Whose Life Is It Anyway?
“I'm currently taking a few classes at community college, but have absolutely no desire to continue or even go to college. I'm not sure what I want to do for a career but I love writing, telling stories, going on adventures, and taking pictures. My father is pressuring me to go to a 4-year college, but I am perfectly happy where I'm at in my life right now, for the most part. What should I do? Would you recommend photojournalism?”
There is a fine line between doing what we want, and doing something without a real purpose. By that, I mean something that will not benefit or help us learn/grow in any way, that does not benefit others in any way. My mum often talks about “self-development” when the subject of education and future goals comes up. By looking at it that way, we can see that we don’t just suddenly grow up, achieve and reach the pinnacle of our lives. We actually don’t ever get to that point. We get our whole life to become the best we can be, which means an entire lifetime of learning, growing, moving forward, developing and becoming. Sorry to sound so cliché, but it is about the journey and direction, NOT the destination. And it means we have to make and take opportunities – NOT just wait till everything falls together for us the way we “want” it to.
There are a few points I feel the need to explore arising from this question, as well as other questions I get sent.
Firstly, your dad (I'm sure!) loves you unconditionally and ONLY WANTS WHAT IS BEST FOR YOU. Yes, I know we hear that often, and commonly overlook it or pass it off as a stereotypical phrase tossed around to give otherwise insignificant vocalisations of parents some sense of meaning and depth.
While the stubborn, defiant, independent streak or ego within each of us likes to think that parents want to control us and/or live through us, we all know deep down, when our parents or guardians tell us to do something, surprisingly, there actually is a reason. They are not deliberately or intentionally trying to make us do unnecessary work or fill our lives with stupid, time-wasting things. Our parents do not want to ruin our lives (shocking I know!). They actually want to give us the best life possible. While we might not see it at the time, our vision of our future can often be clouded by selective focus, our peers, our dreams/desires, our laziness, boys, money or even the idea in our heads of how we WANT our lives to be, which more often than not is entirely oppositional to the current state of reality. This is not to say that life can not or will not be how we desire it to be one day, nor does it mean we should not dream. Rather it just means that for now it is different. We are probably at the furthest point from our goal and lying between us and our heart’s desires are multiple obstacles, detours, and a lot more hard work and effort than we may ever have experienced. So if we want to achieve our goals, then we have to start our journey with what is currently at our disposal, then confidently and stoically make certain sacrifices, as well as be dedicated, patient and determined.
Your dad, having personal experience, would know this and he is only wanting to help you get to where you want to be in the long run. He is not trying to make your current reality more complicated or dreadful, he just wants you to keep moving forward, making and taking opportunities, learning and growing.
He may seem like he is "pressuring" you, but I bet from an alternate perspective he is simply trying to convey his love, care and passion for you in a way HE thinks will help you to see that also. He isn't trying to make you do something you don't want to do, simply for the sake of it.
Note: thank him for this. Thank him for being concerned and for caring. Tell him you know he loves you, and then repeat to him how much you love HIM. Being a dad (or parent) must be so so hard, because you want your kids to love you, you want them to be your friend, you want them to thrive, learn and live a happy, fulfilled and extraordinary life. Typically our youthful stubborn nature and independent streak gets in the way of us recognising our parents’ pure intentions. Maybe time/maturity/experience is the only thing that will help us to understand this properly.
Secondly, you say you "have absolutely no desire to continue or even go to college" and you're "not sure what I want to do for a career but I love writing, telling stories, going on adventures, and taking pictures."
Judging by this sentence, I'd say that like most teenagers and young people in general, you have possibly envisioned finishing school, then finally having the freedom and time to do just what you want. I know I did.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news (nor do I ever want to be guilty of sounding like my mother), but this simply isn't the case. Life doesn't suddenly "start" after you graduate high school. Your life began a long, long time ago. Everyone’s did. Remaining oblivious to this fact doesn't stop your life from continuing. Nor does ignoring reality. You can't just finish school and do absolutely nothing with your time. It doesn't become a life-long holiday. Time still ticks, and now you will still need to do things before certain dates, get up in the morning, get yourself dressed, go do something, learn, teach, experiment, explore. You can choose to see this as a bad thing, sure. Or you can see that without growth, learning and education, life would be pretty boring.
My mum is a very incredible and inspirational woman, and you may have noticed that I reference her a lot. That's mostly because as I've grown up, I've realised she has been right all along (as much as my stubborn self hates to admit that!). And this time is no different. My mum always told me that it didn't matter what I was doing, as long as I was constantly self-developing or learning or growing in some way. And she made sure that throughout our childhoods, that me and my brothers were always doing just that — involving ourselves in a number of different educations, sports or events that were challenging and developmental (and fun, enjoyable and interesting). I make her sound so strict and conservative, but really she just guided us to value this concept of “self-development” and to pursue journeys and directions which kept us moving forward in some way and “becoming” the adults we would eventually be. This is most apparent by the fact that not one of us three children finished high school (ie. none of us completed the HSC – the NSW leaving certificate) yet we all have gained entry to university studies and are all studying and/or working in areas we enjoy (most of the time) and in which we use our unique talents and skills.
Being a creative mind like many of you out there, I found a sense of detachment from institutional educations, school, university, tech college etc. I didn't find any of them spoke to me, and I found it ridiculously hard to concentrate and learn because I was never being educated in a hands-on experimental, learn from experience, stretch your mind, do something new kind of way. I wasn't at all interested in receiving a right or wrong answer, as I had a energetic soul that wanted to learn about 'worldly" things and to create things.
I can definitely empathise with the thoughts/situation brought up in the question quoted at the start of this blog. So hopefully this blog (founded only in my own personal experience) will be somewhat helpful, particularly for those creative souls out there, but also for all those struggling with “knowing” what they want to do, or feeling they are fighting to stop their future being mapped out by others.
I originally saw an institutional education (college, university, school) as a waste of time. I could not see that any could teach me the things (and only those things) for the kind of field I would end up being involved in. I found it endlessly boring and disinteresting because of that. I felt like I was wasting my time, but it wasn’t a waste of time. Although I was participating in classes and tutorials that I felt were entirely irrelevant to the future I was dreaming of, I was constantly learning and acquiring important pieces of information, skills and coping abilities or strategies that I would not have otherwise been exposed to.
When I started university I saw my future as very black and white — all or nothing. Reluctantly I enrolled in subjects, some because they slightly interested me, others simply because they fit into my timetable. All the time stubbornly complaining that none of these subjects were exactly what I wanted to do with my life. To be honest, I think I was more fixated on what I didn’t want to do that I had no specific idea of exactly what I was wanting to do.
And I can now see that this was such a stubborn and even self-sabotaging mentality to some degree. I loved creativity, writing, drawing, photography. I believed that I had to do these things, and ONLY these things to make any sort of happy future for myself. It didn't occur to me that there could potentially be another path. An unexpected destiny that the world had in store for me! I am so glad my parents encouraged me to stick it out. I am so glad for what I did learn in those first couple of years, as it prepared me academically, socially, emotionally and occupationally to then pursue with confidence a change of university and degree, a move interstate and a sudden need to behave independently.
Thirdly, in regards to the specific question about pursuing photojournalism, the point is, that you can still maintain your creativity, and practice daily, nurturing your creative instincts and abilities while you are engaging in any other activities/subjects/education. I was doing subjects only loosely related to my hobbies, and although they were interesting and/or challenging, when the opportunity to go and further explore photography and photojournalism came about, I was able to apply and pursue that change in academic direction based solely on my performance in those studies I hadn’t thought were relevant to my dreams. I eventually found a way to incorporate my creativity and my love of learning into one degree!
Side note: I firmly believe that EVERYTHING happens for a reason, and if something is meant to be, then eventually it will be! It is for this exact reason that I have found the notion and practice of ongoing self-development to be of extreme importance. Had I been “waiting” for the rest of my life to start on its own, I would not have been in a position to move so quickly and easily when the opportunity for photojournalism came up. The more buckets you push your hands into (the more channels you explore) the more possibility for opportunity occurs.
I guess this is a very long, confusing and twisted way of saying that your dad is potentially right and may be putting forward the best option for you. Maybe you should go to college/uni/community college as it doesn't limit your creativity (you can maintain this on the side, and whatever is meant to come from that, will eventually come) and you may even find an unexpected path along the way; that is the best thing about university/college! The potential is limitless!
You could be using it to experiment among subjects and topics because you may surprise yourself and find something you love or are incredibly and wonderfully designed for. Maybe your path doesn't include college. I really can’t tell you what to do, other than to suggest that seeing anything you do as a way of developing yourself is a really good option. It will always be more helpful to get on with your journey in life, rather than just sit and wait for it to happen. For some people finding a job, contract work or traineeship may be the best option for them to keep moving forward. You can always go to college and give it a try, and if after some time you still feel it is definitely not the place for you, THEN readjust your life and goals according to what you have learned about yourself in the meantime. Sometimes we need to learn what we aren’t suited to and don’t enjoy, before we stumble across the thing that suits us and we end up pursuing forever.
So NOW, logically, let's brainstorm some different hypothetical options for the situation outlined in the question at the beginning of this blog.
1. Listen to your father, and go to college. What's the worst that can happen? You spend four more years acquiring knowledge and growing, strengthening into a reliable, intelligent woman? You may get a good job out of it! Just because it isn't the picture-perfect life you imagine now, doesn't mean it won't lead you to an even better or equally as incredible life!
2. You have a gap year and travel/attain a different kind of knowledge (worldly education) or a full time job and save until you do know what you want to do. Things frequently change and perhaps something big will happen in the year that gives you a clear and concise direction to head. If you do this you need to keep in mind that it isn't real life still. You will need to reassess your year afterwards and contemplate what other possibilities you have for the future. If you do this it is of extreme importance you do not 'bludge' through it. You need to keep your head level and understand that this is a time you are using to maintain your position, while building your power/knowledge/profit. And if you choose this, I would definitely recommend having a hobby of sorts to keep you balanced, passionate and dedicated to something. Note: a boyfriend is not a hobby. All the while keep your mind open to unexpected opportunities and ideas.
3. Is doing photojournalism at college an option? Can you compromise with your dad, and go to college while doing a subject you find interesting and would actually love to explore further?
I am sure there are other options as well. Think about what they might be for you?
And for all those that are struggling with indecision about their future, financial obstacles, challenges arising from life circumstances, disagreement with parents about future goals etc, try to generate different options for yourself and evaluate each one. Remember to keep the notions of both self-development and “moving forward” as a priority and see if you can at least get to know yourself a little better and see how you as an individual can get started on your journey. Remember too that no one’s journey will be exactly the same as anyone else’s, nor will it be EXACTLY as you envisaged it.
It is your life, make it meaningful and start living and creating it, with determination, confidence and a bucketload of patience.
P.S. I'm very, VERY lucky and blessed to be able to do what I do currently for a living. It has been a mix of circumstance, situation, timing, hard work, obstacles, patience and luck that has inevitably lead me to where I am today. And although I love it, I know it is only temporary and I will need to be flexible and adjust my life when I need to. I don't think there is necessarily a "right" or "wrong" way to live, so I'm okay with that.
I know that what I make a living doing, is most people’s dream, and because of that it is actually rather difficult to get into (high interest, limited positions) and I wish I could tell you how to get into what I do, but I honestly don't really know how I ended up here myself. Like I said: I'm very blessed as I know it has been a mix of variables paired with a load of luck!
And for the writer of the question as well as anyone else interested in photojournalism, although you enjoy photography, writing, and travel, that doesn't mean it needs to be your job. In fact, if it was your job you may even find you become less passionate about it and find it a tiny bit less enjoyable anyway! So DO those things you love. But do them as well as other kinds of things!
* Results from BAM may vary. Strict adherence to the program is required for best results.