Don't Make This MistakeOct 14, 2021
High schoolers are often overworked and undervalued.
After teaching in public, private, and international schools for almost 30 years, I can confidently say that few high schoolers know how powerful they are.
Everything in their lives says that they are not ready to do anything “real”; everything is in preparation for doing something later – after they get out of college, after they get a degree, after they get some experience, after they are older. Until those things happen, they are inundated by all the things they are supposed to do: participate in sports, be active in clubs, get good grades, study for the SAT, be good.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with any of those things, they become hoops that students jump through, rather than strategic tools to get them where they want to go.
These hoops often kill curiosity and creativity.
Tragically, the creativity and drive of a fifth grader is often greater than an eleventh grader. This difference has little to do with age and maturity. It has everything to do with the obligations that are disconnected from who they are and what they care about.
As students consider their future, there is often the illusion of a binary choice: either you have to be laser-focused on what you want to do or you have no idea and will figure it out later. There is an important and often unexplored middle ground. Explore! As my father used to say, “It’s easier to turn a moving ship.” So if a student thinks, “I kind of like the idea of being a veterinarian,” encourage them to get a job or an internship at a vet’s office. If their desire grows and is confirmed, then they have much greater clarity moving forward. If they find out they don’t like cleaning up after pets or putting animals to sleep, then they can change direction before spending thousands on veterinarian school.
High school should be about exploring with purpose. They don’t need to wait until their sophomore year in college to get clarity about what they want to do. Get them excited about the direction of their lives early. Allow them to make mistakes. Encourage bold moves. Let them start small businesses. Let them be political activists and artists. Let them engage with the world in meaningful ways – ways that give them meaning and purpose. It will influence everything else they do, from academics to their social lives. And they will thank you for it.
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