When Success is a Maze, a guest post by Tracy Badua
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
We often ask kids this, and their responses speak to their current fixations and sometimes, their longer-term passions: a racecar driver, a mermaid, a superhero. Realistic or not, those dreams start to fade as the focus shifts from learning to career preparation. That racecar driver studies to become an engineer, the mermaid a biologist. The superhero’s sense of altruism may bring them to the medical field.
I wanted to be a writer. I loved going to the library as a child. I would run my fingers over the rows of colorful book spines, looking for new additions or old favorites to reread. Inspired, I would steal paper out of our family printer so I could write my own books about my stuffed animals. If you told elementary-school me that one day, I’d have my own published books on those very library shelves, I would’ve been thrilled. It’d be a dream come true.
But high-school me wouldn’t have believed you. By then, the goal of being a writer had begun to give way to something considered more concrete, more stable, as childhood dreams tend to do. In the face of growing considerations like pay, prestige, and security, my bent towards analysis and the written word transformed into me pursuing a career as a lawyer. So a novel on the bookshelves, with more on the way? High-school me would have focused more on what major would set me up best for success and how much I got paid per book versus the fact that I was actually doing something I loved.
For a lot of teens, with a whole wide world of classes and careers and well-meaning advice ahead of them, these dreams and decisions about their futures can be overwhelming. There’s an odd pressure to decide who you want to be, forever, and to set a straight path to it and never stray. So for a student who wants to become a doctor, failing that biology class can be crushing; they might feel like they lost their chance to do what they’d been striving toward all their lives. Or maybe they found themselves more engaged in their literature class work and are now second-guessing their commitment to their doctor track entirely.
It’s this kind of stomach-churning uncertainty about identity and next steps that I explore in my young adult novel, This is Not a Personal Statement, where my main character doesn’t get into her dream college. She, however, shows up on campus anyway, sneaking around lecture halls and dorms and befriending students for intel in hopes of reapplying for admission the next semester. But these are certainly not the next steps you should suggest for the students in your life!
Not only is there not one set idea of success –it’s different for everyone– the way there isn’t always linear: it’s often a maze, with starts and stops and an occasional dead end. It’s hard to tell a teen that it’ll be okay, that they’ll find their way eventually. When someone is so focused on reaching a singular goal of a grade or other academic milestone, it can be hard for them to see beyond the few, clear steps immediately ahead. If you’re able to get an open ear though, emphasize that it’s actually common to change your mind. The US Department of Education estimated that among undergraduates in associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs who had declared a major, about 30 percent had changed their major at least once within three years of initial enrollment. That’s almost one in three mature, driven students deciding they want to switch directions.
People’s ideas of success can change and grow and take twists and turns they didn’t expect. Mine did. At some point, high-school me eased up and let elementary-school me dream again. I did in fact return to my dream of being a writer. Even with a decades-long detour to the legal field, fiction writing remained such a passion of mine that I decided to take another stab at it later. I enrolled in classes and workshops, read up on how to write and publish fiction, and networked with other writers. Now, I’m lucky enough to get to call myself a lawyer and a published author.
Later success stories aren’t uncommon. Snoop Dogg gained fame as a hip-hop artist with not-safe-for-work lyrics and run-ins with the law. He’s expanded that stardom into multiple ventures, from cookbooks with domestic arts queen Martha Stewart to upbeat affirmation songs for children. Similarly, Simu Liu studied business administration and worked as an accountant before finding success as an actor and saving the world as Marvel hero Shang-Chi. Plenty of top athletes have launched careers off the courts and fields too, as guests or hosts of talk shows, reality shows, and even cooking competitions.
So whatever passions fuel the teens you know– whether they’re excelling at it or still trying to figure it all out – remind them that when it comes to who they want to be when they grow up, the answer should be seen as a goal with room to grow, not a life sentence. Even if their academic or professional career doesn’t go the way they’d initially foreseen, it’s never too late to change course or reset. There’s still a whole wide world of classes and careers and well-meaning advice ahead, after all.
Meet the author
Tracy Badua is a Filipino American author of books about young people with sunny hearts in a sometimes stormy world. By day, she is an attorney who works in national housing policy and programs, and by night, she squeezes in writing, family time, and bites of her secret candy stash. She lives in San Diego, California, with her family. This Is Not a Personal Statement releases January 17, 2023 from Quill Tree Books.
About This is Not a Personal Statement
Admission meets American Panda in this propulsive, poignant YA contemporary novel about a teen who, after getting rejected from her dream college, forges her own acceptance and commits to living a lie. Perfect for fans of Mary H.K. Choi!
At sixteen, Perla is the youngest graduating senior of the hypercompetitive Monte Verde High. Praised—and not-so-quietly bashed—as “Perfect Perlie Perez,” Perla knows all the late nights, social isolation, and crushing stress will be worth it when she gets into the college of her (and her parents’) dreams: Delmont University.
Then Perla doesn’t get in, and her meticulously planned future shatters. In a panic, she forges her own acceptance letter, and next thing she knows, she’s heading to Delmont for real, acceptance or not. Soon, Perla is breaking into dorm rooms, crashing classes, and dodging questions from new friends about her lack of a student ID. Her plan? Gather on-the-ground intel to beef up her application and reapply spring semester before she’s caught.
But as her guilty conscience grows and campus security looms large, Perla starts to wonder if her plan will really succeed—and if this dream she’s worked for her entire life is something she even wants.
From rising star Tracy Badua comes a gripping, incisive tale of acceptance, self-discovery, and the infinite possibilities that await when we embrace our imperfections.
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/17/2023
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years
Filed under: Guest Post
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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