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After High School: Making Big Decisions

October, 2010
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Ew. Growing up.
I remember those times as a child, when I would play dress-up. “Sweetie, what do you want to be when you grow up?” my parent’s would ask.
I want to be a fireman! I want to be a dancer! A doctor! A vet!
Weren’t those decisions so much easier to make back then? Back when my future was just a dress-up dream? Back when I could be a police officer one day and a singing sensation the next? All I had to do was wear a tutu or wrap a stethoscope around my neck, and then: TA-DA! I had my profession for the day! I could make up my own rules and I never ever made mistakes!
Sadly, that effortless decision-making is only possible in the glorious realm of childhood. Now, as an adult, I step out onto the tightrope of important decision-making; my life tottering like an egg on the tip of my nose.
Job? Marriage? Kids? Just when I thought I could catch a break, I’m suddenly confronted with another round of important life decisions in my final year of university - decisions that are now fully loaded with consequences. What am I going to do when I graduate? Should I go for more school, or should I get a job? Where am I going to live? How am I going to save money?
I remember the beginning of grade 12 when the Big Decisions started creeping up on me and the rest of my classmates. There were some students who had known exactly what they were going to do since age 5. But for me, deciding what to study and where to study it was an intimidating process. I realized that the future was not as simple as putting on mommy’s high-heels and hand-bag. Instead, life had to be lived through and I was responsible for the path I was going to pave.
“Making big decisions scare me so much. I’m not sure exactly what I want to do,” says Charlene Habibi, a 12th grader getting ready to apply to universities. “When you’re young decision-making is a lot easier just because someone else, like your parents or your teachers, are making the big decisions for you. They tell you to do this, or not to do that. But now, as I grow older, it all becomes my responsibility. If it’s the wrong decision, it becomes a lot harder to take it back.”
Charlene feels like everything is happening so fast in her last year of high school. “For me, everything has to have its own time,” she says. “But now I have to think five to ten years ahead! Am I getting a Masters? When will I have my first real job? When will I get married? I try not to worry about it, but it still comes up from time to time.”
Charlene says that she does not know exactly what profession she wants to pursue. “I know I’m good at the sciences, so I’m going to play at my strengths and take some general science courses for the first couple of years at university. Hopefully, with more experience, I’ll eventually know what I want to be.”
Charlene is not alone in her approach to university. More and more students these days are putting off this major decision until certain it is the right one. In the west, it is becoming more understood that students, like Charlene, who are starting to enter university, are still not entirely sure what it is they would like to do professionally. As a result, universities are making it easy for students to switch their degrees. In fact, according to Digest of Education Statistics 2009, 75% of university students changed their degrees at least once during their university careers. The study shows that the most common bachelor’s degrees were taken in areas of business, social sciences and humanities, health sciences, and education.
“But it’s still so scary to know that a decisions has to be made eventually,” Charlene says. “What school I go to, or whether I want to live with family or in school dorms…all of these decisions still have to be made. I don’t want my grades to suffer because I can’t manage being away from home during my first year. I feel like there is a big transition between university and high school. University, and life beyond university, has a lot more consequences.”
So what’s the trick to happiness? Charlene’s father had some advice to share.
“It’s not about what you should do,” Soheil Habibi says. “It’s about what you want to do. Usually students start studying towards a job for all the wrong reasons. I think they need to keep in mind that it’s not about the money, or even the status that comes along with certain jobs…because, in the end, all that isn’t worth if it doesn’t make you happy. Whatever you decided to do in your life, or whatever you decided to be, it should be something you’re absolutely passionate about! The money and everything else should only be a bonus.”
“And if you’re happy,” Soheil adds, “no obstacle is impossible and there is always enjoyment in life.”
There is a poster hanging in the hallway of my school resident building. It says, “Today was brought to you by yesterday’s choices”. Although it’s sponsored by a beer company and is advocating responsible alcohol consumption, I still think the theory applies. No one should tell you what to study or where to go in life, because in the end, it’s you that has to live with your Big Decisions. Good luck to all those applying to universities this year! As long as we follow our passions and actively pursue Happiness, we’ll all do just fine.
By Amelia Yan
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