Dear high school juniors and seniors,
It’s that time of year when graduation caps all over the country are tossed skyward in celebration.
While those caps and tassels fly wildly up in the air, most people expect you to have everything else nailed down tight. I can’t imagine how often you hear these questions from well-meaning adults: “So where are you going to go next? What will your major in college be? What field are you planning to go into?”
As the mother of a 17-year-old, I’m here to tell you “I have no idea” is a perfectly acceptable answer. Don’t let the grown-ups fool you into thinking that they’ve always had things figured out. I know plenty of middle-aged people with a mortgage and thinning hair, who are still trying to decide who and what they want to be.
Your job is not to have all the answers. Your job is to be fully committed to finding those answers. And the discovery process is not as simple as filling in a bubble on a standardized test.
Part of the reason you’re constantly being bombarded with requests for the detailed route your life will take is that your parents come from a generation of planners. We made plans to get you into the best preschool. Plans to live in the neighborhood with the great elementary school. Plans for music lessons and plans for memory-making trips and experiences.
Coaches from every single sport told us we had to have a plan to teach you how to bat, catch, tackle, kick, dance, run, and we better start early and pay for extra lessons and tournaments, lest our kid be left behind in the competitive sports dust. Somewhere along the way, the stuff kids used to do for fun became a youth career, managed by anxious parents and coaches determined to stick with the plan for greatness.
Academics have also been similarly accelerated and super-charged. Even though it was expected for my generation to go to college with zero class credits under our belts, you guys are pushed to complete as many college-level courses as possible before you ever lay eyes on a dorm room.
I don’t know why the world is in such a hurry to push you across some imaginary finish line, but I’m sorry it feels that way. It must be exhausting.
I want you to know that, if you asked 99 percent of adults if they knew what they were doing when they were juniors and seniors in high school, the answer would be a resounding “no.” We were just like you. We didn’t know. And we were often freaked out by all the uncertainty. But we made decisions along the way, and here we are — smack dab in the middle of a life. You’ll do it, too.
Today, I ran across this great quote by the late Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Inc. He said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma.”
I know it must feel like you’re standing at this critical juncture of your life and one wrong move might mess up the whole thing.
But I think Steve Jobs was right. This is just a dot — one single dot in a whole line of dots that will connect to create your life’s journey. You’ll make a few questionable turns here and there and end up on some crazy detours, but that’s OK, too. Sometimes, the detours are the things we learn the most from.
Maybe one of the reasons we grown-ups are so interested in your “plans” is that we’d like to believe it’s possible to plan away all the risks, failures, hurt and anxiety that come along with this ride.
But we can’t. And the ride wouldn’t be nearly as thrilling if we could.
What I hope for you is that you’ll appreciate the current “dot” you’re on in your life. Don’t wish it away because you’re in such a hurry to race ahead. Be open to all the possibilities for where the next decision might take you and pray for guidance from one dot to the next.
Be kind and be brave, kids, and enjoy the ride.
Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her book is available on Amazon.