Navigating Life After High School
So you’ve made it to your final year of high school. Amidst the final sports day and canteen lunches with your mates (and the usual last-minute stress about internals), you’ve heard that dreaded question, yet again.
“What do you want to do with your life?”
If that question makes your heart race, or you feel overwhelmed, you’re not alone. In fact, it’s completely normal not to have an answer to that question.
Many students have no idea what they want to do when they leave high school, and to be honest, a lot of adults didn’t plan out their lives either!
Navigating your future can be a really daunting task, but we’re here to help.
What’s It Like In The Real World?
There are so many options available, and you can access almost anything online. This can be really overwhelming, because it seems like everyone is doing something unique and different, with no clear pathway for how they go there.
This is why we are described as an organic society and not a mechanical society. It sounds really confusing, but it’s actually quite cool.
An organic society is one where independence is valued, and individual values and beliefs are valued. This is a part of our modern world, where we have so many different jobs available to us, and they all work together to create a whole. An organic society lends itself to a high level of specialisation. A great example of this is a subway worker being called a ‘sandwich artist’ vs. ‘fast-food employee.’ You may snort with laughter at this distinction, dear reader, but hear us out to the end.
A mechanical society is one where everyone does similar work, thinks similarly, and has the same beliefs. Essentially, if you share the same ideas, thoughts, beliefs and principles as everyone around you, you’re living in a mechanical society.
Basically, this means two things:
- There is no pressure for you to “fit in” to a particular mold. As an individual, you’re free to make your own choices, and society values people who have their own ideas over fitting into a pre-made mold.
- It’s okay if you don’t know what you’re doing, or if you take a non-traditional path that your parents don’t understand. You have the freedom to choose for yourself, which is really cool.
Talk to People, and Learn From Others
This might sound like a really weird suggestion, but hear us out.
You’ve been at school for 13 years, which means you know the NCEA system inside out, but you probably haven’t had the chance to learn about different jobs. How can you know whether you want to be a lawyer, if you’ve binged all 9 seasons of Suits, but you’ve never talked to a real lawyer?
Often, we glamorise roles that sound cool. However, what we think about things, and what it actually is, are almost never the same. Yeah, being a doctor sounds sick (no pun intended), but if you have an aversion to seeing nasty boils and weird smells, it might not be your best option.
Ask people about their jobs, and you will learn a lot about what you do (or what you really, really don’t) want to do.
The Traditional Path Isn’t Your Only Option
We live in a modern world, and while your parents may have had limited choices (and might think that attending university is the only option for success), the world is your oyster. However, this can come with a certain amount of pressure about “what you want to do for the rest of your life” but it also gives you the freedom to do whatever you want (which is kind of awesome).
With social media and technology connecting us across the world, you have an opportunity to learn almost any new skill or communicate with people on the other side of the world.
You have the ability to create your own online brand, do freelance work, or work in ways that we couldn’t have imagined a few years ago.
While your family may be pushing you to study at university or get a 9-5 job, these aren’t your only options.
Here are a few things you might like to do after high school:
If you’re keen to travel the world, there are a few options available to you. You can work as a nanny, join a travel group, or go solo and have an adventure! There is also a website called workaway where you have free accommodation if you house-sit for families, or do chores around the house. These are all great ways to see more of the world, meet new people from various backgrounds, and you gain a lot of emotional maturity in the process, as well.
This option depends on the coronavirus, but you can always delay your travels for a few years, and go once it’s safe to travel again.
Volunteering is an amazing way to get involved in your community or combine this with travelling, and volunteer for an organisation which bases itself in other countries.
Work for a Year (or a Few)
This gives you time to figure out whether pursuing further education is for you, or whether you’d like to work instead. Working in your chosen field is a great way to learn about whether you’d actually like that career path. Regardless of whether you want to keep working in the same industry or not, working gives you a chance to professionally develop, and you gain valuable experience and life skills that you can transfer to other areas of your life in the future. You can also save up a lot of money!
Focus on Your Interests
If you’ve always been interested in art or photography, dancing or sports… now is the perfect time to pursue this more seriously. Why not finish that art project? Or you could start an Instagram account or website for your photography, and focus on honing your craft. This can be done while working or studying, but it is also something that you could do while you take a gap year.
Be an Entrepreneur, or Find Freelance Work
If you’re the type of person who doesn’t want to be held down by a job, then freelance work could be perfect for you. Being able to work in your own time, wherever you are, is great because you have the control and freedom to work according to your own hours. If you want to do this, you could start an online business, you could create art and sell it online, write a novel, or start a youtube channel. Make sure that you’ve thought about this seriously before you make a decision, and have a financial plan for the year!
Do an Internship or Apprenticeship
Apprenticeships are a pretty tight option if you’re down for a trade. Essentially, you’re paid to learn on the job. Apprenticeships span from your typical tradie jobs (i.e. builder, sparkie), to other jobs like hairdressing. If you want to know a bit more about apprenticeships, check out this page.
Study at a Polytechnic
This is a great option for people who prefer a more hands-on approach to learning, and you can earn a qualification while you’re at it. Polytech’s are often written off but are valuable places to learn about more practical fields (such as trade skills). The classes are also structured differently to uni if a lecture hall of 200+ people isn’t your thing.
Study at a University
If you liked high school, and you want to learn more about the world or pursue a career path that requires a specific degree, then university is the one for you. While this is the more traditional path, it doesn’t limit you from pursuing a personal passion (eg. work online, or study abroad) so there are always more options available to you! Some universities offer exchange programs where you can combine travelling with your studies, and spend a semester abroad (of course, this depends on the coronavirus).
You Can Change Your Mind
When you leave high school, your environment will be constantly changing, and you will have many different opportunities thrown at you over the years. This can be overwhelming, but it also means that you have the option to change your mind as many times as you need to.
You may change career paths multiple times, or end up on the other side of the world. You never know.
It’s important to remember that this one decision will not impact the rest of your life. You’re simply picking a direction to walk in – you’re not setting out the entire path for your life. If you change your mind in a few years, or you get to university next year and realise that it’s not for you, that’s absolutely fine.
You’re young, and the next few years are all about experimenting to find out what works and doesn’t work for you.
Why You Should Ditch Your Five-Year Plan
John Krumboltz is a career theorist who developed the theory of planned happenstance. This theory states that if you don’t know what to do, then you have the opportunity to take unplanned events that life throws at you. Basically, it means that it’s fine not to know what you’re doing.
Krumboltz argues that not having a plan is beneficial, because social and environmental factors, or chance events, can change the opportunities that you have in life. If you’re flexible with your plan, then you could benefit from something that you don’t even know about right now.
What you can do:
If you don’t know what you want to do, work on developing skills and experiences that will allow you to take unknown opportunities in the future. For example, communication skills, or the ability to express your ideas in a logical manner, work in excel, or code a website, are all skills which are valuable across different fields.
Life is about more than just working, contributing to the economy, and then dying. Life is about experiencing things that you enjoy, making last friendships, and taking the opportunities that present themselves as you go along.
Think about it. You can’t predict the future, and obsessively planning for it is kind of unfair to yourself, because you’re not letting yourself take some potentially incredible opportunities in the process.
You Don’t Have To “Follow Your Passion”
We bet you’ve heard this before: “Just do what makes you happy, sweetie” or “follow your passion!” and sure, it’s easy to say, but what if you don’t know what you’re passionate about?
Mark Cuban (billionaire and entrepreneur) said it himself;
“‘Follow your passion’ is easily the worst advice you could ever give or get.”
Essentially, you shouldn’t worry about having one passion. You’re not magically born with one life goal, and your interests and passions are actively formed through investing time and energy into something that you like.
If you idolise this idea of having a single interest as a passion, you’re limiting yourself for the rest of your life. Focusing on one thing means you could disregard other opportunities that appear, or you might ignore other strengths and interests that you have.
We have a whole article on this if you want to know why following your passion might not be a good thing.
Write Down Your Hobbies And Break Them Down
You might not have a single passion, but we can guarantee that if you dig deeper into your interests (whether they’re traditional or not), you’ll learn more about yourself.
For example, you might love Minecraft. (Don’t we all?)
Think about what you like about Minecraft.
Is it the simple, monotonous action of progressing through steps to reach a goal? Do you like mining for diamonds, or working your way to the End? Maybe you like building, and getting creative with your world, or making intricate structures with Redstone. (Or maybe you just like the game… we’re not here to tell you what to do).
Our point is, figure out what you like about your hobbies, and see if you can apply those same skills to other aspects of your life.
For example, if you like building with Redstone, then you probably have a really good spatial awareness, logical thinking, and attention to detail.
What you should do:
- Break down your hobbies into the specific aspects that you like.
- Write down what you don’t like.
- Write down your non-negotiables (things that you can’t stand, or things that you absolutely need).
- Navigate your future with these points in mind.
Once you have an idea of what you don’t want (e.g., maybe you hate the idea of a desk job, or you want the flexibility to travel), and a list of things that you like (e.g., logical steps or goal-oriented tasks) then you can work your job around these points.
Have a look at some of these websites:
At the end of the day, regardless of what other people think or say, this is your decision and your future. You need to decide what you would be happy doing every day, and no one else can make that decision for you.
As Frederick Lenz once said, “life is a game in which happiness is the goal.”
As long as you’re doing things that make you happy, then you’re living a successful life.
You’re Not Leaving Everything Behind
A common worry that students have is leaving the structure of high school, and leaving everything and everyone you know behind. While this is a really daunting time in your life, it’s also an opportunity for personal growth.
Self-reflection can come in many different forms, such as journaling, meditation, playing a sport, doing physical activity, or playing a musical instrument. Whatever form it takes for you, this is your chance to learn about yourself.
Now that you’re leaving school, you get to define yourself as more than a student, or a child. Regardless of “what you want to do with the rest of your life,” you have the chance to figure out who you are, what you like, and what you stand for.
Part of an organic society, as we mentioned earlier, is the value of individualism. Having your own values and beliefs is really important, and you’re not leaving those behind. You still have all the life lessons from school, and the morals and values gained from family members.
You won’t leave all your friends behind, either. You might lose the people who you sit with in class, or at lunch, but you’ll keep your true friends – and you’ll value them more, too.
Instead of thinking about the uncertainty of the future, or the friends that you might not keep along the way, consider all the new people that you will meet. If you’re choosing to do something that you enjoy, whether that be a degree at university, travelling, work, or an internship; You have the opportunity to meet new, like-minded people, who are interested in the same things as you!
What You Can do if You’re Feeling Overwhelmed:
- Talk to someone
Next time you get a Karen trying to tell you how to live your life, remember that this is your choice, and you’re allowed to change your mind as many times as possible. And also, it’s none of their business! If you’d like to read more about this, we have a whole guide to help you out!
Navigating your future is difficult, but if you stick to what you’re interested in, stay open to opportunities that life throws your way, and remember to keep working on your personal hobbies and skills as you go, then you’ll be fine.
Most of all, remember that you’re not alone. Teenagers (and adults) all around the world, have no idea what they’re doing. We’re all just figuring out life as it goes along, so go for an adventure, make great memories with your mates, and see what happens.