My twin sister has wanted to teach English in Japan since she was at least 13. I remember her coming to me in tears because people she trusts told her she wanted something she didn’t understand.
Why don’t you just stay in the country, Bella? Don’t you understand the systematic sexism and racism in Japan? And so on. But this summer, for the first time, Bella is teaching English at Mey-Sen academy in Sendai; she’s taking the first big step to living the dream she has had since middle school.
What does it mean to understand or “know” what we’re supposed to do, anyway? Before I went to college, my mom put a lot of pressure on me to know what I wanted to do after college before I committed to a school.
I had been in high school for the past four years, living at home in my mom’s house. How was I supposed to know what I wanted to do?
For every Bella out there with a concrete dream, there are a thousand of her twin brothers: people who work hard and are motivated, but have no idea what industry or calling they’re going to find themselves in.
I remember posting on Reddit questions like: “What jobs are available for me, a person with a passion for writing?” At the time, I wasn’t even aware of what else, vocation-wise, might be of interest.
I stayed up many agonizing nights reading thread after thread, trying to answer the question: “What on Earth am I supposed to do with my life?”
And really, I still don’t know. Whenever I get the chance, I ask people I respect the question: “How did you end up where you are?” And more and more I’m realizing that the model of “pick explicitly what you want to do, study for it, and do it” doesn’t work for everybody, and maybe not for most people.
Some of my favorite professors and trusted mentors arrived at their positions through a combination of hard work and circumstance.
I’ll continue to work hard at what’s before me. This summer, it means writing columns, writing feature stories, writing for fun, investing in my family, working on my LinkedIn profile, and playing video games. I seek out opportunities and jump at them when they come.
But what is in store for me beyond that? I don’t know.
There is an intense societal and parental pressure for people my age to attend college, get a degree, and get a stable job that pays okay. That’s terrifying.
It’s terrifying for many young people to envision themselves in a desk job which defines who they are in some ways. It is a reality that younger people move from job to job at an unparalleled rate in American history. And with that “in and out” culture comes a greater challenge to find a “calling” or end-point.
So maybe college isn’t the right model for a lot of young people. Even though I don’t know where I’ll be in five years, I feel confident that furthering my education was an important next step for me.
I hope parents will realize college is not the only option; this model was once a sure-fire way for success, but the rising cost of education, stagnating wages, and other factors makes the future seem uncertain for millennials and Gen-Z kids. The pressure to have it all figured out, as I said last summer, is not realistic.
Yet uncertainty is not an excuse for laziness. Many of my peers and I try our hardest to find our lot in life. What does that mean, specifically? I don’t know. But I think, like my great mentors and peers, the kids are going to be okay.