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.