I have something that I want to tell you. Something that hopefully has you taking a deep breath, closing your eyes and thinking: ‘I can do whatever I want.’ Because contrary to what they make you believe, it actually is your life.
How many of you have felt pressured about education? How many of you have been stressed and have suffered from anxiety because of it? How many of you have found it extremely difficult to get out of bed for school, because we have to impress and be the very best. Because we can’t afford to stay home and we can’t afford to take a year off. Because it’s ‘impossible and stupid’ to follow a career in the arts or to follow a certain course that ‘isn’t for girls’. Because it’s incredibly irresponsible to go to work when there are dozens of things you should be studying for.
Aren’t you tired of it? Isn’t it exhausting to hear that whatever you do isn’t enough?
An example, my brother is 24, has done about 4-6 studies and only finished two of them. He’s currently working at a factory – so he’s not doing something he studied for. A few weeks ago, he came home in the middle of the night crying because he felt like a complete failure.
Apparently, our estranged father got a hold of him and found it necessary to continue where he left off year ago and completely ruin him with his ugly words. He bullied him for starting studies but never finishing them and for not having a ‘decent’ job. He also made sure to let him know that he was a let-down and should’ve done things like me, his 19 year old sister who has an education and is currently working.
As if that isn’t enough, he is also being pressured by his peers and adults to start on another study because ‘that’s the best thing to do’. He’s going through the toughest period in his life at the moment which makes him mentally unable to even focus on school. He knows that and he gets that but he felt so ashamed and pressured to take higher education. He just broke.
Another example, two weeks ago I went by my old school to take care of some financial stuff. Of course I bumped into some teachers and they asked me what I’ve been up to – mind you, I got my diploma in June and it’s now September (when new courses usually start). You should’ve seen some of their disappointment when I proudly announced that I’m currently working at the company where I had interned the past three years.
A company that they as a school approved of, or else I wouldn’t have been able to do my internship there.
A company that they told me is a great one and I should continue doing my best so they would offer me a job.
See what they were doing?
For three years they encouraged me to be this perfect student, with perfect grades and a perfect attitude so I could get the perfect job when I was done with school. Now they were doubting me for it, because I have so much more potential than working a desk job at 19 years old. I should go out and follow another course. Learn some more to get that other perfect job.
It’s a never ending cycle of not being enough, as I said earlier. And it doesn’t have to be just teachers. It’s also parents and family. Parents of the friends you hang out with. Random strangers that you serve at your weekend job in a restaurant as they tentatively ask you if it’s the only job you have. Your neighbour when she sees you filling stock in the supermarket when she knows you graduated a while back.
It’s something that has been moulded for us for years now. Go to school, get a good job, die. What if we don’t want to do that? What if we want to do the job that we’re doing now, fall in love with something along the way – whatever it is – and then later decide that we want to do another study?
It’s almost like we’re programmed into thinking that as long as we can afford to go to school or to take higher education, then we should. Like we’re privileged, so we should at least try. But not everyone directly knows what they want to do with their lives. Some stumble and fall and when we do, we get frowned upon.
If we don’t go to college, we’re frowned upon.
If we graduate from high school, we’re frowned upon because we didn’t do it with an A+ in calculus.
If we have a dream and we chase it, we’re frowned upon because we’re being stupid and naïve.
If we have a plan and we decide not to follow through on it, because it won’t work out or because we’re not interested anymore, we’re frowned upon because it could’ve made you a lot of money.
I’m currently in this place that when my old teachers voiced their disappointment that I was bummed, but I could brush it off. But my brother can’t and he’s still struggling. So many people are struggling. Being a human being in this world is hard enough. For some people school is absolute hell whether they’re actually excited about what their studying or not.
I know that because of the job I have and the choices I made to get there allow me to do the things I love. Hang out with friends and family, do volunteer work, explore every corner of Netflix etc.
My job or my education isn’t my whole life. It’s a means to actually live the life that I’m leading.
So how do we get through the pressure and the struggling and the falling?
- Ask for advice
So one of the things that I am absolutely grateful for is the fact that most of my friends are older than I am. They went through what I’m going through now. I value their opinion and I asked them what they would do in my situation and also how they handled it when they were in my shoes.
Funny thing is, none of them knew what they were doing. Some of them did follow another course or took that job because they were pressured into it. Others spent years not knowing what they wanted to do (and still don’t). In the meantime, they work in order to live the lives they want to lead – meaning there’s never a perfect solution.
- Ask for advice II
Sit down and really have a talk with the person you want to ask for advice from. Tell them to be honest and if they don’t think you’re doing the right thing, ask them to explain and to elaborate.
Look, 9 of out 10 times the pressure comes from people wanting the best for you. Sometimes it comes out in a horrible demeaning way, but when you ask a person you trust to be honest with you, let them be worried about you and don’t see their questions or comments as an attack (unless they’re really being mean about it, of course).
- Let go of the idea that you need to have everything figured out
But seriously, how are you supposed to have everything figured out when the world around you changes every day? When you as a person change every day? Something that’s your passion now can be something that’s pushed to the back of your mind in a matter of weeks, months or years.
But that’s beauty of it, isn’t it? Not being sure, figuring out along the way. That way you will also recognize that failure is necessary. In the sense that when something didn’t work out, you’ll know your heart wasn’t in it or you’ll know what to do when the same things happen again. It will shape you.
- Gain confidence
Gain confidence in being ok with not knowing what you want. Be ok with telling people that you can’t appreciate them pressuring you into something that you don’t want to do – whether they’re strangers or family/close friends.
Gain confidence in yourself that if something doesn’t feel right you can make the situation work. Or you can remove yourself from the situation and see it as a learning opportunity.
You are the only person who knows what you feel and what you’re going through. You’re not being lazy, you’re not being stupid or naïve or whatever someone says when they don’t agree with your decision. You’re doing what feels right for yourself. Don’t let them take that away from you.
- Get inspired
When you have an idea in mind, a great way to turn it into a plan is to figure out how other people did it. Go online, read other people’s experiences and ask them how they did it and if they would’ve done things differently.
- Make yourself proud
Sometimes we desperately want to make someone else proud. A family member or a friend, and that’s so great! It can motivate you to continue to go on when you’re stressing out about that one exam or that one essay that’s due in a couple of hours. It can give you that spark to raise your hand in class and get involved or to buy that ticket that will allow you to follow your dream.
How about, besides wanting to make other people proud, we put ourselves up there as well?
You are going to be ok
I promise you that no matter how bad the situation seems, you are going to be ok.
If you’re exhausted and want to give up, you are going to be ok.
If you have no idea what you want, you are going to be ok.
Whether it’s now or later in life – days, weeks, months, years from now – you are going to be ok.
Lastly, one thing that helped me personally, was an incredible post on Instagram of one of my favourite writers Jedidiah Jenkins. It hit me straight in my soul and a whole new world opened for me because of those words:
I think when I have kids, I’m gonna insist on a gap year after high school. No, a gap four years. One year of travel, three years of work in a new city. I think the assembly line of school is or was an important step in getting the most people educated the fastest… but the more people I talk to, the more I realize that college was for them the same as it was for me: make the grade, without thought, and dick around. When it was over, I felt ejected into the world like a loosed puppy in the woods. Howling for the safety of my leash again. I imagine if I had seen a bit of the world, backpacked and poor as dirt at 19, and then worked in a new city as an intern or in some crappy job, learned some skills, learned to pay bills and be independent… learned how scary it is to make rent… and THEN got to go to college, I think I would have paid close attention to the miracle of learning, of institutions designed to prepare your mind for a productive life. I remember the older students I met in college were of a different breed. They sat in the front of the class. They asked questions. They took notes. I was in the back, looking out the window, without a care in the world, a kid in the fourteenth grade, draining the world for my pleasure.
Take those words, take a deep breath, close your eyes and think: ‘I can do whatever I want.’
Can you feel that?
It’s you taking control.
Sheila lives for all things Autumn, hot chocolate with marshmallows, great TV shows, sitting in the backseat of the car listening in on conversations, cooking dinner for her lovely friends, beautifully written women and jammin’ alone to her Spotify playlists. You can find her on Tumblr where you’ll find a mess of a blog consisting various fandoms from The 100 to Marvel and DC, Chicago PD to One Tree Hill and everything in between.