By Kathleen McCarthy
Be Inkandescent magazine
The summer I graduated from high school a few decades ago, I remember my parents’ friends leaning in to me and saying breathlessly, “You can be anything you want!” As though I could name a career and claim it simply by virtue of a high GPA and earnestness.
Telling me I could do anything when I felt so constrained by all I didn’t know how to do made me feel panicky, and pressured. I had to keep from retorting cruelly, “Oh, so when you were my age, becoming a manager in company that sells office equipment was your dream?”
Surely most little kids want to be doctors, nurses, and teachers because those are the only jobs they recognize and can imagine themselves doing—plus whatever work their parents do for a living. As kids grow up, they can’t help but discover cool new jobs they hadn’t realized people could do: being a travel writer, designing video games, working at an animal rescue organization, running counterterrorism exercises …
One of my hopes for my three daughters is that after high school, the world will open up to them, and they will see the abundance of possibilities before them about how to live and what work to do. And that they have the fortitude to resist the pressure to choose a career from a limited list when their own experience is limited.
Looking back, I feel lucky to have found a meandering career path rather than a straight one. But at the time, I envied kids who knew what they wanted to be and could see the path to their chosen profession.
I wasn’t in that cadre, and neither is my middle daughter, Kerry. A graduating senior, here’s her take on “finding a passion,” and choosing a major when college application time rolled around.
By Kerry Reichhardt
High School Senior
Mountain View High School, Stafford, VA
“Please indicate your major of choice from the options below.”
Uhh, what? I’m supposed to pick the subject that I’m going to spend the next four years of my life learning, in order to base a career on? What?
Excuse me, Mr./Ms. College Admissions Officer, but my mother still leaves me notes in my lunch box, and I think meowing to the tune of the Harry Potter theme song is the height of comedy. Is a 17 year old—no, make that 17 and a half year old—really supposed to know her life ambitions and passions already?
Everyone I know wants to be some type of blah blah blah, with a focus in blah blah.
It’s hard to say how many times I’ve been at a party in a group of adults who all want to know what I’m majoring in, what I’m passionate about, what my dreams are.
I briefly consider saying, “Well, I like to make crafts …” before I remember it’s best to save what little dignity I have and instead go with, “Actually, I’d love to become a journalist when I’m older!”
This deters the onslaught of hungry adults momentarily, but I don’t breathe any easier. While writing is the closest I’ve ever come to a passion, I’m not talented enough to make a career out of it, and even if I was, I couldn’t tell you what I’d want to write about.
Journalism has been my favorite class in high school, but I’ve only had two years of it. Can that really show me what a lifetime of being a journalist would be like?
The Appeal of Versatility
I’ve struggled with feelings of insecurity, of being “untalented,” and not having a path laid out for me; no gift to guide me in the direction in which I should make a career.
But as I finished my college applications, I found myself checking “Journalism” as my career interest at each school. I realized that the reason I told those parents and admissions officers I was interested in Journalism is because I recognized the versatility inherent in this subject.
With Journalism I can go anywhere, and—hopefully with proper training—can learn to make crafts an interesting enough topic to read about.
Where is Kerry going to college?
She decides this month, so stay tuned for her decision!
Questions? Send us an email about your family’s college experience to email@example.com.
Kerry is assistant editor in chief of her high school newsmagazine, The Viewpoint.