Stories from our data: Will – ‘I just want to be out there’

Written by Heather. Posted in News

Dwyane+Wade+Kobe+Bryant+Los+Angeles+Lakers+wsK5HKGlMaflWe’re currently working on ways to make our findings accessible to a general audience including those who work with young people such as teachers, careers advisors and youth workers, as well as other researchers.  As part of this we’re writing up vignettes based on the individual interviews we did with young people. With advice from our advisory group and other ‘friends’ of CelebYouth we’re working on a dedicated interactive website which will host these and other research findings and resources.

As we develop these we thought we’d share two of these vignettes in two blog posts. In this post, Heather shares one of her interviews, with someone from a rural school who chose the pseudonym Will Smith. In another post, Kim shares the story of Mariam from Manchester.

We’d love to hear what people think of these – are they interesting? Do they give a useful insight into the participants and their aspirations? Do you think these will be useful resources and to who? What questions do these raise for you? In what ways do you think these stories might get used?

Introducing Will

Will was in his final year studying for A-levels in Information and Computing Technology, Product Design and Sport. He feels that he lives in ‘a great place’ and enjoys how friendly people are (‘there’s no like knife crime or anything round here’) and the opportunities for outdoor activities and sport. He identifies very strongly with being outside and associates schooling with being inside which he sees as annoying and wasteful: ‘I hate studying for things. I just want to be out there; especially if it’s sunny, that just gets me really annoyed. … You’re just wasting your life away just sat in, sat inside watching TV and stuff where you could be outside just doing something and getting a lot more enjoyment out of it.’ In the future he hopes to work outside with children; to earn enough money to pursue his interests; and ‘to carry on being the way I am’ in comparison with ‘a lot of the people [who] are like so two-faced in this place.’ When asked about having a family, he says, ‘everyone wants a family. And like course I do, but you’ve got to wait for that han’t you?’

Will comes from a working-class background, as judged from his parents’ occupations. His eldest brother is an outdoor instructor, which Will explains is ‘kind of what I want to do.’ His other brother is studying ‘some sort of engineering’ at a local post-92 university. However, when Will was asked about his family’s social class, he talks about being ‘in the middle’: ‘I’m not posh. I’m not poor. I’m just me. I’m just in the middle … coz we do, we get money in. … but we all earn our money. It’s not like we’ve got anything given to us.’ Research shows that this emphasis on earning, is typical of white working-class young men, as is the way Will compares formal learning unfavourably with work.

Teaching swimming and ‘pulling moonies’: earning versus learning

We can see how Will prioritises earning over learning in the contrasts he draws between what he gains from his paid work as a lifeguard and swimming tutor in a local leisure centre and his experiences of schooling. In relation to work, Will talks about how ‘you learn a lot about later life … you learn that life is not fair and like you’re going to miss things that like you want to do because you have to do what you have to do and that’s what you signed up for … you can’t … let people down.’ He enjoys the responsibility of lifeguarding and from teaching swimming he finds: ‘It’s just rewarding when you see [the children you teach] moving up lanes and stuff and of course going up and improving and being like, “I taught him swimming.”’

In contrast, at school, Will feels that he comes across as ‘quite lazy to some people especially my teachers … I just don’t like studying. I just like being outside.’ He admits that he often acts without thinking and ‘when you think about it, it’s like “I shouldn’t have done that.” Like I’ve been excluded for pulling a moonie … a couple of weeks ago.’ He also talks about teachers who complain about him leaving early to cover a work shift, ‘even though they spend their life trying to get you a job and then they complain about it.’

Questions: Do you recognise Will’s distinctions between earning and learning, being outside and inside, in the young people with whom you work? In your experience is this more likely to be associated with white, working-class young men, than other groups? If so, why do you think this is? How would you respond to Will’s challenge to his teachers who tell him off for leaving early for a shift ‘‘even though they spend their life trying to get you a job’?

Memories of mountain-climbing: responsibilities and relationships

For Will, his key memory of being outdoors is when ‘I climbed my first mountain when I was about three or four … I remember standing on top and standing on the tree point and just being like, “I’m here. I’ve done it.” Like because I’ve been up and like mum had carried me up and dad carried me up in a rucksack thing before and it- since I was crawling around on the floor but then it was just, like I just remember the achievement of doing it and being up there and like I found a picture the other day of me and I looked quite good. … the grin, a massive toothy grin on my face. I was soaking wet as well. It just tipped it down.’

Will also talks vividly and with pleasure about last year participating in Ten Tors, an annual weekend hike around Dartmoor for young people. He had been very ill and when asked to explain the enjoyment he gained, he recalls ‘the feeling of crossing that line after walking 45 miles, being sick every three steps, and not drinking and not being able to eat or drink at all just, literally being carried by your team.’

Questions:  What stands out for you in these two career-related memories of Will’s? For us it was how Will speaks about himself as responsible to and for other people and committed to the task at hand and the family and collegial relationships they contain. How do these memories, particularly of out-of-school experiences, help us to understand why he wants to work outdoors and with children? How might this kind of memory work be used within careers work to support young people’s aspirations?

LeBron, Dwayne, Kobe and Michael: celebrity ‘role models’

When asked if there were any celebrities that he wishes were at his school, Will named the African American US basketball players, LeBron James and Dwayne Wade: ‘They would be ‘fun, kind of like Will Smith. … Laughing, joking.’ They would also give him an opportunity to play basketball, one of his favourite sports, with two of the greatest living players.

As Will talks about the reasons for his admiration for such celebrities, he focuses, again, on the value of earning your own money: ‘I respect sports celebrities a lot more than anyone else because … if you look at people like LeBron and Kobe [Bryant] and Michael Jordan … they’re getting their money because they’ve got to the top and it’s like what they’ve earned.’ Perhaps, to justify their vast salaries, Will also talks about the charities to which all basketball stars donate a portion of their income: ‘It’s good … that they can still give that much, like LeBron, he gave loads of money to this one kid to have a operation or something, like which saved his life and it’s, it’s like what I think people should do. If you’ve got that money you should save a life.’ These men ‘are successful because they’ve got a talent and they’ve learnt it from a very stupidly young age.’ As Will talks about LeBron, Dwayne, Kobe and Michael we can see him expressing who he is and what is important to him.

Questions:  Will’s image of success combines talent, hard work and giving back. What things are missing from this? Do you think that anyone can combine talent and hard work to become successful? Why or why not? How far can individual charity address inequalities of income?

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  • School of Sport and Education, Brunel University
    Kingston Lane, Uxbridge, Middlesex, UB8 3PH


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