A Note for Teens on their Future



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Often this time of year I have many eighth graders and juniors/seniors in high school come into my office in complete panic. The American middle class cultural expectation is that they are applying for high school and college and should have bulky resumes, pristine grades, and a knowing of just what they want to do for the next 40 years. How did this pressure come to be? Why are we collectively perpetuating it? How many adults knew what they were going to do with their lives at 12 or 16?

There are many factors that have contributed to this shift in America over the years and I am not going to write about the etiology. What I am going to say is that we live longer than ever, most people change careers two to three times in life, and while some people know their calling at a young age….most do not, and that is OKAY!

I am on my second career and didn’t go back to school to be a therapist until I was 30. Some of us have to work other jobs to find out what we don’t want to do before we do. College is also not the only way. Our culture is losing an edge with fewer people learning trades, and many people are more experiential hands-on learners who thrive in production or service jobs. We need to think bigger and more creatively about the future and what we have to offer. There are many paths to take, and it is important that we allow space and breathing room for youth to explore theirs. I also know many beauticians and mechanics who make more money than I do and don’t have the 9 years of student loans for a masters degree.

In America we put a tremendous amount of pressure on jobs being our passion and that this will create happiness. While some people, like myself, do find careers that they love: many do not and are still happy. I have a friend who is an accountant and they are good at it. They also don’t love it. What they do love is the lifestyle it affords them so they can do what they truly love which is travel. They are happy. What we also need to remember is that besides jobs and hobbies, happiness has more to do with how you internally view things and live your life than how you externally do. What we are talking about here is creative and realistic expectations and a shift in how we engage our lives.

Don’t get me wrong: try your best and grow. Also, don’t put so much pressure on yourself that you sacrifice your mental health and happiness for some future you ultimately can’t imagine yet. Take the steps to prepare and grow, but also be here now. Part of being a teen is having fun and hanging out with friends. It is about exploring who you are as a person and what you enjoy and don’t like. If you follow this path, it will give you the answers you need. Growing up is more of an unfolding rather than a recipe or action plan.

So here are some suggestions for you teens out there currently freaking out on what to do with the rest of your life.

  1. Remember you do not have to know. Ask yourself what you really enjoy? I like to daydream about this scenario: If I had all the money in the world and no school or job expectations, what would I do with my time?
  2. Contemplate how much time you really spend doing what you enjoy. If you don’t do it much, why? How can you incorporate more of it into your life? If you do it a lot but feel it is “impractical” think outside of the box and ask, ‘What jobs are out there that incorporate this?’ Research it, this is what Google is for!
  3. Where do your current pressures come from? Who and what are sending you messages that you must know all about your future?
  4. Do you have to take on those messages? Can you discuss them with someone, another adult, to figure out how to manage them?
  5. Can you imagine your value not being tied into your performance? What are your values? How do they live out in your life or not?
  6. What do you do for stress relief and self-care?
  7. PAUSE AND BREATHE! Give yourself time to daydream and do nothing. Relax and hang out with friends. Be here now.
  8. Ask for help when you need it, don’t push through all of this alone.
  9. Remember that who you are is not what you do or how you perform. Make a list of who you are using adjectives that describe your character. Ask someone to help you with it if it’s hard.Who are the people who know you and support you just for being you?

Lastly, talk with your parents if you can. I know many well meaning parents who set limits with their kids that they get good grades and go to college. I think this is a personal value they have a right to implement in their family if desired. I also think that it can be very stressful depending on how the message is given to their kids. If you support your child’s health over performance and make that clear, helping them to cope with stress and knowing they are loved no matter what, these expectations are more workable. If you find your child internalizing that they are no good if they don’t perform well, this is not ultimately going to set them up for learning and success but a lifetime of stress and maladaptive coping. It’s time to have a conversation about how to work together so your teen can healthily engage their education and life. Here is another post where I address some of these issues.

Be well dear teen readers, I believe in you and you will find your way.

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