I see a lot of kids pressured to choose what they want out of life very early. Usually, it happens during high-school: you’ve got to choose a college (and 99.9% of parents want their child to get a degree), which means you’ve got to choose a profession, which means you’ve got to choose a life.
At 17. (Sigh).
If you think about it, parents are doing a disservice to their kids. Choosing a path in life is important. Of course, you can always change it, but the more time goes, the more opportunity costs are there. But by asking their 17-year-old kid to make such a decision, parents are essentially putting their child’s future in the hands of a 17-year-old.
Isn’t that weird? Would you want your life to be based on the judgement of a 17-year-old? (Even if you are 17 now).
It’s like in ‘How I Met Your Mother’: let the future you decide! Let that guy (or gal) deal with those things!
I also don’t like the word ‘choose’ in all of this, as in ‘choose your profession’.
You don’t really choose your life. You design it.
The problem with ‘choosing’ is that you usually choose among a fixed set of variables.
How many professions are there in a 17-year-old brain? 5? 10? 50? How many are there in the world? Millions?
And to be honest, what this 17-year-old is going to be doing with their life is probably not a profession (it’s more likely to be a mix of constantly changing activities) and it’s probably not yet invented.
‘Entrepreneurship’ was not a word 20 years ago. Neither was ‘blogging’.
And is ‘blogging’ a profession? Not to old-school parents. But it can make more money than a lot of other professions out there.
Me and my younger sister (17 at the time of this writing) were raised in a post-soviet Russia. We were raised by parents who themselves were raised in the Soviet Union. In Soviet Union, you were obligated to choose a profession. Having a fixed identity and role in society was the keystone for USSR’s existence.
Everything was fixed, categorized and programmed. You are born. You go to kindergarten. You go to school. You enter the Party. You go to college or the army. You get a job. You work. You contribute. You show your worth to the Party. You check boxes and pay your dues. You die.
Such rigidity is the fundamental quality of socialism. Without it, nothing would work, everything would be chaos (like now). Well, I’ve got good news: it’s not socialism anymore. Nobody needs to choose. At definitely not so early.
I believe that it’s OK to have literally no fucking clue of what you want to do with your life at 17. At 18, 19, 20, 21 and so on, too. Of course, sooner or later, you’ll have to get yourself together and focus (actually, do you?). But why so early? What’s the rush? Where is everybody trying to get to so quickly?
It’s more than OK to take a year or more after 11–12 (!) years of school to hang around, try yourself doing something and not go to college. Call it ‘gap year’ or whatever. I regret not doing that, as my life could have been different — I was pressured to go to college (a very elite one, too) and dropped out 7 months in.
They say “Oh you graduated?” No, I decided I was finished.
— Kanye West, ‘School Spirit’
There are kids, though, who need school. They need school because they need structure. They need someone to tell them what to do. I get it. For kids like that, school may be the answer. But then you’ve got to realize the reality here: school is not getting you anywhere, it’s just a place where you hang out and spend your time, waiting to grow the fuck up.
There are other kids, too, who drop out (for good reasons) and think they’ll go travel the world, ‘searching for themselves’. As romantic as this sounds (I had similar ideas when I wanted to drop out, so I get you guys), it’s probably bullshit and it’s better to stay at school. As much as I love to travel and see new places, traveling definitely not an alternative to school.
The best alternative to college is learning on your own.
It’s learning the skills that other people find valuable. It’s good for 2 reasons:
- If someone finds your skill valuable (and you learn to sell it well), you can make money. It’s never a bad idea to learn how to make your own money.
- The more skills you build, the more you’ll know about yourself and your own passions. When you are young, your sole focus should be on ‘figuring yourself out’, and learning is a great way to do so.
When I dropped out, I started learning digital marketing. I went working for my dad and was in charge of all social media out there. I knew nothing, so I had to learn on the job. It was fun and I made money to keep myself afloat (which is what you learn too). It led me to start my own business too.
So if you don’t think that you can (yet) learn on your own, don’t drop out. Let the school structure keep you afloat until you are ready.
In general, if your parents pressure you to ‘choose your path’ at 17, tell them to fuck off. Well, actually, don’t do that — but don’t take them too seriously. All they want for you is security and security (in their world) comes with ‘having it all figured out’. It’s OK not to have everything figured out.
But keep learning. Your job (your only job!) is to learn your way into knowing yourself well enough to say: “Ok. That’s what makes me tick. That’s what I want to do for the rest of my life”.
Until you’ve got that, keep looking and learning different things. Let this journey of self-discovery take as much time as it needs.