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The thickets start when the years of education end

Upon reflection, it is a comforting fact of childhood that during most of our upbringing our direction is a result of guidance from our parents or parental figures. In other words, much of where we go and what we do is the direct result of where our parents guide us and what they tell us to do. As children grow older and gain increasing autonomy, they start making their own decisions and play a larger role in the direction their lives take.

There comes a point in this transition into adulthood where this guided path – which has helped us flow through time – paved our way each day, runs into a thicket, and the path is there no longer. One can find out quite abruptly that the guidance you received for all these years was temporary, and it is time to clear a path of your own and continue forward.

This is where I stand; somewhere between the path my parents paved and the one I must start creating on my own. The once standard measure of success of being a good student in school only goes so far, and there comes a point when that standard can be tossed out the window.

In the world of post-graduation, or what is also called the real word, it doesn’t matter how good a student you were. You could have been an A student and captain of the football team, or a C student; either way, most people don’t know nor care. Employers do not ask for your high school transcript, and your history of “success” is merely history. It is time to start from scratch.

“What do you want to be?” is a question I get asked frequently, both from others and myself. I suppose if I knew the answer, I would stop being asked. Easier said than done.

I am not alone. We have an education system that stresses education but not application. We stress college but don’t stress the utilization of college for its real purpose: Life after college.

I know I am not alone because, based on what I have heard, I am very typical of a person my age. Someone who is trying to figure it all out; trying to make something of 17 years of education but hardly any education on what to do with it.

I may sound like a “Glass Half-Empty” kind of guy. That is not necessarily the case. It’s just that I have spent my whole life going to school learning how to be a good student while thinking about what I want to be when I grow up. Fast forward to today and I am still that same good student thinking about what I want to be. The difference is, I am no longer a student and I “am” grown up. I have made progress in my age but not on answering this important question.

There is a joke that adults will ask children what they want to be when they are older so they can get ideas for themselves. I’ve always thought this was funny, but now it hits so close to home the laughter is followed by a few tears.

Even though I am making quite a mess of clearing this thicket which blocks me, I still hold onto hope. Hope that all those years of being a bright successful student will result in some form of sunshine in adulthood as well. My parents are no longer here to hold my hand, so I suppose when I do clear that path, knowing that I did it all on my own will make it that much more satisfying.

Ben Kastenbaum of Tacoma, a graduate of Stadium High School and the University of Puget Sound, is one of five reader columnists whose work appears on this page. Email him at benkastenbaum@gmail.com.

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