How the educative system failed you when you chose your higher education and how to fix it

In high school, you don’t know what any job entails, and you have generally little experience about professional life.

When you are 16 years old in high school, people around talk about what “orientation” to take; it can be business/economy, scientific, or literature education. And for you, it does not mean anything. And that is very normal!

It is very hard to know what job we want to do in the future when 16 years old. Since we haven’t done much in life, and we have not much been exposed to a professional environment, companies, jobs or careers.

Some peoples are specialists about orientation at school, they are supposed to advise you about what kinds of jobs you’ll be able to get with a certain college or university degree. But as a matter of fact, these specialists do not know much about the professional environment. They do not know doctors, social workers, marketers, or engineers do: they have never been in their shoes.

Unless you know exactly what you want to do (please forgive the oversimplification), this is how high school choices usually happen :

  • If you don’t like too much maths, you’ll opt for economic studies,
  • If you like literature and don’t like maths, you’ll take literature,
  • If you have mostly good grades in all disciplines, you have no clue about what to do next, you’ll opt for scientific.

You end up having no clue about what job you want to do, and you are making a decision based on short-term facts (what you will do in the next 2 years). This just postpones the decision to 2 years later when you need to decide about what to do in college or university. The cycles then repeat, except that you now have many more options of higher education to choose from, it does not get easier.

In order to find out which job you want to do, you first have to explore many fields and things in life.

Now forget a second about choosing a career path. You need to look at your current life. What kind of sports do you like to practice? What kind of games do you like to play? Have you tried playing a musical instrument? Do you like the arts? What kinds of books make you happy? Do you like to organize events with your friends, or you’re more a follower type of person?

By looking at your passions (or activities you like doing), and by exploring many different fields, you will get to know yourself better, and understand what you like to spend your time doing.

These activities are the easiest clues to orient yourself professionally.

As a teenager, I liked to play strategy games like Age of Empire II (you manage a civilization economic, military, religious sides), or develop a city with Sim City. I liked to make music and played the drums. In high school, I started to learn how to code websites and develop my own games. I always liked to create and to manage things.

Did it help me make a decision about my education? In fact, I followed an engineering path and put coding aside for a while. Looking backward, I realized that it gave me joy and following that passion would have been very fruitful.

I started coding again after a few years in order to get closer to that original passion. And I realized that I still had a strong interest in IT in general, but I would probably not start coding full time anymore. And it would have definitely made the choice of career easier. Now I enjoy developing websites, apps or improving organizations.

Pursuing your passions and developing your skills related to them gives much more pleasure, and is much easier than following a random education that you started by default.

When you will start your career, and with the potential life expectancy you’ll get, you will work most of your life. You’d better choose something as close to your passions as possible.

It is therefore very important to explore many things in life, sports, drawing, building something, cooking, travel and read.

Let’s put it in practice and find out today what your passions are

So, in practice, if you want to figure out what makes you happy and what could become your career, let’s do a small exercise. Take a paper and a pen, and make the two following lists :

  1. What are the activities you like doing and that give you the most joy?
  2. What are the sports, arts, games* or activities that you would like to try?

Once completed, and for each list, sort the items by how much you like doing these activities (highest on the list will be the activity that you like most doing, lowest on the list the activity that you least like doing).

On the list (1.), keep on doing permanently the 3 first items. These are the activities that make you really happy. Do more of it, and become excellent at it.

Regarding the other items, ask yourself, why aren’t they on the top 3? Is that because you have been doing these activities too much and you don’t like them anymore, or because you haven’t tried them for long enough.

If the latter one is correct, for 3 months, try doing more of the 3 activities that you haven’t tried enough.

Once you have these 6 activities, forget about the rest of the activities on that list and never do it again.

On the list (2.), detail for each line what you require to do in order to get started. It may be reading a book, enrolling to a programme or become part of a sport’s team. Take the first 3 ones and try them as soon as possible.

You end up with a 9 point list :

  • The 3 activities that you like most doing: do more of it
  • The 3 activities that you like but haven’t tried enough: do more of it
  • The 3 activities that you’d like to try: get started today and try it within the next 3 months.

Print out this 9-bullet-point list on paper and pin it on the wall close to your bed. Look at it every day and do all of these activities as much as possible after school.

Do this exercise every 3 months, delete the things you tried and don’t like, highlight the things you like the most (and do more of it), and add new things to try.

By trying new things, you will know yourself better. So next time you have a decision to make about education, look at your lists and don’t forget them when making your education decision.

*  Even though video games are not excluded, they can be encouraged under the following conditions :
  • You will learn something from it
  • You should do your best endeavor to become excellent at it
  • You should limit the time doing it every day
  • Limit the time spent every week on video games since it will prevent you from doing other important activities

Credit: Photo by Mark Jefferson Paraan on Unsplash

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2 Responses

  1. Great article Mr. Fox!
    I personally would advice teens to start working part-time as soon as they legally can, say 15 or 16.
    When they graduate from high-school and if they don’t know what to pursue as a study, they should just start working full-time. Only then, they will realize what they want to do of their life. At that moment it makes sense to start higher education.

    1. That is a very good point Max! Working whenever possibles gives a good understanding of the structure of a company/ organisation. It also gives a chance to see the different positions, and can give confidence to the young students.
      The difficulty in France regarding this point is that after high school, when aiming for business or engineering schools, the high workload leaves very little time to work on the side. I think it should be more encouraged.

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