If you have a teenager you know that one of the rights of passage into adulthood is college. It’s a big deal. The overwhelming amount of choices for schools, not to mention applying for scholarships and financial aid is enough to make an adult’s head spin, much less a wide-eyed teen. My son is going to be a senior next year, so naturally like any mom, I have been asking him the college question lately. “Where do you want to go? What do you want to study?”. A few months ago, he had all the answers for this and they were ambitious. Harvard, then Georgetown to study law then run for Congress and be president of the United States, after which he would do a stint in the Supreme Court to finish off his career.
I’m not the kind of mom to squelch dreams and I encouraged him to do whatever made him happy. But I am also practical. He is smart. Very smart. He takes all AP classes but then charms his teachers to turn in assignments late with no penalty. He hates reading and gets audiobooks instead. He procrastinates to the point of nervous breakdowns on a regular basis. He says that he loves school, but every time he turns around, I am seeing something else.
A few months ago, he lost his election for Student Body President. He just knew he was a shoo-in. And he lost. It left him to question everything; who he was as a person, his life path and purpose; everything. He found himself asking what most adults do. “What’s my purpose? Who am I? What is the point of any of this?”
So when the college conversation came up, he was paralyzed. He didn’t know what to do and couldn’t even bring himself to look at schools. I was getting really frustrated. Deadlines are approaching and the last thing I wanted to deal with was another meltdown. “Just pick something to research,” I begged.
He started crying, “I just can’t. I don’t know why. It’s like there’s a wall.” A wall… I knew that too well. It’s the Universe’s way of putting up a hard stop. “Just wait a week or so, and you will feel like looking,” I told him. Not having any idea what was coming next.
Right about that time my husband came in. He had no idea what we were talking about but sat down at the table with us. My son started talking about schools and that he didn’t know what to do. And then my husband, a college dropout and successful serial entrepreneur asked him a question I would have never thought to ask, “Do you even really want to go?” My son’s face said it all. “No, I don’t. I really don’t.” I was in shock. I just expected that he would want to go. This driven kid was burned out. He had been living for what he thought he wanted and his soul was finally stepping in and saying, enough.
The next hour of conversation was such a pivotal point in his life, I wish I had a recording. He talked about how college feels restrictive and heavy, how it feels like the wrong thing to do and how he wants to see the world. “I just want to travel around for a while, take a gap year at least.”
The more we talked about it, the straighter he sat up. He started to smile and even giggle. He talked about wanting to live in Austria and see the rest of Europe too. “Do it, then,” I said. “It’s a great way to learn about yourself and the world.”
So, he has decided to do it and I couldn’t be more proud of him. We often expect that life is linear, even for our kids, but asking them to decide what career they want before they even have a chance to experience life and find a passion is kind of a crazy thing to ask. It’s like getting married on a blind date. Who does that?
His soul wasn’t going to let him make that mistake and I am so glad he has the courage to follow that path. It ultimately doesn’t matter what anyone else expects you to do. You are here to live your life for you. And while traveling the world isn’t for everyone, it’s a perfect fit for him right now. Who knows, maybe he will be inspired to solve some world problem that no one else can figure out, or maybe he will just be a happy well rounded human being. Either way, it’s perfect.