We live in a society that forces us to make decisions from a very young age – and what’s more, decisions that are supposed to define our future, the rest of our lives. We are taught that we must choose a route while we are still at school (sciences, humanities, arts, sports…) and, depending on the countries we are talking about, we may be pushed into choosing an already constricted area of knowledge when we are only teenagers. Well, let’s be honest – when are still children. In my country, for instance, we are told to choose a block of subjects at 15 years of age: sciences, humanities, sports, arts, economics… And, when we choose, we will only have classes that fit in that category (with the exception of a couple, such as gym class, philosophy and our native tongue, for example). This means that, for our three years of highschool, we are already meant to follow a certain path, one that we are expected to delve into and to refine when we go to university.
But what’s worse is this: society expects us to stay on that path for the rest of our lives. We are supposed to choose the one area that we excel in at a very young age, study everything and only what belongs to that area, and then get a job that is in that same area. We are essentially told that we must choose a box, jump inside it and stay there. Forever. Well, not forever, but until we retire, which is basically saying that you will have a full life of doing something that may not even be what most excites you or what most fulfills you. That’s right. Simply put, society wants you to choose a path, to stay on that path and not to explore or to vary too much. So what happens to people who do not want to do just ONE thing for their entire lives, or people who have trouble fitting into one sole box?
Society is wrong. We can do different things. We should do different things. We should try different activities, new experiences, unexpected challenges… because we are not one dimensional beings that can make permanent, life defining choices at an early age and not get it wrong several times. I have seen this happening all around me: I have known many boys and girls who, forced to choose a future at 14, 15 or 16 years of age, have chosen areas that were probably not the best for them and that will not allow them to fully develop and blossom as they could. How can teenagers decide what they want to be for the rest of their lives when they are just teenagers? Many people get to their forties, fifties, and still do not know what they’d truly love to do. A lot of people get to old age feeling as though they did not fulfill themselves. Can you imagine that feeling? It must be very sad and frustrating.
Still – we are forced to choose at a young age. It is ridiculous, yes. An educational system that requires its students to make such important choices when it is clearly too soon is a flawed system, much like our uneven, conformist, consumerist society. What it does is that it creates a series of robots, formatted boys and girls who are taught to obey orders, learn the same things, choose a strictly fixed future, do their job and not ask many questions. In the end, we are all tiny boxes that feed the great motherboard, and we must all be equal so that we work in the same way and maintain the system working the way those who control it want it to work. But what does that do to each of us, as individuals? I have already mentioned that I have seen many classmates of mine choosing to follow, for example, the sciences path to become doctors and engineers, two of the most standardized professions in this society. Young people who say that they want to become artists, dancers, musicians, painters, actors, or anything out of the ordinary, are frequently discouraged under the justification that “Doing that will not get you paid” and “Not getting paid will prevent you from having a stable, comfortable life”. What happened to people wanting to jump out of the box? Why is there so much pressure to stay inside of it?
It is okay to want to be different. It is okay to want to study different things and to pursue a different career, just like it is okay to want to do multiple things and not just one. Of course, it is usually easier to be really good at one thing than at many things, but it doesn’t mean that we cannot enjoy doing different things and that we shouldn’t do it. Why should we stick to the same job for our entire lives? Why should we not reinvent ourselves at some point – whenever that moment comes? I was (am) very fortunate to have parents who gave me the freedom to make my own choices – without any kind of pressure. I was told that I should go with my heart and do what I liked the most. Money, stability and mostly status were never part of the criteria for my parents and for me. I saw like the people around me, classmates, close friends and even other members of my family gave a lot of importance to those factors – mostly getting a job and a good paycheck. When I was growing up, the economical crisis going on in my country was also a recurring argument when it came to us making a decision for our future professions.
In the end, I made my choices based mostly on what I wanted – on what I enjoyed doing, on what I enjoyed studying, and not on what I thought I should do or what other people convinced me that I enjoyed doing. I made a couple of wrong choices, but they were never a waste of time – in fact, they were valuable lessons. For instance: when I reached 10th grade, I had to choose which area to follow. I should’ve followed humanities, which mostly suited my character and likes, but I gave more importance to the fact that all my friends were going to the sciences class and I went with them. My parents were always supportive, even though they thought I would probably be much better in the humanities class. At the time, I tried to give myself rational arguments as to why I was studying sciences instead of what I had always really excelled in (history, languages…), but only later would I truly understand that I should have taken the other course. That moment finally came when I reached my senior year, that is, 12th grade, and I decided that I would eternally fail Maths if I insisted on doing it and the exams I should actually be doing by the end of the year were the humanities exams, not sciences. So I chose to stay in highschool for an extra year, I dropped out of Maths and focused on the humanities exams I had to do. I never went to a single class on any of those subjects and I still got good results when I took the exams by the end of what was my 13th year of school. During that year, I took the time to take my driver’s license and to have more dance classes – which definitely made me develop as a dancer.
Many people would consider my choice to be a waste of time. However, it was the exact opposite. I used that year for other things and those were some very happy times. By the end of it, I sent out my college applications – and, once again, my decisions were based entirely on my personal taste and I was never influenced by any kind of pressure. I ended up applying (as my first option) for a degree that I had never even considered before (in fact, I only decided to apply for that about one or two weeks before I had to send out the applications). That was International Relations. I remember having mentioned it once or twice before with my mother and we never gave it a second thought. But suddenly, just before the deadline, I went through its programme and I realised that it looked extremely interesting and “way up my alley”. So I went for it. Never did I wonder whether it would be easy to get a job with such a degree or whether I’d make good money out of it. Instead, I chose it because the subjects looked captivating and challenging – like good fun.
Now, I find myself as happy and excited as I have rarely been before in my life. I could never have imagined I would love college so much, and never have I imagined I could fall in love with a college degree as much as I have. I love every subject I have to study, I even had fun while I was studying for my finals and had fun during a couple of them. Why? Because I am doing what I love. Because I am doing what makes me happy. Therefore, you should never give any criteria as much importance as you should give to this: your own love, your own excitement, your own curiosity. If you choose something that will definitely get you a job and money, but that is not what you truly, actually love, then you might live a comfortable, stable life – but it will never be a fulfilling life. And if you choose something which excites you, then you will most surely be great at it – because we are most dedicated to what we love. And employers like people who are good at their jobs – so you will eventually find your own place and a good job. Nevertheless, the most important part is the journey – how happy you are while you’re preparing for that job, while you’re studying, learning and perfecting yourself.
You must try to achieve happiness in every step of the way, not just work really hard for a happy future that makes you have an exhausting, unfulfilling present. But there are people who do not face this dilemma of choosing whether to follow what they think they should or what makes them truly happy. They face another dilemma: what is it that makes them happy? These are the people who have a hard time finding what really makes them tick.