“Whether you think you’ll know exactly who you’ll become or you have absolutely no idea…one thing is true for everyone, for better or worse: Life will surprise you. You’ll hit dead-ends and detours. There will be times when you can’t fathom what comes next. When that happens remember yourself as you are right now. Remember yourself when you were even younger. Who were you when you weren’t wondering who you were?”
I read this recently in Mary Laura Philpott’s book, I Miss You When I Blink and it resonated with me personally on many levels, but it also speaks to me given the work I do with students. I see dozens of kids a week in my office, all in different phases of their high school journey. Overall, everyone seems focused on the next step. Should I sign up for this activity next trimester? What’s the right thing to do next summer? Where will I end up next year? What’s the “right” job/program/activity? While these questions with some coaching turn into discussions about goals and objectives, I often try to remind my students that sometimes the surprises or even the wrong turn might be the one that leads you to something wonderful. Embracing the surprises, or the not knowing is so hard (for all of us). So many teenagers seem focused on doing the “right” thing and are often influenced by their peers, they forget what their own values are.
I spend a lot of time talking to students about their values and goals. That is really at the heart of the work I do. Yes, school and college applications are all part of this, but in order to get there we have to have some heart-to-heart conversations about who they are. Do you pride yourself on your sense of humor? Your resilience? Your grit? I often ask students how their friends would describe them.
Personally, I made a rather sudden decision the summer of my sophomore year of high school. I decided to leave LA and attend a boarding school in Massachusetts. My parents encouraged me to go, but none of us knew what I was getting myself into. The experience to this day was one of the hardest things I’ve done; but it led to friendships and experiences I couldn’t have imagined when I made the decision to leave home. I left a bubble in L.A. and moved into a dorm with girls from all over the world and house parents who had escaped apartheid and shared their experiences with us over Sunday dinners. It wasn’t all rosy; I nearly failed a math class, spent my summer re-taking math, and hit several other academic and social speed bumps. I got stuck in Logan airport more times than I can remember due to weather issues without a credit card in the pre-cell phone days.
As I tell my students, take risks. That harder class, that summer opportunity that might not be as glamorous as traveling abroad, working as a camp counselor at your beloved summer camp; do something that speaks to you. Life is full of surprises; think about what you really value and embrace the opportunities that follow.