Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset: Overwhelmed by the Future

Reading Time: 5 minutes

By Tay Yu Ning (23S06E) and Wang Yujie (23S06H, Peer Helper)
Cover image by Johnathan Lim (23S03M)

“Everyone tells me that I have to put myself out there to get experience because I need to join the workforce and choose my career. But I am so overwhelmed that I can’t think of what I want to be anymore…”

Future Forager

Dear Future Forager,

For some, especially those who know very clearly what they want to do in life, thinking about the future can be exciting. Yet for many others, thinking about the future can be very stressful. It is natural and understandable to feel overwhelmed by the future, especially as we inch closer towards adulthood. 

You may feel the pressure of having to immediately choose a career upon graduation. However, the truth is that your university degree choice may not necessarily determine your future career! Hence, you do have time to explore and decide, and you need not feel lost. 

Here are some tips you can follow to avoid letting your anxiety over the future affect your day-to-day life and think about the future without feeling overwhelmed.

Dealing with Current Stress  

In order to manage stress, do remember to focus on yourself. What do you want to do? If you’re not sure yet, that’s perfectly fine! You still have at least six months (if you’re in JC2) or more than a year (if you’re in JC1) to decide on your university course. Even if you realise after making that decision that your chosen degree is not your cup of tea, some colleges also allow you to change your major in the first two years. In the meantime, try to focus on enjoying life as it is. 

From your letter, you seem rather stressed out about the matter at hand, and it looks like peer pressure is really taking a toll on you. To deal with this, the first step you can take is to talk about it with someone you trust—it could be a sibling or a friend, or even better, someone who has recently applied for universities or jobs. Perhaps they could help you look at things from a different perspective, and give you inspiration on how you can move forward.  

Second, when you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by conversations regarding future plans, you can try to remove yourself from the situation to take a breather. Alternatively, you can be honest and tell others that you feel stressed out from the conversation. However, if you realise that your feelings are trivialised by others, it is perhaps better to avoid such people entirely to prevent yourself from falling deeper into the negativity. 

Third, make time for yourself to just chill. Even if it is just for 20 minutes or half an hour, sitting down to enjoy your favourite music, meditating or exercising can really boost your mental well-being! On this note, avoid YouTube videos or social media that may prove to be addictive or promote unhealthy comparisons. 

On the other hand, also leave time for yourself to “worry—aka a ‘worry time’. While it may seem counterintuitive to allow yourself to worry, it actually helps you gain an element of control over your own thoughts and moods. Anxiety is a natural feeling all of us experience, but in excess, it could lead to mental and physical impairment. Thus, giving yourself worry time can both help to reduce the total time you spend worrying in a whole day, and allow your negative sentiments an avenue of release. 

To start off, you can set a fixed time period for worrying (15 minutes recommended, 30 minutes max!) Next, decide on a fixed place to worry: pick somewhere that feels uncomfortable, so that you won’t want to extend your worrying after your ‘worry time’ ends. Follow this up with a fun activity, be it reading a book or cooking a meal. Outside of your ‘worry time’, postpone thinking about anything that makes you anxious—just note them down first and come back to it during your next ‘worry time’.

Everyone has different paces in the search for an inner calling and that’s really okay! It’s unfair to compare yourself to others, who seem to be ahead in identifying their passion; nor is it fair for others to force you into stepping into the workforce when you don’t feel ready yet. 

That being said, it’s also beneficial to stay open to new things—it’s perhaps the best way to find something you like! There is no need to feel ashamed about fearing novel things, but learning how to overcome such a fear is equally beneficial. In the next section, we will dive into some concrete ways to expand your future choices. 

Thinking About The Future

List down your skills and interests

In your 17 to19 years of life, you would have surely found some things you enjoy doing more than others. You may have also found some things which you are better at doing compared to the general population. List down all these interests and skills and think about the careers or university majors which would be aligned with them. 

If you’re not sure, you could use your subject combination as a point of reference. For instance, if you’re an Arts student and you enjoy what you’re learning in school, then it may be a good decision to continue down similar paths in the future, such as law or history. 

You could also become more aware of your own interests by doing online career-based personality tests, or by reading more about possible career paths on SkillsFuture!

It may also be helpful to speak to experienced professionals in the industry that you are thinking of joining. Consider searching for blogs, YouTube videos or seminars hosted by such professionals to find out more about lesser-known facts about various industries. 

Browse websites of universities

Choosing your university major is a huge decision which involves considering multiple factors including interest, career prospects and opportunity cost. If you’re not sure about what you would like to do in the future, consider browsing through university courses on the websites of local universities (or even foreign ones, if you would like to go abroad for tertiary education). You can often glean more insights on the requirements, curriculum and prospects of various courses based on what is listed on the website.

Here are the undergraduate programmes offered at NUS, NTU and SMU respectively.

Reach out to the school counsellors or the Higher Ed Office

The school counsellors are not just there for people who have mental health issues: they can also assist with helping you decide what you would like to do in the future. If you’re feeling overwhelmed to the extent that it is affecting your social life, it would be wise to make an appointment with a counsellor. 

The Higher Ed Office can help you with applying to local and overseas universities and can also help you weigh the pros and cons of various higher education courses. If you have any doubts about what course you want to pursue in the future or would like to get a second opinion on your personal statement, you could make an appointment either by emailing the Higher Ed Office at collegeadmissions@ri.edu.sg or by visiting the Higher Ed course on Ivy (only available to Y6 students). Alternatively, you could visit the Higher Ed Office from 2-5pm every weekday except Wednesday. The Higher Ed Office welcomes walk-ins if they have personnel to spare!

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