Words by Rebecca Dewar // Photography by Beth Beeson
I know from experience that right now high schools are flooding their final year students with advice for the future, university applications, options and motivational speakers. The fact of the matter is that most of these ‘prepare ahead’ inspired activities end up daunting students and sending them home to writhe in their sleep, worried about what they will do in the future.
I must confess, I never worried too much about my future plans. I knew what I wanted to be, and the path I wanted to take. Let me tell you, this did not make things any easy. The stress about applying for that path was still there!
This is why I wanted to offer some advice to the many young people who may be in this position now.
First of all, deciding what you want to do when you leave school, applying for tertiary education, getting a job or chasing your dream career are all separate things. It is not wise to bundle all of these things into one. This makes the stress and anxiety quadruple. Separate these different things out.
Begin with the easiest. What you want to do is for most young people the hardest thing in the world to figure out. Do not start here. I find this is what daunts people. They assume that it is not until they figure out what they want to do for the rest of their lives that only then can they apply, chase that dream or get an appropriate job.
The easiest thing for me on this list is applying for further education. Whether you are 3 years from finishing high school, or 3 months away, know exactly what qualifications, letters, documents and approvals you need to apply for university or college. Then begin by focusing on these. For me, this was something called ‘University Entrance’, and was qualified by obtaining minor academic credentials. Your country may have something similar. If you need help obtaining these, work with your teachers and your parents, they can help you. Remember, you do not need to know what you want to do for the rest of your life to obtain these, you just need to focus, and have an attentive attitude.
The next thing on the list is to get a job. My first job involved cutting up fruit and vegetables at the supermarket. Although it was leaps and bounds away from law or fashion styling, the experience, paychecks and references put me in good stead for my next job.
Ultimately, deciding what you want to do for the rest of your life comes somewhere down the scale. I suppose this article so far has not stopped that worry. Here is the advice I can offer.
When you are 20 years of age, even if you were so set in your mind that you wanted to become a zookeeper, newsreader or jokey, your ideas may change. So do not stress if you do not know what you want to be, you may not figure this out until you are 40 years old. That is the most beautiful thing about growing up.
So when you leave high school what do you do?
Applying for university for the sake of it is absolutely pointless. From being at university, the students who really shine are those who can tell you without even hesitating where that particular course is going to take them.
Too often, I think, university is portrayed to young people as the only successful, only logical and only respectful next step. This is entirely untrue. The amounts of options available are incredibly extensive.
For example a gap year is a popular choice. Once you have opened your mind to new experience half a world away, your self-knowledge will be so much greater. When you return home, you can sit down and think about what you enjoyed about travel, what you saw that you liked, and what you could not stand. Perhaps it was jumping from country to country that you loved? Then maybe you could pursue adventure tourism, air host or travel company work? Perhaps it was working with new people? Then maybe a teacher, team leader, sales assistant or trades person might be for you?
Work experience is another viable alternative. If you branch into full-time work you may spark a love in some part of that job. I have had a friend with who I worked in retail with who absolutely loved counting the money in the till at the end of the day, she then went on to study economics. I personally love unpacking the new stock; this made me realize I would love to be a stock buyer for a retail company, something I will add to my long list of career aspirations.
Some less common post-high-school experiences include, a student exchange (look into what countries have a year of high school longer than yours, perhaps you could go to school again in a completely foreign place) or volunteer work (over school? Perhaps you could join an organization and volunteer to travel, if you are accepted, you may even qualify for funding!). The only rule is not to do nothing.
Some further words of advice; do not let money influence your decision, do not force yourself to think of things you love, it will come naturally, and finally: RELAX! You are now on summer break, you never have to put your hand up in class, eat your lunch where you are told, wear school shoes, attend parent teacher interviews or worry about that report card ever again! The first day of the rest of your life should never be spent worrying about the future. It should be spent eating popsicles in the sun with your best friends and working on that summer tan.
A few days down the track you will realize, ‘that’ is what I want to do.