Handling the pressure that comes with the question

By Pritha

If you’re nearing the end of your high school career, I can almost guarantee that you have been or will be asked the question. Your grandparents, parents, friends of parents, aunts, uncles, actual friends, siblings and teachers are all likely to have asked it. “What are you doing after school/next year?”

Depending on where you’re at, the question can evoke different reactions. It might make you pumped for the future, scared about the changes or frustrated because it seems like everyone expects you to know what you want to do for the rest of your life. They seem to forget that you’re only a teenager – how are you supposed to know these things?

“I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations and you’re not in this world to live up to mine.” 
― Bruce Lee

All of these thoughts are completely normal. If you’re lucky enough to know what your path is, then that’s great. If you don’t (which I think is more common), then yes – it is stressful and it can feel like people are pressuring you into the rest of your life. Your parents might want you to be a lawyer, your media teacher thinks you’d be a fantastic designer and your friends think you should go to university, even though you’re not sure.

It can be overwhelming having all these opinions thrown at you and may make you commit to something you feel isn’t you. That’s a dumb pathway to take. So, how do you be like Bruce and resist the pressure?

  1. Realise that it’s okay to not know. When asked ‘the question’, be honest. Tell the inquisitive asker that you’re not really sure, but you’re okay with not knowing. Confidence and honesty will be appreciated and it’s less likely you will get pressured into studying something random!
  2. Take some time out to think. When everyone is throwing ideas at you, it can be hard to separate their ideas from your ideas. Take a few hours to do some research yourself. Make a list of interests or hobbies and see if there are any job opportunities. Do some free online tests to help, speak in confidence with your careers advisors or even talk to a career professional.
    Here’s a good place to start – Career Quest on careers.govt.nz pointing you at job ideas based on your interests.
  3. Be open. Take everyone’s advice on board and think it over. It doesn’t hurt to have outside input, but you need to know when it’s crossing the line from suggestion to pressure!
  4. Stay calm. Easier said than done, but nothing good comes from too much stress. For our generation, we are likely to go through an average of at least 5 career changes over our lifetime – wow! That means that nothing is set in stone. Whatever you decide today is not necessarily for the rest of your life.
  5. If you already know what you want, go for it. Even if it’s not your parents’ favourite option or your friends think it’s dumb, do it. This is YOUR life. Make sure your voice is louder than those who pressure you, and again, be honest. Make sure they know that what you have chosen will make you happy, because really, that’s all that matters.


Pritha is a 19 year-old Bachelor of Education (Primary Teaching) student at the University of Auckland. She know's what's up with leaving school, having taken a gap year and come back to study. When she's not trying to be the change, you can find her watching Gilmore Girls, reading or taking a walk on the beach with friends.



Read More About Your Choices