Happy Graduation and Congratulations!
It is graduation month, and you are stepping out into a new adventure. For some, this is an exciting moment. But for some, the next step is a frightening. Everyone, I mean EVERYONE has been asking you the same question over the last four years. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Today, you are supposed to have that question answered, right?
The answer is not as easy as the question. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” rolls off the tongue just as automatic as our body blinks. It is kind of like a greeting (Hello. How are you?). You are not expecting them to give you all the juicy details about how they are feeling now are you? Neither are friends and family when they ask “What do you want to be when you grow up.” Most do not expect you to have it all figured out. To them, it is just a question. However, It is a loaded question to a graduating senior. That decision has loomed over them like a dark cloud for the past four years of their life.
Blast from the Past
One day, while rummaging through one of those old boxes that mom’s keep of childhood memories, I happened on a cut and paste project from elementary school. The title of it was “What I want to be when I grow up.”
The idea of the art project (from a teacher’s viewpoint) was to kick-start career dreams on impressionable minds. One page of the art assignment provided many professions from which to choose. The other had four empty boxes. We were supposed to cut and paste our top four careers. Number one being the top choice, and so on and so forth.
I don’t remember all the options I had that day. If I had to guess, it had the usual suspects such as:
My choices have slipped my mind at the moment, except one. I only remember it because it was the most ironic of the group.
Oh, The Irony
Proudly, I had plastered the picture of a NURSE as my number one choice. Now, those who know me well would laugh hysterically at the notion of me EVER wanting to be a nurse. To say that it would be a huge mistake is an understatement. A nurse I am not.
Do you need evidence of how epic my failure would be? Well, allow me to demonstrate. Once, (recently I might add) I cut the tip of my thumb off. I COMPLETELY freaked out. The sight of the blood and the possibility of having chopped off an appendage was more than I could handle. My husband had to come home from work to help me. I was not about to look at it. (Ugh, now I am anxious just writing about it). I needed him to examine the damage so he could decide if a trip to the ER was required. So you see, I am not cut out to be a nurse.
(We didn’t end up in the ER by-the-way. “Doctor Tommy” took care of all my medical care until it didn’t look gnarly anymore.It took about a week before I could drum up the courage to look at my wound)
What was I Thinking!
So why did I paste on that picture at the wee age of 5 or 6? I certainly do not know. Perhaps I had limited choices (and writer was not available). Which brings us to an excellent question. Why do we push our kids to start deciding what they want to be when they grow up at such young ages?
Kindergarten was not to be the only encounter I had with the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” All through my school career, I must have had some art project or writing topic about my chosen career path. My answer was always the same. “I do not know.” I had NO IDEA, but somehow I felt the pressure that I should have a decision by now. I did not.
After Graduation Pressure Cooker
The closer to high school graduation, the more that dangling boulder of a question haunted me. It felt as if it would break off and squash me any moment because I still did not know. Not only were counselors harassing me about what I would major in in college, but parents, friends, and the world, in general, demanded a decision right then and there. Screaming in my ears “WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GROW UP!” But still, no answer. I had absolutely no idea what I would major in in college.
The pressure was insurmountable.
So many young people deal with this pressure today. We begin when they are children. We hound them about what they want to be when they grow up. Then, as they are preparing to step out into the world, we question them even more. Innocently we are just encouraging them to think about their futures, to have goals, but is it necessary to ask to the degree that we do?
Dear Family and Friends,
Please, for the love of God stop casually asking students about their career path after graduation. I know you don’t mean to levy added pressure, but IT DOES. Most panic and just spit out anything so they do not look like a complete failure. What they want to say is “I don’t know yet.”
What to ask
Instead, ask questions like, “What are you most excited about college?” Or, “What subjects interest you?” Most will have a few ideas in mind, but it is not the same as saying, “What is going to be your major?” A student who is sure of their path after graduation will joyfully, and freely share it with you.
Most of us do not mean to add pressure when we ask about your future. For the most part, it is like asking someone how they are doing. Instead, we ask “What do you want to be when you grow up?” or, “What are you going to major in?” In reality, we don’t expect you to have it all figured out (well, most of us, anyway).
So, I came up with a few words of wisdom for after graduation and your freshman year of college. I could add much more, but you are overwhelmed enough, so I stuck with four.
Some of you will have a plan mapped out after graduation, and some will not. Both are ok. Either way, BE FLEXIBLE. It is good to have a goal to be out in four years, but being overly strict with the timeline can derail success and exhaust you. You are working toward the future. Life is not mapped out, so roll with the changes.
Rolling with the changes does not include being OVERLY flexible. Some fall into the trap of not taking a college education seriously enough. The last thing you want to do is be in college for 7+ years before graduation because you took flexibility to a whole other level. Here are some tips on how to stay focused.
Don’t Pigeonhole Yourself
If you begin college courses in one direction, but find it is not the profession for you, change. College is not just about a career path. It is about expanding your experience so that you can find what suits your personality and capabilities. College courses open up a whole new perspective of available career paths. Don’t pigeonhole yourself into one just because you told someone you were going to be that when you grew up. Odds are you will change majors at least 2-3 times before one will stick. Exploring your options is ok.
“I Don’t Know” Cannot Last Forever
Exploring your options is part of the college experience. As I said before, students change majors around 2-3 times before they settle on one. However, changing it in excess is being wishy-washy. Your “I don’t know” must become “I know” at some point. Avoiding the inevitable only racks up student loans and delays your future. You have to make a commitment to a field of study sometime. Here are some tips for choosing a college major.
You don’t have to have it all figured out. So relax! Take your time. Explore because you never know what you will find that interests you enough to make a career out of it.
Heck, I still tell people “I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.”
“Life is an adventure; it’s not a package tour.” Eckhart Tolle