By Kim Keough
Once you become a teenager, you start hearing the familiar question, “What do you want to do with your life?” or, “What do you want to study in college?” “What’s your career goal?” It’s great to have a sense of direction regarding your future but these can be loaded questions. All too often adults think young people should already know exactly what they want to do with the rest of their life. Not too much pressure!
This is Gen-Y we are talking about. Millennials. They are in the out in the world. Gen Z is coming of age now. Things are different than your parents’ or grandparents’ youthful days. Today’s young people are more creative and self-confident – and even more entitled – than older generations. Things come easier and faster. At the same time, expectations are greater, and high achievement seems to be the norm rather than the exception. Disappointments can be harder to bear.
Thinking ahead, though, is not a bad idea. You don’t need to have all of the answers about the future but some planning might help you at least figure out some options. Three helpful and practical ways are: Know your strengths, know your options, and observe others.
Know Your Strengths
What you want to do with your life? That’s the million-dollar question. To help answer this question, it’s good to know your strengths – these include things that you are good at and passionate about. Writing down your skills and abilities may help, especially if you have many interests. And since exploring your natural talents is a good place to start, try to figure out what careers would best suit your abilities.
- If by nature you are compassionate and active, are good at biology, and love animals you may be interested in veterinary medicine.
- If you are a math whiz, excellent at drawing, and have good analytical skills you might want to consider architecture as a career path.
- If you are energetic, like working with your hands, and enjoy the outdoors, you might think about landscaping as a path suitable for you.
If you’re unsure, or having trouble narrowing your focus, feel you are sinking into depression about the unknown future, talk to a career counselor, and a they have different aptitude tests you can take, or talk to mentors or people who are already doing things that interest you. Be curious. Stay open.
Know Your Options
Thinking about life after high school and college can be a hurdle. You might be thinking, “Can’t I just get through graduation first?!” But whether you want to start off on a career immediately, or DIY and be an entrepreneur, or be of service without pursuing further education, it’s smart to think ahead.
When investigating the options you have regarding your future, try to explore all possible opportunities. For many teens, college is the next logical step after high school, but then there’s the question of what you want to major in, where you want to attend college, and how you will pay for it.
Visit schools, talk to your advisers and students who have already graduated, and look into financial aid options. There are also numerous web sites that can help, such as collegeboard.com, collegeview.com and College Match Maker.
For some teens going to college is not the right fit. It’s OK to explore other options more suitable to your interests. Technical and vocational schools have become very popular these days, especially with the rising costs of colleges. These are institutions that will help you develop a trade or job-specific skill set such as hairdressing, plumbing, carpentry, electrical work, or welding.
Another option for teens not interested in college is joining the military. Many who join do so directly out of high school. There is a wealth of information online for the U.S. Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, Air Force, or National Guard. Be sure to include your parents in your decision making.
Finally, taking a “gap year” – taking a year off before college to work, earn money, and reevaluate – is becoming more and more trendy with kids. This may involve travel or volunteering or working at a job to save money.
Ask For Help
Many adults say that spending a day with someone in a particular profession helped them pick that career. One chiropractor, for example, said that he knew he wanted to go into a health field but wasn’t sure which one to pick – until he shadowed a chiropractor for day on the job. As he watched patients feel better from alignments and adjustments, he decided that career was for him. So consider asking some professionals if you can spend a day watching them do their job. That might help you decide what you’d like to do in the future.
The future is a puzzle. Many adults even have a hard time putting all the pieces of their lives together. Plus, the average adult holds about seven jobs over a lifespan. So ask for help, use your resources and abilities, and even though you may feel pressure from parents, family, or friends to have the future all figured out, only you are the creator of your destiny. Select a path that will make you proud, not what you think others want you to do.
This article was reviewed and updated Tara Cousineau, PhD.
Last reviewed May 2018.