A young person I love very much is struggling right now. He just graduated high school, and was very sure about what he wanted to do and how it intersected with how he saw himself. He set off in that direction, but despite some success, it wasn’t what he thought it would be, and he didn’t like who it asked him to be. With some reluctance, he turned away from what had been a dream he was sure was right for him. He was confident that we’d all be disappointed, but many (I hope all, but I won’t speak for all of the many people who love and support him) of us care more about who he is than what specific vocation he chooses.
I remember being his age, and how much pressure it felt like there was. It seemed like everyone had a dream they wanted you to fulfill. My grandmother wanted me to go to this college, my parents wanted me to stay in-state, it felt like one wrong step would let them down and take me from being an achiever to a slacker.
One of the great gifts of adulthood has been, for me, the realization that it only feels like the words “FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE!” are made of concrete blocks a mile high, piled on your shoulders. I got fired/laid off from my first job out of college (they told me when I overheard rumors that I was getting let go that the rumors were false, let me go the next day telling me I was laid off, told unemployment I was fired, told me at a formal meeting I had with them after that I wasn’t fired…) I had graduated summa cum laude three months before this happened, and had always been regarded as a solid asset of an employee.
It wounded my pride, for sure. But I got up, got a temp job, followed by a retail job + a freelance gig both of which I loved, followed by a real job I hated, followed by jobs I hated less and less until I was in a gig I truly loved for awhile. That three months, in the grand scheme of things? Not that important. Except in some of the things it taught me about myself.
I wish I could find a way to share with him that lesson, that there’s not one perfect answer, and if you don’t get it on your first try, you’re not doomed to failure for the rest of your life. Are there better and worse decisions? Yes, there are. But you can decide on the next right thing for you at any point. And the next right thing might not always stay the right thing, forever. The job I loved the most? Eventually was not the right thing for me, anymore, and I had to make another choice that would be the best choice for me in that moment. The right thing for someone else? Probably not the right thing for you. The important thing is that you can always make a new decision. Virtually no one has life fully figured out at 18, in a way that will last for their whole life. Anyone who demands that of you might not have your very best interests at heart.