As a senior in University for the second year in a row (due to the fact that I’ve had to step out and work so much in between school years) I have been reflecting a lot lately on my high school years and all the things I should have thought through more before jumping off the proverbial cliff of “real life” after graduation.
All through out my high school years all that anyone seemed to talk about was what came next. What our dream careers were, where we were heading, what major and big scale University was going to get us there, and how hard we were going to party the “last real summer” of our “stress free” lives. (That last part wasn’t so bad a topic.)
We all stoked each other up, received encouragement from our teachers, direction from our parents, and prayers from our churches that we would get accepted into the right Universities and become “successful” young adults with decently high paying jobs.
I remember feeling like this was just an expected part of life. That there really wasn’t anything else that was “right” to do once you graduated from high school but to attend a University right away and leave it with a promising four-year degree. All of my friends were doing it, my parents and mentors had done it. Surely I was obligated to do the same?
If I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go by the time I threw that grad cap up into the air I was bound to be a hopeless failure of an adult who would always be stuck behind everyone else flipping burgers at some obscure burger joint in the ghetto for the rest of my life (since that job is supposedly one reserved for failures – which, by the way, I don’t believe is true). This is how it felt anyway.
Peer pressure can be such a powerful vehicle of destruction, even what seems to be positive peer pressure.
So I did it. When high school was over I followed the flow of my friends and the expectations of my culture into a University I selected because I knew I “had to,” flopping into a major that I thought made sense at the time. I didn’t want to be “behind” everyone else after all.
I threw all the money down that I needed to throw down and took out the loans that covered what I didn’t have. I was set to graduate with a four-year degree in something I randomly chose “to be passionate about” so I could finish with everyone else and become a “successful person” in a career path that followed that major choice.
Now, I know so far I’m making it sound like I think that University is a bad thing and that we shouldn’t encourage kids to go after they graduate. That is not at all what I am trying to communicate. I have loved every second of University. I think it is incredibly valuable and I would honestly encourage everyone to go for at least a two-year degree because I have loved it so much and it has been a personally enriching experience. But do I think that going and getting a degree is necessary to not being a failure as a person? No. Not at all.
University is not for everyone and there are plenty of people I know that finished high school and got a job that many would consider “average” that I consider successful. They are smart, hard workers that keep up smart budgets, support their families, and stay out of debt. Money, degrees, and bigger more complicated sounding job titles are not the definition of success. Those things aren’t needed to be happy, fulfilled, or “kool.”
Unfortunately for me, and many other kids of my generation and beyond, I fell under that pressure of falsely defined success and jumped on the University train without really being sure I wanted to do what I was doing and where I was going to go with it after I got off. I threw money I didn’t really have at a career path I wasn’t really sure I wanted just so I could graduate when people my age are supposed to graduate and be seen as a successful person like so many of my peers. I am now currently 23 and stuck in that never-ending cycle of not having enough money to stay on at University for a solid year at a time, having to take time off and work so I can have enough again to go back, and being gone to long to be able to avoid having to start paying off loans in between with the money I should be saving up to be able to go back in the first place.
Do I still think its worth it to finish? Yes. Yes I do. And I now finally know what I’m doing major wise and have plans for when I graduate. But what I really wish I had known when I had graduated high school was, “It’s okay to not know what you are doing with your life right away. And if you don’t know, its okay to not jump into college, and to wait and work and save up money until you are sure University is the route you wanna go to get to where you feel you need to be.”
If you don’t know what you are gonna do but you feel you need to be in college straight out, stay home and do an associate degree at a community college. You can work while you do it and save money up and at least leave with a degree and a head start on whatever other degree you decide to get in the future.
Do not rush yourself. Do not needlessly get yourself into debt. And most importantly, DO NOT consider what you are doing with your life to be less valuable than what others have chosen to do with theirs just because culture implies that that’s how things are.
Your value is not defined by what you do. Always remember that.