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Russell Hemmings life lessons through a lens

Life lessons through a lens

Recently, I was rummaging through one of the many boxes of ‘stuff’, thinking to myself, I must get more organised, when at the bottom of those sedimentary layers of paperwork that seem to amass themselves over the years, I discovered an old photograph. I wasn’t expecting to find it in amongst that box I had frustratingly labelled ‘mundane but necessary’ at some point in the past, but there it was – an old school photo. Grainy black and white rows of boys in school uniform, smiling out at me from the past. My past. And I have to say it made me heart do a little cartwheel as memories came flooding back – some good, some not so.

I suppose many would say I was privileged to have been sent to boarding school, but as I looked into those faces of the masters and our beloved matron, I was transported back to my first day, remembering just how lost I felt. At the age of just 11, leaving the security of home and that comforting feeling of your parents being ‘in charge’ and directing the ship, was perhaps one of the most nerve wracking of my life. Like so many kids, I was frightened by the unknown and thoughts about whether I would make friends or if the teachers would instil fear and rule the school with a rod of iron.

It’s amazing how a single photo can stir the memory and temporarily put you back in touch with those childhood feelings. It’s something that we can easily lose sight of as adults, dismissing childhood fears as trivial, when for the child they can seem the biggest and most important thing in their lives at the time. Obviously, experience helps to give you perspective, but that’s the thing about childhood – it’s all about first times and learning how to deal with things and that can be scary. It is however, a necessary process, if you’re going to grow up with the resourcefulness and resilience needed to deal with life’s inevitable downs as well as the ups.

That first few weeks at boarding school were difficult at times; I missed home, I had to get used to being in a dormitory with twenty-seven other boys and I had to follow new routines and rules, but in the process I learned so many new skills that weren’t just academic. Sharing, how to be more responsible for myself, getting involved in new activities all grew my confidence in the process. At the time I didn’t know I was picking up all of these wonderful life skills; the great innocence of childhood is that you don’t stop to analyse, you just get on with things (I often feel we adults could learn a lot from our childhood selves in this respect), but now I can look back and appreciate how significant those things were in helping me become the person I am today.

It made me think about how important it is for parents to allow kids to experience the difficult times as well as the good. Naturally, as parents, our first instincts are to protect our kids and rightly so, but it’s also good to allow them to take responsibility for the things they are capable of doing. All too often I meet parents who feel insecure about ceding some of that control as their children grow up. They might still be packing their school bags for them or getting too involved in homework or tidying up after them. I ask myself how are these children going to become fully functioning adults and take their place in the world if they can’t pack their bag for school? The more parents step in the less likely kids are to experience the consequences and then the more they find it difficult to make that transition to independence.

Now, I’m certainly not advocating boarding school as a solution! However, I do remember that being expected to do things for myself, rather than wholly relying on my parents, was a shock at first, but in the long run empowered me through personal responsibility. That for me is as powerful a lesson as anything I actually studied in the classroom.

I look back at my eleven-year-old self and realise that life can sometimes be fabulous and sometimes it can be a struggle or sometimes it can simply be ‘mundane but necessary’, but it’s always about the experience and that is where all the learning takes place.

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