I often hear parents say, "Kids today are so lucky! They have so many opportunities that I never had when I was growing up. So many choices for careers, college, travel." At the workshops I present for teens, I mention the many opportunities available to them. I have noticed that when I speak about these opportunities, a few teens seem excited and happy, but many appear stressed.
After talking to many of these teens privately, I realized that they are overwhelmed by the number of choices before them. They don't see opportunities. They see a gigantic array of possibilities and in their minds, those possibilities all hold the threat of being "the wrong choice."
They are on the verge of adulthood, and they want to choose something they will enjoy, but they recognize that their interests have changed over the years, and they see the strong possibility that their interests will continue to change and grow. They don't want to waste time and money on a college education, only to discover that by graduation time, or after a few years in their chosen career, they no longer enjoy it. Everyone has told them all through their middle school and high school years, that they should find a great career doing something they love. This advice is often given by people who are not doing something they love. They want a better life for their children. They don't realize that this loving advice, carries with it, the burden of making "the right choice."
Some teens see only one choice after they complete high school... college. Despite society's pressure to get a degree, college is not for everyone. I have talked with so many teens who have gone to college without any real direction in mind. They only went because they were supposed to go. I am saddened by the number of college juniors with whom I have spoken, who told me, "Yeah. I decided to major in psychology (or business or history or _____) because I have quite a few credits in that, and it's not real difficult." When I ask them what they will do with their degree when they graduate, I nearly always get the answer, "I don't know."
I think that as teens progress through their middle school and high school years, they should be encouraged to talk to every person they meet. There are so many opportunities to learn about education, careers and life. They should ask questions. "What is the best thing you've ever done? Do you like your job? Why or why not? What do you wish you had done when you were younger? What was your college experience like?" And people who are asked should share what they know and what they've done, what they've enjoyed and what they've hated. Will the questioner have the same reaction to similar experiences? Maybe. Maybe not. But they will learn something from every person they meet.
All of us have much we can learn from others, and so very much we can teach others. All we have to do is be willing to ask, to share and to listen.