For the last 13 years I’ve known exactly what I’m doing nearly every day. Get up, go to school, come home, do homework, chill out, go to bed. Even the days without school were relatively predictable – a mix of more homework and more messing out. And if we go back even further, to before school, well, life back then couldn’t be simpler. Little kids have it easy, playing all day and letting someone else look after them and do all the worrying. I’m sure everyone has wished they could go back to being a child at one point or another. Childhood was routine, yes at times boring, but safe and (discounting the hell of exams and coursework) easy. There were some decisions in regards to the future, such as choice of subjects to sit exams in, but by and large, you knew what to expect each day. Then, all of a sudden the safety net is gone. You’ve been pushed off the pier into the wide ocean with no clue what you’re doing next. Yes, there comes a point in everyone’s life where your future is up to you. Well, hopefully. No doubt everyone will be weighing in with their opinions on what you should do – parents, teachers, friends, every other relative and the ones you never knew you had. But, the normal course that everyone follows – primary school, high school – is gone. Everyone branches off to do their own thing. It’s thrilling and liberating, but also absolutely terrifying. I don’t think anyone is fully prepared for leaving school until it actually happens.
Having left school about a month ago (though I still had to go in for exams) I’ve got a whole boiling pot of emotions brewing away. There’s happiness at leaving the place that could be hell on earth at times and excitement about the future (I’m moving to a big city for the first time), but also sadness, as you know there will be people you may never see again and fear about the future (like I said, I’m moving to a big city for the first time!). No one can prepare you for this, so it really is a complete leap into the unknown. Some people will be more confident than others – not everyone will be leaving home, some have the next 5-10 years planned already. But for those who don’t fit into these categories, there is definitely something to be scared of.
I can’t speak for those going straight into work or living at home while attending college, as I’m writing this based of my own feelings about leaving to go to university. The unknown is definitely the scariest part of growing up, in my opinion. Although my future has some degree of structure to it currently – I know what I’m doing for the next four years at least – nothing is cast in iron, and it certainly hasn’t always been that way. Sometimes I’ve felt jealous of the people who know, and have known for a long time, exactly how they want their life to pan out. I certainly could have done without the stress deciding on a future caused me. I knew I wanted to go to university, but I didn’t pick a course until about a month before the application was sent off, and didn’t finalise where I was going (I was accepted by a few places) until as late as I could possibly leave it. Part of the reason I put off the decision for so long was that I was scared I would regret it later, and I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling so uncertain about the future. In ten years I may still regret it, but for now, it feels right. But, by leaving my options open and taking my time deciding, it has made me somewhat more certain of my decision. I often wonder if those people who have a set career path from early on in life are more likely to have regrets later on. One of my hopes is that throughout my life I won’t have regrets. I want to make the most of life and enjoy it.
And yet, despite the fact that my next four years are planned, for some people that isn’t enough. Both I and my parents, when telling someone what I’m studying at university, have then been asked frequently “With a view to?” I haven’t got a clue! It took me long enough to decide what I was doing and where I was going to uni, never mind afterwards. I don’t think it’s necessary to know what I’m going to do for the rest of my life now. I’m only seventeen, so I want to enjoy my youth while I can and not worry about years in advance. Having any degree opens up all sorts of career opportunities, so for now, my plan is just to wait and see where life takes me. Part of the reason I chose a generalised course was to keep future job options open, unlike courses such as medicine, which really only leads into being a doctor. Although my uncertainty about the future scares me, I want the freedom to choose and change my mind, like I always have done. And in this modern age, a job isn’t for life like it used to be. People do complete u-turns in their careers all the time, so if I do find myself doing something I hate, I’ll find something else to do instead. Planning ahead is fine, and I know I’d be a wreck if I didn’t know what I was doing in the immediate future, but I think there comes a point when you just have to wait and see what happens. Even if you think you have a ten year plan, it may not happen just as you expect.
While the unknown of my future is definitely something that scares the crap out of me, some of the known parts do to – mostly, the fact that I’ll be living away from home for the first time. This doesn’t worry me quite as much as the unknown stuff, because I’ll only be a couple of hours from home and I can’t wait for the independence. No one asking what you’ve been doing, complaining about you sleeping in or the state of your room, having the freedom to come home when you want, go where you want, buy what you want (within a budget unfortunately)… Don’t get me wrong, I love my family and I know I’m going to miss them, but after almost four months of being home with my parents every day, and 6 weeks of my brother and sister when they’re on summer holidays, I think I’ll be ready to get away from them for a while. But there is still something a little scary about no one looking after you. Having to cook, clean, learn to budget and just be wholly responsible for yourself is quite a daunting prospect, and I’m sure that I’ll welcome a weekend at home from time to time. Again, this is purely from my own observations, but I think leaving home and school within a few months of each other has got to be more terrifying than leaving school but staying at home. There’s still a part of the safety net left.
Leaving friends behind is less scary and more sad, because although people try to stay and touch, and many succeed, there will always be those who you perhaps weren’t all that close to at school, but suddenly miss more when they’re gone and you do lose touch. And yes, there are arguments that in this day and age, phones and the Internet make keeping in touch far easier, but I don’t think they can replace real life interactions (but I won’t dwell on this as it’s just struck me as a potential idea for another post). There is also the aspect of losing friends that makes me nervous, in that when I go to university I’ll know very few people there and have to make a bunch of new friends, and I’ve always been quite a shy person (though my confidence has definitely grown in recent years).
Now, I know that most of this post has been about the fear of the future, in particular the unknown, but I am definitely very excited about it too. It’s a new chapter in the story of my life, one with freedom and adventure, new experiences to try, and for some, a chance to start over. I’ve been relatively lucky with my high school experience, but one of my bigger regrets is that my shyness limited my number of close friends and my social opportunities, i.e. I’m hoping to go to a hell of a lot more parties when I get to university! From what I’ve heard, uni is more than just a place of learning about your course (though that is important) – it’s about learning who you are, and enjoying your youth. It’s a step closer to the real world than school, but still isn’t quite there yet. My future isn’t mapped out and I’m terrified about next year – but I’ll muddle through, and hopefully have fun doing so!