Be the Odd One Out: How to survive (and thrive) in Year 12
As Year 12 students begin the new school year, there is plenty to think about. Almost all of these young people will be thinking about finishing school. For some, they will be excited to start pursuing a trade or apprenticeship. For others, it might be further education at university. Some will be taking a gap year or entering the workforce. No matter what they choose, it is important that they feel it is actually their choice.
So many young people report significant pressure to know what they are doing post-graduation - to have it all figured out, to have The Plan. There is a sense that the decisions they make about further study or work will put them on a course that they can't change or deviate from. There is often a perceived expectation that they need to get the degree, get the job, get the money, get the house, get the partner, and on and on. And the biggest fear is that if they don't know exactly what they want to do after Year 12, the whole Plan (i.e. their future) will come crashing down. It's like there is a line of dominoes and if the first domino gets bumped and falls, the whole line of them will fall too.
This anxiety can be overwhelming and distressing. Young people can feel like everyone else has their lives sorted out except them. They can feel left behind. They can start to panic or to give up all together. They can work themselves so hard that they develop unhealthy behaviours. They can make a rash decision simply so they have an answer to the dreaded, "So what are you going to do after Year 12?" question they will be asked again and again and again.
What seems to propel this anxiety is the environment that Year 12 students find themselves in. Often they are receiving messages from their school that they need to compete against their peers, that they need to push harder, and that their OP / ATAR ranking will define who they are. Young people also report feeling judged by their peers - that there is an ever-present comparison and they are at risk of falling short. Young people report that there is a lot of pressure to achieve. So often their anxiety about failing or not performing dictates how they (do not) cope with Year 12. It is so easy to get caught up in the groupthink mentality and lose ones' sense of values - of what really matters to them.
Well-meaning advice distributed by parents and supporters can often feed the anxiety too. "You need to get a job that pays well", "That degree won't get you anywhere", "You should study what I did", etc. What most young people need to hear instead are questions about what they enjoy, what they feel their skills are, and what type of environment they would like to eventually work in. They need to see evidence that there are many paths to take and there isn't a wrong choice if it is based on one's values rather than in response to anxiety, doubt or pressure.
One way to approach Year 12 differently is to be the odd one out. This means it is okay to not have a plan. It is okay to change plans now or later, once or many times. You don't need to have all of the answers because you don't really know all of the questions yet. Those dominoes don't need to be lined up and they can change any time. In a year after graduation, no one will care about your OP / ATAR ranking. It is a temporary concept that can help you access education options. Those same options can be accessed through alternative pathways.
It is also important to remember that there is no finish line to race towards. Life isn't a competition to be won - it is something to explore in ways that are fulfilling and meaningful. That means making decisions that might not align with the expectations of others. It means taking risks and backing oneself, being brave and knowing it's okay to make a mistake (or ten). It means to not have everything planned out and to be able to accept when things don't go they way you expected if you did have a plan.
It means to accept yourself as being enough regardless of what path you choose.