when answering the questions of people in professional positions. At RCV, we find it helps to tell our expressionless, seemingly world-weary applicants to think back to their young childhood and recall the enthusiasm for life and curiosity in things around them that they had then. This gives them an idea of how to be in their interviews and in their working lives.

Our younger selves can tell us a good deal more than ‘Wake up and allow yourself to feel excitement and curiosity about what you do again.’ They also give us very strong guidance about what we should do to be happy and fulfilled human beings. The child writing and telling stories to anyone who will listen, the child bandaging a long-suffering dog’s paw, the child cutting out and designing clothes for paper dolls, the child who draws and paints, the child who plants seed and grows things, the child whose play is one endless stream of soccer, cricket, skateboarding and running are all indications of what we should do in some form or other in our lives. If, like Wayde van Niekerk, we have brilliant talent as well as support and encouragement, we are likely to do what our younger selves tell us to do. Wayde’s Grade One self that won a trophy for running and the string of under 11 and under 12 records he broke in 80 and 100 metre races in Bellville Primary all shouted to him that he was destined to be a runner.

For most of us, however, other considerations get in the way of what we plot for our lives in childhood. Nevertheless, we should never ignore our early vision. Alexander McCall Smith, for example, wrote stories busily from the moment he could hold a pen. At eight years old, he had packed off a story to a publisher who returned it, but wrote him a kindly encouraging note. Despite this encouragement and that of his writer mother (she never published her one novel she wrote throughout her life) McCall Smith did not make writing his career. He studied law and had a distinguished career as a law academic, including writing Botswana’s only textbook on criminal law when he taught at the University of Botswana. Nevertheless, he hadn’t quite stopped listening to the story-telling voice of his young self and along with law, started to write and publish adult and children’s fiction. It was his Botswana detective series that brought him world- wide fame.

Writing fiction is not the only listening Alexander McCall Smith has done to his younger self. He and his wife, a physician had both done music at school and had been very envious of those good enough to get into their schools’ orchestras. They decided to do something about their life-long yearning and formed their own orchestra and named it The Really Terrible Orchestra, which would tell audiences upfront what they were in for. Their advert for players drew an enthusiastic number of very bad, but very eager players all thrilled with the prospect of actually practising and performing under a professional conductor. To everyone’s astonishment the orchestra has been and continues to be a roaring success. ‘All that earnest scraping and blowing to such terrible effect is so funny,’ describes a member of the audience, starting to laugh as she remembers some particularly flat passage.

The fun audiences get out of the RTO’s performances is a bonus. For the members of the orchestra it is a happy expression of what has been in them for a long time.

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