Teenagers Deserve a Better Path into Adulthood

Big Life Path was created to give teenagers the skills, confidence, and high-skilled work experience to become powerful creators instead of passive consumers. Teens need to be empowered and mentored to create solutions to the complex problems they are inheriting. The deserve this guidance while they are young, energetic, imaginative, and without student loan debt.

The Antidote to a Broken Path

Big Life Path is the antidote to a broken path to adulthood that locks children and teens away in school, restricting their interactions to their peer group.

There is incredible societal pressure on teenagers to commit to college as the One Valid Path into adulthood. For many, this is four more years of irrelevant schooling.

In school, teens are coerced to do “make work” in the form of essays, presentations, quizzes and tests. Rarely are they given real work that would contribute value to society. Most teens who drop out of high school do so because they are bored and believe school is not relevant to their lives. (Yes, I know there are a few gems of schools that focus on project work and allow teens to design their own projects that involve real work and community solutions, but these are not the norm.)

Big Life Path was born of frustration and love after deeply exploring the following questions:

What is a successful life?

Do people need to go to college to have a “successful” life?

If college, how can it be made more relevant to life?

If not college, what are the other options?

What is a Successful Life?

Everyone, regardless of age or stage, wants to feel like they matter, like their life matters.

Yet, we are trained by institutions to design our lives from the outside-in and set material goals: graduate from high school, get into a good college, get a good job, buy a big house and a nice car, take yearly vacations, etc. We hope that these external, material goals will bring us joy, satisfaction, contentment, and a feeling of acceptance by our peers and society. Yes, we are hard wired to want to belong to the group.

Not many people end up satisfied and content when they focus on achieving these societal goals. Really? Isn’t this this American Dream? No, not really. Although advertisers and the heads of universities might want you to believe it.

Since 2000, part of my work has been coaching executives and managers who are in the upper ranks of the corporate world, want for nothing materially, and feel empty and depressed. They have no sense of meaning. Their work is not connected to their WHY and it’s hard for them to get out of bed every day and drag themselves to the office. It doesn’t matter how much money they are making.

Even though the Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report shows that two-thirds of adults are disengaged at work and just showing up for a paycheck, we keep selling our kids that this is the only path to adulthood.

Create Your Life around Your WHY and Your Gifts

In 1946, Viktor Frankl wrote Man’s Search for Meaning, about his experiences in a Nazi concentration camp. He concluded that the reason that some people lived and some died in those camps came down to one thing: meaning. He believed that people who have connected their lives to meaning and declared a clearly defined purpose are more satisfied with life even when they are feeling bad.

For parents with teens, the best advice you can give your child is this: Go to college if it is a logical step on your chosen path.

Don’t choose to go to college because you think you will make more money. Don’t go to college because everyone else is doing it. Don’t go to college because you can’t think of anything better to do. Don’t go to college because you are afraid you’ll end up flipping burgers if you don’t.

Choose a path that connects your work to your deeper purpose. You will enjoy it more. You will stay the course when it gets bumpy. You will attract people to your bigger vision. You will feel fulfilled. If you can identify what you value and how you want to live by your values, your life journey will be more meaningful and rewarding than living by societal goals.

Vocational training and education has been dismissed as inferior to the academic route. Several entrepreneurs are starting some one-year alternatives to college for 18+ that focus on skills training and place them directly into an entry-level job.

I started Big Life Path because I couldn’t find a program for teenagers that guides them to design their lives from the inside-out and validates a right-brain, experiential way of learning.

What would you regret?

On their deathbeds, one of the main regrets people have is that they worked too much and didn’t spend more time with family, friends, and meaningful pursuits. I bet it’s because they were just working for a paycheck. Their work had no deeper meaning for them.

People also regret the things they wanted to do but didn’t try. They don’t regret their mistakes.

Do People Need to Go to College to Have a Successful Life?

Before we herd another generation of people into college hoping that they will discover themselves, declare a major, and become a contributing member of the economy, let’s understand that the economy has changed drastically in the past thirty years.

College and graduate school were almost necessary in the 1980s and 1990s as the meme of the “organizational man” that arose in the 1950s was slowly dissolving in the wake of economic downturns. This meme lauded white men joining a company for life, working their way to the top of the ladder, and receiving a gold watch at retirement.

As a young woman in the 1980s, I needed a strong signal of my competency, so I got a BA from the University of Virginia and an MBA in finance from Carnegie Mellon. But I didn’t get my business savvy of skills from my formal education, I got it from my work experience. And yes, I got my jobs because of my diplomas, but the world has changed since then.

I was in elementary and middle school in the 1970s and high school and college in the 1980s. We used land-line telephones, typewriters and fax machines. If you wanted to find information, you needed to go to school or the library. Teachers, professors, librarians, and experts held all of the information. Homeschooling wasn’t even legal. It wasn’t the easiest of times to self-direct your learning.

The University, invented around 1200 AD, was designed so that a few literate men could share the contents of books with a large number of illiterate men, thus the lecture format. Lectures haven’t changed even though most people don’t remember information given in lectures and can read without these oral textbooks.

To learn something today, you don’t need to go to school, attend a lecture, or visit the library. You don’t even need to go to college to take college courses. You can connect online with experts in every field who teach courses and share blogs, podcasts, videos, and articles. MOOCs have exploded, and while completion rates are low, there are a lot of high quality MOOCs.

College has become an Expensive Signalling Machine

Let’s debunk the “college is necessary” myth once and for all with some surprising data points:

  • College tuition has risen 1,128% since 1978.
  • 45% of adults with student loan debt don’t think college was worth it
  • 36% of college graduates don’t gain any new knowledge or cognitive skills after 4 years in college.
  • Only 40% of college students graduate in 4 years.
  • 2/3 of college graduates work in fields unrelated to their major
  • Half of college graduates work in jobs that don’t require a college degree

Bryan Caplan in his book, The Case Against Education: Why the Education System is a Waste of Time and Money, makes a powerful case that a college degree benefits the individual because of its powerful signal that a person is intelligent, compliant, and willing to conform. It is this signal of conformity that employers are requiring from young people even though CEOs complain that college graduates don’t have the skills of innovation, teamwork, entrepreneurship, etc. that their companies need.

Most parents understand the signalling system and many are willing to delay their own retirement or work two jobs to pay for college for their kids. They are afraid that, if their kids don’t go to college, they won’t be able to compete.

College is the Main Reason There is No Meaningful K-12 Education Reform

I have read brilliant manifestos calling for change in the schooling system including Seth Godin’s Stop Stealing Dreams, John Taylor Gatto’s Why Schools Don’t Educate, and the amazing collection of essays at Alternatives to School.

I believe that the main obstacle to a revolution in education is that we continue to coerce generations of children to suffer through mind-numbing, soul-crushing school experiences by holding up the big carrot of college.

Most teenagers choose to go to college so that they can get a better job and make more money. Years later, many people whose sole collegiate goal was to get a “good job” leave the corporate world, because they have been discriminated against and/or diminished by soul-less work environments.

In the world of work, ageism has been weakened by the speed of technology and the technological skills of younger workers. Unfortunately, sexism and racism is still flourishing in sneaky, hidden ways. I am dismayed that, as of this writing, only 5% of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are women, less than 15% of executives are women, and only 3% of venture capital money goes to female founders. It seems that technology has only shifted in favor of younger men and not really led to true diversity of leadership.

The societal myth that continues to capture the attention of mass consciousness is: If you get good grades in high school, and a high SAT score with impressive extracurriculars, then you will get into a prestigious college, which will lead to a high-paying job and you will be set for life. This myth destroys lives.

To Redesign the Path to Adulthood We Need to Redefine Learning

Every human is unique and every human learns differently. There is no one “correct” way to learn. Unfortunately, our education institutions from pre-K through graduate school still operate as if the only correct way to learn is through an analytical, auditory, sequential process. In this teaching method, information is fed to students in small step-by-step bits primarily through language (books and lectures) and understanding is demonstrated by writing. All hail the mighty essay!

My friend Mariaemma Willis from the Learning Success Institute has told me that less than 5% of people are wired to learn this way. Even though Daniel Pink wrote a much-lauded book, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers will Rule the World, not much is changing in our schooling system.

The ongoing discourse on school reform focuses on content and standards, distracting parents from a meaningful conversation about learning.

Why do parents view schooling as such a necessary part of their children’s future? Why have they bought into the story that without forced schooling the child will go astray?

I think it’s for the sake of convenience and also a result of the prisoner’s dilemma as detailed by my mentor, Brent Cameron in SelfDesign. It is not convenient to keep a child or youth out of school and forego that free day care. My life as an entrepreneur and single mother guiding her two daughters on their self-directed learning journeys is messy.

Fear and the Belief in Scarcity and Competition Perpetuate the Status Quo

Higher education and our military-industrial complex feeds on the fears of parents that their child will not be “competitive” in this world if they don’t learn the quadratic equation, state history, and how to write an essay.

In the school system, the competition for grades and GPA is rigged so that the few who are wired to learn in the way that school is designed to teach (yes, auditory-sequential language-based teaching) will win. It is not a fair competition and it leaves millions of people feeling stupid, incompetent, and unworthy.

In multi-national corporations, in the name of global competition, adherence to lowest cost production methods have led to environmental degradation and exploitation of humans for low-cost labor.

Yet, the world is changing rapidly. People trust other people more than they trust banks and companies. This is giving rise to peer-to-peer lending, independent drivers and shoppers, and leasing out personal homes instead of staying in hotels.

If we begin to view human learning and development not as a field of competition, but rather as a field of cooperation, nurturing, and individuation, what would school look like? I can envision a Flex Space in every community that optimizes learning and meets the needs of parents who want a flexible learning environment for their families. I’ve thought deeply about this over the past 15 years that I have invested developing alternative schools and education programs, including receiving $500,000 in federal start-up grants for two charter schools.

Our Institutions are Lagging

As I have learned on my journey as an education entrepreneur, our institutions are lagging behind our understanding of how the world and humans operate.

Most of our institutions are designed using assumptions and principles of scientific materialism, a worldview that emerged in the 16th Century. The school system, from pre-K through graduate school, is based on an industrial age command-and-control, factory model. And this is only possible because most people blindly believe in scientific materialism. They believe that learning is something that can be observed and measured.

The world of learning is the non-material world of the mind, feeling, creativity, intuition, and imagination. The non-material world of learning behaves according to the laws of quantum physics that debunk the dogma of scientific materialism.

While competency can be observed, learning is an internal neurological process that differs for each individual and it cannot be measured.

Teenagers have Incredible Unused Capacity

There is a pervasive cultural myth that teenagers are not capable citizens. However, research shows that teenagers, on average, are just as capable as adults as far as cognition, emotional intelligence, and moral reasoning. Now, we all know that there is no thing as an average human being. So, this is a bit misleading. Suffice it to say that there are teenagers who are just as competent and sometimes more competent than your “average” adult. It is the culturally imposed limitations that restrict their capabilities.

Psychologist Robert Epstein, in his 2007 book The Case Against Adolescence, shows that the more teenagers are treated like incapable children, or infantilized, the more psychopathology they show. Psychology Today has a great interview with the author. In It, Epstein points out that childhood biologically and naturally ends with puberty. He claims that industrialized societies have invented adolescence and it is not a positive thing for individuals or society. Epstein also points to anthropological studies that show that, in most non-industrialized societies, adolescence is not a thing and children are included in adult society as soon as they are ready.

In my direct experience, I can contrast the small town in California where I lived with the indigenous culture of Bali. In California, the local humane society does not allow any volunteer under the age of 16 to walk a dog. In Bali, a child under the age of 5 will be responsible for tending an open fire.

Now is the time to question our cultural assumptions of what it means to be a teenager and what teenagers are capable of.

The Importance of Asking Teens Big Questions

Unless people experience a personal crisis, they rarely pause to discover their unique gifts and talents or explore their values and interests. Few people will observe a child to help her understand her soul’s calling.

Parents are busy surviving. Teachers are busy grading work and negotiating a broken school system obsessed with standardized tests. Teenagers swim in a sea of social expectations that are rarely questioned.

Let’s ask children and teenagers big questions and coach them to find their own answers. Who are you? Why are you here? What are your unique gifts and talents? What do you care about? How do you learn? What is meaningful to you?

Let’s then co-design their learning paths with them around the answers. Let’s start designing our lives from the inside-out and reverse engineering our educational path. Let’s acknowledge that everyone’s path is unique.

My founding of Big Life Path comes from the deep wish that my high school education would have included some life coaching and life design experiences. But it didn’t. I was told that academics was all that mattered. At 17, I was being asked to make big life decisions that would profoundly affect my future. And I had neither the awareness or skills to frame these life decisions in an empowering way.

Teenagers today are not prepared to make a decision that will affect the rest of their lives and don’t have the financial literacy to take on $37,000 in student loans (the average debt load) for four more years of schooling.

Let’s Redesign the Choice Process

Society wants us to believe that by making a lot of money and buying a bunch of stuff, we will be content. This is a false promise. Over the past twenty years, I have coached enough wildly successful executives to know that this is a tragic lie. I keep hearing, “Caprice, I have the big house full of stuff, a nice car, and an impressive title, but is this all that there is? I feel empty inside. There has got to be more to life than this.” And so, with coaching, we begin to ask the big questions. Firmly and gently, we guide them to discover their own answers.

Robert Epstein advocates allowing youth to pursue meaningful ventures of their choosing. I searched for an alternative path that would meet the needs of my children and didn’t find one. So I created Big Life Path.

Big Life Path is committed to empowering one million teenagers to become powerful creators of big lives.

Our eCourses are highly experiential and guide teens to connect with their creative, non-linear imagination and intuition. Designed to guide teenagers on a path of self-discovery and entrepreneurship, it is not a standard curriculum with content to be memorized. Our inbound marketing agency for creative teens enables them to work on real projects in marketing, social media, brand and issue awareness. When teenagers are young and energetic, Big Life Path empowers them to create the best version of them Selves on a foundation of personal values, gifts, and interests.

We believe that once we educate teens about the root causes of the problems our planet is facing, introduce them to entrepreneurs who are dedicated to creating solutions, and then guide them to build business and life skills, they can be the generation that creates family-friendly businesses that save the world.

Freedom in a world addicted to fear and compliance. Author, Coach, Freedom Lover. https://capricethorsen.com

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