Lifestyle

Social Media – should I disconnect?

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A couple of months ago I decided to completely minimise my social media profiles, which you can read about here https://thebranchingmind.com/2017/04/19/breaking-away-from-social-media/. So far, I have been incredibly happy with this decision because it has allowed me to live in the present – to live for myself and to view the world through my own lens rather than living for the online world and perceiving life through the lens of a camera. However, even though I have minimised my profiles, I still have social media and I still browse through it. What I find interesting is that I never used to be the type of person to compare myself to others because I knew social media was fake; it’s a place where only the altered versions of people’s lives are presented rather than the real versions. Since moving back to New Zealand, I have suddenly started comparing my life to the lives of others. I believe the reason for this is simply because I am bored. When I was living in Hong Kong and Brisbane, I could walk out of my door and I would be met with vibrancy, excitement, architecture, nature and a whole range of different sights and activities. Now, I walk outside of my door and I basically just have two options of things to do; go to Takapuna beach or into the city. There are a few other things I could do/places I could visit, however, these places are quite inconvenient to get to (especially without a car). Therefore, I usually end up spending far more time in my flat, on my computer, pointlessly browsing through social media.

I’m starting to find that with each day that passes, the more disgusted I become with the online world. One reasons for this is because social media is based on materialism and superficiality. Above are some screenshots I took from my Instagram a few days before I deleted it. Let’s just depict some of these images. What do you see? I see several girls looking fulfilled and refreshed on their extravagant and luxurious holidays, numerous Kodak milestone moments, people in expensive designer clothes, and oh look someone’s posted a picture of their new, flashy car. Everyone looks so flawless, so happy and their lives seem so…perfect. Is this real, everyday life? No it’s not. This definitely isn’t my everyday life. Therefore, processing and internalising images like the ones above are obviously going to make my life seem insignificant.

Another reason I am feeling increasingly repulsed by social media is because I am becoming more and more interested in world problems and environmental issues. I’m fascinated with topics regarding climate change, ocean acidification, plastic pollution and overpopulation. When I become aware of all the damage and destruction that humanity has caused and continues to cause the world – and then browse through the narcissistic and self-indulgent world of social media, it genuinely revolts me. It basically signifies why all of these issues have occurred in the first place – because the vast majority of humans are driven by greed.

For these reasons, I decided to delete my Instagram account and I am also considering removing my Facebook profile. The only problem with this, is that I could end up completely isolating myself from the online world and reducing a significant part of my social life. There are several people I only communicate with on Facebook. If I delete my Facebook account then I will be cutting ties with these people and will most likely lose contact with them. This is the sole only reason as to why I may consider keeping this social media platform, along with using it as an educational platform to keep up with world events and scientific/technological advances.

I also just want to add that I haven’t created this post as a means of ranting my frustrations. More so, I am looking for advice. If any of you have experienced what I am experiencing, what have you done about it? And if you have completely disconnected from the online world, did this help or did it hinder your life? At the end of the day, social media is a strange and sad phenomenon. It’s a place where we are connected to others, most of which we don’t speak to, haven’t seen in years, or in some cases, have never met at all. Yet, we continuously observe their lives and they observe ours. I do not want to look back on my life in future and regret spending so much time in a fake reality on an online world.  It’s bizarre and it is pointless. What do any of us actually gain from this? If you have any advice, please let me know by leaving a comment or posting a message on the ‘contact’ page. I would really appreciate pointers from others on this!

Life update: post-teaching

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Around seven months ago I made a post regarding my reasons for leaving teaching (https://thebranchingmind.com/2016/12/20/the-truth-about-teaching/). After leaving the profession I decided to return to University to pursue a new career (https://thebranchingmind.com/2017/03/15/returning-to-university-at-age-25/). While I don’t necessarily want to use this blog to discuss my personal life, a few of you have asked me how I am getting on. Several people have messaged, confessing that they are miserable within the teaching profession, they feel stuck and do not know what the next step is. For these reasons, I thought it would be useful to provide a quick update on how my life has progressed since leaving the teaching profession.

  • No more depressed ruts. Working as a teacher for three years, at least once every couple of months I would slip into a depressed state because I was so unhappy and so unfulfilled within the job. I felt as though I had failed in my career, failed as a human being and ultimately, failed at life. I remember sitting at tables with the children, doing tedious activities, plastering a false smile on my face while telling them how lovely their paintings and drawings all were. Yet, in the back of my mind I would be thinking “what am I doing with my life? I feel no passion for this job and I don’t feel like I’m achieving anything. Is this really all I am going to do with my life? I could have accomplished so much, I could have had any career, yet I chose this…”. It has now been seven months since I left teaching and I have not experienced a single depressed rut. During my time as a teacher, I remember making calls to my Mum almost every week in tears, ranting about how much I despised the job and how I was not meant for the role. Since then I have cried once – when I got accepted into the dentistry course, and they were happy tears!
  • Feeling positive about the future. While working as a teacher, I felt stuck with no escape. I had made the detrimental decision to take the teaching course at University, these were the cards I had been dealt, therefore I had no other option but to remain in the profession. What else was I going to do, I couldn’t go back to University again? I felt no excitement or enthusiasm about coming into work each day, about life or my future. It was as though I was experiencing life as a robot – waking up solemn and miserable, spending eight exhausting and mentally mundane hours on the job, coming home shattered, getting takeout because I was too tired to cook, bed by eight, not falling asleep until midnight due to anxiety about the day ahead, and repeat. I spent a considerable amount of time each day and night contemplating what the actual purpose of my life was. If I wasn’t enjoying life then what was the point of my existence? However, post teaching, I feel so much more positive and content with my new course in dentistry. I find it comforting to know that I am now working towards a career that will better suit my interests and personality. I am incredibly excited about eventually earning a higher salary, to possibly set up my own practice, to be able to save money and to continue travelling abroad. I also find it encouraging to know that in this new job, the end of the working day will be the end of my working day. With teaching, the work never stopped, the end of your working day, was never really the end.
  • No more sickness. Working as a teacher, I would catch colds and become ill almost every single month. In the past seven months, I have caught a cold once! Not only that, but I no longer have to come home everyday with aching legs, back pain, and feeling utterly physically exhausted. Additionally, I now have the time and mental energy to pursue other interests and areas of my life.

Overall, I feel 100% confident in my decision of leaving teaching and returning to University. The more time that passes, the more I realise just how unfitting teaching was for my character. I am so relieved that I did not stick with the career solely due to fear of the unknown. However, it hasn’t all been entirely positive. While the majority of people have been supportive and understanding of my decision to go back to University. There were a couple of people who were unsupportive and critical of this choice – stating that I was going to be in my late twenties once graduated and that I would be behind in life. I found such criticisms slightly upsetting and I began second guessing myself “am I really making the right decision? Should I have stayed in a career I was miserable in?”. Excuse my unformal language, but in hindsight I should have thought, screw the critics! They have not walked in my shoes or experienced what I have experienced, so there is not point internalising the negative views of others. Not to mention, everyone’s life path is different. People have different life goals and aspirations, so who’s to say I will be behind?

In all honesty, going into teaching was one of the utmost worst decisions I have ever made in my life, while leaving teaching has undoubtedly been one of the best. Interestingly, one of the biggest fears I have developed over this past year, is the fear of ‘what if?’. What if I hadn’t come to the realisation that I needed to leave teaching? What if I really had wasted this one life that I have? If you are unhappy and feel stuck in your career, take a risk and change that. I can’t stress enough just how important it is to be in a career you are content with. What is the point in wasting your life, spending fifty odd years working in a job you despise? And if anyone questions or criticises your decision to take the plunge and start again, screw them! It’s your life and you need to trust your own instincts. Take control of the situation and do what’s best for you – you won’t regret it.

Breaking away from social media

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Social media or social manipulation? Today, most of us spend a significant amount of time living in a fake reality on an online world. A skewed society where people present the best versions of themselves, instead of the real versions. Pointlessly browsing through Facebook or Instagram rarely results in positive feelings about yourself and your life. If you skim through people’s profiles, you will see countless pictures of people looking flawless, attending noteworthy events, jetting of on extravagant holidays, staying in luxurious hotels, getting engaged, getting married, buying a house! All of these life events are positive. People scarcely post about the negative life events they go through. So many people encounter the same struggles, yet so little people open up about them on social media. How people portray their lives is not real and it’s not authentic. This unauthentic portrayal ultimately gives people an unhealthy and warped perception of life. The reality is, this roller coaster of life is full of both positive and negative events. The ups and downs of our individual journey’s are part of the natural human experience.

From the age of seventeen to twenty-four, like many others, I was somewhat consumed by the narcissistic world of social media; posting posing selfies, photos of my holidays, tagging friends, places and social events. It’s only been very recently, that I had an “aha” moment and realised, what is the point? While I still have social media, I decided to completely minimise my profiles for several reasons:

  • I started comparing myself to others. In the past, I had never been the type of person to compare myself to others on social media, because I knew it wasn’t real. However, being back in New Zealand, where there’s not a whole lot to do and see and life is seemingly basic and mundane, I found that my mind wasn’t overly preoccupied. Therefore, I ended up spending exceedingly more time on social media than usual. Another problem living in New Zealand, is that everyone here does the same thing. Everyone lives very similar lives. People are very eager to settle down, and settle down young. There isn’t a great deal of variety in how people choose to live their lives, as opposed to a more modern and liberal place like Hong Kong where I previously lived. There is nothing wrong with this, but it can create a sense of pressure. I started seeing repeated posts on Facebook of people getting married, engaged, having kids which began triggering feelings of inferiority; that I was behind in my life and so far from the stage that so many people seemed to be at. Subconsciously, I began to believe that I should be adopting this life script, that this mainstream lifestyle is the norm and is the life path I should be following. Yet in reality, I’m not sure I want this sort of life at all. We only have a very short time on this planet and a large part of me wants to spend it in a way that is unique; travelling and working overseas, growing as a person and learning about the world. I’m not sure I want to comply to the norm just because it’s what everyone else does. For this reason, I felt the need to break away from social media in order to maintain an authentic mindset.
  • Witnessing others consumed by their social media profiles. A few weeks ago, I was in a night club and ended up hanging out with a group of rather pretentious people, a group I suppose you would deem the “wannabe socialites of Auckland”. Even though I found this experience to be rather unnerving, I also found it to be incredibly eye opening. I remember watching a few of the girls; they were standoffish and moody, yet as soon as they got their phones out to take a snapchat video, their whole demeanours changed. They suddenly became lively, bubbly and acted as though they were having the time of their life. When they put their phones away, they quickly resorted back to their solemn selves. It was in this moment that I realised I never wanted to be like this. I never want to become so utterly engrossed by social media that it affects my actions and behaviours. Our existence is limited and it would be such a shame to spend such a large proportion of this time being so concerned about self-images and perceptions. It was for this reason, I decided to break away from the influences social media.
  • I realised, what is the point? I used to post dozens of photos of my holidays and the majestic places I visited, photos of inebriated nights out with friends and drunken selfies. Then one day I realised, what is the point? What is the point of showing people my life? How does it benefit other people’s lives and how does it benefit my life? Why am I actually doing this? I know that social media is fake, so why am I contributing to it?

Breaking away from social media has been a good decision, I no longer get the urge to post about where I am, what I’m doing or who I’m with. I now live my life more in the moment. I still believe there are some benefits to social media – staying in contact with friends and keeping up with social events. However, minimising my profiles has been a huge refreshment. While I dislike social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, there are still some domains I appreciate because they are authentic, real and relatable. One of these platforms are self blogs – I love reading people’s honest posts about their lives and experiences. A lot of bloggers aren’t afraid to talk about challenges they go through or negative emotions they feel. Another platform I really enjoy browsing through at the moment is reddit – this is a forum where no topic is off limits. Any topic that is taboo is discussed somewhere on this forum. It’s a place where people state their genuine thoughts and I find a lot of the posts very insightful. Finally, I enjoy watching certain YouTube vloggers. My favourite Youtuber’s are the ones that openly and honestly articulate their thoughts and feelings, both positive and negative. If you are interested to know, one of these YouTuber’s is ‘Mum to Millionaire” – while I cannot necessarily relate to her videos because I am not a Mother, what I do like is that she’s not reluctant to touch on a rather taboo topic – the struggles and regrets of parenthood (a subject I am weirdly fascinated with at the moment). My current favourite YouTuber, is a girl living in Singapore called Brianna Degasaton – in several of her videos she vents to the camera and openly talks about the struggles she goes through. In actuality, the struggles most of us go through. She is authentically herself, and her videos are highly refreshing to watch, you can find her channel here https://www.youtube.com/user/briannadeg.

If you are someone that is fed up with social media, tired of how it makes you feel, I hope some of these pointers are of help. I think disconnecting from the unauthentic platforms of social and connecting with more authentic platforms provides some solution – you’re still part of the online world, but the content you are viewing is more raw, real and relatable. As I mention repeatedly on this blog, we only live one very short and precious life, so make the decisions that will lead you to the best possible life – if social media is making you unhappy, change that and break away from it.

Cutting ties – the five indicators that it’s time to let go

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Cutting ties with people and filtering out friends is a natural process most of us go through with age. Friend groups are ever evolving; old friends may leave your life and new friends may enter. For many reasons, friendships change; they may become stronger or they may dwindle and become strained. But when do you stop to think, enough is enough? What does it take to finally realise that trying to maintain a friendship is no longer worth the effort? Making the decision to cut ties with friends, particularly ones that have been in your life for many years can be trying, it can be difficult, and it can make you feel guilty. But usually, these alterations are for the best and will hopefully help to relieve any negative emotions you may have been experiencing as a result of detrimental friendships. Below are what I believe to be the five indicators that it’s time to cut ties and move on.

  1. The absent friend – a friend that is no longer present or available. If you have consistently called, texted, messaged on various occasions, only to be met with no response, it may be time give up. More importantly, if you have been going through a difficult time and have confided in your friend, yet they ignore you and turned a blind eye to your struggles, that is probably a strong indicator that you don’t mean a whole lot to them. Undoubtedly, one sided friendships do not work.
  1. The unreliable friend – a friend that continuously cancels on you. Obviously in many circumstances the reasons for bailing on a friend may be legitimate. However, if the cancellations become overly frequent and get to a point where it becomes inconceivably ridiculous, it may be time to part ways. Reliability is vital to maintaining secure friendships and a lack of it can create feelings of mistrust and doubt.
  1. The egocentric friend – someone that is concerned only with themselves, their wants and their needs. An egocentric friend is one that prefers to talk about themselves, their lives and their relationships, yet neglects asking about your life, and fails to consider the perspectives of others. A healthy friendship is one that involves mutual interest, as well as reciprocal care and concern for the other person. If you meet up with a friend and after the catch-up, feel as though you hadn’t had the opportunity to talk about your life because your friend never cared to ask, it might be time to let go.
  1. The defensive friend – a friend that isn’t willing to hear and consider alternate or opposing views. Having a good friendship doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything your friend says or does. Close friends should be able to openly articulate their views, thoughts and beliefs, even if they are not in alignment with the views of their friend. A good friend is one that is eager to hear your advice, listen to your suggestions and value your opinion, whether they agree with you or not. If you have a friend that gets defensive and aggressive when you disagree with something they say or do, it may be best to lay that battle to rest and move on.
  1. The untrustworthy friend – a friend that talks behind your back. If you have discovered that your friends have been talking negatively about you to others, yet act pleasant and friendly to your face, its best to part ways with them. Maybe you have discovered that your friends have been explicitly bitching about you in a facebook conversation, or maybe you just have a gut instinct that they put you down when you’re not around…this lack of trust can be upsetting and not worth the emotional toll.

Let’s be honest though, no one is perfect. It would be rare to find a friend that perfectly fits all criteria. I will admit that while I would consider myself capable of being a good, supportive and reliable friend, there are still certain criteria I do not completely fulfil. But what is important, is to ask yourself, does the good outweigh the bad? Does your friend add something to your life? Does your friends presence bring you more positive emotions than negative ones? Personally, in any area of my life, once someone starts causing me more negative emotions than positive ones, that is the defining factor for me – the moment I know it’s time to let that person go. Unfortunately, poor friendships can make you feel more alone than if you were to have no friends at all. That constant longing for your friend to finally be there for you, only to be repeatedly disappointed can actually create undeniably feelings of loneliness. However, on a more positive note, I can say that once you have cut the destructive and depleted friendships off, you may feel an instant sense of relief. Those negative emotions you were experiencing may be instantaneously eradicated by a click of a button, deleting that person from your existence. Personally, I didn’t realise how low a certain failed friendship of mine had been making me feel until I eliminated that person from my life, and almost immediately, I felt a tremendous weight being lifted off my shoulders. If you are feeling unhappy in your life, I think it’s important to assess what exactly is making you unhappy. If certain friendships are contributing to your unhappiness, it may be best to cut ties with them and move on.

Returning to University at age 25

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For a variety of different reasons, people end up going back to University later in life. I did my first degree in Psychology which I thoroughly enjoyed, however, this degree is limited in career prospects. Because of this, I then completed a Graduate Diploma in Teaching. While this qualification guaranteed me to work as a teacher, I never enjoyed the University course or the line of work. Throughout my short-lived career as a teacher, I would often ponder over the thought of going back to University and starting again. Yet I would always think of reasons that opposed this, because I ideally, I didn’t want to start again. It wasn’t until my third year as a teacher that I realised I could no longer work in the profession; that I didn’t want to live my life unhappy in my career and finally felt the desire to go back and start again.

Once I had made the decision to go back to University, I decided to research what it would be like returning to University as a mature student (although I’m not sure 25 would qualify as being “mature”). I noticed this topic was a search trend on google. Therefore, I thought this post may be useful to any readers considering going back to University in their mid-twenties, and as with most of my blog posts, what the pros and cons of this may be.

Before I delve into the list of pros and cons, I think it’s firstly quite important to establish whether returning to University would be a viable option for you. I believe there are two main factors you need to consider before making the commitment of returning to University in your mid-twenties.

  • Your financial situation. University is very expensive. Many people are already in substantial debt due to previous studies. I think it’s very important to consider whether returning to University is worth the financial burden. Personally, I believe that if you are truly unhappy in your career, then you should change your situation, despite the financial liabilities. However, if you are seriously in debt, you may need to consider other options. It’s also important to find out whether you qualify for any allowances. In New Zealand, if you are 25 and over, you may qualify for a housing allowance, as well a supplementary allowance. While the allowances aren’t much, it is fantastic in the sense that it almost allows people to take a second shot at getting their careers right without having to reach too far into their pockets. Also, if your future career offers a decent salary, this should also be taken into consideration. As a teacher, the salary was relatively low, however, as a dental hygienist/therapist I will be earning almost double what I was a teacher, so this alleviates any stressors of having a small student debt once completing my new degree.
  • Putting your life on hold. When you decide to go back to University, you not only have to put your life on hold in a financial sense, but also personally. If you have a partner and are wanting to start a family, these plans may need to be delayed. Raising a child and attending University won’t be an easy option. However, if you are single, or have a partner, but no plans to settle down in the near future, then you are in a great position to return to University.

If you have made your decision to return to University, fantastic! I have been back at University about a month now, and below are what I have found to be the main pros and cons of returning to University at age 25.

Pros:

  • Increased work ethic. When you’re older, you tend to have less of a desire to socialise and “party”, compared to when you were in your early twenties. All of that is probably out of your system, and as a result you are able to become a lot more focused on your work and motivated to achieve high grades. I have found that I have a much greater work ethic than ever before. The course I am doing is highly competitive, only 33 people get into the course out of 700 applicants each year. Because it is such a competitive and intensive course, a lot of the other pupils on the course are also very studious. This motivates me further to work hard, and I feel quite eager to get better grades than my fellow classmates!
  • Increased confidence. The majority of people at University are around age 18-21. I find that with age, you become more confident in yourself and less concerned as to what people think of you. At age 25, I feel a lot more confident speaking up and do not feel intimated by people that I may have been when I was younger.
  • Feeling better suited to the career path and with your classmates. People tend to know themselves better as they get older and become more self aware. Once you have figured out a career path that is best suited to you, you may find that you fit in better with the ‘crowd’. As a student studying education, I felt no drive and no passion towards the profession and I did not fit in with the crowd. While I should not generalise, I will admit that the majority of people on my teaching course were very loud, extroverted and arty. I remember everyone being so enthusiastic when singing nursery rhymes and demonstrating lesson plans, while I felt completely awkward and uncomfortable.  I have always been introverted and quite a logical/structured person. I find that a lot of people on my current course also possess these personality traits and I see this as being a huge indicator that I am on a career path much better suited to my personality.

Cons:

  • As mentioned before, there are financial consequences of returning to University, as well as having to delay certain life plans.
  • Comparing yourself to others. All of my friends are now working full time, earning an annual salary, being able to save and travel abroad. I sometimes find it frustrating knowing that I will need to wait several years before doing these things again and sometimes feel as though I am slightly behind compared to my friends. Yet, when I hear someone speaking about being unhappy in their job, that tends to reassure me that while I may be behind, it is still worth starting again and getting my career right.

Overall, I definitely find that the pros of returning to University at age 25 outweigh the cons. If you are thinking of returning to University, just make sure you do your research in regards to the financial aspects and find out whether you qualify for any allowances. While returning to University and putting your life on hold may not sound ideal, it’s important to look at your life in the long run. Getting your career right while you are still young is easier than starting again much later in life.

A little motivation

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If you’re feeling down about the place of life you are in, disappointed in the decisions that have led you down the wrong route, stuck in what seems like a never ending rut… Here’s a little motivation that I hope will lift you up. I’ve had quite a few views on the blog now, so if I can possibly influence just one person in a positive way and open up their mind to a couple of new and optimistic perspectives on life… that would be pretty awesome.

I went through several years of my life, feeling like I had gone down the wrong career path, wasted my potential, and therefore had failed at life. Then finally one day, I had somewhat of an epiphany, I started having moments of realisation regarding the way I looked at life. These newfound perspectives really helped motivate me to change my life for the better, both perspectives having the importance of ‘decision making’ as the common denominator. There are two ways that I currently look at life:

  • One relates to Stephen Hawking’s theory on parallel universes. I know what you are thinking…“what the heck is this girl on about?”. Just let me explain… Stephen Hawking has this theory that there are an infinite number of parallel universes, with an infinite number of possibilities, an infinite number of different versions of ourselves. Any decision that you could have made in this universe, you make in another parallel universe. On my darkest days working as a teacher, I would sometimes think about this theory. I would tell myself “I guess I just got placed in a universe where I made the wrong career decisions, took on a job that’s not right for me and live a miserable life. Maybe there’s another version of myself in a parallel universe that made better decisions, one where I’m doing a job that I enjoy and live a much better life. Maybe I’m happy somewhere else”. Then one day I realised; my place in life isn’t necessarily fixed or predestined. I have the capability of changing my life for the better, so why don’t I do that. If there are an infinite number of parallel universes, I don’t want to be in one where I am unsatisfied with my life. I want to be in a universe where I am happy and fulfilled, so I need to make the right decisions that will lead to that. It was Hawking’s theory that helped influence my decision to leave the teaching profession, go back to University and start again. While it’s not an ideal situation going back to University at 25, I realise now that it is the best decision I could have made and I feel so much more positive about life and where it is heading. So if you are someone that’s unhappy with their current life path, but have the ability to change it, do it! Make your life in this universe one worth living.
  • I also have the view that life is a script. Your life is a script, with the decisions that you make defining the narrative of your story line. As with the previous perspective, decision making is crucial in determining your tale. While everyone is different when it comes to decision making, I’ve learned that being rational, logical, and a bit of a realist help me make the best decisions. I used to have very romanticised views on a lot of things, but now I like to be well informed, and aware of all of the pros and cons when making a decision. I have also learned the importance of trusting your intuition, that gut feeling that you get. If something doesn’t feel right, then it probably isn’t. So, if you are stuck in a depressed rut, just picture your life as a script. Don’t allow your story line to be one of misery, make the right decisions that will result in a great story for yourself, one that you would be proud to tell when you are older. And even if your life script is looking rather bleak, just realise you have the potential to change that. You are constantly writing your life story with every decision that you make, so start making choices that will change your life for the better.

If you are someone that feels as though they have made poor decisions and made mistakes, I think it’s important not to dwell on this. Personally, I don’t believe in ‘mistakes’ anymore. I view mistakes as experiences. Not to mention, its the risks and the mistakes we make that make our lives unique. If you constantly live your life by rules, then how is your life distinct in any way. Don’t be dragged down by past decisions that have lead you down the wrong route, these experiences actually enable you truly learn about yourself and grow as a person, and you then have the ability to make better decisions moving forward.

I know my perspectives are a little out there and nerdy (pretty much sums me up as a person), but if you are feeling unhappy with your life and unmotivated to change it, I hope these perspectives offer some sort of enlightenment and encouragement. Just remember that your life isn’t predetermined; you always have the ability to make decisions that can change your life for the better, and make it a darn good one.

Do High School’s really prepare students for University and the workforce?

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Choosing what to study at University and what career path to go down, is one of the biggest decisions a person can make during their lifetime. It is now expected that our generation will reach retirement around the age of sixty-seven, meaning that on average we will spend fifty odd years in the workforce. For that reason, it is so important to make the right decision when choosing a career. But at the tender age of eighteen, do we really know our selves well enough to make such a pivotal decision? And do our educational systems really support us in making these decisions?

During my final two years of High School there were two weeks, just two weeks, dedicated to learning about the workforce in a practical sense. My High school education did not prepare me any way, shape or form for the world of work or for University. In these career classes, we were never taught the necessary basics. I had no idea what a “bachelor’s degree” meant, or what a “major” or “minor” were. I didn’t know the meaning of a “graduate diploma”, “certificate, “thesis”, “masters”, or “PhD”. Without being taught the basic university terminology, how was I supposed to set out my degree.

Another problem with education today, is that students aren’t being told the truth. We live in a society that has a tendency to only consider one side of the coin. If the other side of the coin is a bit taboo or goes against social norms, ideals and expectations, then it is swept under the rug and kept under wraps. We can look at two examples of this:

  • being taught to “follow our passions”; to follow our dreams and we will succeed. This is a notion I find slightly problematic and misleading. We often read articles and hear motivational speeches of people who have set out to pursue their passions, how they have tried, tried and tried again. Failed and tried again. And eventually, they make it. Not only do they make it, but they make it big. Society uses these successful figures as prime examples; to reinforce to us that we should follow our passions and we will succeed. But is this realistic? Unfortunately not. Society doesn’t teach us about the other side of the coin. We don’t hear motivational speeches of people that have tried, tried and tried again, and failed. Speeches and articles about people who have lost everything, and are now spending the rest of their lives trying to rebuild a life. Schools won’t teach us this reality because it goes against the social ideal of following our passions. Yes, I do believe its important to work in a field you are interested in, but it is equally as important to be made aware of the pros and cons of following a “risky” passion.
  • Another reality school’s don’t teach pupil’s is that arts degrees will not guarantee you a job. Because schools teach us to follow our passions, they then can’t go and tell us that we should think twice about doing an arts degree, as it goes against what they teach us about following our dreams. Arts degrees are risky because they don’t necessarily lead to a specific job, and may not guarantee you with a work by the end of your studies. Arts degrees may equip you with a random set of skills in say history, or sociology, anthropology and so forth, but unfortunately, there aren’t many jobs out there that require such a skill set.

I studied psychology through a bachelor of arts for my first degree, and loved it. I had found my niche, and it was through this degree that my love for science developed. However, at the end this degree, I didn’t know what to do. My qualification hadn’t led me anywhere, and my future was uncertain. I then decided to undertake a graduate diploma in teaching, as I knew it would lead me down a route where I could actually receive work.

There are so many problems with the education system today and at all levels: preschool, primary, high school and university. I think high schools need to prepare students far more for the work force and in choosing a career. For instance, why not have five weeks a year (during the final two years of high school) dedicated to voluntary work in different fields. Students could be given a list of the different areas of work – education, banking and finance, IT, engineering, law etc. Then asked to pick five different fields of work and spend one week in each field, getting involved as ethically and legally possible. This way, students will be exposed to a whole range of different jobs and areas of work, which should ultimately provide them with more ‘real’ insight when making a decision. Rather than spending a week writing an essay on “why Sin City was filmed in black and white?”, or “why Kill a Mockingbird was a novelty of its time?”, wouldn’t it be far more useful for students to use this time and gain real life work experience?

Schools also don’t teach us about the alternatives i.e. a gap year. If you are eighteen, you don’t know yourself or what to do with your life. One of the best thing you could do in that situation is go on a gap year. Travelling alone is invaluable, it will help you to grow and discover yourself – your likes, dislikes, personality traits, interests and so forth. When I left High School, I didn’t fully understand what a gap year was and had no idea that it could even be an option. In hindsight, taking a gap year would have been beneficial to me and I wish that we had been taught more about this in school.

If you are a student reading this, about to go onto university, my advice would be to:

  • do research on the pros and cons of the career you are considering, see if it is a career that is realistic and achievable.
  • do research on the type of bachelors you are considering i.e. will doing a degree through the arts leave you with good job prospects, or would it be better to do your major through a bachelor of science or law, if possible.
  • if your school hasn’t provided you with enough practical experience in the workforce, then go out and do it yourself. Go and spend a week in a school, or a law firm and try and get as involved as you possibly can. Use these opportunities to gain as much insight as you can into the careers; what the pros and cons are, what personality traits you might need, what the salary is and so forth.
  • if you really don’t know yourself or what you want to do, consider taking a gap year, maybe even two years abroad. Take some time to travel and learn about yourself in the process.
  • do not rush. Don’t let anyone pressure you into picking up the pace. Take as much time as you need to research or travel. If you rush, you could end up going down the wrong career path and then find yourself at square one again. Major life-changing decisions should not be rushed.