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Advice for school leavers: in a world of uncertainty, here's what to do in 2021

If you finished high school in 2020, you deserve a huge pat on the back. The last year of school is – of course – the hardest year. A global pandemic is the last thing anyone needs while juggling exams, working part time and keeping up a social life.

Since the world isn’t behaving normally, your leap from high school to a career doesn’t have to either. There are dozens of ways to reach your life goals and if you’re still figuring out what they are, don’t worry. It takes time to get to know yourself.

Here are some ideas on how to make the most of your 2021 – a year of new experiences, finding your passion, adapting and chasing your dreams.

Don’t stress over your final results

The person with the top marks in high school won’t necessarily be the most successful in life. School is a controlled environment with specific ways to measure success and certain people will thrive in that environment. In the real world, there are dozens of different paths to success. People who are resilient, adaptable and can resolve issues creatively will be most ready for a rapidly changing future. How do you measure that with an exam?

Define success on your terms

Think about the life you want. Does being successful to you mean making money? Does it mean doing what you are passionate about? Is success a happy life where you go for a surf every morning? Is it giving knowledge back to the community? Work is a huge part of life and finding satisfaction in your career may be the greatest measure of success.

Think about your future in a non-traditional way

There is no right or wrong path to reach your career goals. More and more people are taking less traditional routes by building their own pathways with a mix of certificates and microcredentials alongside or instead of more traditional courses and degrees. 

If you received amazing grades, don’t fall into the trap of thinking you’re wasting opportunities by not studying something “smart” like law or science. EJ Willard originally studied law and criminology but ended up quitting to complete a three-month coding bootcamp and is now the Front End Web Developer for music tech company Jaxsta. Now she gets to combine two of her biggest passions: coding and music. The lesson? Focus on you, your personality and what brings you joy. 

You don’t have to enrol in university

University isn’t the only way to reach your goals. If you’re thinking about an undergraduate degree, ask yourself these three questions: Are you just following your friends? Are you being pressured by your family? Have you looked at alternative routes?

If you look around, you might find a short course or certificate can take you where you need to go with more practical, faster learning. Just because you don’t go to university straight after high school doesn’t mean you won’t ever enrol. Perhaps you need the time to grow and test-drive working in an office or shadowing a professional. 

Take a gap year instead

Right now the world is going through growing pains. Life can feel like it’s on standby while workplaces tackle a digital transformation mountain to keep things running. What does that mean for a school leaver heading into the real world? Maybe taking time out is the best option. A gap year is a great way to get to know yourself without the pressure of schoolwork and exams. Use the year to get outside your comfort zone, try new things, work full-time in an entry-level job or volunteer for something you care about. 

Knowing yourself better may save you money in the long term. Did you know around 50 percent of university students change courses in the first year? There’s nothing wrong with realising something isn’t for you but it’s probably better to realise that before adding another year to your HECS debt.

Bear in mind that the people you study with share similar interests and may become some of your closest life friends but it’s hard to make close connections via Zoom.

Use your summer to gain experience

It’s never too early to start networking and gaining skills for your career. If you’re not taking a full gap year, use your summer to gain some real world experience. Between beach days, barbecues with friends and shifts at your casual job, squeeze in work experience.

You’ll gain new skills, something for your resume or LinkedIn profile (yes, you’re going to need one of those, sorry) and build your network. It doesn’t have to be complex. We offer virtual work experience programs you can complete from home – no commute, no wasted time fetching coffees – just a solid learning experience you walk away from with real connections and a microcredential.

Volunteer for a cause

If you’re still figuring out what you want to do, start with something you are passionate about. Volunteering is a great way to support a cause, follow your heart and learn more about the field. From working with animals at a shelter or a soup kitchen for the homeless through to planting trees to help the environment, there are dozens of ways to give back. As a bonus, it looks great on your CV and helps build your network.

Start building your professional profile and network online

Get ready for a big 2021 with a refreshed resume. Sign up to LinkedIn and stalk out the career paths of people you admire. Create a profile with a professional looking headshot (a phone photo taken against a white wall works brilliantly) and also use something like Canva to create a free printable CV. 

Don’t be afraid to fail

Be brave and stay positive. There’s a bright future ahead of you. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes on your journey to a fulfilling career. The younger you are, the less responsibility you have – so take risks now. If you fail, learn from your errors., keep going and never stop learning.

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