Dear Schools, stop telling 18 year olds to pick their careers

Confession: I have no idea what I want to do with my life.

The fact that the word ‘confession’ even features in that sentence upsets me, but recently I’ve been feeling scared / anxious / nervous / confused about my lack of career plan.

After taking to Instagram stories (my go-to destination for all of life), it seemed that so many of my friends felt the same way. Sixth form students, university graduates and even those in ‘careers’ echoing the same statement:

There is too much pressure on young people / young adults to know exactly what they’re doing with their life and what their next step is.

ARE SCHOOLS LIMITING OUR DREAMS WITHOUT INTENDING TO?

The quote on one reply was ‘at school, the pressure is on what you achieve, not on who you are’, and sadly I think this statement rings true for so many. At the meeting in which I told my head of sixth form that I was leaving school early, the words of their reply which stood out to me were ‘we’ll miss you grades’.

I get it, grades are important and qualifications open doors, but I wonder if the school system is un-intentionally putting too much pressure on young people to have their career chosen by 18 and as a result, not being given time to explore what that looks like for them.

Careers fairs, assemblies on apprenticeships and personal statement writing were all part of my school routine from age 16. As well intended the ‘support’ was, I ended up feeling more paralysed than before, hence my un-conventional decision to walk away and try my own route. Since doing so, I’ve stepped into a career which I had no idea even existed and I really love.

However, I’m sure if I had said to my careers advisor at school “so I’m going to leave without my A-Levels, bump into somebody in a hotel reception (true story) and as a result, teach companies to use Instagram”, they probably wouldn't have approved.

I’m aware that for many, their journey into a job they love isn’t that simple or spontaneous, but I do wonder what would happen if we were given more breathing space in school / university to dream about the things we want to be doing with our life. 

SO, WE SHOULD ALL JUST SIT AT HOME, WATCH NETFLIX AND WAIT FOR THE DREAM CAREER TO HAPPEN?

Not quite. To start, I’m not sure the ‘dream career’ is even a thing. If you’ve found it, then congratulations, but the more I explore this topic and speak to proper adults (you know, people with mortgages who host dinner parties) it seems that they feel similarly far from the ‘dream career’.

I guess what I’m more trying to say is that yes, it’s great to have an idea of where you want to go, but it's OTT to insist that all 18 year olds have their 5 year career plan mapped out. 

Not knowing what you’re doing after university is OK, deciding to take time after A-Levels to explore careers is OK, changing your ‘career plan’ after graduating is OK and similarly, having a ‘dead end job’ whilst you find what you really love is totally OK.

I once heard somebody say ‘everyone should do a job that they don’t like, because they’ll spend their time there dreaming about what they’d rather be doing’. I love this quote.

Wherever you’re at on the so called ‘career ladder’, work hard at you’re currently doing, relieve yourself of the pressure to have your next step figured out and enjoy the journey as you find a job you really love.

alice-benham
Blog, Real LifeAlice Benham