I thought this would be a fitting first blog – to introduce myself to those who clicked in wondering what I’m on about. No matter who you are or where you are in life right now, if you resonate at any level with the title of this blog post, then read on. If you don’t, then please message me and share your secrets!
This ‘having it all figured out’ notion is a social stigma that we place on ourselves. Don’t worry, it’s not our fault either. Whether you are recently graduated, thinking about tertiary studies, or reading to learn more about the University of Auckland, welcome to my corner. Feel free to reach out anytime if you have any further questions.
Before we dive into this, I will always aim to be as honest and accurate as possible, but please take everything with a pinch of salt! These are uniquely my own experiences, so I hope you can take a little something from what I have to say.
I feel we have this sense of commitment to our future all our lives. When you were younger, people would ask you, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ or ‘What are you planning on studying or doing for work?’ As innocent as these questions are, they have entrenched this expectation that we must have an answer. For many of us, our response might be ‘I’m not sure yet’ or ‘I’m doing ___, but still figuring things out’. I think even for those of you who have it set in stone, instinctually, there is something in the back of our minds that lingers. I don’t think that feeling of never being sure ever disappears, but I know a quick remedy.
When I was about five years old, I wanted to be a vet. Usually, those types of decisions fade away after a few weeks, but periodically, I returned to this motivation of being a vet. As kids do, I would roleplay with my stuffed animals and pretend to be the ‘heroic vet’ that could fix broken bones at the touch. I had my little pink diary with all my patients’ names in it, and I knew from then on that I was obsessed.
Fast forward to my third year in high school, I have to think about which subjects to keep/ which to drop for the following year. I went to the career counselling office, expressing my strong interest in vet science, and without much hesitation, I jumped into taking physics, biology, chemistry, math, English and social sciences. For some of you reading, that might sound manageable, but for others, it might sound like a recipe for disaster. Choosing them didn’t seem daunting, but when I was in the thick of it the following year, I felt like I was wading in deep water. Throughout that year, I felt I didn’t belong in these classes. I convinced myself that my brain wasn’t cut out for the content being taught, and I slowly transitioned from being a high-achieving student with good grades to a less willing student with average grades.
At the end of that year, the only way around my difficulties with these essential subjects I had to take was to remind myself of the thing I was putting myself through it for. I contacted my local vets and spent a few weeks in their clinic to get some experience. I am so glad I took this step when I did because I realised it was nothing like I’d thought it was. I found the environment to be high-stress and overwhelming.
During my experience, I convinced myself that it was just me and that I could persevere, but with more and more thought, I knew in my heart that it wasn’t something that truly fulfilled me. Instead, I thought the people around me would be proud of it. I believed it gave me the status I wouldn’t obtain from anywhere else.
So, in my final year of school, what did I do?
I dropped physics and chemistry, swapping them out for history and business and said goodbye to math once and for all. It sounds like a liberating choice, but at the time, it terrified me because it wrote ‘being a vet’ out of the books (unless I was willing to study beyond school to catch up). This decision would jeopardise all the stress and hard work I had put myself through, leaving me in a position where clarity of my future was lost entirely.
The burnout followed me through to my final year of school, putting me off trying hard for good grades. I adopted a new mindset: I would be okay if I passed. It’s very much the ‘C’s get degrees’ approach to life, and somehow, I went from being a highly organised student to one who would leave a lot of work to the last minute. This behaviour would continue to compound until I became a master procrastinator, leaving all my workload to the final day or two.
I soon lost interest in being at school, which fed into this counter-productive spiral. Being out in the world, exploring my options and working to make money felt much more productive than learning about the Russian Revolution or writing essays about biological processes in flowers.
I knew that the experiences I gained from school would be valuable later in small and big ways, but I struggled to engage in them when I was there. I felt directionless and very apprehensive about the world around me during this time. Where was I supposed to go when this thing finished, but also, what am I doing here?
I can’t deny that I can often feel like this still, and I want to confidently say, don’t we all? Many of us feed ourselves this narrative: by having ABC and accomplishing XYZ, we will be successful/ happy.
I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that there is no single answer to success or happiness, nor is there a single thing to define those as a definite meaning. Success and happiness are what you make of them, but you will never achieve them by basing them on unrealistic and harmful standards.
I can vouch that sometimes it just takes believing in nothing to let your true nature guide you to where you should be. As a young student still on the journey of figuring things out, there is nothing worse than pushing unnecessary expectations onto yourself for the sake of people pleasing or self-control. When you eradicate this element, you become a blank slate open to a palette of different colours instead of just the ordinary black and white.
When I say to ‘believe in nothing’, this isn’t to say give up entirely but more to encourage you to keep your options open. Don’t force yourself toward one career pathway or one route if you don’t want to. Let me remind you that the world is changing rapidly, and so is the world of work. There is no need to force yourself down a conventional career pathway if it does not suit you because, realistically, the world of work will accommodate and evolve just as you do as well. Most importantly, if you want to give something a go, whether it’s something you decided on a minute ago or a year ago, do it!
At the end of my high-school journey, after attending career expos, workshops, and counselling sessions, I explored almost every avenue I could and considered internships, tertiary study, apprenticeships and even full-time work (gap year).
All these options were open to me, and I was overwhelmed with choices. It took a lot of thought and research, but after looking into tertiary study at the University of Auckland, I applied for the Bachelor of Design. This was hardly something I had considered for a long time, and I had not done any relevant subjects to support myself into this course, but I still went ahead and did it.
To those of you looking at doing a course here at Auckland University, I highly recommend you give it a go. No matter where you are in life, it’s essential to build a portfolio of experience and make the most of what’s available to you in order to discover what’s out there. Even if you come for the first few weeks of the semester and decide it’s not for you, you can feel assured knowing you have no regrets for not trying it at all. On the other hand, you might stick to it and find an area of interest that you didn’t consider very ‘you’ initially.
I am now barely out the other end of my first semester in the Bachelor of Design programme at UoA and had come into it with more apprehension than you could know. Although it’s still early days, this course has been exactly what I needed it to be (and more). Design was never a field I considered at school because it didn’t feel ‘good enough’. Eventually, I knew I had to push this social stigma aside and do it for myself because I knew no one else would be able to make these choices for me. I concluded that anything could be good enough if I allowed it to be.
You may have a similar experience in whatever you choose to do, or maybe not at all. I urge you to allow yourself to try something new and honestly dislike it (or, on the flip side, fall in love with it). The only person you are lying to at the end of the day is yourself, so don’t cheat yourself out of an opportunity that is waiting just for you. Don’t hold yourself back, and don’t compare your journey to others. You are on your own path here and deserve to make it a path worth exploring.
Thank you for sticking with me so far. I will leave you now to chew on this, and whilst you’re at it, look around the rest of the UoA website and read about all the things on offer – and if it’s not for you, then no stress! I wish you all the best for the journey ahead, and I hope to see you back in this space again very soon!
As mentioned, please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions about my experiences. I would also love to hear about your own experiences/ journeys, especially if you have any advice of your own to add on here. We really are all in this together, so hang in there and be inviting of what you don’t know just yet. After all, the secret to having it all figured out is that you don’t.
That’s me clocking out for now- until next time!
- The answer to having it all figured out: you don’t - 15/06/2023