There Are No Answers in the Back of the Book for Life’s Tough Questions

As you journey through your school years, you will be faced with a number of different problems that you will be told you need to provide an answer for: math homework, history tests, where to go to high school, where to apply for university, and almost definitely what do you want to do when you’re older? Unlike with math problems, there is no formula that you can use to make decisions in regards to your life’s path. As someone who’s been through it, I’d like to say that not having a formula isn’t always a bad thing.

School can be a stressful experience in itself; it requires you to balance your academics with your social life and your extra-curricular activities. As you get older, you might start to experience some added pressure from your parents, your teachers, or even your peers to have a confident response for the question, “what’s next?”

The truth is, you won’t always know and you don’t always have to; it’s perfectly okay to go with the flow.  In grade eight, you will have the opportunity to apply to a specific high school, or to your feeder school. The feeder school will automatically accept you, whereas any other schools you apply to may require a specific set of requirements for your admission, such as academic scores or high achievement in a sport or the arts. Everyone has their own reasons for applying outside of their feeder school, but it is important to remember that all hope is not lost if you don’t end up at the high school you thought you would. In Canada, we are very fortunate to have access to a strong public education system, and for the most part, your education is what you make it. Two people could have an identical education, but it is your responsibility to apply yourself in a way that is most productive for your goals. If you commit yourself to learning the material, you will be prepared for post-secondary. It’s important to remember that not getting into the school you thought you would shouldn’t change your dreams; it will only change the course you take to achieve them. There are many possible paths and outcomes that you won’t be able to predict, no matter how hard you try.

When I was in grade 12 and the time to apply for university rolled around, I was farther from knowing what I wanted to do than I had ever been. For at least two years leading up to the application deadline, I was sure I would go to the University of Ottawa. I was strong in French in high school and thought that since I did well in it, I should continue to study it in a bilingual city. I visited the campus and found out that Ottawa was not for me. Even though French was my best subject and it might have been in my “best interest” to follow this path, I didn’t like the campus and I wasn’t in love with the city like I expected. Learning this set me back to square one. I visited guidance counselors and took aptitude tests to try to figure out what program suited me best, but in the end, I didn’t apply for any of them.

Instead, I took a look at what I actually enjoyed, not only in school, but also what I liked to do in my free time. At the suggestion of one of my teachers, I concluded that critical media studies might be something I was interested in, even though I had never heard of such a program before.

Not having a solid idea of what I wanted to do in terms of study–or for work once school was over—gave me the opportunity to explore a variety of options when I started my first year of university. I learned that I didn’t like film classes in the way that I thought I would and that I really liked political science. Your first and even second years of university are an opportunity to explore what you actually enjoy learning about. I think it is important to look at it this way because in my experience, you need to be open to the possibility that your life plans will change. For this reason, I want to reassure you that not having a plan at all is okay too. For me, I started university in a program I applied for because someone suggested it to me, not because it was my strongest subject or because I thought it would lead to a job.

I then spent four years figuring out what I wanted to learn, instead of struggling with concepts I didn’t enjoy; instead of asking myself, “what job do I want after I finish my degree,” I was asking, “what do I want to do after completing my degree.”

What I found was that I loved learning and being in the university environment, so instead of applying for jobs in my fourth year, I began applying for graduate school. Was a Master’s degree a part of my plan when I was choosing where to go to high school in grade eight? Absolutely not. It wasn’t even on my radar in grade 12 when I was applying for university. In all honesty, it may have seemed like a last minute decision, but in the end it worked out anyway. I now work in the charitable sector doing work that I enjoy, with skills that I didn’t even know I would have when this journey started. If you don’t know what skills you’ll have in the future, how can you be expected to have a plan for it before you’re even 18!

You have more time to plan your life than you think and there’s no need to rush into the “real world.” Some people take more time discovering themselves and their interests than others, so don’t feel like you’re in a bad place just because your friend already has her major picked out. Instead, enjoy your time in school – it really will be over before you know it!