Seventeen. Senior in high school. College is coming.
I am a small fish just learning how to fend for myself. I have lived as a child for 17 years, but that is all going to change in a matter of months. I have to write admission essays, apply to colleges, endure another four years of education, get a job and subsequently become even more independent without very much “real world” experience.
Since the birth of my generation, massive companies and entire industries have been developed and perfected. Generation Z is growing and gaining independence, but we are facing an enormous pond. And that pond is full, and constantly expanding out of reach of our inexperienced hands.
As elusive and unpredictable as we Gen Z-ers may appear, all of us are still uncertain about one thing: our future.
I am on track to graduate high school in June of 2019. I have good grades, a great resume of extracurricular activities and even some workplace experience – a rarity for people my age. I am planning on attending a university to complete a bachelor’s degree or possibly a combined bachelor/master’s program in five years. After that, I have loose plans to get a job, pay off debt, travel a bit and enjoy life away from education for a while.
Though my plans may sound hopeful, I still have one fear. There are millions of students out there just like me. They have the same goals, dreams and the means to reach those aspirations.
How am I supposed to swim to the top of an ever-expanding pool of candidates? It will take years for me to qualify for most of the jobs I am interested in. And some experts are saying that a bachelor’s degree is the new high school diploma: everyone has one.
So, in review:
I have to get more education, at a higher-than-ever price, in a competitive job market, with less certainty than ever before.
Wow. Sign me up!
It’s scary being someone my age. My generation has grown up in the uncertainty of 9/11, the Great Recession and a plethora of other unprecedented issues. The better-known “problem child,” the Millennial generation, has faced similar issues. They are the largest and most educated generation ever, but 40% of them are unemployed. They also have tremendously high rates of clinical anxiety, stress, depression and endless college debt.
Gen Z kids are facing those same problems, further multiplied by the addition of social media and digital technology. Sedentary living as a result of our technology addictions has us on track toward high rates of obesity, and even in our connected lifestyle, we are becoming less involved members of society. We are cultivated and filtered in school based on our success and numbers, utterly bogged down by the weight of standardized tests and GPA. Failure is not even considered an option for many of us, and we are left in our fallen ideas of perfectionism, filled with unreachable expectations and heavy doubts.
As a high school student, I have very little experience working or even knowing what I want to do. I am pulled in many directions. I’m involved in sports, drama, music, Advanced Placement classes and more. Adults always ask me, “What do you want to do after high school?” To be honest, that question drives me crazy. The world needs to acknowledge that we can’t do it all and that sometimes, people my age need more time than normal to make decisions that will alter the course of our lives forever.
I’m working full time as an intern this summer at Weber Marketing Group, and surprisingly, I’ve come to realize that “full time job” is not as scary as it sounds. But I’m lucky to have had experiences that prepared me for this internship. For the past three years I’ve been involved with DECA, a high school and collegiate organization that prepares the next generation of leaders in the areas of marketing, finance, hospitality, management and entrepreneurship. DECA has given me the opportunity to interact with adult professionals, create community service projects and develop marketing campaigns. Now at Weber Marketing Group, I am confident in my abilities as a person, and I am gaining experience that only reaffirms what school has already taught me.
Work should always be an educational experience. Every time I review a spreadsheet, or reorganize that box of client personas and segmentation maps, I learn. I feel confident working full time, even just as an intern, because my workplace community is more positive than most of the other places where I “work.” School can be negative, filled with stress. Work is different. At my desk, I am able to get my tasks done without too much supervision or interruption, and it’s crazy how productive I have been. I’m sure if there were opportunities like this for everyone in my generation, we would be more confident and successful.
We are not lazy or pampered, like the world might assume. We are not just a problem to be solved, and we are not a generation to be scared of or overly concerned about. But the business world must remember that we are still young little fish scared to swim. Give us a chance.
We might surprise you.