What to do when you don’t know what to do

[Post adapted from Medium]

I wish someone had told me that “adulting” is a cross between being confused all the time and faking it, hoping you’ll make it.

I felt supremely unprepared for adult life. Heck! I still do. Some days I rationalize that “adulting” is being allowed to eat candy whenever you want (and then dealing with the consequences later…and then realizing your parents were right – candy can probably ruin your dinner).

As I sit to type this, after having chicken nuggets for dinner, I’m thinking about why I ever thought being an adult would be fun. It seemed, at the time, that it would be cool to make up your own rules. Except now my job, social media and still – my parents (and the lessons they etched into my being) – pretty much dictate the rules.

My uncle recently told me that nobody told him that he’d have to be an adult forever LOL. That’s the biggest scam isn’t it? Approximately 18 years (generally 18 is seen as the age of “adulthood” – it might differ in your neck of the woods) with every grownup telling you want to do….and than after your 18th birthday you’re the grownup. No manual, no initiation ceremony, just vibes 🤷🏾‍♀️

In Jamaica, we’re streamed into courses that will chart a path to the rest of our lives in tenth grade – this is after doing about 14 subjects in ninth grade. From 14 courses to 8, 9 or 10 (depending on how “bright” you are) in less than a semester. You go on summer break and all of a sudden you’re preparing for the rest of your life. I was 13 years old when I chose my courses and started tenth grade.

Needless to say I didn’t know what I was doing. I took mostly humanities courses, included a second language for some razzle dazzle, Information Technology was mandatory and then I added Physics (because I didn’t really like the Chemistry lab room and Biology seemed to include too much drawing and I failed Art class 🙈, so you know I don’t have those skills).

Then, we prepared to sit the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) series of exams in 11th grade. These CSEC results are the ticket to the rest of your life. Will you need to retake courses and sit the exams again? Will you be moving on to a college or university that will accept you based on these results or will you need to do two more years (grades 12 and 13) of high school?

I opted to do two more years. I went to “sixth form” (grades 12 and 13) because the University I wanted to apply to would not accept me on CSEC results; they wanted to see CAPE results – Caribbean Advanced Profiency Examination. Another series of exams (one you’d take in grade 12 or lower six and the other set to be taken in grade 13 or upper six). This time the eighr subjects I had taken needed to be cut down to four – but the offerings this time included new subjects like Sociology and new mandatory courses like Communication Studies.

At this point, I still don’t think I had any clue what I was doing. But I was very excited about Sociology. I fell in love with it – we had a great teacher and I loved the idea that we could talk about social theories for a whole hour. In grade 13 (upper 6), we had an interesting teacher for history. She refused to teach unless we had all read the chapter/s and sufficiently prepared for the day’s lesson. We thought this was harsh, but she insisted she would no longer “spoon feed” us and we’d have to do this in order to prepare for university.

Other than going to university fairs, we had no idea what being in an actual university classroom would be like; so we mumbled at our poor essay marks and deduced she’d be our “horrible teacher” that term. But after a while, we get to enjoy preparing for the class. We had never been taught history in this way before. Usually we would go to class and learn about the thing and then were encouraged to read up more on it later. Now we were reading about it beforehand, coming to class to discuss it, and then our teacher would bring in the colourful linkages and any critical information we had missed.

When we got to university, we silently thanked her. Without those unorthodox teaching methods we would’ve been lost in the sauce for those first year classes.

I share this very long story to say that it’s crazy for us to think that all of a sudden – because we’re grownups – were supposed to be sure about everything. The entire premise of your adult life is to make decisions “with your whole chest” (are people still saying that? If not, translation: make bold decisions) without knowing what the end result might look like. But doing it anyway and preparing yourself for the consequences (whether it be a lesson or a reward).

The entire process to my current career I’ve been unsure about, just like the process I’ve outlined here about “planning” for my academic journey. But, on this path of uncertainty (which leads to our future), we will find our passions along the way and we will find people who will make the journey easier.

What do we do when we don’t know what to do? We keep going. We follow our gut and hope for the best, while being open to the lessons you may learn on the way. Regardless of how rocky the journey is…remember to be compassionate with yourself.

Remember to love yourself through it all.

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