As the end of high school approached, it was drilled into each of us that we must have a plan. We were given pages upon pages of post-school propaganda, detailing everything from entering the armed forces, to university, to joining the sisterhood. There were countless career fairs and talks by people “from the industry”, which were always those who had a very victorious job. The sort of job that is clean cut, and that you will stay in for life.
Not having a set career for post-school life wasn’t merely frowned upon; it was unheard of. By the time we walked out the gates for the last time in our final year, we had to have chosen our path, our ingrained footsteps towards a pleasant future. When I completed school, similar to my peers, we had each decided what we wanted to do with ourselves amongst simmering pressure. Pressure to decide, at 17 and 18, what we would be doing to pay the bills for the rest of our lives. University was heavily pushed, far more so than trades or heading straight into work, with the unspoken message of university being a better and more respected option than the rest.
For some reason I still don’t quite understand, I decided to study psychology at the university all my friends were going to. I don’t really know why, but I was interested in the mental health field. From the attitude of the school I went to, the ambitions of clinical psychology and even more so psychiatry, were hailed as the sole, successful paths in this field. And so I began university with already failing mental health, and proceeded to drop out 18 months later at rock bottom.
At this stage, I was completely and utterly lost. This was partially due to the illnesses I was experiencing, but also because without university and my set career path ahead of me, it was easy to start to question who you are without it all. And I didn’t like what I found.
It was terrifying at first, not complying with what I had been taught my whole life. Not consistently making progress towards that set career we decided upon while we were still children. I felt as though I had failed myself, my education, my family and my school. Within our plans in our final year, there was no room for mistakes. You pick something that is deemed “good enough”, like medicine or law, and then you head out and do it. Massive shifts in mindset and personal circumstances changing weren’t part of the ideal equation.
As time went on, I slowly began to recover, and I was left with exactly what I had been taught to fear. Not being in the prestigious and ambitious game. Not complying with the decisions I had made while still in school. At the time, I was working full time in a job that I didn’t exactly hate, but it was boring, and wasn’t what I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing.
At this point, I was living exactly what school had taught me was wrong. Not excelling. Not being perfect. Not following the “good” path or the “right” path. I was 20, and this is when I learnt that not following the path that is set ahead for you is okay.
The break from constantly striving for success in something I wasn’t even sure I liked, gifted me the time and energy for other realms of life. I was healing from years of mental illnesses, I was working on my relationship with my now husband, I was rekindling the fire and reigniting long hidden passion for life itself. These endeavors are not what we were taught you should be doing after you leave school. However, I discovered that they were far more important and meaningful than where I should have been instead.
With time to think and breathe beyond the suffocating pressure, I came across something that truly intrigued me. It was a geospatial science course at a local university, an institute that is viewed as less prestigious, and thus not as good, as the one I had previously attended. I began, and I have never looked back. And things have worked out better than I ever could have envisioned in my final year of school.
I am now 22, and am two thirds of my way through my bachelor’s degree, studying what I wasn’t meant to study, and having made more mistakes than I can ever count. And guess what? I am so happy. I truly enjoy my field, and I am thankful for the experiences that made me deviate from where I was “supposed” to be.
Please don’t get me wrong, I believe it is good that school tries to prepare students for the world beyond. However, acknowledging that it is okay not to know, and that it is okay to change, is also necessary. I am also a strong advocate for taking time to experience life outside of school, before committing to a particular course or field of work. Work in a boring job for a while. See where your mind wanders, feel what pulls you in. Find out who you actually are without the overwhelming pressure to decide exactly who you are at 18.
Not one of my friends that I left school with have stuck exactly with what they initially decided upon leaving. Many have changed majors, some have changed universities, and others have changed careers. And it’s brilliant. We are creating who we are. We are not static creatures.
Go out and be changing, be dynamic, and don’t be afraid of how you will grow in the process. Most of us don’t know what we are doing. And that, that is truly okay.