Finished High School & Still Don’t Know What To Do?

Deciding what to do after school?
Deciding what to do after school?

You’ve just finished high school, and despite all your efforts and hours of thinking about what you’ll do next - you still have no idea? You’re not the only one. Today, most students don’t know what they’ll do when finishing school.

So what’s my advice for these school-leavers?

Firstly, this is an exciting place to be. I understand this is easy to say with hindsight. After all, when I finished school, I had no idea what I wanted to do, and I was terribly anxious and thought there was something wrong with me. Today on the other hand, I’m extremely glad that I didn’t pigeonhole myself into picking one career, just because I thought I should. Once I let go of the belief that there was nothing wrong with me for not deciding on a single job, the anxiety subsided and I was free to explore different options I never new existed, including investigations, consulting, writing and working with overseas governments. Remaining open and deciding on opportunities as they presented themselves has resulted in a path full of diversity.

Secondly, know that it’s normal not to know. While some will find a passion early in life and commit until the end. Many chop and change, never attaching to one thing. Recent research conducted by The Foundation for Young Australian’s (2015) found that young people will have 17 jobs over five careers within their lifetime. This changing workforce requires a new approach for graduates considering their future.

While no one is the same, the one thing we all have in common is when we finish school we must decide what our first step will be.

So, how can you make this decision? Although there is no one blanket answer, the field of positive psychology provides a great starting place for understanding the scientifically proven factors we must consider when searching for a fulfilled life.

The Father of Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman has conducted extensive research into how we can best create a life of optimal wellbeing and happiness. Using Seligman’s PERMA model, which includes the five elements of well being proven to help students flourish, we can best make our choices. These elements include; positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment.

The emphasis therefore should not be on “what will you do after school?” but rather on answering the five questions we can derive from his model? Keeping in mind the words of Nelson Mandela, “May your choices reflect your hope not your fears”.

1. Positive emotion:

“What makes you feel happy?” – List five things you do in your spare time or things you think about when your mind wanders.

2. Engagement:

“What activities do you find most engaging?” – List your top five activities that evoke a state of flow.

3. Relationships:

“Who are five people you could speak with about your options for finishing school?” – Schedule time to speak with these individuals about your options, feelings and about their experiences when making this transition.

4. Meaning:

“What is one thing you would do to make the world a better place?” Consider and record the key worldly issues you’re passionate about.

5. Accomplishment:

“After collecting and considering your answers above, write down a list of at least ten realistic goals you can do to start working towards your first step.”

What would it look like for you if you shifted the expectation from not having to select one answer to accepting he years after school were meant as a period of experimentation and the start of a search for fulfilment?

Now at 31 years old, I’m still finding my path and every year progressively getting to understand my passions and answers to the questions above. This is not to say that I’m on the search for one thing. I understand this is ever changing as we grow and evolve. This I believe is all part of the journey.

Give yourself time; stay aware of your interests and open to the opportunities that come your way, and you will find a path of happiness.

Amba Brown is an Australian Positive Psychology author and the creator of Finding Your Path Books, a happiness series for youth transitions; Starting school, starting high school and finishing school. You can find more information about Amba, her books and her TEDx Talk here.

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