So Many Paths, So Little Time The Struggle of Planning Our Futures

Although there are plenty of options for college and in the workforce, teenagers are still learning what they truly want out of life. It will take time and a lot of self-analysis before they’re ready to take the next step. With their attention divided into academics, extracurriculars, their personal lives and enjoying their last few teenage years, there’s not always enough time to focus on their future goals. Photo Credit: Kayla Thomas
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Every year, high school counselors ask students the same question: “What do you want to do after high school?” And yes, I have given it thought – probably more than I should – but nonetheless, I have been there. It’s overwhelming because there are so many things I want to do with my life. I want to travel. I want to grow. I want to enjoy college. There’s a whole world out there, and just like any other forward-facing teenager, I’m eager to experience it all. 

When high school students plan out their college life, it spills into planning their future career path, and the beginning of their adult lives. It’s almost like setting our lives in stone, especially when factors weigh into it like college tuition, scholarships, financial stability in the career chosen, and the amount of satisfaction that career could bring. It’s not the same as picking out a pair of shoes. There’s this finality to it that amplifies as each semester passes.  

As an overthinking idealist, it’s a struggle for me to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. I am so eager to go to college, but I don’t know what I’m running towards. What the reality of college life, education and growth will be. This makes the lines blurry when trying to prepare myself for college, especially when it feels like every single thing I do could cost me my future. I spent my entire freshman year convinced that I couldn’t ever mess up, and that I had to stay focused on the future, college, my career, and finding the balance between making money and loving what I do. 

With that in mind, teenagers spend about three years figuring it all out, which is way harder than it seems. Although the curriculum in Clark County is structured to push teenagers into trying new things; new classes and new environments, it’s not a “one size fits all” process. There’s still more work to be done before each student figures out what they like. In order to do that, teens have to try things that they won’t or don’t know if they will like. This reality sets the expectation for a messy, stressful high school experience where not only do we have to maintain our grades, but somehow discover our interests in doing that. For instance, I’m currently taking computer science, and it made me realize that I don’t like spending hours typing repetitive code. One step closer to finding myself, one step closer to choosing the right career, and one step back because now I have to push to excel in a class I’m not all that excited about.

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On top of that, there’s this false expectation that gets stripped away as the years pass. The first year in high school, most teens think this is going to be the best time of their life, but come second quarter and every other week is another attempt to drop a class. Then sophomore year comes and the real work begins. The transition has officially ended and the teachers aren’t as easy on students because they should be familiar with the workload. Junior year comes and then it feels like life or death. ACTs here, end of course exams over there, college applications in that corner and saying goodbye to their programs in the other corner. 

Even as a sophomore, I have come to understand that all of high school is fluid. Everything – from the classroom to a student’s own mentality – is changing faster than any of the students have ever experienced, and that multiplies when students are at a magnet school like ours. Given the constant chase after stability in the present, it’s difficult to plan out the next ten years, or even the next five years. 

Who’s to say that the rest of our lives isn’t going to be never ending changes? I can’t tell the amount of tests I have bombed because I was already in a bad mood from seeing my grade change in another class. Allowing that to heavily affect my attitude scared me, because that’s the only thing we can truly control. After teenagers realize that, then we begin the journey to finding stability, comfort, and peace within ourselves. So no matter how high the waves get, or how loud the thunder cracks, they won’t be phased by it. This is one of the biggest lessons in life, and a difficult one for students who are early into their high school years like me. 

It’s okay to feel this pressure, this nagging feeling sitting in the back of your head. Many teens have experienced this stress, and it’s important to know that as you stare down that road, you aren’t alone. Keep in mind that we’re all standing there with you looking with confusion, frustration, stress, or maybe even eagerness. The future is coming faster than you think. So, take the time now to walk through it all. Take the time to familiarize yourself with these feelings, these thoughts, these experiences, because they will become your guide when you decide what the next few years will look like.
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