By Liza Wemakor, Special to CNN
Editor’s Note: Liza Wemakor is a high school junior from Atlanta who also takes college classes. She enjoys writing and intends to pursue that passion when she graduates from high school in 2014. She is the winner of this year’s Turner Voices Journalism Contest.
High school students have heard it so many times: “What do you want to do when you’re older? What college are you going to?” and most infamously, “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?”
I honestly have no idea. When eager adults peer intently into my eyes, tell me what a bright future I have ahead of me and ask to know my life’s plan, I often manifest the name of a university that I have never actually seen in person or know absolutely nothing about. Quite frankly, I’m tired of lying.
Rather than letting us explore our options and helping us along the way, far too many adults act as alarm clocks for our future. The closer we get to our senior year, the louder they seem to blare that we should know what we want.
The truth is that they were just as clueless when they were our age.
On August 6, I officially became a high school junior. I am totally clueless as to what college I want to attend or where I will be in 10 years. And I no longer feel ashamed by that.
Life is simply unpredictable. In fact, it would be egocentric to assume that the course of one’s life teeters on a premeditated plan. It has existed much longer than we.
Approaching our futures as blind nomads is ill-advised. But the expectation that someone as young as I am should have a precise outline for the remainder of their lives is both unfair and unrealistic.
In 2004, Pennsylvania State University reported that “up to 80% of students entering college admit that they are not certain what they really want to major in, even if they have initially declared a major. In addition, up to 50% of college students change their majors at least once before graduation and some change several times.”
In the eight years since this research has been conducted, much remains the same. I have talked to several college or post-college students who have started out as science or engineering majors and never had that much passion for those subjects. They knew they were intelligent enough to do it, that those were the money-making majors and that their families loved it, so that served as the basis of their choice. Two or three years later, they found that journalism or teaching was what would truly fulfill them.
As a young person, it is impossible to be fearless about my future, but my worries are lessened when the adults in my life accept that I just don’t know yet, and I embrace the same sentiment.
Don’t chastise us for being human. Encourage us to do what brings us peace.
If the only thing that makes your child’s eyes light up is writing, don’t tell them, “You’ll never get a job with writing. Why not try being a doctor?” Encourage them! Tell them to enter writing contests, build a portfolio, embark on summer internships, write for their school paper and publish their work wherever they can. If the job market is truly that small, why not help them be the best at their passion?
If your child is considering being a math teacher, don’t tell them, “You’ll barely make any money as a teacher.” Chances are they’ve already thought of and accepted that because they love what they’ve chosen to do so much more than their wages.
If they make a mistake for themselves, at least they will learn from it and know they missed out on nothing.
The bottom line is to listen. If you are truly doing what is best for us as parents, then care enough to hear what we have to say, to know what we love and can’t live without. Pushing us toward something we never desired only pushes us away simultaneously.
I have told my mother that writing is at my core. It is the one thing that I’ve never been able to part myself from. I have also told her that, outside of this, my future is a blank canvas. No chosen college, no chosen career, no blueprint of my future home. Nothing.
She accepted that. She continues to push me to explore just what subject or career it is that I want to dedicate myself to, and I appreciate her so much for that. As a result, I feel much closer to my self-discovery than I would be if she had not been so supportive.
We are young, we are clueless and we will make many mistakes. That is natural. What is most important is that we are pursuing our owngoals and dreams rather than those of our family, friends or society.
People will always tell us what we should want: fame, fortune, popularity. But it is our responsibility to determine what we actually want. Only with that discovery will we feel complete. Perhaps, that is the brink of adulthood.
When it comes to our futures, we have to be selfish when the time calls for it, and focus on our own development. It may feel uncomfortable and frightening when we have depended on those closest to us for so long. I know I have had my fair share of difficulty with it. Yet, we must remember that as our teenage years come to an end, our independence rapidly begins. So does our need for strength: the conviction to pinpoint our dreams, and chase them relentlessly, regardless of what people say.
That includes having the conviction to say, “I don’t know where I will be in 10 years. And I don’t have a problem with that.”
Not one of us knows exactly where we will end up, but there is a strange comfort in that.
We write our own stories, and if we hand no one else the pen, we will be exactly where we are destined to be in 10 years.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Liza Wemakor.
Hi Liza, I have read your article several times and love it, love it, love it. As a high school junior, I must say that your analysis ability is AMAZING!!! You are truly gifted and I hope you will put your writing skills to good use. I am looking forward to reading your next article, hopefully in the very near future. Keep on writing, girl. Great job indeed!!!
Hi Liza, I have read your article several times and each time I read it, I can't help but wonder how an 11th grader could put together such a brilliant article. I love it love it. You are truly gifted and I hope you will put your writing skills to good use and continue amazing us with your brilliance!! I am looking forward to reading your next article whenever that will be, taking into consideration the fact that you have school assignments to take care of and that is a top priority. KUDOS kiddo!!!!!
Well done, Liza! Thank you for this wonderful article. Your article will help me a lot whenever I discuss my children's future with them. I can't wait to read the next one you will write. You truly are gifted. Well done again, and good luck with your writing.
As a parent and an educator, let's be clear about this: it's not about having a plan you ardently stick to come Hell or High Water; it's about having a Plan, period. I changed my major three times, went to two different universities, and am now in a career about 180 degrees away from my 'plan' as a high school junior. The point is not successfully mapping out a life that matches reality. The point is about thinking-out the life you could have, finding the factors and prerequisites, and requisites necessary to achieve that plan, and determining the likely audibles that will come up along the way. That way, when your plan does change–even 180 degrees–,you know how to adapt.
At the rate this country is going down, in 10 years our country will be unrecognizable, and everybody may be be working for the Chinese Government. Maybe you can get a job at Walmart, working 12 hour days, 6 days a week, making 3 dollars a day, like Chinese Walmart workers, are doing now. Or maybe like Walmart workers in Bangladesh or India, making 17 cents an hour, 12 hour days, 7 days a week. Walmart says they're not worried, because there's always going to be poor people, begging for jobs.
I sense some wishful thinking here.
I can attest to the fact that knowing what you want to do when you grow up does not always make your life easier. For most of my life I have wanted nothing more than to be an actress. That's not a career choice that most parents, or adults are just thrilled to hear their child choose. Instead I was greeted with, but you would be a good teacher, or just don't go into social work, or if you can do something else do it that last line comes from many people who have made acting their profession.
As a result I was anxious, doubtful, and reticent to pursue my passion in any way shape or form once I left the comfort of High School. So I went to college and chose to major in Communications because it was the prudent thing to do graduating three years later with a lot of regrets, what ifs and a longing that could not be quieted. I found "good jobs" in the corporate world with steady pay and benefits. You would think that would make me happy, but it didn't. I eventually returned to school to and completed a second bachelors degree in theatre and education. Sadly I am still not doing the thing I've always wanted to do, but at least this time I am making that choice.
All this said I believe that it takes some longer than others to find their passion and even when they do it is not always a guarantee that it will be available to them. I think the advice to be supportive and guiding is extremely important and encouraging your student to explore lots of avenues well before leaving or even beginning high school is the best way for them to understand who they are and what makes them happy.
There have always been students without plans who drift through life and change their major and their school many times, wasting both their youth and money. There have also been people who have valued themselves enough to have taken the time to figure out what they want to do, how much it pays, where to attend college, and how to get the right position.
Guess which ones end up becoming successful sooner?
A lot of people think money doesn't buy happiness; it does bring health care, lower debt, higher savings, security, and stability.
What a fantastic girl you are.
I know you and your mom when you lived in Syracuse, NY a few years back.
For someone that's in 11th grade, you pinpointed the exact thing that my 23 year old daughter has been thru since she started college. I think she changed her major 3 times, went to 4 colleges.
She graduated with the same passion as you- Creative Writing. And some of the comments that you mentioned to send your writing out to people is how you get them to see what a great writer you have become.
I am so proud of my daughter, Lauren, and she can write with such imagination. I hope along the way, you also find your passion. I am very proud of you...
I always tell my daughter that no one is coming on your doorstep to read your writing or give you a job. Send your work out to as many people that she is interested in working for...Persistance. And I see you have it also :)
Best Wishes and Good luck with your future ahead...you get to write that story- make it a good one. Love you
I keep telling my son that no one is come to the front door and say "hey we havea job for you". Instead you have to get out every day and treat job hunting like a job. But it sees I am wasting my breath.
I would have to disagree with you. Having a plan is actually one of the best things you can do for yourself. The longer your dance around saying "I dunno what to do with my life", the faster life passes you by, and you find yourself trying to catch up. Been there and done that with my friends. We all grew out of it though, but it was harder than those who were pursuing careers from the start. I would say have a realistic goal you're ok with an go for it
everyone should at least have a goal to look at for the next 10 yrs. because when those 10 years pass their going to wonder where they went and what have they accomplished
Excellent advice, Liza!
In 10 years, just like this article says, young adults like me have no idea where they will end up. Everybody has somewhat of an idea, but they really aren't sure because there are so many possibilities out there today. Usually when we are in high school or middle school we like many subjects, but we don't know what subject we would like to work for the rest of our lives. It takes time and experience to figure what our future is going to be, and it is important not to decide it too quickly or "rush" it. I know (as said in the article) that parents would like their kids to be doctors, engineers, and all the big money making jobs. Quite frankly, most people do want to make money, but they would rather do what they love. It is important that you can choose what you love to do and what you would still love to learn until you think you are ready to retire. It is important that we take our time on that, and know for sure what we will like to do.
Yes you should do what you love, but remember statistiaclly speaking most people make CARRER changes four times in their lifetime. Not change jobs but complete carrer changes.
I think that it doesn't matter where you will be in 10 years because you should be focusing on your life that you're living right now; not in 10 years. Maybe it might be a good idea to think about what you want to be when you get there, but it’s not necessary to know exactly. I say just live life in the moment; you only have one life anyway.
If you want to give God a good laugh, tell him your plans.
First, I would like thank you all for reading my article. As a high school junior, this is a tremendous opportunity for me, and it has really allowed me to further explore my interest in writing. I would just like to clear up some confusion over my purpose in writing this article. In no way am I discouraging people to think about college, write college lists, take SAT's, etc. In fact, I will be taking the SAT next month. I wrote this article because I wanted my peers to understand that a plan is great, but if you don't consider your own interests, talents, and passions, the plan will become irrelevant, or you may end up being unhappy with its results. When making college and career plans, it is true that we have to keep deadlines in mind, but rushing into a decision regarding our futures because of pressure from others will not do us any favors. Thank you again, and I hope this helps!
I am the student who was going to become a doctor, changed my major, and became a teacher instead. I followed my passion- thank you for encouraging young adults to do the same. This is a great reminder to educators to foster support and reduce pressure on our students. Congratulations on your publication!
Liza That was an OUTSTANDING ARTICLE ON real HUMAN TEENAGER school issuesand what to do with your life after HIGH SCHOOL AND WHERE 2 GO. What College To Attend WHAT Classes to take and WHO DO U LIVE WITH ?ITS USUASUALLYMOMAFTER ALL SHE"S DONE FOR U NOW U CAN GIVE BACK AND DO FOR YOUR MOMS NOW TO ALL TEEN AGERS OUT OUT THERE RIGHT NOW!!!!!!! TO you LIZA I"d SAY JournalizmAnd Writting BECAUSE THATS A SPECIAL GIFT Given 2 u by GOD ONLY GOD can Give PEOPLE THEIR TALENTS andeach one of us has one we just have to look 4 it seek it and find it and the door will be opened to us on what our talent truly is that God has given to each one of you . IN the BIBLE IT SAYS ASK AND IT WILL BE ANSWERED :KNOCK AND THE DOOR WILL BE OPENED TO YOU : SEEK AND YOU SHALL FIND SO TAKE GOD"S WORD TO HEART AND USE FOR HIS EVERLASTING PROMISES!!!!!!
No one know where they are going to be in 10 years. The statement is misunderstood. More important is the question "where do you WANT TO be in 4 years?" That is a must for a student. You need to know what you intend to explore and work toward that direction. Will you succeed in reaching your goal? Most probably not. The target is the journey, not the destination. If you do not set any goals, you will never meet your goals, guaranteed. If you set your goals, it is still likely that you will not meet your goals but at least you stand a chance. Set your goal high and shoot for the star. Most probably you won't make it to the star but the consolation price is pretty sweet. Do not set a goal, you will not even launch.
The best thing about being young is that you have plenty of time to change your mind. Set a target and work deligently toward it. Review your progress often and refine your goals as you progress. It is a moving target not a stationary one.
If you do not know what you want to do in 4 years, how can you know what will your passion be? Most young people have not even skimp the surface of enough things to develop any passion. Passion is the reward of years of hard work. Give it a chance and you may very well be surprised. Don't rule anything out just because you did not work hard enough to uncover the secret.
I believe that it is important to know where you are going to be in ten years. Some people are determined to go to college and get an education while others just slouch in class and really don't care where they will be in ten years.
I don't think anyone needs to know where they will be in ten years. It is so far away and not that important. If you are only in middle school, you don't even need to know where you want to go to college or what you want to study. By 11th or 12th grade, though, I think you should start looking at colleges and have at least some idea of where you want to go with your life.
I think that parents should not pressure their kids ten years before they actually have to take the pressure seriously. No parent should worry when their 8 year old child doesn't no where he/she is going to college. It is just wrong on many levels. Wait... Oh no! I forgot to do my college resume! Ha! Just kidding!
Not good. By the junior year in high school, the student should at least know what they want to do after graduation. They should know if they want to go to university, community college, vocational school, go in the military, or try for a job in the fast food industry. Not having a plan is self-destructive and just plain lazy.
Dave: For you to write that means either 1) you stopped reading after she said she has no idea as to what she wants to day; or 2) you just don't care for her willing to want to be an explorer of her future. Whatever the reason for your response, this young woman has a bright future ahead of her. I know her personally and she is far from lazy. She, in fact, is the top of her class and respected not only by her teachers, but also by her fellow students. At least she is humble enough to admit that she doesn't know what she want to do than to lie to herself about it. At least give her that.
Definately follow your interests and passion for whatever you want to do in life, but I do not agree that its ok not to have a plan. Congratulations that you have discovered a passion for a marketable skill; in your case Writing. But although its understandable to not currently have a plan for the future, the old adage "One who fails to plan, plans to fail" is often true. Most colleges have grade and required classes for admission that should be done in high school. In college and in life you will be competing against many of your peers who do have a plan. Many good writing jobs require you to have experience, and school and college are great ways of getting that experience. If you don't want to go to college, see what opportunities beginning writers have in journal and trade magazines.
If you don't have a plan for your future, then you will be at the whim of whatever opportunities that present themselves to you, which often don't happen by accident. The great opportunities come to those who work for them. A person randomly wandering around will never go as far as someone with a clear goal.
Liza, you have opened up my eyes to a youngster's perspective. All of us forget when we become adults how we went through the exact same discovery process that our children are undergoing at the moment. We always want the best for them but should not be too controlling and the exploration phase is just as important. You have a bright future ahead of you as you are able to be objective even when staying in the situation.
Very insightful and well-written! Especially coming from a junior in high school. Good luck with whatever you end up pursuing in life and I hope you continue to inspire others.
With the wisdom. clarity, and talent you possess, the future is whatever you decide – when you are ready! Thanks for this submission.
Liza, I read this with great interest. It's a very long time since I was in high school, but when I was there I knew exactly where I was going next. The path was clear, the destination set. What a pity! I wish I had been encouraged to explore. You seem to understand the value of exploration.
I love to travel, and exploring is always a big part of that. When I go to a new country, I have always done some preliminary exploration at a distance. I don't go in blind, I know something of the landscape before I arrive. I often have a tentative route in mind. It's never a blank canvas. Having that preliminary plan gives me just enough security, just enough direction, to know that I can ditch it the moment something better turns up. And so I begin to explore, but not randomly. I already know some of the things this new place has to offer so I don't begin my exploration in places with limited options. As I move through unfamiliar territory I make sure that I take the side roads, look into the alley ways, leave the much frequented tourist routes and keep my eyes wide open for the fascinating and unexpected.
My suggestion to you is that you view your future in a similar fashion. Understand the lay of the land ahead of you. Do your research and have some tentative routes in mind. But keep your eyes wide open for the fruitful diversions, the unexpected but fascinating side tracks.
I am an artist as well as an educator. I know how intimidating the blank canvas can be. Get a few lines down, sketch out a composition. From then on it all gets easier, more exciting and there are very few lines that cannot be changed as the composition forms and transforms. But get rid of the blank canvas!
Great story! Take your time when deciding and change your mind if needed. The world is full of possibilities.
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