Earlier today, I asked the video editor at The Poly Post if he wanted to make the camera his career. (I like to ask people these kinds of questions, because I’m weird.) He said that he wasn’t sure of whether or not he wanted to be in front of or behind the camera, but that once he started working in the field that he would figure it out. He also said that up until recently, he had had no idea what he really wanted to do, and that it was finally starting to come together less than six months until graduation.
After our conversation, all of these started to swirl in my head. I don’t know if it’s exclusively an American thing, but there seems to be so much pressure on young people to have their lives figured out and know exactly what they want to do in life at every moment. College is expensive, and switching majors can be tough. And because you have to go out and get a Real Job as soon as possible, anything past four years of undergrad signals failure.
Societal pressure to succeed, especially on young people, is not a new thing — Holden Caulfield felt it in some ways, and I’ve learned in my stress management class (more on that later) that college students are the most stressed out demographic. The Google search “pressure to choose a career so young” gets you 3.5 million hits, so people are thinking about it.
In the last couple of years, I have come to understand that I am one of very few people who have known for a very long time what they’ve wanted to do. Since middle school, I’ve known that I wanted to be a journalist. But as I’ve gotten older and had more experience I’ve realized that I’d make a better editor, and only in the last seven or eight months have I realized that my writing interest lies in culture.
For the longest time though, when I screwed up or felt overwhelmed, I really beat myself up. I was supposed to know how to do whatever was set in front of me. Any time I didn’t know what I was going to do or felt in the slightest that I didn’t have my life together, I panicked.
I think that we need to start shifting the paradigm, whether that’s early on in middle or high school or cultivating a culture of “it’s okay to not know what you want to do” at the university level. We’re students, and we shouldn’t have to know (or feel like we have to know) everything about everything all of the time, or even know what exactly we want to do every day for the next 50+ years of our lives. I think people my age (including myself) would feel a lot better about themselves and their life choices, and overall be much happier if this was the mantra.
What do you think? Let’s talk about it in the comments.