My teenage son is struggling with a directionless state of mind because graduation is just a few months away and he is undecided on what to do after graduation. He’s not sure if college is for him, nor what he would study if he did press on with school. This uncertainty plagues him to the extent that it has left him anxious, rather than anticipatory, about his future.
I want to tell my son—and every teenager or young adult—that it’s okay when you can’t fill in the picture of what your adult life will look like. No one has a predetermined vision of the whole of their professional lives.
Today’s teens feel undue pressure to choose a profession early—as if they will only ever get to pick one.
I’m not sure where the mythology comes from that we have to know what our life’s grand purpose is before we’ve truly started living it, but I’m compelled to debunk that expectation.
No one can know for certain where life will take them professionally. And this fact doesn’t have to be worrisome or debilitating—it can be exciting, full of adventure, and teeming with unexpected surprises.
Growing up, the only thing I knew I wanted to do was raise a family of my own. In college, I majored in psychology, thinking I would use my degree in the healthcare field. Lacking a burning desire to pursue one career over another, I set my sights on occupational therapy—a vocation that interested me and I believed I could be successful at.
Then I got engaged to be married, graduated college, and applied to OT school two years in a row—only to twice be denied entrance to the ultra-competitive program. Upon getting married, my husband’s career moved us to a city where there were no graduate schools to be found.
Soon, I had two amazing children who became my career for a time.
Today, I’m a generally happy and fulfilled contributing member of society, even though I don’t have—and never did—one particular career to call my own. I’ve had many, many jobs over the years though, including:
- Real estate office staff
- Independent sales consultant
- Chiropractic assistant
- Radiologist tech
- Executive assistant
- HR specialist
- Childcare provider
- A/R & billing specialist
- Educational assistant
- Respite care provider
- Traffic manager for a branding/advertising agency
- Math and reading tutor
- Photography assistant
I didn’t foresee taking any of these jobs, nor was I trained in most of them when I started working.
By the time my kids were teenagers, by way of personal family experience and discovering the need for mental healthcare providers in our community, I decided to earn my master’s in social work. That didn’t work out due to my husband’s job loss, and a year later I stumbled into freelance writing.
Upon attending my first TEDx event a few years ago, I listened to Emilie Wapnick speak her truth and professional revelations into my life. A truth strikingly similar to my own that I didn’t yet have the words to explain.
Emilie spoke about her experience as a multipotentialite—a word of her own creation.
According to Emilie, a multipotentialite is a person who has many different interests and creative pursuits in life. Multipotentialites have no “one true calling” the way specialists do. She explained the inherent powers multipotenialites wield, as well as their immense value to society.
Emilie’s TED talk forever changed the way I viewed my professional pursuits—and now, my teenage son’s future. For a time, I felt deficient for lacking the desire to chase a particular career. Instead, I have learned I can live a beautiful, multi-dimensional life by learning many skills and doing many jobs, rather than just one.
For my son and other young adults—or even middle-aged people like me, who may not yet know the next steps in life—it’s okay not to know what career to choose. I want my son to know there are more ways than ever to build a future. And, like me, he can find ways to be fulfilled and challenged, full of purpose and a sense of accomplishment. Giving himself the gift of patience and the opportunity of discovering his potential in different fields, some that may not even exist yet, might be as fulfilling as pursuing a single career. Maybe even more so.