A Letter to a High School Student

Why do adults ask kids what they want to do when they grow up? – To get ideas.

What you choose in terms of your school subjects, the university or college you will attend, and your career will not define the rest of your life. And if you think it does, then perhaps you need some guidance because who you are as a person, how you choose to respond to situations in life, and how you treat others are far more important than any job title or profession.

I could count on one hand the number of people I know that after school knew what they wanted to do and are still doing it, and are happy.

Instead of stressing about having a 10-year plan, or having no plan, shift your thinking towards something that can serve you better now and in the future.

Here are four things to consider as you move into the next season of your life.

Know Thyself

The pressure and requirements for choosing a career path during your high school years are enormous and – quite frankly – absurd. Unless you have been mentored and groomed for the road ahead, choices are often made from limited exposure to the world and knowledge – knowledge of self, that is.
Do you (as a 16 or 18-year-old) know who you are, where your strengths lie and how to use them to your advantage? Do you know your areas of development and your gifts? Are you aware of the opportunities that lay before you?

Many adults are unaware of these things, yet, some are running companies whose staff are at the mercy of their blind spots.

Self-awareness is the secret ingredient to knowing what your purpose is.


Leadership is a big theme in school, particularly as you draw closer to Matric and titles become prioritised; head boy, head girl, prefect, student representative council, etc.

There is so much information about what leadership is, and yet it is still misunderstood. To understand what leadership actually is, it is sometimes necessary to first know what it is not.

Becoming a leader is not a popularity vote.

  • Leaders are not in charge of others – those are managers. You can be a manager without leadership skills and be a leader without being a manager.
  • Leaders are not appointed.
  • Leaders do not control others.
  • Leadership is a learnt skill. Some people are natural leaders, whereas others develop it.
  • Leadership is not a title.

The best definition of leadership is:

The responsibility you take for the influence you have on the world around you.

The High Achievers 

School is an academic institution based on the principles of education, learning and knowledge. To measure progress, it needs quantitative results, i.e. tests and exams. Therefore performance at school is based upon marks and academic achievements.

Even though school takes the majority of your time, you are still more than your marks. Unless you plan on becoming an academic and spending the rest of your days reading, researching and publishing papers, there is a lot more to life than just developing your intellect.

There is an unhealthy and unbalanced focus on this element of people’s development. Even if you are a high achiever and school comes easy to you, you risk becoming identified with smartness and success. In other words, you base your self-worth on your performance and output, which leads to burnout, stress and a lack of meaning in life.

Life is a Journey

My work offers me a unique opportunity to engage with people on a very deep level. Many of these people include top business leaders, successful entrepreneurs, doctors and CEOs. Those leading the most exciting and influential lives have realised that there is no final destination; a finish line at the end of the rat race or a beacon at the top of the ladder where they get awarded for ultimate achievement.

Their success and motivation come from their ability to embrace the journey and whatever it brings.

You do not have to have yourself, your career and your life all figured out. Just take it a step at a time.

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