The Unspoken Sin of Undecided

As a full-time education consultant, Allison Zmuda works with educators to grow ideas on how to make learning for students challenging, possible and worthy of the attempt. Over the past 19 years, Zmuda has shared curricular, assessment, and instructional ideas, shown illustrative examples, and offered practical strategies of how to get started.

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By Connor McLeanStay on course

Senior year is weird. That adjective may be generic and bastardized to the point of near meaninglessness, but it holds true in this case. Looking back on my past year (and ignoring all the social aspects), I can honestly say that there is no odder and objectively awkward academic year than the last one.

The entire year is a series of life-altering decisions, and the speed at which they hit is both disorienting and a little surreal. We have to plan out our entire future in one 12-month period. And if it terrifies you even half as much as it scares me, then this is something that has to be addressed.

The barrage of questions start as early as the spring of your junior year. Smiling relatives and family friends leaning in at summer stuffy parties and asking the one question everyone dreads:

“So where are you applying to school?”

A moment of absolute panic sets in for most. You haven’t even thought about college! You just finished AP exams! You should have so many medals for surviving your junior year that it puts the Commander of NATO allied forces to shame! Why are these people asking you all these questions about your future? They have no right as adults who seem to have it all figured out to ask you all these questions! Yet despite your protests and your complaints, the questions will continue.

The most depressing part is that the interrogation doesn’t get easier (for those of you who are rising seniors). Questions of “Where are you applying?” become “Where did you get accepted?” Then, “Where are you going?” and then, finally, “What are you majoring in?”

Oh, the dreaded question of what are you majoring in. The previously intangible idea of what you want to be when you grow up suddenly becomes a very real, and – apparently – very pressing issue. You can no longer say you want to grow up to be the President or an Astronaut and have it be your primary goal. So many of the careers that we grew up thinking were possible are the ones that one in a million get selected for.

What seems to be everyone you know (and even a number of people you don’t) are asking what you’re going to be. What you want to do for the rest of your life. How you want to spend a majority of your remaining minutes. What you’re going to decide is more important to you. Trust me, it is okay to have it not figured out.

As a society we have an ill-conceived notion that everyone has complete and utter confidence in his or her own desires. That we all come out of the womb knowing we want to do information services, environmental law or cardiology, clad from birth in a suit or scrubs and ready to work.

Our culture shuns indecisiveness like it’s a disease that not everyone has. That maybe it can be expunged and we can all just fit perfectly into our roles if we start instilling career choices and majors early enough. We keep pushing back the choice earlier and earlier, suggesting high school classes for college credit that might contribute to some far off requirement.

It doesn’t matter what rules we make or how much students are encouraged to decide earlier, people will continue to be indecisive. The average college student changes their major twice. The average person changes their career three times over the course of their lifetime. There is nothing that can be done or said that will change the basic human instinct to evolve and change.

We don’t have it all figured out and likely never will. The hardest thing that we can come to terms with isn’t the fact that we don’t know what we’re doing right now, it’s that we likely never will have it completely figured out.

That’s not to say we can’t be happy or content with our lives. This isn’t meant to discourage you from starting down a career path that you genuinely enjoy just because you think you’ll eventually change. Nor is this to discourage you from going into a career that pays well.

This is simply saying to the three and a half million people who graduated high school this year, it is completely okay to not know. It is scary to be unsure and to not know what the future holds, but it will all work out. Call that cliché or unrealistic, but its true. At some point or another in everyone’s lives, they will be happy.

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