According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the brain finishes developing and maturing in the mid-to-late 20s. The part of the brain behind the forehead, called the pre-frontal cortex, is one of the last parts to mature. This area is responsible for skills like planning, prioritizing and making good decisions.
Then why oh why do we expect 18-year-olds to declare a major and know what they want to be when they grow up?
I have a friend who graduated from law school but hated being a lawyer. He now owns a title company. Another friend got a degree in building construction but hated the field; he is now a financial planner. My tennis pro/instructor is now a high school English teacher.
When I was 18, I majored in accounting. For two years I took every accounting course my college offered. What did I learn? That I hated accounting! (I hate puzzles and Wordle too, go figure.) Graduating with a degree in business, I ended up with a career in corporate sales and guess what I learned? That I hate sales! I loved the travel and the cool, shoulder-padded business suits. I just hated selling clients more than they needed so I could make quota and win that trip to Acapulco. Lucky for me, I eventually found a job that I love – being a mom.
Our oldest son wanted to be a doctor. He graduated college with honors, did well on the MCAT – and was crushed when he didn’t get into med school. He was accepted into Emory University’s anesthesia assistant program and is now an anesthetist. How many kids grow up thinking, “Yay, I want to put people to sleep for a living – stick tubes down their throats and needles in their veins!” Yet, he absolutely loves his work. Who knew crushed dreams could result in dreams coming true? If failure leads you to the right path, then maybe failure is a blessing.
Son number two wanted to be an engineer. He was accepted into UF’s school of engineering and had an internship at a firm. But the day came that he realized that was not the right path for him. Trying to ease the pressure he felt, I handed him the UF course catalog listing all the possible majors and jokingly said, “Pick one, any one,” as if it was a game of cards. But it’s not like picking a card; what you choose sets the course for your life.
He graduated with a degree in construction management and is building a water reclamation facility for a Nestle factory in Arizona. His construction sites are so vast that he gets to use a drone to inspect and manage progress. He always loved Legos and remote-controlled toys as a child, so he gets to do what he loves!
Son number three graduated from UF with a biology degree and was accepted into PharmD school. Barely 21, he decided to defer his acceptance and take a gap year. (To be a pharmacist now, a four-year doctorate is required – the same amount of debt as med school.) He drove his rickety 2005 Ford Explorer across the U.S. and got a job at Zion National Park. That led to a better job at Sequoia National Park. Now he is a NPS Ranger at Big Cypress National Preserve. Will he decide to keep his spot at UF PharmD school next fall? Or will he decide to forge a lifelong career with the National Park Service? Who knows?
If there’s anything I’ve learned as a parent, it’s to sit in the back seat and keep your mouth shut. It’s not your life, it’s theirs. When they fail and their dreams are crushed, I say, “I love you.” When they succeed and their dreams come true, I say, “I love you.”
I was a college cheerleader. Pretty much the only thing I learned in college that paid off is my cheerleading skills. As a parent, win or lose, I spend a lot of time cheering from the sidelines.
Liz Biggs is a Pensacola native and mother of four. Once upon a time, she had a high-pressure career but now she has a pension and is a freelance writer for Bella Magazine. Liz enjoys music, dancing, tennis and travel and tries to find humor in everything.