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Different mindsets and social trends

Having lived in a third world country until the age of 17, my story emphasizes on the effect of social trends on young people's creative confidence. My experience also highlights the important role of educators and the educational system.

Photo of Parastoo Abtahi
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I apologize beforehand for my informal tone and lack of visuals; I originally wrote this text as a script that I wanted to turn into an animation. Even though due to the time constraint I wasn’t able to do so, it was important for me to share my story, as it highlights an issue that needs to be considered when brainstorming ideas in the next step of this challenge. Considering that this challenge addresses “young adults around the world”, and having lived in a third world country until the age of 17, my experience emphasizes on interesting differences in mindsets that stem from social trends in different countries.

I remember when I was around 5 or 6, I would think about what I wanted to do when I grew up, and I remember I wouldn’t think about any specific job; all I really cared about was to do things differently. I remember I wanted to have a toy store where everything in the store would be the same price. The kids would pay the price for one toy at the entrance, they would come in and play with all the toys, for as long as they wanted, and when they left my store, they would take with them one toy that they loved the most that day. Or I remember wanting to have a bakery where kids would come in and decorate their cookies and sweets. And many other things that I wanted to do.

Couple years later, when I was in first and second grade, I wanted to be an inventor. I would come up with all these ideas and draw them out, and think that I would make them when I grew up. I remember one day I drew a whole new transportation system to solve the problem of traffic in my city, and I remember thinking to myself “why didn’t grownups thing of this?”

When I became older, I started to get really disappointed. Every idea that I had either already existed and I just didn’t know about it, or I was told that it was not possible. It was during those years that I started to lose my creative confidence. I felt like there was no point of coming up with ideas if it was impossible to actually create them, and that was when my passion just became a dream. I remember telling my dad that I didn’t belong to this time; that I should have been born centuries ago.

Years later, when I was in grade 8, we had a career day at school. We had to choose what we wanted to do in the future from a list of jobs. We had to set up a booth and do an oral presentation on that day. By then I had developed a passion for animated films and music, but I couldn’t find anything related to those on the list. So I chose “Graphic Designer” since I was also interested in that.

On the career day, I was proudly standing in my booth with some of my designs and paintings behind me. As the school principal walked by my booth, she paused and asked if she could talk to me in private. We walked to a corner and she said: “I’m very disappointed. You are one of our top students;you should be doing something bigger. How about becoming a Mathematician, or a physicist? How about an Engineer? Think about!” I got the same reaction from the vice president and all my teachers that walked my booth.

That’s when I was introduced to this mindset of respectable jobs (a mindset that still exists in the country that I grew up in). It’s very simple: if you are good at math and science you will be an engineer,if you are good at biology you will become a doctor.

I remember coming home that day and thinking how much I disagreed with their mindset, and the only thing that calmed me down that night, was my dad telling me: “It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you are passionate about it, work hard for it, and bring something new.” Even though I didn’t agree with what I was told that day, the reaction I got from the people that I looked up to probably influenced me in my career path (I’m doing my undergrad in Engineering now).

A year later, I went to a high school that was fairly competitive to get into. All the students were motivated and unique, with lots of extracurricular opportunities. What was different there, compared to my previous school, was that they didn’t try to create hardworking robots that did exactly what they were told; they valued individuality. We even had a creative thinking class in our curriculum, where our teacher first introduced us to IDEO by showing us the ABC’s nightline shopping card video (this is around 7 years ago). We also had 30 minute breaks after lunch every week, when we would go to the amphitheater and every time one class would run the show. So every two months our class (around 25 people) had to do something in that period, with the goal of entertaining other students. You could do anything from summarizing that week’s global news, talking about new scientific discoveries, reading poems,doing standup comedy or a play.

During one of those 30 minute breaks, I combined my passion for animation and music. I learned how to use Flash Professional, and I created a short animation where all my favorite cartoon characters met each other underwater. Why underwater? Because Nemo was one of them, and I guess back then it made more sense for Pink Panther to go under water, than for Nemo to be on land. Anyways, so I projected my animation on the big screen, and I took my flute, recorder, xylophone to the stage. I also used the piano and I played the respective theme songs as the characters appeared on the screen.

If I were in my old school, I might have thought of this as a silly idea and I wouldn’t be brave enough to do such a thing. But the positive response that I got from students and my teachers after the show, reminded me that there is no such thing as silly!

Three years later I immigrated to Canada and I realized those mindsets that I was introduced to in my early teen years, were specific to my country. What affects young people’s creative confidence varies depending on the country they are from, and in my case, even varies from school to school. What is important is that the educational system and the educators play an essential role; no matter where you are living.

Hope it was an inspiration!

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Photo of Meena Kadri

Inspiring indeed, Parastoo. Love that you added music to your presentation as well – multi-talented! And am so glad that your father encouraged you to do things that you're passionate about and to work hard and bring something new to the table. From what you've captured here, I have no doubt that you will bring your creative talents to engineering also. And that's something we've been keen to remind folks... creativity can be as significant if you are a graphic designer, garbage collector or geologist. There's always room for innovative thinking – and this is fuelled by creativity. Hope to see more of you across our challenge conversations...