During this time of year, I talk to a lot of young people who share the same phobia. Many of them are graduating from High School or College, and aren’t sure what comes next. I understand this fear, and even though its slightly different for each individual, I’ve found that most fears are pretty similar.
1. I’m graduating in a few weeks, and I still don’t know what I want to do (with my life).
2. My family wants me to go into (insert career or educational field), and I don’t want to.
3. I’ve never had this much responsibility. If I screw it up, my family will be disappointed.
4. I’ve never been on my own before.
5. I made a huge mistake, and I don’t think my parents will understand or help me out of the mess I made.
There are others, but these five present themselves more than most. Let’s start by getting things out in the open. Fear of the unknown is not limited to those in high school or college. Young kids have it, adults have it, old people have it. Just because there is more that is unknown to you doesn’t make you bad, stupid, or any less of anything. Understand that if your family acts like they aren’t afraid of the unknown, they are probably just very proud people who think they are shielding you from something if they don’t share their fears with you. They still have fear, they just won’t admit it.
Now, let’s go ahead and answer the five that we have here. If I’m dealing with an individual who has a variation on this, my advice is more direct, but since this is in general, general answers will suffice.
1. Some people know what they want to be when they grow up from a very young age. Others find out in college or the work force. Still others don’t find out until much later in life. I knew what I wanted to be when I was very young. When I was in college, I wasn’t so sure. It wasn’t until I had been working for several years before I made up my mind. There’s nothing wrong with being unsure, as long as you spend the time working towards some goal. Whether its getting a general degree or whether its working, just don’t sit and wait for inspiration. The only wasted time is time spent not doing anything. Other than that, you are building life experiences.
2. My family wanted me to go into the same field as my parents did. I just wasn’t cut out for that life. I was bored by the prospect of doing what they did. For years, as I drifted through the workforce, I was safe in assuming that I was going to hear a lecture about how I should follow my dad in his career since it worked out well for him. That’s just one of the things that we need to get used to. It wasn’t until very recently that my parents accepted my career choice, and understood that I was a success on my own terms, not following my parents and using their names to get there. It was hard to have to go through that all the time with them, but I think I even earned some respect for following my own path. My advice here is to listen to what they have to say, but if you really don’t want to follow their advice, you have to strike out on your own, regardless of any pressure they may try to put on you. Understand that they love you, and they are doing what they think is best for you.
3. Absolutely, they will be disappointed. Disappointment is a temporary condition, however. We all make mistakes. Your parents may even surprise you. Some times, young people believe that its “us” (young people) against “them” (parents). It doesn’t have to be this way. Most mistakes you can make have been made by your parents or other family members in the past. As long as you don’t keep making the same mistake, most parents are more interested in helping you to succeed than they are in being disappointed in you.
4. This is very common. If you’ve paid attention to the life-lessons your parents have taught you while you lived at home, and if you are strong enough to know when you need help and confident enough to ask for that help, you will be surprised at how good living on your own can be. The second thing to remember is that we all flake out once in a while and make poor choices. Don’t let one choice, or even a series of choices, destroy your ability to live your life on your own. If you must drink, make smart choices about when and how much. If you must party (and you probably must), make smart choices about the activities that will go on during the parties. Take care of your responsibilities, stay true to your beliefs, follow the law, and you will enjoy your time, at least until it becomes time to move in with someone else.
5. Re-read my response to #3. Now, don’t compound your original mistake with another by not letting your family help you through tough times. Even if you are 18 and out on your own, their job as people who love and care about you doesn’t end. The biggest mistake you will make is to shut out those who want the best for you.
I could spend hours talking about my own experience with fear of the future, but there’s nothing in my story that is unique to me. Everyone I know has wrestled with the same issues, or variations, and has come out of it. Some have done “better” than others, but that is just another life experience that we cherish, even when the experience is not pleasant.
Overall, for any action, there is a consequence. Your choice is whether or not you are willing to deal with that consequence. If you are, never regret your decision. Learn from it, but never regret. If, down the road, you find that you made the wrong choice, do whatever you can to make sure you don’t make that same choice again. Above all, remember that everybody has someone that cares that they do well, and that they more importantly, do good.