A pathway for a high school leaver

If a younger me had asked what growing up was like, I would probably say it’s like a pathway. One that goes through all sorts of different places, including places that are really cool that make you feel energised and hopeful, and other places that make you feel uncomfortable and exhausted.

As cheesy as that sounds, in so many ways a pathway is a great embodiment of what growing up was like for me.

Things were in front of me, the pathway, the boundaries I would not cross, the next landmarks, everything was so familiar to me. I knew the things I could control and how they could give me direction, and decisions to make should other pathways appear along the way.

If you’re anything like me you’ve probably planned out (with some precision) how long it will take for you to get to your first few landmarks.

Landmarks being the significant events, like leaving High School, moving cities, being accepted into university, buying an ironing table (it could be anything)

But the truth is, the path quickly starts becoming unfamiliar. As your awareness and attention starts to fatigue when the newness and excitement factor begins to wear off, and you start losing track of where you are exactly along the way.

The excitement factor dies down, and reality starts to settle in, you’re in this for the long haul, no turning back now.

With everything you thought you’d need in your backpack, and your best mates by your side, the squad soldiers on into the depths of adulthood.

The things that are constant start to matter more. Your best mates start meaning a lot to you, things get deep, you push each other to keep moving along. You start taking more opportunities to breathe and to spend time catching up with your mates, those who are there for you.

Before you know it, time has passed and you’ve reached your first split in the road. It’s time to make a decision. Do you venture off and explore the unknown world, or stick to the plan?

Some friends decide to go down a different path and head off into the distance (still within your view). But you’ve come to accept the direction you’re heading in. You start to appreciate the lead you are taking and begin to own your step and walk with a bit more purpose.

You’re about to finish university, this is your last year and you’re feeling very proud but also anxious about what this new adventure will reveal, who will you meet, what experiences you will have, everything is coming together all at once.

You start to hang out for that change, that thing you’ve glorified for the last 10 years, and what will this great thing called “adulthood” really look like once you get there???

Then, in the horizon you see a group of people, most you don’t know, who are packing their bags to head off on this new journey with you for a while. The start of a bustling career working for the government.

Very quickly the path goes from being a horizon sunset with warmth to a concrete jungle filled with elevators and paper. Not many people are talking to each other about different options but everyone seems to be heading in the same way – you can’t yet see who’s leading at the front yet either.

Very quickly you realise the pace is starting to kick up a bit, and you’re no longer just going with the motions.

It’s become a bit more of a marathon now and you’ve thrown on the running shoes. You’ve traded in the leisurely half-holiday life of being a student to being a well-endowed policy worker with a small sweat.

You start to notice you can’t quite see the friends you had before anymore, not over the big concrete walls and long blacks from the MOJO cafe downstairs.

You miss them profusely but you knew what this new career meant a long time ago. It meant change and sacrifice. In the form of time, and all the innocuous moments you used to appreciate, like kicking the sand, getting lost and going off on random adventures together.

You’ve committed seven days a week to living this new lifestyle. One full time job, two other part time jobs, a masters degree, heaps of aspirations but less time for love or appreciating the views.

You’ve forgotten to appreciate the landscape, the people. The pathway is now a structured overpass leading to a place you always envisaged. But now that you’re seeing the destination you wonder a little how you could have done it differently, what it would have been like if you’d gone down a different track.

And while you’re confident you knew you made the right choices, you can’t help but notice how pretty the view is on the other side.

Each morning you wake a little differently, but it’s still the same pathway. The truth is you’ve been lucky and you know it. To have been insulated by the pandemic, and to have more security than you’ve ever had in your life. Yet you still feel insecure about the isolation because you’re not too sure what it cost you.

All you know is that it’s not quite perfect. But with every step, you stay humble, grateful for the opportunities, and acknowledge the privilege to have a pathway mapped out for you from the start.

Like a pathway, growing up is hard work, people leave and new ones turn up. But it’s beautiful, everything becomes more certain, and things move along with speed. Take some time to soak it all in.

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