Panic at the table

A family gathering, the perfect setting for dreaded questions. 

Mine was after two years of a global pandemic and endless phone calls with my family. Conversations were thrown across the table, from one end to the other, and there was never a moment of silence.

Suddenly, the ongoing chatter broke with the sound of 9 words: “What do you want to do after you graduate?” Although aimed at my older sister, who already had her entire life planned out, I began to panic. I knew the moment the question came to me, I wouldn’t know what to say.

I heard my sister answer Probably Fashion Marketing”, but I already knew that she had been talking about it for months. Then the question turned to my cousin, who happens to be the same age as me and probably the smartest boy I know, “Finance or Data Science

And then it turned to me, to which I answered I’m not sure, maybe film? But not as my first degree, so… I guess… I don’t know”. I was the only one that ‘didn’t know’.

Sometimes, dealing with uncertainty feels like standing on the edge of a cliff.

Reasons for uncertainty

I’ve had numerous friends tell me about a similar turn of events. Oftentimes their family gatherings escalate into long discussions and arguments with their parents. Though well-intentioned and sometimes insightful, these conversations bring a sense of urgency not previously present. 

Some fear sharing what they want to do given they know it comes with criticism. Others are unsure and therefore fear being told what to do. And some, like me, have way too many interests and can’t make up their mind.

A Multipotentialite 

We are all conditioned to believe we must find that one great thing to achieve in our lifetime. That’s too big a task at such a tender age. So, we take the easy way out and go through a list of options picking one reasonable enough to succeed in. 

But, what if it’s not the only thing we want to do? Do we throw away all our other interests and talents in the hope that the one we chose is the right one? Or, do we accept the fact that we might be a Multipotentialite.

These are people who have no “one true destiny” or “calling”. Unlike Musicians or Tennis Players, they have many interdisciplinary interests with no one set outcome. 

If you feel you fall into this category, it is okay to give multiple answers. Don’t close doors for yourself! As society progresses into a less linear future, there will be a need for people who can adapt to new surroundings and areas of work in a short space of time – perfect for multipotentialites.

My advice to kids

  1. Find a mentor. A mentor can give you a real-life perspective on whether or not what you want is a feasible track for you. Characteristics of a good mentor include:
    • Good listener
    • Good sounding board
    • Value diversity of perspectives
    • Give valid examples of success stories
    • Honest and candid
    • Able to network and find resources
  2. Start journaling/blogging. Journaling will give you an intimate space to recollect and express your thoughts. Some ideas include:
    • Write how you see yourself in 5 years: What are you wearing, where are you living, what are you doing, etc.
    • Ask yourself what scares you about the future
    • Write a letter to your future self

My advice to parents

Parents think they know their child the best. But, when it comes to choosing what our future holds, as teens, we need to take a certain degree of autonomy which includes space to decide what fits us best. So to parents, I say:

  1. Listen. Though your advice is valid and important to us, sometimes all we are looking for is a sounding board. When judgment comes too quickly we close off right away. We like to know our thoughts are valid too.
  2. Be patient. It is a learning experience for us all and it might take some time. Try to keep an open mind and encourage your child to explore different options.
  3. Offer extracurriculars and internships. Ask your child about online classes they would like to try or internships that spike their interest. There are a lot of budget-friendly options out there.
  4. Instead of asking “What do you want to do when you graduate?” Try: “What are your goals?” “What kind of life would you like to have? In a city? With a car?” or, “How do you feel when you do (insert activity)?”
  5. Consider activities outside of school and college. There are interests/passions that don’t necessarily take place in an academic environment. 

Final thoughts

Though I’m still not sure what I’d like to do, I have changed my attitude towards this question. Rather than panicking and worrying if my response is good enough for others, I tell myself it’s good enough for me. So how do I answer for now? “I have many interests and I am on my way to finding my own path.” – what about you?