“So, Laila. What would you like to do”? Asked Mr. Sabry, Laila’s uncle.
“Do about what”? Laila replied with a question, not intending to be impolite.
“In career. Now that you are in Grade 9 or is it 10? What would you like to do? Clarified Mr. Sabry, trying to continue the conversation with the laconic teenager.
“I dunno. Maybe a YouTuber. Or an Instagram influencer. Haven’t thought really”, spoke Laila, more thinking aloud than answering the question.
“Hmmm. You could try journalism… ”, advised the uncle, still trying to get his head around Laila’s indecision and her unconventional career direction.
Soon, the question “What do you want to be?” became an overwhelming noise – at family gatherings; during encounters with family friends at malls and clubs; open days at school and even during sleepovers with friends. With this noise came the cacophony of well-intended advice – “banking is a well-paying sector”; “academics is a great field for women”; “you have the personality to get into media” and so on.
Amidst all this, was the academic pressure of GCSE, gearing up for PSATs and choosing extracurricular activities for college applications – still at least 3 years away, but not too distant to ignore. Laila wished she were still in middle-school. Life was simpler. All she had to do was listen attentively in class, submit her homework on time, prepare well for projects and revise thoroughly for tests and exams. Now, she had to begin to make decisions! Decisions so far had been restricted to choosing her outfit for trips and parties, ordering at restaurants and surfing YouTube or television channels. Those decisions were simple, with temporary consequences. Hereon, decisions would have long term consequences on how her life would shape up. She suddenly felt terribly lonely. And scared.
Advice confused her. “They are no more than perfunctory, casual talks,” she mused. How much did these adults know about her to suggest choices? Or maybe they did know her better than she knew herself? After all, many of them were family and close friends who had watched her grow and had seen more life than her.
There was another caveat – many of these adults were not in sync with changing aspirations of youth and newer career options. Their claim to being modern was using Facebook and Instagram; online shopping for some; sending emails for many. They did not appreciate “becoming a YouTuber” as a viable, sustainable career option that could offer money and prestige. Laila now understood that evolving into an adult was a difficult process.
Most adolescents experience the phase that Laila was going through.
Taking one step a time goes a long way in keeping away fruitless anxiety. It is crucial to focus on academics so that the grades are consistent or on an upward slope from grade 9 onwards. Students such as Laila who take GCSE are advised to establish a strong foundation in concepts, seek help after school if needed, so that they are better equipped to choose their subjects in A level and onward. Students slowly begin to get an idea of what subjects they do not mind working harder for and what subjects are a chore.
They are further advised to choose some extracurricular activity, be it in music, sports or any other field – this not only provides a balance in their chaotic life, opportunity to meet new people, a respite from the academic world but also plays a role in university admission. Since college applications require recommendation of teachers, it is a good idea to interact with teachers more regularly (and appropriately) so that they could mentor their pupils towards suitable path – teachers are closely aware of personality and skill set of students and are best equipped to guide them. And most importantly – do not forget to keep some of your time for reading. Reading not just reduces anxiety, enhances vocabulary, introduces one to new cultures and characters but also helps in PSATs and SATs – prerequisites in many universities.
While it is natural for parents to guide and motivate their children, it is easier to build a rapport if they are aware of the evolving requirements, possibilities and aspirations. Although, it is comforting to choose a proven path (medicine/engineering/banking etc.), it is crucial that a child’s aptitude and capacity to put in the required effort is kept in mind. Even if a child takes a suggested path in the short term, if he is not motivated by it or does not find it inspiring enough, chances of job satisfaction in future are slim.
Coming back to Laila – I would ask her to assume, to begin with, that if every job offered same prestige and pay, what would she choose? This can become the starting point from where she can formulate more specific career plans, and courses to pursue. Whatever choice she makes, she ought to commit herself to follow through in order to achieve her goals.