Our future is haunting our present

Ever since I was five years old, family, friends, and strangers have asked me what I want to be when I grow up. First, I would have answered “an astronaut.” Over time, my answer changed to a teacher, then a scientist, and so on. Now, I’m no closer to deciding my career path than my five-year old self. But I need to learn that maybe remaining unclear about my future is okay.

It would be a lie to say my lack of clear future possibilities doesn’t scare me. It’s not that I don’t have ideas of possible career options, like a politician due to my interest in current events or a writer because I love English. However, no one path within my favorite field of humanities calls to me any more than the other. I can never decide if I have no passions or have too many, but one thing is certain: I am 15 years old, and I have no idea what I’m going to do with the 75 years of life waiting for me.

I know I’m not the only one with this problem of an uncertain passion, and an uncertain future. Even though I am just a freshman in high school, there is a lot of societal pressure to know my life direction already. But is this pressure to decide our passion really necessary?

Teens show stress levels that rival those of adults. Teens’ stress levels have been found to increase during the school year, reaching average stress levels of 5.8 compared to 5.1 for adults. Additionally, more than 30% feel depressed, sad, and/or overwhelmed due to stress. (Photo Courtesy of American Psychological Association (APA))

There is no doubt that high school is a stressful time for all. Tests, quizzes, hours of homework, pressure to maintain good grades, health, and just life in general- are all challenge. As college acceptance rates fall and societal pressure only increases, today’s teens face higher stress levels than past generations.

This stress, amplified by standardized testing as well as social aspects like technology, has spiked the percentage of teens suffering from anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions. Along with all this pressure to do well in the short term, teens also face pressure to succeed in the long run by choosing a passion and pursuing it from an early age.

From deciding electives to classes to extracurriculars, society has dictated that our unique passions are the guiding light to all our choices. We are encouraged to participate in activities that let us pursue our specific interests. Why?

The answer is undeniably simple. Finding our passion allows us to decide on a future career path. Knowing our career path and pursuing it even in high school impresses the colleges that wait just beyond the horizon.

It’s gotten to a point where everything we do as high schoolers is purely for our future benefit. Though college is still some time away – three years for me – I’ve been raised to believe it will be the equivalent of my Judgement Day. College is what will take me places in life, provide me with high paying jobs, and give me the confidence necessary to succeed. So if I don’t get into college, I know what will happen. The end of the world, at least that’s how it seems.

According to a study conducted by Yale Daily News, college admission levels to the top ranked schools have been steadily decreasing over the past few years. The added challenge of a lower chance of admission makes college stress even more problematic for high schoolers today. (Photo via yaledailynews.com)

I act with college on my mind 99% of the time, and I know that I am not alone. Many high schoolers face the pressure to choose a passion early in all aspects of life, in and out of school.

Many students must decide on a possible field of choice by freshman year because the courses they take align to certain careers. Some even choose to attend specialized schools as an eighth grader to pursue their interests, like Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. At Mason, most students select courses based on their career interests as well. In the IB Diploma, students take three to four Higher Level courses, presumably in fields they are interested in. Before taking an HL course, though, students must complete prerequisites in earlier years, pushing the decision of deciding on their passions earlier in their high school lives.

Someone interested in a career in politics may take IB Global Politics, for which they take AP Government in 10th grade. But in doing so, they may give up taking a language at a higher level, spending more time in science, or just putting the same amount of effort into another class. With choices as simple as classes, students already have to weigh their future career against their interests, leading to more pressure to decide on a life direction early on.

In addition, students have to choose from a wide variety of extracurriculars, with the promise that our clubs and activities impact college by proving our dedication to our passion. From Model United Nations to Future Doctors of America, Mason’s clubs let students experience all career fields in new ways. However, we have to chose our extracurriculars keeping our future as the top priority. There are so many opportunities that we can only choose a couple of clubs at one time if we want to do justice to each.

Unconsciously, we feel pressure to pair certain clubs together: Model United Nations and Debate, Literary Magazine and the Lasso, or Robotics and Stage Crew. Obviously, there are a few students who mix up their clubs, but the majority of us hone our clubs on one specific subject area: what we determine our passion is at the time. Also, colleges apparently care about the clubs which you have leadership positions in. Therefore, we stick to the same clubs for all our high school years instead of trying something new.

We spend time out of school on our chosen career paths too. From summer opportunities like jobs and internships that further our passion, our looming futures, college, jobs, and all, dictate our lives. My passion, as unknown as it may be, is my calling for the future.

But we’re only high schoolers. As a society, we often forget that. There’s still plenty of time before we enter adult life, still plenty of choices to make and roads to travel. So why decide on a career path now when the entire world is waiting just outside?

A study conducted in 2014 found the percent of postsecondary education students that switched majors from their originally declared field of study in multiple career fields, including humanities, education, and mathematics. As made evident by the study, many people do indeed switch focuses from what they originally intended to do. (Photo courtesy of National Center for Education Statistics)

Life changes, passions change, and our choices can change. Though we may think we know our future now, we can’t control what life throws at us. The world is changing, and careers that may not even exist yet could emerge by the time we graduate. If you told my grandpa that interior design would be a viable option, he would have laughed in your face. But now, he watches reality T.V. about interior design with an innocent kind of joy.

Eventually, we’ll need jobs to get paid, and money to live. But we don’t need have a crystal ball, and we can only see life as it comes. By worrying about college, our interests, and our future, we forget to enjoy so much of life.

It’s okay to try a ton of clubs and see where your interests lie. It’s okay to take a course and hate it so much that you never even look at the material again. It’s okay to have no idea what you want to do with your life because there is plenty of time to figure it out.

So whenever you’re stressing about the amount of homework you have, or you’re overwhelmed about that math test tomorrow, take a moment, close your eyes, and breathe. Remember that nothing about your future is set in stone, nothing needs to be decided yet, and that’s the beauty of life.

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