What's WRONG with "I don't know?" - Mothering Forums

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Old 06-25-2010, 01:58 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I'm not really looking for advice, just a place to vent with some, hopefully, like-minded people. So here goes.

Earlier this evening, I went to my 17-year-old cousin's high school graduation. I went because I adore my cousin. She's like a little sister to me. Both her parents passed away by the time she was 8, so she went to live with my parents and they've been raising her ever since. Although she and I were close even before that.

Anyway, I really wanted to be there for her, and I'm glad I went, but honestly, about half-way through the ceremony, I just wanted to run screaming from the auditorium. Most of the speeches were just carbon copies of speeches past. The same old stuff people say at ALL graduation ceremonies. Fine, I was prepared for that. But one of the speeches REALLY got under my skin.

The BEST advice the guy giving the speech had for the graduates was "Always have a goal and know what you want to do with your life." In his opinion, the WORST answer to the question "what are you going to do next?" is "I don't know." Apparently you should always have an answer to the question what will you do next "even if you have to make it up." NEVER be undecided.

So I'd like to know, what is so wrong with the answer "I don't know?" What's so wrong with young people on the verge of adulthood not knowing EXACTLY what they want to do with the rest of their lives? What's so wrong with them taking some time to just figure themselves out, without adults around making all of the decisions for them? The man giving this speech was a cardiologist, who apparently went to the Olympics at one point. So I get that he knows a thing or two about success, but really, I just wanted to yell at him to "SHUT UP!"

I followed this advice to a tee when I was 18. I WANTED to take some time off to just "find myself," but I was convinced that I NEEDED goals and direction, and "had to have a plan." So I went to university and studied psychology. I soon discovered that I really didn't like it that much, but I had to stick with my plan. I was burnt out by the middle of my second year. I didn't quit, though, because you're supposed to have goals and direction! I kept on going, and even graduated with honours.

And what happened to me as a result of all of my effort and sticking to my goals even when I wanted to quit? I fell into a deep and serious depression that took years to come out of. I didn't use my degree at all, and it's taken me 10 years since graduating from university to get to a point where I actually feel like making plans with my life again. This time, though, I'm doing things my way, in my own time, and I'm making sure my choices are what I REALLY want.

I just wish more people saw things this way, and encouraged young people to explore the world a bit. DON'T decide your whole life right away. In fact, get comfortable with the phrase "I don't know," because you never know what's around the corner.

Don't get me wrong, though. I wouldn't encourage anyone to be irresponsible. I think young people (anyone really) should be encouraged to be independent, and responsible for themselves and their actions. And having goals can be good. They just don't need to have their whole lives mapped out the second they're handed their diplomas. And they definitely should not jump into something that's not what they really want, simply in the interest of having goals. KWIM?

Okay, I think my rant is over. I hope it makes sense. Thanks for reading!

Alyson: loving wife to Iain; unschooling mom to Abby (8) and Caleb (5). Also pro
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Old 06-25-2010, 05:28 AM
 
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Great post !
I completely agree!

My sister had high school teachers in grade 9 telling her class they HAD to know what they wanted to do when they grew up right then, otherwise they wouldn't know what courses to take and couldn't get in to the right program in university, etc.etc. My dad, who is a university professors, answered that most of his grad students didn't know what they wanted to do with their lives! That always kind of summed it up to me! Heck, I'm finishing a post-doc and I'm not sure what I'm going to do next and sometimes not sure what I want to do

I hate the pressure of always HAVING to have something next and always moving on this grand path towards something. There are road-blocks, detours, you name it
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Old 06-25-2010, 09:18 AM
 
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I think the fact that he is a doctor and an Olympian kind of sums up why he feels that way. I think that success is defined differently by different people. Some people are 'acheivers' and they define success by what they do. Others define success by how they feel. I think most unschoolers are the latter. I want my kids (and myself for that matter) to wake up happy to face the day doing something that brings them satisfaction. Other people want their kids to be CEOs or Olympians. Don't get me wrong, if my kids wanted that I'd support them I just don't think its necessary for success.

So, maybe for those acheiver types 'I don't know' is scary, for us its possibility. I hope you shared those feelings with your cousin so she knows this guy's perspective isn't the only one!
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Old 06-25-2010, 10:19 AM
 
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The BEST advice the guy giving the speech had for the graduates was "Always have a goal and know what you want to do with your life." In his opinion, the WORST answer to the question "what are you going to do next?" is "I don't know." Apparently you should always have an answer to the question what will you do next "even if you have to make it up." NEVER be undecided.
Forgive me, but I had to laugh at the "even if you have to make it up" part. What, exactly, does he think THAT would accomplish?

I think most people at some time find something that they really, really want and become motivated and driven to accomplish that goal. But at ALL times? Not a chance. There has to be time for reflection, for considering options, for weighing choices, questioning etc. People change during the course of their lives and if we're not flexible I think it's easy to end up unhappy.

In the past year or two I've been reunited with some old college friends and, as we catch up with each others' lives, it's been soooo interesting to see what everyone has done--we've all made so many changes and redirected our paths (sometimes many times) in our adult lives. We DID have goals--some we stuck with and accomplished, some we realized were not what we wanted and we made changes. Some paths chosen were great for a time, but then failed to fulfill us and we made other plans.

Why would we expect teens to have a plan and stick with it when our own lives have been made so interesting by the twists and turns?

(This post brought to you by a mama who has no idea what she will do next, but is sure she will figure it out.)

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Old 06-25-2010, 11:02 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Forgive me, but I had to laugh at the "even if you have to make it up" part. What, exactly, does he think THAT would accomplish?
It's funny you say this. When I went home later and told my husband about it, he almost didn't believe me, lol. His reaction was "You're making that up. There's no way he said that." He said it jokingly, of course, but he was still baffled.

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Old 06-25-2010, 12:27 PM
 
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great post!
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Old 06-26-2010, 10:58 PM
 
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It's not exactly the same thing, but I was deeply impressed by an English professor in college who would answer our questions with "I don't know." I think he was the first teacher I ever knew to do so.

On the original point, I totally agree with you. I think people shouldn't even bother with college until they know what they're going to do. This is from having taught for several years at universities -- my classes were filled with students who were totally wasting their time and money because they didn't know what they wanted to do, or were doing what they thought they were supposed to be doing.
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Old 06-27-2010, 04:30 AM
 
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I hear you 100% OP - I will be paying off student loans for the rest of my life for the two years of college in which I thought I really "had a plan" that turned out to be not so much MY plan but more my mom's . I am totally completely and in all ways cool with my kids just. not. knowing. Nothing wrong with taking some time to figure it out!
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Old 06-27-2010, 11:51 AM
 
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I think people shouldn't even bother with college until they know what they're going to do.
hmmm. While I agree that not everyone should bother with college, I don't think that even college-aged kids need to know what they want to do in order to go. Of the people I went to college with, ALL of us deviated from our majors once our careers got underway. Graduate school was more applicable to our careers, but that wasn't true for all of us either.

My dd isn't sure what she wants to major in (she's given a lot of thought to fields that she's interested in, but hasn't narrowed down a profession.) She's in CC now and REALLY looking forward to going away to university--she wants the experience--the dorm experience, the campus life, the smorgasbord of classes, the clubs and activities--she wants it all.

I think that for kids like this, going to college is great. I also think college is great for kids who have a specific goal from the outset. I think it's not so great for kids who don't want to be there or who go because they feel they're "supposed to" go, or because they can't figure out what else to do. (Not that that last example is so bad in itself, it's just that college is an expensive place to just hang out, kwim?)

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Old 06-27-2010, 12:13 PM
 
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I do admire the certainty of the speaker. I have never had such focus. I don't think many of us do, but for those who actually do know what they want out of life at an early age, more power to you!

It is a little unrealistic to expect your average teenager to know what they want out of life before they've ever really experienced it.
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Old 06-27-2010, 12:27 PM
 
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Life is a moving target.

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Old 06-27-2010, 12:52 PM
 
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I completely agree. I'm 39 and I still don't know what I want to be when I grew up -- but I've had a hell of a journey. Plus, what I would have wanted when I was 18 is DRASTICALLY different from what I might want now. I think it's kind of arrogant to think you should never not know something...or maybe it's just immaturity.

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Old 06-27-2010, 05:10 PM
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I agree with you. I think it's really sad that all these kids are put into schools where they are told what to do for 8 hours a day, and then are sent home with additional work. It takes up most of their time! And by the time they are done with it all there is no time for them to explore their own intrests, and figure out how they enjoy spending their time. Then they are pressured to go on to college immediately, where it is the same thing over again. Then finding a job, where they are constantly told what to do.....

I talk to so many people who say "I went to college for this, but I am going back for...." or "I don't even use my degree because..."

There is the constant pressure and encouragement to stay busy busy busy but not always in what you enjoy/would make you happy/etc
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Old 06-27-2010, 05:56 PM
 
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I completely agree. I'm 39 and I still don't know what I want to be when I grew up -- but I've had a hell of a journey.
I'm 42, and feel the same way. So does my mom, who is 66...and does have a degree, which she uses - but it's the one she went back for at 35 (mostly so if her marrige failed, which it did, she wouldn't have to get an entry level position), not the one she originally shot for at 18.

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It's not exactly the same thing, but I was deeply impressed by an English professor in college who would answer our questions with "I don't know." I think he was the first teacher I ever knew to do so.
That's why I stay with my GP. He's the only doctor I've dealt with who will say "I don't know" or "we don't know".

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Old 06-27-2010, 06:55 PM
 
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I also think that it depends on what kind of 'goal' you are setting as a teenager. In my case, I had a wish to move countries at age 8, it became an ardent 'to do' goal at age 15, and I achieved my goal at age 19. I did not think further than that...

This idea of goal setting is really upsetting to me as well, from a personal point of view. It has sent me into a deep, long depression at age 28 for not knowing what I wanted to do with my life. Eventually, I concluded that there are people in the world, like myself, who do not thrive on having just one 'to do' goal, or one life's goal arc. The future is too opaque for one goal to hold any meaning. These people need many goals and they make them up as they go. But, the goal discourse is strong, and gets into your bones and it rears its ugly head from time to time.

Goal setting also seems to be about what one is going to 'do' in life, not so much about how one is going to be or conduct oneself in the world.

Speaking as a 39 year old woman without a specific goal in mind at the moment, I think that in some ways, goal setting can be seen as perpetually being unfulfilled with where one is at in life.
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Old 06-27-2010, 07:34 PM
 
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hmmm. While I agree that not everyone should bother with college, I don't think that even college-aged kids need to know what they want to do in order to go. Of the people I went to college with, ALL of us deviated from our majors once our careers got underway. Graduate school was more applicable to our careers, but that wasn't true for all of us either.

My dd isn't sure what she wants to major in (she's given a lot of thought to fields that she's interested in, but hasn't narrowed down a profession.) She's in CC now and REALLY looking forward to going away to university--she wants the experience--the dorm experience, the campus life, the smorgasbord of classes, the clubs and activities--she wants it all.

I think that for kids like this, going to college is great. I also think college is great for kids who have a specific goal from the outset. I think it's not so great for kids who don't want to be there or who go because they feel they're "supposed to" go, or because they can't figure out what else to do. (Not that that last example is so bad in itself, it's just that college is an expensive place to just hang out, kwim?)
I agree. But what are the kids who don't know what they want to do, supposed to do?
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Old 06-27-2010, 07:52 PM - Thread Starter
 
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It's nice to find like-minded people!

I'm not bashing goal-setting by any means. I agree with the previous poster who said that if a teenager knows where they want to go in life, more power to them.

My problem with the graduation speech was that he was specifically bashing uncertainty. If someone knows what they want - great. And there's certainly validity to the point that starting something, even if you're not sure it's what you really want, can be a good thing, because it can open doors for you and teach you things about yourself you didn't know. BUT, not knowing, and admitting you don't know, is just as valid, IMO. I don't think there's anything wrong with someone saying "I just don't know right now." And I think kids who are in this situation should be encouraged to just take a bit of time to figure things out, not rush into something.

Anyway, I'm over my rant now anyway because I had a nice chat with my cousin, and she basically had the same opinion of the guy I did, . She is going to university, but she has no clue right now what she wants. She's just gonna take her time to figure things out.

Alyson: loving wife to Iain; unschooling mom to Abby (8) and Caleb (5). Also pro
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Old 06-27-2010, 07:54 PM
 
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I agree. But what are the kids who don't know what they want to do, supposed to do?
Get an entry level job in an area of interest, apprentice or job shadow with an interesting person, travel (backpacking and staying in hostels is cheaper than tuition) or volunteer work just to name a few.
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Old 06-27-2010, 08:12 PM
 
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My problem with the graduation speech was that he was specifically bashing uncertainty. If someone knows what they want - great. And there's certainly validity to the point that starting something, even if you're not sure it's what you really want, can be a good thing, because it can open doors for you and teach you things about yourself you didn't know. BUT, not knowing, and admitting you don't know, is just as valid, IMO. I don't think there's anything wrong with someone saying "I just don't know right now." And I think kids who are in this situation should be encouraged to just take a bit of time to figure things out, not rush into something.
I think that even if kids want to start college right away, it can be good to be honest about uncertainty. If you know that you're not sure what you want your degree to be, you could go to a school that offers a wide variety of majors, and focus on taking core classes the first couple semesters so that you're building toward a degree with your coursework while you try to figure out what your major should be. This is a much better plan than just choosing something, picking the best school for that specific major, and then discovering 2, 4, or 10 years later that you hate it.

Last night DH and I watched a French movie called "Let it Rain", and there's a scene where two people are in a church, and one asks the other if he believes (in God). Dh remarked that you could never have that conversation in a US church. We are not a culture that is comfortable with uncertainty, we want people to KNOW what they believe, even if they're faking it.
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Old 06-27-2010, 10:02 PM
 
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Get an entry level job in an area of interest, apprentice or job shadow with an interesting person, travel (backpacking and staying in hostels is cheaper than tuition) or volunteer work just to name a few.
Any of these things. For unschoolers, there doesn't need to be a drastic change in their lives simply because they are at the age when their peers graduated high school. (Just like there didn't need to be a drastic change in their lives when they reached "school age," kwim?) They can continue on their unschooling path.

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