If you have a graduating senior or a rising senior or a child of any age, really, chances are they are being asked what they are doing next. What are their plans? Where are they going? What are they going to be doing? What do they want to be when they grow up? And if you have a particularly talented child (which, logic would presume you do given that you’re reading the WATG newsletter), those questions are probably even more intense, complicated, and pressured. “You’re so good at math, what are you going to do with it?” “What an awesome musical talent you have, are you going to be on Broadway?” “What college are you going to? Oh, just a state school? I thought you’d be going to Stanford or Harvard or something.”
We start grooming our children at a very young age to be focused on having the answer of their life’s purpose. We expect our children to have one path, one destiny, one calling that will guide them through their lives and that they should be able to identify that path when they are seven years old, or for sure by the time they are eighteen and done with high school!
I’ve lost count of the number of teens and young adults I’ve seen in my therapy office petrified that they do not know what they want to do for the rest of their lives. The anxiety is tremendous. The fear of making the wrong decision paralyzes them. The fear of disappointing the adults in their lives, or of disappointing the entire world, leave them shaking in straight out panic attacks. And for what? For some ridiculous notion we have that at 18 (long before our brains are fully developed, by the way) life should be figured out. How many of you have your life figured out? How many of you imagined you’d be doing the work and living the life you are living now 5 years ago?
Let’s reassure our kids that it’s ok not to know. They’ll find their way. And they’ll find their way with far more ease and joy if we take the pressure off. Particularly with gifted kids, who might have multiple gifts and talents, let them know that they don’t have to choose just one thing. Share your own twisting and turning journey into adulthood. I started out college as a pre-med and a chemistry major, certain I was going to be a pediatrician and changed to social work and theology one semester into it. Then I changed to humanities and theology 3 years into undergrad. I went to grad school for social work and theology, dropped the theology, and ended up working in medical social work. That is, until I became a therapist. Now I’m a therapist, author, podcaster, and national speaker. And who knows where I’ll be 5 years from now?
Our kids don’t need to know. They can change their minds. They can pursue multiple paths. Their interest-driven vocation might not even exist yet. Let’s stop asking our kids what they want to be when they grow up and just ask them what they’re interested in. Let’s stop stacking the deck against them and start supporting whatever comes across their mind next.
It’s OK not to know.