The Intimidation Factor

“What do you want be when you grow up?”

Seemingly simple, yet a question that becomes increasingly popular as we grow up. For children, typical answers fall along the lines of “a movie star”, “firefighter” or even “president!” Fast forward to your senior year of high school and when the same question is presented, adults and peers alike now expect a more realistic answer.





Or, for those who really have no idea, a sheepish smile will slowly appear, along with some variation between rubbing their nose and scratching the backs of their neck before proceeding with, “Perhaps something in the sciences or in business?” This filler statement is becoming increasingly popular because it is both socially acceptable and satisfies a terrifying question with an unknown answer.

What especially makes this unknown so terrifying? For starters, as if finishing high school and entering the ‘real world’ isn’t intimidating enough, new graduates must decide what they want to do for the rest of their lives, then plan and execute a route that will get them there. Although the majority of students continue on to post-secondary education, it is important to recognize that not all careers require a post-secondary degree or any certificate higher than a high school diploma. Unfortunately, there is a social stigma surrounding careers that require a lower level of education and these careers are deemed less successful. This stigma can arise from a pervasive societal belief that post-secondary education equals success. This is true in the sense that education may pave the road to success, but the reverse is not. College is not the only path towards occupational success. Although society draws a division between white and blue collared careers, we need to be aware that both play equally significant roles in our day-to-day lives.

A social stigma exists even within the post-secondary world, where pursuing a certain major is less supported by the community due to job availability, and lack of financial security. For instance, a student majoring in Medieval History would be questioned on how they plan to use that degree and what they are able to do with it, as opposed to a student majoring in Biology who plans to apply to medical school. Both students may be equally ambitious in their respective fields, yet one seems to be more socially accepted. Why does this judgement exist and where does it come from?

Jobs are placed on a scale—one that ranks occupations based on the level of success, financial security, and job availability. Students today face mounting pressure to pursue a career that is acceptably successful. Consequently, many students will overlook their interests and instead, choose a career based on the lifestyle it will provide. We are encouraged to pick a profession based on how successful we will become, but how is this success measured? Is it based purely on income? Prestige? Power? Happiness?

We measure success in our own personal way, but our unique measures can become homogenized in school, where everyone is graded according to one scale. The success of a student is often judged based solely on his/her GPA. Labels are created, stereotypes filled, and the rest is overlooked. Most believe that a higher GPA leads to a higher success rate post-graduation but these numbers will be long forgotten in the real world.

When the intimidation factor, the social stigma around the pursuit of certain career paths, is so overwhelming that you want to choose a path that is “acceptable” over one that piques your interests, you need to do some soul-searching. As always, the age-old question comes into mind: does money equal happiness? In order to formulate an answer, we must define what happiness means to us individually. What factors contribute to making us happy? How big of a role does success play in our pursuit of happiness? Will we be happy once we succeed or vice versa?

Brazilian author Paulo Coelho defines success as “discovering [one’s] destiny… Everyone when they are young, knows what their destiny is. At that point in their lives, everything is clear and everything is possible. They are not afraid to dream, and to yearn for everything they would like to see happen to them in their lives.”

At what point in our lives do we lose this clarity and fearlessness to dream? No rules state that the ability to dream without fear is solely limited to our childhood. I encourage you to explore your options and keep an open mind while deciding which profession to pursue. Remember that you are taking a responsible, proactive step towards your future. And in this single precious, fragile, and unique moment in your life, I dare you to dream.


Reference: Coelho, Paulo. The Alchemist. Trans. Alan R Clarke. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2002. Print.

Photo Credits: Dyaa Eldin from Unsplash

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.