Five quick notes for school leavers – and for the rest of us too

Leaving school can be a great time for many young people.

Some will go into trades, others to university, while others will go straight into jobs or even the defence force.

As I reflect on my time leaving school, and taking thirteen attempts to get into university, I didn’t have an exceptional start – at least not to the same level as many of my peers at the time.

But on reflection I noticed the patterns that enabled me to stay dreaming, continue to straighten myself out and literally, a decade on, reach every single goal – personal and professional – I set myself.

These patterns are set out below, which can apply not just to young people leaving school but I suspect all of us – more exhausted than usual – taking on a new year.

  1. You can still get to where you want to go

Some of you will not be where you’d like to be.

Didn’t get the results you wanted? Got knocked back from a job, or a programme, or a scholarship?

In a society like ours, we’re fortunate to not only have one bite of the apple. Opportunities renew, evolve and more than one pathway can exist to the desired destination.

This is entirely obvious but also critical to acknowledge.

And believe in.

In my case, after not getting into university, I completed a year-long bridging course, which I used to further my applications.

I worked out where I’d fallen short, and the ground I needed to make up, in order to get there.

But it all started with a deep belief that I wasn’t ‘down and out’ after my many first failed attempts.

  1. Stay disciplined

This is a hard one. Especially when you’ve just hit eighteen and your options to party, drive yourself places with a new license and go out clubbing are all freshly in front of you.

Yet in my final weeks of high school I was exceptionally fortunate to be accepted into the Queensland Academy of Sport on a water polo scholarship.

To be clear – this was not at all paid. But, as many elite athletes can attest, actually meant the reverse – using your own resources to drive to training and find time to fit five hours in of practice per day, often seven days a week.

I recall being maddened that our training programme hit a new level of intensity at the exact same time as Schoolies.

But I remained committed, spending more time in Brisbane over partying and celebrating on the Gold Coast with friends.

I realise not everyone is in a position to be tethered to elite sport, especially at a critical time.

But it was an instructive element of discipline, paired with tough consequences, that helped keep me on the ‘straight and narrow’ at a critical time.

  1. Be part of a community

One of the great things about playing an elite sport is being closely connected to fifteen to twenty guys that would be by your side no matter what.

Looking back, it was of immense benefit having a small community of friends to spend time with.

Communities, of course, aren’t only found in sports. They can be found in finding more time for your school friends, new colleagues, joining a club, seeking out a new activity or even spending more time with family.

Strictly speaking even gangs are considered communities and attract many young men for this reason (although I wouldn’t suggest joining one!).

Today we are in a period when we’re all joining less clubs, we don’t tend to know our neighbours and we’re feeling less connected. So finding a community to be part of isn’t only critical for self-development but also for the health of our towns, suburbs, cities and states.

  1. Think about goals

One of the best bits of advice I received early on was to begin ‘with the end in mind’.

I looked forward to my future, and to the people I wanted to be like, and then worked out the basic steps I needed to get there.

Sure, I wasn’t going to become a world-beater overnight.

But with basic goal setting, which I’d learnt in high school, I looked at the ‘steps’ I needed to meet the very small goals I had set.

Looking back, what I realise is that it’s not always the goals themselves, but what the goals ‘make of you’ in achieving them that really help in the long run.

  1. Prepare yourself for work

Hard work has received a tough wrap recently. Luck, timing, aptitude and other factors have been elevated as more important.

These are all fair points. But I sense it’s important to acknowledge that sheer hard work and ‘grit’ are key solvents for any success.

“As much as talent counts, effort counts twice,” writes Angela Duckworth in Grit.

Like courage, grit is a paramount virtue synonymous with success. And it’ll never go out of vogue, regardless of where one is – either leaving school or in later life.

Image source: Alamy/Daily Mail

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