I was never taught to choose what I wanted to do

I was never taught to choose what I wanted to do

Jeanne Hecquet

   Here we are, the famous family lunch during which your grandparents ask you what job you want to do in your future, you stare into space for a few seconds and try to find the right answer because you don’t want to disappoint them too much. 

   Throughout my life, I know that I will make many life-altering decisions. But one of the questions I keep asking myself is : What will life look like after high school? 

   Students are told that this is a vital stepping stone to their future; however, no one really knows how to take that first step. Being young and inexperienced, making this decision is often filled with stress and anxiety. 

   Students go to school every day to be taught common core subjects and take classes that are going to prepare them for their future career. Teachers focus so much on preparing students for the “next step” that they can often forget that students are still navigating the early part of their lives. 

   Students are told what to do but they never really make decisions by themselves. A simple example, the essay assignment. Teachers teach us about the essay structure: introduction, first paragraph, second paragraph and finally the conclusion. When we write the essay, we already know which arguments we will have to write about to get a good grade. We are not allowed to add any personal opinions, we simply have to follow instructions. 

   Like the essay, students will have to go to school from when they are three-years-old until they graduate from high school. This is not argued because it’s the same for everyone. This almost “mechanic” school curriculum makes it more difficult for students because they are all doing the same things as their classmates;  they have to find out on their own how to set themselves apart from other students.

   Since I was three , I have always been told what to do. I must work hard in school, have good grades, and eventually get a high paying job. During my junior year, I became obsessed with finding my future career. I felt pressure to find a purpose in my life. 

   I told myself,  “Jeanne, you have one chance; one choice, to have the best life possible.” 

   I started to do some research based on what I like and what I am good at, but no one was there to give me extra help. Teachers persuaded me into thinking that if I didn’t prepare for my future early, I was never going to be successful. I put so much pressure on myself to plan the “picture perfect” life that I shared it with everyone; my parents, teachers, and even my classmates. They were amazed by my work ethic and the time I spent on this fascination. However, the truth is, I was looking for approval from these people, hoping I would be good enough.

   Now, I am 17-years-old and I still get asked the same questions, “And now, what do you want to do?” It is a never ending cycle of questions I cannot answer. 

   I am tempted to respond by saying, “But you did not teach me how to learn what I really wanted to do.” 

   And if those “hard choices” were only precious opportunities for us to celebrate what is special about the human condition: the power to create reasons for ourselves to become the distinctive person that we are.

   Currently in France , it’s the “Parcoursup” week. A week during which all seniors have to apply for their future colleges.

   All my friends from France are calling me, stressed. 

   “I don’t know where to apply. What if I make the wrong decision? What if the college rejects my application?” 

   I try to respond with the best advice I can give despite the unknown 

   “Don’t worry. you’re going to be fine! You have your whole life, you are just a little bit stressed.” But honestly, I don’t think I even believe my own answer.

   Sometimes, I wonder if taking an exchange year to the U.S. was my way of avoiding what I am most afraid of: the future. Now that I am here in America , I realize how important it is to make choices based on what you really want to do and not based on what others think. 

   The problem is that most students are not confident enough to make these decisions on their own, especially with adults and authority figures breathing down their neck. It is tempting to take the less risky path to avoid failure, defeat, confusion. 

   I truly believe that school is the best way to prepare teenagers for their future, but not enough to satisfy the needs of life after high school. I feel that I only know myself partially, only the “academic side” of myself. 

   After making this observation, I tried to find answers. School needs to be more than just the next test, next assignment, or next paper due because teenagers are not only built of grades but they are also dealing with emotions and feelings. There are a plethora of ways teachers can help their students with this part of their lives. 

   First step: give less importance to this choice or at least show that this choice will not change students lives forever. Teachers need to reassure students that it is okay to make mistakes, life will not end. 

   I know that at West Ottawa, each student is assigned to a special counselor. I think that in France, they should do the same along with organizing several meetings through the year with every student to guide them in their plans for the future. It is vital that each student feels guided and supported. High schools should have a couple hours a week during which students can express their wishes or fears about their future. A time dedicated to talk with friends or teachers to discuss qualities, faults, and give advice to one another. Students should share what they are good at in school but also what interests them outside of the school. This way they can make their future decisions based on things they really enjoy in life. Creating reasons for ourselves to become this kind of person rather than closing the door on true potential, we wholeheartedly become the people that we truly are.

   The second, and most important step: give students confidence! Show the students that they are capable of doing what they always have dreamed of when they work for it. 

   Before coming here, I felt confident in my future plans and I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I knew which job and which college I wanted to go to and then I realized, do I really want my life to be precisely planned out like this?

   I decided to totally change my way of thinking about my future. I decided that the most important thing is to do what I really enjoy doing in my life. I decided to make a list and decided that my future job needed to fill all of the criteria on the list, or at least most of them.

   After that I started to accept that my first choice is probably not going to be the perfect one, and that is okay! I need to experience life. I need to fail. I need to be able to restart. Life is not done after one try. Everyone has the power to create their own life. When we face hard choices, we have to remember that we all have the power to create reasons for ourselves to become the distinctive person that we are.