"So what are you gonna do after you graduate?"

I always envied the kids that had an incredible answer for that question. They knew they were going to ____ College, then getting a post-graduate degree at _____, and diving into a career in ____ and living happily ever after. They had connections and family foundations in the medical field, or construction, or the arts. They took classes throughout high school to excel in that area and seemed ready to hit the ground running as soon as they turned their tassels to the other side of their grad cap.

That was not me.

I have always had an inexplicable desire to live many lives, somehow. In my four years of high school, I wanted to be a marine biologist, a musical theatre actress, a vet, an administrative assistant, a film actress, a waitress, a travel planner, a forensic psychologist, and a therapist. Probably more, but that's all I can remember off the top of my head.

Things haven't changed. According to TikTok, I now have a label: I am a "multi-passionate person". And while it's something that still presents a struggle in my adult life as I feel a need to balance everything perfectly yet find that impossible to achieve, it was particularly difficult in high school as I approached graduation, because I felt as though I would be a failure if I didn't have a coherent plan upon graduation.

So I told everyone I was going to Columbia Community College to work, save money, and get my transfer agreement to UC Davis because of their amazing Psychology program (sorry Mom and Dad, it was actually because my boyfriend was going there...). But in my heart, I didn't know. I did major in Psychology but took a wide variety of classes leading up to that, and it wasn't until my final year of college that I met my now-husband and felt led to pursue a teaching credential.

You don't need my whole story (though I love to share it!) -- the point here is that I think we do seniors a disservice when we place so much pressure on them to have an entire career path determined at the age of 17 or 18. I mean, our prefrontal cortex isn't even fully developed til we're 25, so that's just unfair! ;) But I think it also tends to make students feel a need to have it all figured out at a stage in life when they are about to jump out into the world and see, through experiential living, who they really are on their own.

I propose a shift.

What kind of person do you want to be?

Not only does this place an emphasis on character development and intrinsic motivation, things that are even more important than career in my humble opinion, but it actually helps people to find their path as they develop a more confident sense of self.

Between high school and my current age (a ripe old 33), I have been a barista, an administrative assistant, a waitress, a camp counselor, a college admissions advisor, a high school teacher, a whitewater raft guide, and a photographer. And that's only paid jobs. I've volunteered in elderly homes, animal shelters, Bible studies, motherhood programs, and church ministry leadership roles. Perhaps it's easier to see now, looking back and having the benefit of 16 years between me and my high school graduation, but there are clear common threads in all of these.

I love working with people. I love food. I love the opportunity to be creative. I'm gifted in areas of leadership, administration, teaching, and interpersonal connection. I'm not so strong in areas of spatial reasoning, complex emotional intelligence, structural engineering, and a million others. Some of these strengths and weaknesses I have known all along, some I have discovered as I've applied my efforts and seen the results. Trial and error, baby.

Students, we obviously want you to be thinking about your futures, to have goals and know how to work toward them. I think we also want you to be thinking about the type of person you want to be, both in the areas of skills as well as character traits. What do you want to be known for? What do you enjoy? Where does your heart come alive? Nurturing our sense of self -- our self-worth, integrity, diligence, introspection, and moral compass -- will reap a harvest of benefits that can not only help to guide us in career pursuits but will give us a stronger understanding of our unique offering to the world.

That's one huge element of my passion for senior photography. It's not just checking a box of photos for the yearbook or announcement cards. It's an opportunity to work together in creative collaboration to really think about all that makes you YOU. Some of us may feel like we're pretty plain, that there isn't much to highlight. I have yet to meet anyone like that. Throughout my teaching career, I've been fascinated and delighted by the incredible diversity of students. The most quiet or unassuming ones often had some incredible talent for art or a wildly underrated witty sense of humor. The process of getting to know each other and creating a photo shoot that is authentic to your unique vibe, the singularly spectacular spark that you alone bring to this world, makes me beyond excited. Because not only is it something I get to discover along with you, but my heart is that it's a gift to you and your family to see yourself and your life with new eyes.

So no, you don't have to have it all figured out right now. If you do have a career you're eager to pursue, fantastic!! Go for it! What a gift! If you have no idea what you want to do even in the next year, start with what kind of person you want to be. Steps will follow from there. :)