Dear Year 12 student,
What an exciting time, hey! You’re about to complete 13 years of schooling. Might be a little bit daunting too.
Have you had the following thought pop into your head recently?
“OMG…I have no idea what I want to do when I finish school. It’s freaking me out.”
Maybe. Maybe not.
If you’re feeling anxious, uncertain and overwhelmed right now. Hey, it’s normal. It just means you want to figure things out. Maybe you’re afraid of not getting the ATAR you need. Or letting your parents down. Or the uncertainty of the future. That’s normal too.
Fear cannot be avoided, only managed. What can be avoided is letting your fears and anxieties become too overbearing and linger. This will only give birth to ENZO - the emotional monkey. And that ain’t good.
So, what can you do to manage uncertainty, perplexity, and anxiety and create a future that motivates, inspires and excites you?
Here are 4 practical suggestions to help you create a COMPELLING FUTURE:
1. DIG DEEP DEEP DEEP
“What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us”
(Ralph Waldo Emerson)
The most authentic place to build a compelling future is from the answers to this fundamental question - “WHO AM I?”
By digging deep and tuning in to who you are at the core, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of your personality traits, what you’re good at, not good at, your values and what you value, what you’re passionate about, what motivates you, and what gives you joy.
To get started, take some time out to reflect on the following:
From your responses above, do you notice any patterns or trends?
Use this information to flesh out the second tip below.
2. EXPLORE ALL POSSIBILITIES
"The heart of human excellence often begins to beat when you discover a pursuit that absorbs you, frees you, challenges you, or gives you a sense of meaning, joy or passion.”
When I was in Year 12, I loved business studies. It was my strongest performing subject at school and I felt drawn towards doing something in business when I finished. I explored and researched different options. Even though starting a business was a cool idea, I didn’t have a product or service to offer. So instead, I opted to go to university to complete a Business degree, and majored in accounting. At 23, I became a fully qualified Chartered Accountant, and went on to work with some of Australia’s largest companies, in senior leadership roles, and on multi-million dollar clients. During that time as well, I had side business projects that I was passionate about which I pursued. The journey wasn't smooth sailing, and didn't comprise of “happy days” always, but because I was doing something I connected with, it made it all the more worthwhile.
Here’s my point. The birth of my dream emerged from exploring real world possibilities and pathways (business degree, corporate career, entrepreneurial side businesses) that could be married up with my strengths, and passions (business studies, people skills, communication, leadership driven, tenacious etc).
FIND THE LINK between what you feel you’re good at, passionate about and real world pathways and possibilities. This will allow you to expand your vision, and in turn, inspire optimism.
If you love working with numbers, then consider areas like finance, actuarial studies, and coding. If its buildings and design, check out architecture, interior design, and civil engineering. If it's sport and the human body, explore physiotherapy, chiropractor, sports science, and medicine. If you’re a people person and enjoy communicating and helping others, then explore opportunities in sales, customer service, and events. These are just examples to get you thinking.
Research, research, research. Researching and getting as much real world information as possible will not only enhance your knowledge, but alleviate feelings of uncertainty.
Explore ALL possibilities, not just ATAR related options.
I was speaking to a friend of mine recently. A 37 year old successful pharmacy owner with multiple investments and a beautiful family. Yet, he admitted to me that he is depressed. Why? Because he hates what he does. It’s not something he really wanted to do at 18, but chose the university course because he scored a high ATAR, and didn’t want his mark to 'go to waste'.
If there isn’t anything at university that lights you up, consider VET and TAFE options, including landing an apprenticeship. Imagine straight out of school, you are, on the job, learning the skills of a much needed trade in today’s world and getting paid too. Sometimes, people have this belief that apprenticeships and traineeships are only for people that don’t get the grades. Rubbish. False.
Let your inner world (refer to 1) shape your aspirations and pathway decisions, not your ATAR and other people’s expectations. If you receive a high ATAR, you don’t have to use it to get into a high entry course if it is not something that you are really interested in. If you do something that your heart is not set on, then there is a high chance you will either drop out of the course, change paths during your working life, or end up like my friend.
Ponder the following questions:
All you are doing here is exploring the possibilities to get to a point where you can make an informed decision to give a path a crack. Call it a trial. It’s not set in stone. You can always change paths.
3. BE A SPONGE
As part of your research, speak to as many people as possible (offline and online).
Ask people what they do at their jobs/businesses, especially those who are currently working in or have worked in the space you are considering. This information is gold.
Ask people how they ended up doing what they’re doing. The responses will fascinate you and give you perspective. I can almost guarantee you that the majority didn’t have it all figured out at 18. I hope that encourages you.
I remember asking my electrician one day "Hey, how did you become an electrician?". He responded “I saw some cables one day in the ceiling…and I wanted to know how they were linked and got the electricity going and how it all came together…And so I got super curious…and from there, the rest is history. I was a curious boy back then.”
Write up a list of questions you could ask people that will give the insights you need, and go out and become a world-class interviewer.
Don’t forget to attend CAREER EXPOs. Remember, curiosity is your best friend and right questions will give you the answers you need.
Oh, if you’re feeling playful, have a go at this free online personality test. It will give you ideas for career pathways based on your strengths and weaknesses. Use it as a guide only, rather than direct advice.
From all of this, the goal is to identify patterns in your thoughts and feelings towards a particular pathway(s).
4. PLAN FOR THE WHAT IFs
An effective way of building courage in the face of fear and uncertainty is to consider different scenarios. I call this the “WHAT IF” exercise.
Let’s have a go, based on these frequently asked questions (FAQs) by students:
FAQ 1 - What if I fail?
I had a Year 11 student come up to me one day after a presentation I delivered and said “Hey, thanks so much. Loved your presentation and totally connected with the part about having a compelling vision. I want to become a successful businessman in the future. My dad was an orphan. Both his parents died at birth. He built his future from nothing and that inspires me to go out and achieve big like he did.” I could feel his passion in the way he was speaking. But I felt something was holding him back and he wanted to tell me something.
He went on to say: “When I did the My Monkeys exercise in the session, I realised I had ENZO on my back. I have a massive fear of failure…I’ve had it for a while and it’s kinda getting to me.”
So I said to him: “Fear of failure is normal, especially anyone that strives to achieve big. If it’s managed, it’s a good thing. But if you let it linger, it will stop you. If the worst case scenario takes place and you don’t achieve what you aspire, it’s not the end of the world, and you would have learned so much along the way that would help you in the next chapter of your life. The biggest thing to worry about is REGRET. Not trying at all. That’s heavy, and painful. That’s wasted potential. Don’t allow yourself to live with regret. Be fearless in the pursuit of that which sets your heart on fire. That’s what is important.”
Failure does not apply to those that try. You either succeed and accomplish, or, with the right attitude, you learn and move forward.
FAQ 2 - What if I don't get the ATAR I need to get into university?
If you miss the front door, try the back door. Most universities have alternate pathway programs. There are bridging courses and the Mature Age Student option down the track. Plus educational institutions and employers these days are looking at more than just academic results when it comes to choosing candidates. In recent times, some Australian universities have been admitting students without an ATAR. Universities, training providers and employers want to see someone who has successfully completed their final year, demonstrating commitment and character, and can provide a CV that shows a track record of leadership, service and character.
Maybe you can do something similar to what Eliana did. I hired Eliana to join my team as a personal assistant when I worked in the corporate world. Eliana had an exceptional attitude and a strong hunger to learn and grow. While she initially joined to support the team in administrational areas of the business, she soon developed an interest in accounting and finance. She then decided to do an accounting degree, and fast forward the picture, she is now a fully qualified Chartered Accountant, and a great example of someone who worked their way from the ground up.
FAQ 3 - What if my parents do not approve of my choice of pathway?
It’s your life. As cliche as it sounds, it’s true. Be brave enough to take personal responsibility for your future, while being empathetic and understanding to their concerns, their experiences and cultural upbringing. With open communication, and a strong display of commitment to your dream, your parent(s) will end up being your greatest supporters.
FAQ 4 - What if there is another COVID-19 lockdown or major life disruption that interrupts my plans to move out, travel and study abroad?
Be prepared by having a Plan B. This is a great way to hedge against the curveballs that life may throw and avoid being caught on the blindside. Fill it with productive things that you can do if things were not normal (i.e. borders closed, financial constraints, family issues etc), like taking a short course. Starting a new project. Volunteering. Rather than letting the setback crush you, use the time to build yourself and your skills set so when things return to normal and you run with Plan A, you would have gained a heap in the meantime from Plan B.
FAQ 5 - What if the thing I'm passionate about doesn't look like something I can make money from? Should I not pursue it?
Absolutely not. You must pursue what sets you alight, in a way that doesn’t make you broke. According to McCrindle Research, only 14% of students today are looking for traditional employment. The majority of young people are looking to balance being an employee (and getting a stable income) with pursuing their passion on the side, or starting up a business while being an employee on the side. This can be an option for you to balance the pursuit of your passions with making a living. And hopefully, your passion can be your main source of income one day. Be inspired by these words from Abraham Maslow: “Musicians must make music, artists must paint, poets must write if they are ultimately to be at peace with themselves. What humans can be, they must be.”
FAQ 6 - What if I finish Year 12 and I'm still not sure?
Don’t stress. Not everyone has it figured out at 18. But it’s up to you to discover your purpose by stepping out, exploring and engaging in new experiences to help you discover more about yourself, and the world around you.
Take a GAPP year to figure things out. Take up a short course. Do volunteer work. Meet new people. Get a job. Make some money. Travel. Land some work experience in a field of interest. The more you experiment and gain new experiences, the more you will figure out what you don’t want, which in turn, will bring you closer to what you do want.
As Apple Founder, the late Steve Jobs once famously said: “....as with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it”.
Many adults go through their entire life not accepting the responsibility of discovering who they really are and live life always seeking external validation, never truly being happy and fulfilled. By deciding to discover, you’ve put yourself on the front foot. Be patient, be curious and be always open to new things because life is a continuous journey of self discovery.
In wrapping up, life is never a straight path. It’s not meant to be.
May you move forward in alignment to who you are, and not for the sake of meeting other people’s expectations. That’s when you’ve truly got the monkeys off your back and have become the leader of your life.
I'll finish off with the inspiring words of Mark Twain:
"Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowliness. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
The best is yet to come,
p.s - I know it was a bit of a read. I hope it was worth it :)
Follow on socials
Daniel Merza is an award-winning international speaker, certified virtual trainer, author, and coach, specialising in wellbeing and leadership.