The coronavirus has changed plans for high school students across the country, and what will happen when they graduate? Genevieve Morgan’s new book Undecided, 2nd Edition: Navigating Life and Learning after High School, has the information to help teens navigate the difficult process of deciding among a gap year, college, enlisting in the military, and more.
1. Doing a thing is better than doing nothing!
Remember all those times in the library or your room doing homework when you dreamed of a day when you’d have nothing to do? Well guess what—you and 36 million other Americans who just lost their jobs, as well as every high school and college graduate in the country, are now looking at an ocean of nothing to do. This vista can stymie even the most valiant heart, but don’t let it do so for long. Right now is the time to set a goal and make a plan. It doesn’t matter what it is or if it has anything to do with long-term plans for the future. It can be read every novel by Hemingway, run a half-marathon, build a skateboard, or even learn how to professionally highlight my mom’s hair. What matters is that you define it, commit to it, and do it. Give yourself a month or six weeks, and celebrate when you finish. If things aren’t clearer in the world by then, make another plan. Commit to it. Finish it. Little by little, you are building capital in your identity, which will pay off.
2. Surrender. You do not have control over what happens next.
So don’t stress about it. We are in an upside-down world right now, and as former President Obama said in a 2020 commencement address, “All those adults that you used to think were in charge and knew what they were doing? Turns out that they don’t have all the answers.” Overnight, the whole country has become awash in uncertainty, which means there is no more “wrong” or “right” way to do anything. This is a huge opportunity for you to pay attention to what it is you actually do, instead of what you think you should do. Let necessity light your way. If you or your family need money, take whatever job you can find right now. If you despise remote learning and do not want to go to college in the fall if it is online, don’t worry about withdrawing yet. Instead, refer to point 1. Focus on achieving one thing over the next four weeks, then take a look around. If you were counting on a job or travel or an internship and are now stuck at home, do what you can to ready yourself for when things open up (again, see point 1), and in the meantime, help your family by pitching in.
3. Take stock: It is not how much you have; it’s how much you spend.
The COVID-19 lockdown has ripped the lid off our egregious spending habits. We made the splurge a lifestyle. Turns out, we never needed all those 8-dollar coffees, 42-dollar sweaters and 100-dollar concert tickets. We like them, sure. But we don’t need them. And learning how to cook and garden is fun. Use this time to reevaluate your priorities when it comes to your cash. Challenge yourself to spend as little as possible. See how you feel. When things open up again, take this knowledge into the future so you know the bare minimum you need to get by. You’ll also learn where you can cut back if things get tight and how much you need to save to support your plans.
4. Get off your phone and into your community.
Every crisis leads to unforeseen opportunity. This one is giving you time and neighborhoods full of people worrying about the exact same things as you! Take advantage of any outdoor activities by meeting your neighbors and helping where you can (practicing proper social distancing, of course). Practice your listening skills. You never know when a stranger might open a door to an entirely new adventure, direction, or point of view. COVID-19 has shown us the limits of technology and how much we need human interaction.
5. Record your experience (not just on Insta).
Someday your grandkids will want to know what you did during this period in history. Take the time now to get creative and journal, take photographs or videos, and draw or paint to chronicle this singular period in your life. It will not always be this way, and you will quickly forget how it felt. Take a picture a day of your parents or siblings. Detail your daily routine, however mundane. Start a dream log. Write out your fears. Declare your personal manifesto. Make a pillow out of the T-shirt you wore for a month. Write letters to your friends. Process this time and use it to create your own personal narrative. It may feel boring as dirt to you right now, but through the lens of history it will become multifaceted and dramatic. You will be glad you did.
Genevieve (G.A.) Morgan is the editor-at-large at Islandport Press. She is the author of Undecided, 2nd Edition: Navigating Life and Learning after High School, which helps high school students navigate the difficult process of deciding among a gap year, college, enlisting in the military, and more. She has also written a number of notable nonfiction books and is the author of the YA fantasy-adventure trilogy called The Five Stones. She lives with her family in Portland, Maine.