Several weeks ago I was a guest speaker at the Southern Minnesota Career Expo in Renville. This career expo was attended by 11th grade students from Renville County West (RCW), Wabasso Public and Cedar Mountain schools.

I always joke to students that you know you’re an adult once you find yourself speaking in front of students.

Prior to the expo, students completed a survey, and then they were matched with a panel of speakers in order to answer their questions and help them better understand a career path.

The forum was entirely questions and answers, and one of the first few questions asked by a student was, “What advice do you have for me to help me discover my interests in leading me down a career path?”

This was an amazing question to ask.

It made me realize as I was looking out at all the fresh faces of these 11th graders that many had no idea what skills, talents and desires that they may possess, let alone a career path to choose and follow.

I remember being in 11th grade. I didn’t put much thought into my future or career aspirations, but then again were any of us really thinking about it at that age?

I and the other speakers were perplexed with answering this student’s question. We all were utterly dumbfounded. How does one suggest finding the answers to discovering one’s interests that ultimately lead to a career path?

One panel speaker suggested that the answer lies within oneself by simply discovering their own interests and letting that interest take off into exploration of pursuits.

As the forum continued and I heard more and more from students I realized that expectations are higher on today’s high school students than when I was in high school. I realized from listening to these students as well as observing from other youth in my personal life that our society has higher expectations for graduates than previously before.

These expectations all stem from parents, teachers and society wanting nothing but the best for graduates, but these expectations can carry a heavy burden to those struggling to find a career path.

I would love to be able to tell my younger self what I know now. I would have made so many different choices and better decisions. I understand the struggle to find one’s path. Shoot, even in my 40s I’m still trying to figure out my path.

As the questions and answers continued during the expo I often went on my usual rant about how important it is for one to simply listen to their inner voice. 

Growing up I often faced the pressures of what “I should do,” only to realize more and more that I didn’t fall into the mold of following a traditional path. Today’s graduates face more tolerance and encouragement today than those before them.

Yet, all this doesn’t make it any easier for one to understand what next step they should take following high-school graduation. For those completely unsure of what to do maybe an answer is simply taking a gap year involving taking a year-long break between high school and college to discover more about what their next steps should be. During this time a person can work, save money and gather thoughts and ideas about what to do next.

After all, who says you have to know or pursue that immediately after graduating high school?

Another piece of strong advice for a high-school graduate is to strongly consider attending a community college. Community colleges are an amazing experience as well as being very affordable.

Of course a four-year college or university is also a great avenue, but for those entirely unsure of the career path that they wish to pursue a four-year college can prove to be a very costly choice.

Regardless of what path one takes following graduation know that life is full of hills, valleys, twists and turns. One road may not directly lead to your goal, but it can often lead to a fascinating experience.

I understand that it can be annoying having others tell you what you should or shouldn’t do, but know that typically one is just trying to pass along their wisdom to you so you don’t make the same errors or mistakes as they did.

Life is an amazing thing and often we can easily lose our way, but just like that we can all of a sudden find ourselves on the next fascinating journey that is around every corner.

Embrace life, and embrace your individuality. It’s the most precious gift of all.