It’s been interesting spending time with my school friends the past few days. There are just a handful of times in our lives when we truly start a new chapter: a major career change, marriage, kids, and graduations from high school and college. I would argue high school graduation is even more meaningful than college because you leave home for the first time. Given all this, our conversations have been reflective and at once reminiscent and forward looking. Grateful and proud of all it took to get to this point, but excited about the next 18 years even more. Emotional about the deep relationships formed that may soon weaken and ultimately end, but excited about a substantially larger pool of interesting people to meet in college and beyond.
One of the strongest sources of stress for many of my peers, I think, is that question many of us never answer: What do I want to do with my life? Or more specifically: What do I want to major in at college? What career do I want to enter? What am I good at? What am I, dare I use the word, passionate about?
It’s odd that high school graduates have to think about these pressing questions so soon but it’s not really surprising: the stakes are high to be "successful" and everything is accelerated.
I am blessed that these questions don’t concern me as much — sure, I still think about them, as I have many years ahead of me, but I have a pretty good sense of what I’m really good at, what I suck at, and what really interests me. So, I have it easier than some, but this doesn’t stop me from giving advice (to others or myself)!
I would argue it’s an equal blessing to be totally clueless. No matter how much I try, I am seeing the world through my developed lens and stated interests and strengths. I will try hard to be flexible and allow myself to change, but it will be difficult. The totally clueless person is a benign sponge, as ready to "try" environmentalism as investment banking. Why not?
Recent high school graduate Lindsay Eierman emailed me a few months ago and since then I’ve been reading her Xanga blog — she seems like a really interesting and well-written woman. In one of her posts she says,
While driving tonight I realized once again that I have no idea what I want to do with my life. And that is a scary thought. I do know that I want to:
-travel the world
-enjoy my career
For me, this is not "scary" at all: it’s brilliantly beautiful. She’s starting with a set of broadly defined values and wishes. Discovering what you care about can take years…for good reason. Lindsay — until then, you have a cornucopia of possibilities!
Conversations about the future take on added stress at this moment in our lives because the rules are changing. People who were king of the hill at high school can’t adapt to the new status quo, and stumble. Indeed, high school style popularity is effectively worthless in the adult world. When you stumble, you start to doubt yourself and the accuracy of your own gut, the single most important radar for what your true calling is.
It’s a fascinating time to be 18.