“Advice From A Senior” by Chelsea DeClue

Dear 18-Year-Old,

We spend much of our high school careers being told we have to plan for the future. You get it from the actions of the adults around you, in the questions that they ask you. What do you want to go to school for? Where are you going to school? What scholarships are you getting? Everything that happens in that four year period is to make you think about what you’re going to do for the rest of your life.

When I started high school, every question presented my way was to make me think about the future, and my high school career was geared towards a single goal. You see, as a young teenager, I had decided I was going to be an officer in the Navy, so my parents did everything they could to make sure I got there. By the time I was a junior, I was already applying for the Navy ROTC scholarship, and by the time spring my senior year hit, I was guaranteed admittance to the University of Oklahoma as an International and Area Studies student. The plan was to become a liaison officer after I graduated, a plan born out of the events of 9/11 and my understanding of how they could have been prevented with the right foreign relations, but that plan quickly fell apart.

After I learned that I wouldn’t be able to go into the career field I wanted as a Naval officer, I opted instead to enlist, still moving forward on the path to the career I picked. I spent the next six years working as a linguist. I figured I could establish myself in the enlisted ranks and work my way back up to my original goal, having gain experience relevant to the foreign relations world.

Instead, I ended up leaving the Navy, moved back to Kansas, and started going to school for a completely unrelated career field. Still, those six years taught me that I was not suited for the military life. For one, my personality was simply ill-matched, but there was also the fact that the military I had grown up with as a dependent was vastly different from the military I was working in. Attitudes had changed and bureaucracy was more rampant than I could have possibly expected, and I found myself being asked more and more to take actions I couldn’t morally agree with.

Now, I don’t regret the six years I spent in the military. Honestly, I almost stayed in for another six years, despite having learned that I didn’t really enjoy what I had picked for myself at 18 years old. I had a lot of push back from my family and a lot of doubt about where I was going to go once I got out of the military. It was nerve-wracking to leave something so stable for something so unsure.

I left the military anyway, because there was one thing I learned: whatever you do in life, you have to love doing it. Otherwise, you’re just going to go through life earning a living, to go back doing that thing you don’t like, to keep living, to keep going back to that thing.

So I’m about to say something that might make your parents cringe:

It’s ok to change your mind about where you’re going, and it’s ok to be indecisive. Stop focusing so much on your future and focus on your now. Now, not later, is the time to take the risks associated with spreading your wings and exploring the world.

Don’t worry if you get through your first semester and decide you want nothing to do with zoo science, psychology, marketing or whatever major it is you picked. Take those electives and expand beyond what you thought you’d like. You won’t know what you’ll become passionate about until you try learning new things. If you find something that you like more than what you originally picked, take the leap and go after that thing. Take the opportunity you’re being given now to learn what you love, to figure out what it is you want to do.

That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t be thinking about where you’re going to go. Whatever leaps of faith you take today, do so responsibly, but you won’t know what you will find until you try it out. At 18 years old, you’ve still got many years ahead of you, and there will be a day when it’s time to settle down. Today is not that day.


Photo made available by Evelyn Mostrom via Unsplash

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