For thirteen years, students look forward to one key moment: the day they finish school. They anticipate that final week of celebrations, ceremonies and selfies. They study for the exams, primp for the formals. And then, just like that, school is over.
What happens next?
It’s a question many students will ask themselves as they put their school uniform in the wash for the very last time. What’s life like after graduation? What will it be like for me?
The most important thing to realise is that from here on, no one can make you do anything. Your choices are your choices, and there are no teachers coming after you, checking up on you or insisting you do things.
That might sound like a great thing, but it can also be a little scary.
You’re the one driving your life now. You’re making the decisions, doing the work, and getting yourself to where you want to go. You’re responsible for yourself. If you don’t live your life, no one is going to do it for you. Scary? Maybe. But it can also be invigorating and empowering. You’ve got a future, so what are you going to do with it?
Create your own plan
Knowing where you want to go in life is the first step to getting there. Success and achievement rarely happen by accident. Thinking through where you hope to go and making a plan to get there is really important.
Staying where you are and hoping that ‘something comes up’ to bring you success in your future is a little bit like hoping you’ll win the lottery one day. You might, but you probably won’t. In fact, the odds are totally stacked against you. Making decisions and then taking action is a much better way to get where you want to go.
Find an alternate route
Mitch* wanted to be a lawyer, but he missed out on the marks to get into his preferred degree. He could have given up his dream of law altogether, but instead, he got into an Arts degree, worked hard and did well, and transferred over to law at another uni two years later.
You might not be immediately successful in what you’re hoping to do but stay resilient. There are other doors to knock on, and other routes to travel.
Start small and grow
Remember that transition from Year 6 when you were at the top of primary school to Year 7, where you were suddenly the baby again? This transition out of school into life is just like that. You’re a tiny fish in a great big pond, and you might not feel grown up at all.
You also might find yourself doing all the boring tasks if you’ve got yourself a job. ‘Why am I doing all the grunt work here?’ you might ask yourself. ‘I’m worth more than this.’
Again, resilience! Those uncomfortable feelings? They’ll pass. Those boring tasks? You’ll move through them, onto bigger and better things. If you pay your dues and do small things well, people around you will see it and reward you for it.
Small fish do grow bigger. But they have to be small for a season.
Build good habits
When you don’t have to get to school for 8.30 class, what’s making you get out of bed? Heck, what’s making you even go to bed in the first place?
Having no set schedule is a false sense of freedom. Sure, it’s amazing to be able to stay out all night or have Pirates of the Caribbean movie marathons for hours, or binge on whatever vice you choose, but be careful. Keeping standard hours, staying sober and eating well is good for your physical and your mental health.
Big changes in life circumstances can trigger mental health breakdowns and stress reactions, and young people can fall victim to depression and anxiety after finishing school. Keeping up those healthy habits is an easy thing to do to stop mental health problems in their tracks.
Connect with the right people
When you don’t see your friends every day, it’s amazingly easy to fall out of touch. It takes effort to keep up friendships after school. Don’t wait for your friends to organise stuff – take responsibility and arrange things yourself.
Also, make new friends… but pick the right people. The people around you are the biggest indicators of how successful or otherwise you’ll be in life. If you’re hoping to pass your uni or TAFE exams, but you’re hanging with people who never study, the chances are you won’t do well. If you’re hoping to do well financially but your best friends spend whatever money they get before they even think about it, chances are you’ll head in the same direction.
Find people who are smart, caring and supportive. Make friends with them and stay connected. Social connections are super-important as you move forward.
Remember what you’ve learnt here
The education you received at NAC wasn’t just a bunch of facts and figures to fill up your head. You’ve been trained in critical thinking, resilience, problem solving, collaboration and teamwork. Those are skills you can take with you wherever you go. And if you use them, you’ll go far.