Locked Into An Unhappy Path: Who Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?

Living Journalism

Locked Into An Unhappy Path: Who Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up? GALERIE collections

Making decisions is always a challenging task that involves considering motivations, consequences, and people affected by those decisions. We all face situations where we must make a choice that appears to have no fair solution. Imagine being 18 or younger and having to make a decision that will determine your professional path for the rest of your life. When applying to universities or schools, this is a reality for hundreds of thousands of students yearly.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

The critical moment of selecting what to study or pursuing a different path has become a topic of intense study, given the anxieties and stress that it causes. We are examining this problem today as we have personally faced it and may continue to face it during our studies.

The issue is that students face immense pressure from various sources, starting with societal expectations that emphasize a specific path to success: attending college, obtaining a degree, and earning a high income. Parents or grandparents may also expect their children to follow this path, considering it a matter of pride and reputation. Although not true for everyone, this mindset is more prevalent than one might think. Additionally, students may struggle with choosing between what they like and the profitability of their future career, or not having enough insight into their motivations and desires at a young age.

We aim to understand the extent to which the choice of studies is a crucial step that can lead to significant challenges for students. First, we will examine how the various pressures mentioned above influence a student's decision-making process. Then we will discuss the consequences of this pressure and conclude by exploring ways to support students in making informed choices.

Fast-forward to adulthood

Initially, high school students are faced with making a choice that determines their future paths relatively early on, at a time when they may not have had enough life experience to understand who they are, their likes and dislikes. In France, for example, the choice of higher education is made at 17 or 18 through a national internet platform. As the philosopher Thomas Schauder notes, "young people are forced to become adults too early." High school students feel a significant responsibility on their shoulders and feel compelled to have a long-term plan that cannot be changed. This is not only true for France, but also for many other countries. In Spain, a LinkedIn survey revealed that out of 3,190 respondents, 38% admitted that they would choose a different field to study if they had the chance, citing reasons such as salaries, growth opportunities, and work modalities.

These surveys demonstrate that students often make decisions about higher education too early, before they have enough insight to make an informed choice. Additionally, the cost of education in some countries adds more pressure to students. They may need to take out loans, work for it, or ask their parents, and thus feel compelled to stick to their chosen path and not waste the money invested. They cannot afford to change their minds every year, spending thousands of dollars without any actual accomplishment.

Foto: Ivask, Signe

Contributing factor to stress and anxiety: parents and their expectations

It's no secret that parental pressure can cause stress and anxiety for students. Parents tend to put a lot of pressure on their children to succeed according to the pattern of success imposed by the society. As Marcel Rufo, a French child psychiatrist, says, "Failure at school is sometimes experienced as a shame by parents" because they "identify with their child's failure". Parents' expectations are often very high and do not take into account the child's abilities and especially his desires. This pressure to succeed can come in many forms, from mapping out their child's future to expecting them to follow in their footsteps.

In another case, parents expect their child to follow their career path and do the same as they did because it is the only way for them to successfully maintain the family legacy. It also happens that parents do not provide any help or advice to their children even though they are responsible for raising and educating their children. So that the latter find themselves completely lost in front of the immensity of the professional world and that they probably make the wrong choice.

However, these expectations can lead to serious psychological problems for students. The choice of their future path is one of the primary reasons for this, compounded by issues such as housing, cost of living, and loneliness. According to a survey by OVE, many students "report experiencing symptoms of unhappiness" and "37% of students say they are depressed and one in four suffers from isolation." Not knowing whether studying is right for them or not enjoying their chosen field can add to these problems.

Uncertainty is a significant source of psychological disorders like stress and anxiety, which can hinder learning, growth, and academic success. Not knowing if studying is really for them or not liking what they are studying adds to and compounds these problems. Additionally, students may experience a loss of self-confidence, social isolation, and a lack of motivation in all aspects of their lives. It's crucial to understand the impact of parental expectations on students and address the problem to create a more supportive environment for students to thrive in.

Foto: Ivask, Signe

What can we do then?

Having access to institutional support becomes crucial in helping young people navigate their transition into adulthood and find their life path. While guidance from family, teachers, and friends can be helpful, it's also essential to have access to a team of trained professionals in high schools and universities. Unfortunately, a study by WISE titled 'Preparing the Next Generation for the Future of Work' found that 88% of European students surveyed were dissatisfied with the guidance they received. UNESCO recommends a ratio of one counselor per 250 students, but in some countries like Spain, the average counselor must handle four times more students than that, which can be particularly detrimental for teenagers who lack strong or educated adult figures in their lives.

Choosing a future that best suits the students can be a challenging task, and it is crucial that we discuss these difficulties openly to raise awareness and support those who are struggling. The need for support and access to psychological help is a global issue that must be addressed. As we have seen, this fight is not specific to one country but is present in all the countries we have analysed.

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