Sometimes A Path Less Taken Is The Right Path For You

At the mid-year mark for 12th graders, a common question is . . . “what are you going to do next year”.  Here in modestly affluent suburbia . . . the unspoken expectation is college.  So that question might as well be “what college do you want to go to?”  Which is a fine question if the person really WANTS to go to college or if the person SHOULD go to college.

I was raised in an environment and a time where going to college was not necessarily what everyone did.  One of my brothers did and has had a successful career as an accountant.  One of my brothers did not and has had a successful career as a carpenter.  Some of my friends went to college . . . some did not.  It was not assumed that going to college was the ‘best’ thing for someone to do.  It was ‘good’, but not going to college was not ‘bad’.  But that was the 70’s.  In the years where I raised my own kids, it seems that the expectation became much stronger that one HAD to go to college. As part of the high school graduation program, it even listed where each graduate was going.  I remember feeling pretty good about where my kids were going and wondering if the parents of the kids going to local community college or technical school were as proud as I was.  I figured they were not.

In my work with patients now, I am hearing with greater frequency that kids are going to the local community college for the start of their college career.  More than ever, I think how that makes sense for a lot of kids.  I am also coming across more kids who start college and find that it is not right for them.  They are ‘dropping out’ to get jobs or to go to a trade school for something they REALLY want to do.  And some kids don’t go to school at all at first but get a job and learn about life by doing just that.  I know for myself, one of the best decisions I ever made was to take time off after college.  From my earliest years, I wanted to be a doctor.  In fact, when I started to question that during my second year of college, it was the very first time I considered being anything but a doctor.  Talk about an emotional CRISIS!!  My parents were a MESS from this decision.  But was I ready to go on to medical school?  No, I was not.  I was distracted by other interests and I was, admittedly, a bit immature at that point.  Certainly not ready to assume the responsibilities that come from matriculating into medical school.

But that first year off was one of the most instructive of my life.  I learned what it was like to be independent.  What it was like to have a job that fueled that independence.  I found out what REAL life was like (as opposed to the parent-funded collegiate summer-camp that college was).  I also, coincidentally, found my wife and best friend for life.  It was a great year!  By the end of that first year off, I realized that I DID want to go to medical school.  I DID want to be a doctor.  So, with the support of my parents and my newly wedded wife, I studied for the entrance exam harder than I have ever studied and was subsequently admitted into medical school.  My work ethic in medical school was totally different that that in college.  I worked and studied harder than I ever studied before.  And I knew that it was the right thing to do.

It was that year off that gave me the breathing space to find who I was and what I wanted to be.  Perhaps, more of our kids would be better if they had a year or two off to figure that out.  I am a big proponent of higher education.  But not everyone who goes to college is happy with that decision.  Not everyone who graduates from college with a degree in ‘whatever’ is happy with the job that ‘whatever’ brings them.  I have encountered quite a few people who have found greater happiness switching gears and going in a completely different direction in life.  It often takes great courage to make that change.  Sometimes it must be done without the initial support of family or friends (who may be shocked by your decision).  But what I have seen over and over is that when you do what feels ‘right’ for you, you feel happier and more fulfilled and that ultimately results in deeper and better relationships with family and friends. But even if it doesn’t, it isn’t about them anyway.  It is about YOU and what YOU want to do with your life.  There is no “Life Approved By Everyone Around You” award given at the end of YOUR life.  You must discover for yourself what path you want to take, then have the courage to travel that path wherever it may lead.


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