Friday, October 19, 2018


Have you ever been faced with a decision and just felt paralyzed because a) you didn't know what to do or b) you had too many choices and didn't know where to even begin? I know this feeling. Sometimes a simple trip to the grocery store turns into five minutes of paralysis in the pickle aisle because I am unable to decide between the kosher dills or the spicy bread-and-butters. Eventually, I'll choose one and stick it in my cart.

Pickles are easy. What about the more life-changing decisions? Where to go to college? IF to go to college? What major to choose? What job to take? What career to begin? Should I marry this guy? Should I marry at all? Do I want to have children? On and on and on it goes.

Recently, my daughter who just graduated from high school has been struggling with some of these questions. She wants to go to college, but she has so many varied interests she doesn't know what field of study she wants to focus on. 

I have asked a friend of mine, J.E., to give my daughter some advice. J.E. has gone from getting both her bachelor's and master's degrees in Art History and working a few years in that field to now working toward her law degree.

Here, in her own words, is J.E.'s advice to an 18 year old:

All the feedback detailed below is based on nearly 10 years of post-high school exploration, excitement, stress, anxiety, experimentation, and observation. I’ve changed career paths a few times, gone back to school, dated all types of guys, changed friend groups (a LOT), and consumed metric tons of chocolate while trying to figure out the hell I wanted to do.

Always remember that you’re not alone. You have a support network that wants you to succeed, and always surround yourself with people that support your health and happiness. 

1.     You’re only 18 – calm down.
            Let’s just get this one out of the way, shall we? 18-year-olds think they need to have their life plan ironed out and ready to go once they graduate high school. It makes sense, since everything in your world is telling you, “you’re an adult now, and adults know what they want.”

Here is a secret that adults don’t tell you: most of the time, we are just as confused as you. Sometimes we’re confused about the same things, and sometimes we’re confused about different things (examples include how to raise happy children, balance a job and with a personal life, dating, marriage, taxes).

            Onto some other points!

To be honest, Meg Jay’s TedTalk scared the crap out of me when I first saw it. I was 22, and I felt like time was passing very quickly. She was saying your twenties are vital, and I wasn’t sure I was using my time effectively (in hindsight, I was). Her TedTalk prompted me to think more critically about how I was making decisions, using my time, and planning my life. Her points mesh well with the points I will give you, because they are all based on similar facts, observations, experiences, and phenomena. Luckily for you, you’re hearing a message targeted toward 20-somethigs before you’re even twenty, so you get the luxury we all dream of: MORE TIME!

3.     It is okay if you don’t know what you want to do – but be effective with your time.
There is nothing wrong with admitting you don't know what you want to do with your life when you’re only 18 years old. Even in your twenties, it’s okay to say you’re not sure what you want to do. You’re young, you don’t really understand how the world works, and you don’t fully understand yourself either.

            However, the reality is that time won’t stop because you’re confused, and outside parties will look at what you’re doing after high school. Therefore, use the time effectively.

            One great idea is doing charity work or the military. Take a year to do something beneficial for the community, learn a skill set, and have some time to think. You will meet professionals who can provide career planning experience. You will meet humans who might show you issues in the world you care about. You will discover things you like to do, and things you really don’t want to do.

I have a friend who has not finished his college degree because he pursued a career in the military instead. He is a sergeant and served two tours, and has had a successful military career so far. Now he is going back for his degree because it will make a very big difference in his pay, and professional prospects. Time in the army helped him develop a very clear path for what he wants to pursue, including an undergraduate degree in business, and afterwards he wants to go to law school to focus on constitutional law.

4.     Figure out what you love to do!

Generally speaking, you should always make sure you are finding things that you enjoy doing. Always. Granted, there will always be stuff that isn’t fun, but that’s life (ex. certain tasks at work, homework assignments, exams, etc).

If you find yourself doing something you don’t truly enjoy, you will eventually burn out (the nurse example in #7). This applies to every aspect of your life. A great way to learn more about what you enjoy is through volunteering, traveling, and doing something productive and explorational. (see #3!)

            Figuring out what you love to do and what you want takes time and creative thinking. For example, last summer I traveled to Israel for 6 weeks and worked on a farm for 3 weeks. I realized I loved working with animals, and living a simpler lifestyle than one usually finds in the US. I loved growing my own herbs, tending to a garden, and eating very clean food from the backyard (meat included – there were sheep on the farm that were butchered for us, and we ate on the barbeque).

Now, you might wonder how knowing I love these things helps me figure out my life plan. If I love taking care of animals, then I want a job that provides a stable income so that I can own land and animals (see #5). If I want a higher paying career, then I need to use my time in school to build a foundation for me to get the jobs I want (see #3). If I want a husband who will help me build a simple life with animals, then I want to date someone who also enjoys these things (and I am currently dating this type of person!) (see #8). If I want a life with lots of nature and quiet time, then the city life I thought I wanted might not be the best fit for me anymore (see #7).

5.     Whether or not you go to college right now, make sure you do something that will establish a viable career path later on.

There is a lot of debate about whether going to college is actually worth it. Short answer, yes, it is. The statistics overwhelmingly show that going to college will set you up for a more successful career than not going to college at all.

However, some people really don’t want to go to college, and that is fine. But whatever you decide to do, pursue some sort of education or training that will establish a viable career path. (This relates a lot to long term planning that I discuss next)

            For me, there was no question that I would go to college, or pursue higher degrees. I wanted it and my family wanted it for me. At any point along the way, any conceivable career I wanted required at least that I went to college (most required higher education). I went to large schools because the fields where I wanted to work highly valued name recognition, and I can personally say having recognizable schools on my transcript has opened doors for me in my particular fields of study. However, deciding where to go/what to do is different for everyone, and you need to talk with your family to figure out what is best for you.

            Let’s use a hypothetical to understand how to use college effectively, without imploring you to pursue a 4-year degree in – for example – philosophy and basket weaving at the most expensive school in the world. Imagine you wanted to open a tattoo parlor and become a tattoo artist. How does going to college apply to you? You can go to a small school and get a business and accounting degree, and on the weekends, you learn how to tattoo, pierce, and run a business by asking your boss a million questions. Do you need to go to Harvard for $60,000 a year in order to open a small tattoo parlor? No, you need to know the basics about business, and accounting, and not be saddled with so much debt that you’re financially crippled at the age of 22, and can’t get a loan in a few years when you’re ready to open a business. You get some scholarships, and go to school for a fraction of the cost. You’ve learned a skill set, and have set yourself up to establish a career path.

6.     There are always two types of questions/issues: short term, and long term.

            A lot of high school students get caught in the long-term thinking. “I need to have a good respectable job that pays me well and allows me to have all the things I want to have for myself and [should you want it] my family.”

            This is great long-term thinking, but you also need to think about short term too. Always think of what you want to do within the next 6 months, 12 months, 2 years, and 3-5 years. Breaking things down makes the overwhelming task of “figuring out your life” feel much less daunting.

7.     Don’t be afraid to say, “I changed my mind.”

            People are terrified of saying this, and it’s really unfortunate because it can set you free. People’s inability to admit they don’t want to do something, or they really want to do something other than what they’re currently doing is a big mistake I see a lot of people make all the time.

I will readily admit that changing your mind can be terrifying. But the sooner you admit whether or not you like something, the faster you will bring things into your life that make you happy. I had a friend who went to nursing school because he wanted to make money, and it was a safe career path. However, he hates being a nurse. Don’t get stuck in that situation. It takes a lot of time, and this situation can definitely be avoided.

Alternatively, my cousin decided to go to law school when she was in her twenties. She realized she didn’t have a passion for it, and left after her first year to pursue a career in hospitality. Since then she has pursued this career path, and absolutely loves it more than twenty years later! She is married with a happy family, and loves her life.

8.     Take your relationships seriously!
This does not mean you put a relationship before a career, your schooling, friends, or personal well-being. It means that your relationships will affect who you are, how you grow, and what you decide to do in your life.  There are relationships between the education you pursue, the lifestyle you choose, and the people you date. Let’s look at it from a few angles using men from my life!

When I was 19, I dated a guy from college. We were surrounded by people who had particular lifestyles, political views, and personalities. He was an exceptionally talented and driven artist, and I was really inspired by him. Likewise, he thought I was smart and talented, and saw the same things in me. Being with him, encouraged me to be more driven, explore different opportunities, and work harder than I had ever worked before on my art. When I decided to switch careers, a relationship like this one wouldn’t have fit nearly as well with my goals (see #5, #6). He now works in New York as a freelance artist/designer for clients like Dior and Luis Vuitton.

When I was 20, I dated a guy who lived at home and dropped out of college where he was studying kinesiology. When I was with him, I remained driven, but it was a battle. I was more ambitious than many of his friends or family, he wasn’t pushing me to be more mature and professionally accomplished. He dropped out because he wanted to save money for school (very valid reason), but didn’t get a job for a while afterwards (see #2). He talked about becoming a nutritionist or personal trainer, but never applied himself to any of these goals, or used his time well.  He is 29, still lives with his parents, and works as a mechanic at a bike shop a block away from home.
When I was 21, I dated someone I met in the Jewish community. He was extremely talented, ambitious, and very well educated. He was an engineer educated in Boston, and had a completely different personality and life plan than my other ex-boyfriends. When I was in this relationship, we had friends with different lifestyles (highly educated and very athletic), and personalities than I had with other boyfriends. Our relationship showed me what type of lifestyle I wanted (stable jobs like his), and the type of friends I wanted. I also began wondering what you needed in a spouse to have a happy marriage and family, because we both knew we wanted to get married someday, but we had no idea how to decide if we wanted to marry each other (see #5). He now works for Google as a mechanical engineer.

Now I’m 27, and am in a relationship with an Israeli man I met while traveling through Israel. He’s extremely smart, talented, supportive, mature, and professionally successful. We talk about what we would need to do in order to have the lives we want for ourselves, and each other and that impacts the classes I take, and the jobs I would want to have (salary, benefits, work/life balance, etc.) (see #5). He absolutely loves that I want to become a lawyer, and is the most supportive person I could imagine dating. He is very proud of his own professional success, and wants me to see the same successes in my own life, so he pushes me and supports me through the muck and mire of law school. Find people like him!

I’m not telling you these stories to provide a litany of my personal dating life – it is to explain how dating different types of people affected me, my outlook, and my career path. The people you surround yourself with, and the people you date, reflect you and your decisions. Take this seriously while you’re planning your next steps, and be aware of the influences your friends, family and love interests have on you.

6. Mom Sponsored Q: If you could go back, what, if anything, would you do differently?

            It is hard for me to answer this question, because I try not to lament on past decisions. I accept my past-self for who I was at the time I decided to do something, and don’t blame myself for missed opportunities. I know a lot of people who regret not doing one thing or another, and it eats them from the inside. Understand why you’re making your decisions in the moment, and find a way to forgive and accept yourself later on.

7. Mom Sponsored Q: What is the biggest mistake you have seen young people just entering college/the work force make?

I see people take on careers and jobs they hate, because they want to make money. People think they have lots of time because they’re young, so they don’t apply themselves now. People pursue relationships that they really shouldn’t pursue.

There are SO many more that I could list, but they all relate to the steps I’ve given you already. 

J.E. is an amazing person and I am so thankful she was willing to share these personal examples from her life. She's the bomb!
If you have any advice you feel would be beneficial to an 18 year old, feel free to leave it in the comments. I look forward to hearing from you!

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