Navigating life after high school

Georgie Palmer (Aug 16 2021)

I think it’s fair to assume that pretty much everyone reading this is an NCEA student. Whether you’re just starting out in Level 1 or you’re an NCEA veteran in good old Level 3, school’s probably taking up a decent amount of your time and brain-power, whether you like it or not! For you oldsters, it’s that stressful time of year where, as well as thinking about schoolwork, you’ve got to start applying for all sorts of stuff – university scholarships, halls, enrolling in tertiary courses, finding a flat… whatever floats your boat! Very hectic, right? And even if you’re not a school-leaver yet, there’s still so much to think about in the lead-up to Year 13 and leaving school – deciding on subjects, considering tertiary education options, applying for Head Student positions… man, I’m so glad I’m not in the position of any of you guys right now. Basically, either in six months or in a year or two, your time at school will quite suddenly come to a halt, and what’re you going to do with yourself? The possibilities for post-school life are endless, but the thought of leaving the sheltered, structured environment of school life behind might be a bit daunting to some of you. Admit it, it feels a bit weird to suddenly leave behind a school-home-lifestyle you’re so familiar with, doesn’t it?

I haven’t been at school since I finished Year 13 in 2020, and in hindsight, boy am I glad to be out of there! Since then, as you may’ve seen from the previous LearnCoach article I wrote, I’ve been on a gap year filling my days with lots of music, dancing and… yep, still writing for LearnCoach. Which brings me to my first important tip for anyone who’s a bit scared about not having school to hold their life together anymore: you must remember that there has always been, and always will be, more to your life than just school! What this looks like for everyone will certainly be different: it may include a lot of sports games, artsy activities, adventures with family and friends, partying up large…heck, maybe even sTuDy gRoUpS for you real troopers out there! Some of these things you will be blessed to finally be able to say “good riddance” to, whether that be a bunch of toxic friends or the weekly theatre club meeting that you always hated. But others don’t have to leave your life if you don’t want them to. Especially if you’re moving to a new city to continue with tertiary study, there are going to be countless clubs and groups that you can join for you to pursue your interests and hobbies. Although it may not be the same without the same group of people (for example: I’ve been in the same competitive dance team with the same girls for the past decade), continuing with hobbies in a new club/environment is an awesome way to meet new people and make new connections through doing something you mutually enjoy. Besides, the wonders of the digital world mean that if you do want to stay in touch with friends from your hometown, they’re only a call or text away. Basically, this new change in your life gives you the perfect opportunity to keep things/people you want in your life and get rid of the ones you don’t. Think of it as a life detox, without all the weird smoothies and yoga exercises (unless you’re into that of course, in which case, you do you bro).

Another tip, for while YOU STILL HAVE TIME (by this, I mean that you’re still at home and in your childhood routine of attending school etc before embarking on The Real Adventure Of Life)! Not everyone is an introvert like me, and I appreciate that, but one of the advantages to me spending quite a lot of time on my own growing up (as I continue to do now) is that now I have a really good understanding of myself and how I like to go about my life. I know what I want, I know my strengths and weaknesses, and I know how I deal with whatever obstacles my day-to-day life presents me with. When you head out into the big wide non-school world, you’ll want to make a good impression on lots of people, whether that be lecturers and professors, work bosses, your new partner’s parents, prospective new friends… there are so many scenarios in which you’ll be meeting new people and they’ll be quick to judge you! So, it’s crucial that you have a sense of who you are, what your main values are and know what you want out of the new interactions you’ll be having. No, I’m not saying that you should know exactly what you want to do (most people in their 20s and 30s still have no idea, no need to fret!). But it’s important you take a bit of time now to practice feeling confident within yourself so that you can embrace this lifestyle change and let it enable your career, rather than hold it back due to anxiousness and self-doubt. Some things you can start practising include listening to your gut instinct (it’s your best means of judgement, and soon you’re going to have to start making a lot of your life decisions on your own!); waking up and going to sleep at a reasonable hour each day (even on days where you have nothing pressing to do); taking care of yourself by eating well and exercising regularly (without your parents having to prompt you to do it, as they likely won’t be around for you as much once you finish school!); and making your online presence a bit more professional (especially if you’re intending on going straight into the workforce after school – many employers go straight to social media to check whether you’re a hireable person or not! So, enough memes and pouty selfies already!). Actually, following on from that last point, put a decent-sounding voicemail onto your phone right this second (if you haven’t already) – no potential employer/client wants to call you only to find either “YoU hAvE rEaChEd ThE mAiLbOx FoR 0-2…” or “yoooooo it’s ya boi, *muffled friend’s laughter in background*, leave me an effing message and I’ll reply in about three months”. But most importantly, just believing in yourself is the best thing you can do. You CAN do this, and nobody should stand in the way of your goals if you really want to achieve them badly enough. You’re now getting to a stage in your life where you only have yourself to truly rely on (ie: not your parents/caregivers so much) so it’s about time you started letting your best self shine on through and not compromising who you are and what you believe in for anybody else. Stand up for yourself! Take care of yourself! Simple to say, a bit harder to do, but I know you CAN do it if you just BELIEVE!

My final tip for anyone nervous about leaving school follows on from believing in yourself, and it’s simply to put things into perspective (something, ironically, I’m absolutely terrible at doing). You are not the first and you most certainly won’t be the last person to make the transition from high-school to the real world. There are countless adults, teachers, relatives and old friends around you that have survived this difficult stage of life and are now thriving, and I’m sure some of them would be more than happy to talk to you about any questions or doubts you may have. Even as I sit here writing this for you all to read, I’m thinking that there’s only so much the internet can really do to help you navigate arguably the most change-filled stage in your life - you’re much better off to talk to a real person about these important things, either on the phone or in real life. As I’ve said previously, everyone’s journey beyond high-school is going to be vastly different – some of you will have different questions about tertiary life to others and generalising this subject is extremely difficult. For me, the past two years have definitely been the ones in which I’ve had the most self-discovery and self-growth, and I think these years of one’s life are always going to be like that. It’s essentially the one time of your life that you get to live for you and only you, without either your parents or your [future] children to tie you down. Not to say these things aren’t important and wonderful, they definitely are, it’s just that now is your prime opportunity in life to embark on the career of your dreams. So embark on a voyage of self-discovery, beginning with asking trustworthy older people all the nitty-gritty questions you have. Sometimes, grown-ups actually do have something decent to say.

Summing all of that up, there are three things that you can do to help you feel a bit less daunted by the new lifestyle that’s awaiting you just around the corner. Firstly, now is your ultimate chance to hold on to (and perhaps also, let go of) the people and things in your current lifestyle that you want to carry on into your next one. Secondly, now is your ultimate chance to make yourself the best possible version of yourself moving forward, both personally and professionally. Thirdly, now is your ultimate chance to ask the people around you any questions you may be starting to have about life after high-school. NOW IS YOUR CHANCE. This is almost certainly going to be one of the most change-filled periods of your life, and although some of you (including myself) may be afraid of change, it’s been inevitable for a while now that you’re gonna have to get off the NCEA conveyor-belt at some point, so believe in yourself and embrace the change that’s coming. Use it to your personal and professional advantage. And most of all, amidst your exciting new tertiary lifestyle, keep coming back to the LearnCoach website and get paid to write articles at 1 in the morning just like me!

For NCEA Students
By NCEA Students