I believe, that students and young adults don't know what to do with their lives because schools, colleges and universities (with some exceptions) neither encourage them to have this inquiry nor do they provide enough opportunities and/or tools to facilitate it. At the very best they educate young people for an occupation but they do not educate (prepare) them for life. In other words there is a lack of, what I call, a 'life education' in these institutions. The 'life education' I am talking about encourages students to think about what truly matters to them in life, beyond figuring out their occupation/career choices. It prepares them for life where a lack of security and changing circumstances are an actual constant so it teaches them how to navigate, how to adapt and thrive despite of it. It inspires them to look 'within' and help them find their true desires, their passions, their natural skills and talents because this knowledge will serve them as signposts in life and help them determine their life direction. It teaches them about the importance of mindset and attitude while they try to reach their goals and realise their dreams so they do not end up feeling like helpless victims and instead have a real understanding that they are responsible and capable of creating their reality regardless of various obstacles they might encounter along the way. It also invites them to question the current definition of success, question the status quo and any norms and expectations 'imposed' on them by the society, culture and even parents so that they can define success for themselves and make better choices. It teaches them various ways of dealing with stress and anxiety. Finally, it gives them tools that can help them figure out what they ultimately want to do in their lives in general and in the foreseeable future so when they graduate they will have at least some, or ideally a clear sense of direction and purpose. The 'career' advice services (again with some exceptions) with their 'paper and pencils' tests do not provide such guidance, as Sir Ken Robinson rightly points out: "none of them are likely to tell you that you might be good at playing jazz clarinet."
Instead, the current scenario is very different from the one described above. Upon graduation many students experience a sense of relief on the one hand, and a sense of dread on the other. They don't know what they really want to do, they don't know where to start and where to look for help to change that. For some the future feels terrifying. The pressure to adhere to the current definition of success (associated mainly with money, fame and status) feels overwhelming. Soon, they either struggle to find a job they really want so they end up getting jobs they don't enjoy or even hate. Unable to realise their potential, to realise their dreams they feel stuck in the jobs they didn't want in the first place, with a degree that now seems to have been a waste of time and, some of them, with a student debt on the top of it all. These are the future unemployed or the unhappy employees whose lives start at 5 pm on Friday and end at 9 am on Monday. Some turn to drugs and alcohol to numb their feelings of low self - esteem, frustration and fear of the future. Most of them, based on my own research and the literature on the subject, are eager to change their situation but they don't know how; as the saying goes: "they didn't teach this in school". Only it is not just a saying, it is true.
It is a very gloomy picture, I know, but it is real and something must be and can be done about it. This is why it is important to recognise that there are teachers and councillors who do try, to the extent that the system allows, to help students figure out what they want to do in their lives and they should be applauded. There are some colleges and universities whose deans and/or chancellors recognise the need to introduce 'life education' courses and workshops. These are mostly organised on a one of basis with an exception of a few that make them a permanent part of their curricula. These institutions are the pioneers of positive changes in the education systems who understand that the psychological, social, cultural and economic costs are and will be high if the education that prepares students for life and not just an occupation doesn't become a permanent part of schools curricula. I hope that many more will follow because I cannot imagine a better time in a history to make it possible so that young people can have a bright future they want and surely deserve.
Ps. I am extremely passionate about the above subject and I have been researching it for a long time now by using the Internet resources and reading books on the subject. However, now I would like to connect with students (high school, college and university students) to learn directly form them about their most pressing issues and problems. So if you are a student or a graduate and would like to email me to share with me your story (your key struggles, and/or how you overcame them, and what kind of help you could benefit from during your time in education) then please email me at: email@example.com
Also, I am looking forward to connect with decision makers in colleges/universities in and around London, if this post has triggered your interest, if you would like to talk about this subject further and might want to consider introducing this kind of education in your institutions. If so, please email me at: maggie.gilewicz.com