I went to the garden centre the other day and lo and behold, when I was purchasing a couple of flower pots, the person behind the counter was James (NB not his real name). James is a young person we’d worked with for a number of years at the Station. We got chatting about old times, how we got the Station up and running together and the various ups and downs in his life over the last three years.

At Creative Youth Network, we walked some of that journey with him. I know his experience with us helped James build his confidence and got him his first apprenticeship and then a job.

This reminded me of the obvious, but often overlooked, point that life is a journey for all of us. We all have ups and downs, good days and bad. It’s also true that those with difficult starts in life often find themselves having more bad than good.I also know he’s continued to battle with other issues after this success. Struggling with his mental health and body image has, on occasions, affected his ability to work, his relationships and, ultimately, his living arrangements.

Yet the work we do is measured in ‘outcomes’ and ‘destinations’, such as increased self-confidence, developing better personal relationships, getting a job, re-joining education. This is very useful for us to know we’re focussing our efforts in the right way and the young people we work with achieve important goals in their lives through working with us.

It also helps us explain to those who aren’t in the same sector what we do, how we work and what we strive for. In turn this helps us find funding for our work and so the cycle continues.

However, the deeper we get into ‘measuring’ the more I see its limitations. A good day can turn into a bad one for many young people in the blink of an eye.

A young person came into our office today, having arrived at a new workplace to start his apprenticeship only to be told there’d been an ‘administrative error’ and he was no longer needed. He was gutted, his dreams of being able to support himself and get his life going again having been dashed.

But on our outcomes sheet he has been ‘in employment’ and we can tick that box, as he managed to get through the door. Of course, our dedicated staff sat down with him straight away, putting aside other work they need to do. They helped him calm down and started the process of looking for something else.

A grinning staff member, with someone else who is turned away from the camera

However, his work isn’t measured. The immediate response he got, someone to reassure him that it wasn’t his fault and the support of having someone to listen and guide him through. Not is the relationship we built with him so that we were the first place he turned to when things went wrong.

Teachers, nurses, social workers, youth workers – they’re all being asked to measure what they do, but it is worth remembering none of us has ‘arrived’ at our destination yet – we only reach points along the way.