It is frightening to stand before your future armed with only your limited experience and an untested sense of morality. As a senior, I felt this fear well inside me the first day of school this year. The world of college applications, grants and student loans was all new and so intimidating. I felt, as many of my peers must, a profound sense of purposelessness and confusion when I thought about my future. I felt both drawn and repelled by my passion for writing and music, my love of sciences, my phobia toward math. It was as if every small part of me was clamoring to be heard and obeyed.
First and foremost I knew I needed happiness. Who doesn't? I wanted to find a field of study and profession that would fit and where I could excel. Second, I wanted financial security - a steady job.
I sought an interesting school full of interesting people and interesting classes in an interesting location. In short, I wanted to have my cake and eat it too.
In the following months I looked everywhere for answers as well as for someone to tell me what to do with my life. In the end I found my answer. I entered an essay contest sponsored by my local newspaper and came in second, earning a sizable scholarship. This was my first experience in being published. I attended a reception for the winners, and while listening to the speeches, I realized how much I was loving every moment of the evening. It was there, among dozens of journalists and devoted writers, that I had an epiphany.
I realized that all I really want to do is put words on paper. For a full year I'd toyed with career options. I'd wondered how to make money, how to be happy, how to be unique. All those questions are important, but on closer examination I realized I was too concerned with what I'd heard and had come to fear what I wanted.
Why did I keep making excuses and finding reasons not to write? Because I'd told myself I couldn't make money doing that, and should seek a more "professional" profession. Writing, I'd always reminded myself, was uncertain. Competitive. Difficult.
I had been afraid to be myself and to say, "I'm doing what I want to do, what I need to do, no matter how frightening or difficult it might be." Now, after a year of soul-searching, I've come to the conclusion that the answer was inside me all along.
In the movies they tell you to follow your dreams, to listen to your heart. It's not as easy as that, but they're right - the best decision you can make is to be yourself. It took an essay contest to make me realize I could earn money for my writing, and now that I know it isn't impossible, writing is only thing I want to do with my life.
It's the strangest feeling, this sense of satisfaction that comes after facing your fears. Now I know the truth - I only need a pen, a pad of paper, and an audience to be where I want to be.
There's no road map for life, as most seniors will agree. Looking forward after 12 years of school is terrifying - all that stretches beyond is a huge, open world of chance and opportunity. I hope other seniors will share this sense of purpose. I hope they know that with only one shot at life, we can't afford not to follow our hearts.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.