"I haven't talked to many people who have taken a direct line from college to career success. Most say that they kind of weaved their way through various circumstances to where they eventually landed." -Howard Behar, former Starbucks President.
All of us have heard that the shortest distance between two points (A,B) is a straight line. There’s no disputing this. Sometimes, though, even a wiggly, zig-zag, or curly line still gets you to point B, and sometimes it can be a lot more fun!
Today our teens are being pressured more than ever to take the straight line path from high school (point A) to their first career-based job (point B). Teens are being taught that the straightest path is getting a 4.0 GPA, volunteering on a regular basis, joining multiple after-school clubs, and applying and being accepted to a prestigious college. When teens deviate from this path, parents and other involved adults tend to panic. If their grades are dipping in school, parents begin to visualize their teen’s unsuccessful life after high school. If they don’t show interest in school, parents imagine that their teen will be an outcast from society. And parents feel like they aren’t being an adequate parent and the panic sets in.
In many other societies, teens often take a gap year after high school graduation. It’s a year when they travel or explore other countries or cities. They begin to get acquainted with the world outside of their own local hedges. This gives them a moment to breathe, take a much needed break from school, and then make important decisions about their future schooling. One example is in Israel where they enter the Army for two years. They learn responsibility and are exposed to other aspects of life. When they enter college they are ready for it and have a better understanding of their strengths and interests.
For parents with teens who are perhaps not following the society-induced straight line, take a deep breath. A low GPA or a lack of interest in school does not mean that they are destined for a low-paying, underappreciated job. Chances are that your teen has not yet found their life passion. Encourage them to keep a decent GPA, to ask a lot of questions, and to explore the world around them. Have them look for local classes that interest them. Or see if you can set them up with a mentor who has an interesting job. Perhaps an internship can spark their motivation and interest. Help them find an interesting volunteer role. There is so much to life outside of the confines of school.
Whatever you do, don’t forget to breathe. Don’t lose sight of the big picture. Your teen might not get accepted into what’s considered a top school but they will find a school to attend. They might choose to not attend college right after high school or even for 5-10 years after high school. Don’t lose faith in them, though. It’s OK to not live the straight line. If they are happy trying out life on their own squiggly line, be happy right alongside of them.