La grand-mère never failed to use this word when she talked about family and friends. For example, Evelyne and Clement had une belle situation, and Franck’s situation was correcte; Manon’s situation, on the other hand, was fragile.
I didn’t get that this word was a faux ami to its English equivalent. For me, a situation is something temporary, something to react to, n’est-ce pas? The first thing that comes to my mind when I hear “situation” is the White House Situation Room, created in 1961, so that the President would no longer lack real-time information when managing things like the Bay of Pigs invasion. (Forgive me, I grew up in Washington D.C., the nation’s capital). No, la grand-mère was talking about something altogether different – une belle situation meant a steady, well-paid job. Whether belle or just correcte, la situation refers to financial stability – or lack thereof.
Turns out la grand-mère knew a lot about building financial stability. Born in 1907, she lost her father and sister as a young child, and her mother made ends meet by running a petit bar out of their home. La grand-mere left school at 13 to help, began working at La Poste at 17, and once married, owned a small Paris café with her husband. Widowed at 42 with one son, she managed a large café until her 78th birthday. Let’s put it this way – from her point of view, the most important thing to do in life is to obtain une situation that is at least correcte.
A product of 1960s America, I thought la grand-mère obsessed a bit too much on everyone’s situation.
“And so you guys, one of you guys wanted a lawyer, and the other one wanted an author. Well, tonight, youse are both just gonna have to settle for Rock ‘N’ Roll.” – Bruce Springsteen
But that was before my husband and I found ourselves raising three children of our own in today’s world! Yup, parents have been obsessing about their children’s situations forever, and on both sides of the pond. Who can blame them? What parent doesn’t want their child to have a financially stable future?
“You’re going to Harvard, and you’re gonna be a doctor.” – Neil Perry’s dad, “Dead Poets Society”
Then there are those parents whose worries about their teen’s future situation collide with their own personal baggage, compromising their judgment. By pushing a teen to do the Bac S, when in fact they prefer French literature and are breaking out in hives over their math lessons, or not listening when your teen says that they can’t handle four Advanced Placement courses, even though you see that they are wan and losing weight from staying up nights – you may be doing real harm to your child! May I ask you, if you are concerned about your child’s situation (and honestly, we all are), to take a step back to separate out your own residual regrets, thrills, and expectations?
The View from Above
In coaching we use a tool called “meta-view”. It means metaphorically flying up to 5000 feet and looking down…in this case at our teens. From this perspective we are able to see them objectively, in a way that has nothing to do with ourselves. Maybe this is a parent’s Situation Room – where we can manage and analyze the real-time information our teen is giving out.
What is motivating your teen? Perhaps they are competitive achievers and will only consider a “prestigious” career. Perhaps they want nothing more than to help others. Perhaps they are smooth talkers with the ability to influence just about anybody. And perhaps, they write poetry or paint pictures, and creative expression is the food that will sustain them.
Then again, some teens have a hard time getting motivated about any situation because they mix up their parents’ belle situation with their own – they think someone will always be there to bail them out. Looking down from your meta-view, can you see what YOU may be doing to enable this? (FYI, I take my young clients to meta-view to see why this scenario can cause their parents to become particularly ornery; Is there a child who never gets off “the payroll”, crushing a parent who is waiting to have the freedom that less financial responsibility can bring?)
Alternatively, there are parents with situations that are so fragile, the teen figures that the deck is stacked against them. They might march straight toward une situation correcte with unwavering focus, without considering if they are suited for it.
And What about Motivation?
I don’t remember grand-mere ever talking about motivation. She was smart, bossy, and had energy to burn; she would tell you that her first years at La Poste were OK, but managing the floor of a 200-lunches-a-day café was right up her alley. Even though as a teen la grand-mere didn’t have the luxury of factoring motivation into her career choice, she eventually found it.
Western economies today are rich enough to give many teens the luxury to redefine la situation to include motivation, i.e. level of enthusiasm for a job, as well as the financial aspect. In addition to exposing their students to subjects of study, high schools try to help our teens discover their motivation by requiring internships, offering volunteer opportunities, and making orientation tests and advisors available. Extra-curricular activities and summer jobs can also be important revealers of motivation.
Close your eyes and fly back up to 5000 feet. Can you get an image of your teen when they look interested, alive, and confident? What are they doing? What is causing the enthusiasm? Which strengths and skills are they using?
The long term view…
My friend’s daughter has a mind for math and a thirst for a good salary. She studied computer engineering, spent a summer as an intern supervising programmers in a household-name tech company, and received a generous job offer. She said … “no”.
“Are you sure?!” screamed her parents.
Upon reflection, one image these parents have of their daughter looking enthusiastic and confident is when she analyzes tirelessly how her college friends interact with each other. (Another is harmonizing doo-wop with her singing group.) Hmm, was it the richness of human interaction that was missing at her tech firm experience? Yet, with a different perspective, the choice to try the tech firm might make sense. Young people should keep in mind that the path to a situation that excites is often indirect; a couple years of supervising can lead to a manager position, which opens up the possibility of richer human interaction.
And what of those young people who for whatever reason do not succeed in receiving a job offer that matches their motivation? There is a truly valuable perspective to consider in this case, and that would be to approach a job as simply a job, with the knowledge that the more meaningful type of situation to build is the one for your heart. When we are relegated to une situation sans motivation, we would do well to remember the words of Neil Perry’s teacher:
“And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”
John Keating, Dead Poets Society