What if?

Updated: Jun 15, 2019

With exam season already underway, students across the globe are memorizing information and hoping that they have retained enough knowledge to achieve their predicted grades or beyond. The average 17-18 year old want to go to university because they believe that the degree is the obvious next step. In fact, most parents expect that their children should go to university because that IS what every teenager is doing to get a better job. The pressure to get the grades are higher than ever seen before. Competition is fierce and the amount of knowledge to retain is excessive. Mental health issues are on the rise with young people across the globe and testing is at the forefront of it all.

However, this article was not created to debate the realities of testing, it was written as 'food for thought' for supporting and encouraging young people sitting their tests who are also worrying about the grades that they will receive once their exam results are announced in August. Will they get the grade and carry on to the university programme that they aspired to attend or will they flounder and have to re-evaluate their next academic steps?

Thinking of the 'What if'' scenario is so important for parents, guardians and teenagers to recognize. In my work with teens, we always identify the 'What if' thoughts. Most often, young people are thinking about their next academic step in isolation to the much bigger picture.....employability. Unless your son/daughter is applying to a very specific degree that leads them directly to a career, the likelihood of their feelings of employment uncertainty after they receive their degree of choice is very high.

Does this mean that teens applying to career specific degrees have less pressure at the exam stage? Definitely not, in fact, I have seen evidence to contradict this completely. In my experience, parent expectations and teenage self-judgment rank the highest as de-motivators and creators of academic anxiety with teenagers feeling the most pressure to achieve success at their final exam stage. 'What if' I fail? 'What if' I don't get the grade? 'What if' I cannot get into the degree/course that I applied for at university? 'What if' my grade is not high enough to get accepted to my dream university? Although many of you may believe that life is not fair and young people should work harder now to begin to learn the realities of life at an early stage; I have seen how the fears of 'What if' are not motivators for success, in fact they do the opposite. Fear takes up unnecessary space in a young person's mind that could be used to focus on the 'When I' thoughts. School-life is supposed to help prepare young people for the skills and strategies that they will need to contribute to the world that they live in. We may not be able to change the system of education and the process of university selection, but we certainly can help guide young people to understand how to turn their 'What if' thoughts into 'When I' thoughts. 'When I' get the grade, I will look into my academic options based on my career choices. 'When I' get into the university of my dreams, I will use my study habits to continue getting the best education experience that I can gain. 'When I' am faced with the possibility of not getting into the university degree/course that I aspired to, I will remember that every house has numerous entry ways and this metaphor will help me to find a new entry-way to my aspired career.

In my work as a Careers Coach, I am able to meet and interview professionals from all work arenas. I've interviewed Oxford A* graduates and non-degree holding millionaires. My experience has shown me that a 'When I' mindset far outweighs the potential for success than the 'What if' fear-driven mindset ever has. The next time you talk to a young person starting or ending their Sixth Form/High School journey, ask them some 'When I' questions and listen carefully to how they will automatically lead you to the 'What if' thoughts that are swimming in their minds.

'The path ahead is not guaranteed, but the journey is always an adventure'

Maria Vitoratos

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