In your lifetime, you are going to spend 150,000 hours of your life at work. This is about 40% of your life. Your chosen profession will define you in many ways, describe who you are, identify you, and dominate much of your life. Through your work, you will be able to express your talents, gifts, and abilities to make a contribution, make a living, and give back to the world in meaningful, positive, and significant ways. It is then important to be able to assess as early as possible, through identifying natural gifts and talents, and passions, what key strengths you have, and how to properly nurture those strengths. These key strengths are the foundation, and building blocks, for which a college major will ultimately be chosen, and for which you will be able to identify a career that is best suited for you.
And the very important decision of choosing a college major, and ultimately a lifelong career is formed, and cultivated during your educational years by the clubs and organizations you join, to the courses you take, to all those activities you take part in during summertime. What excites you, is fulfilling to you, and what you feel passionate about during your educational years help shape who you are, and how you will spend the rest of your life in a chosen profession, and how you will best serve your community. Let’s review three important strategies for how you can identify key strengths and interests, and how to best nurture and cultivate your passions so you can best prepare for your future!
Take an active role in extracurricular activities
To help identify key strengths and interests you may have, stepping outside of your coursework environment and getting involved in clubs, organizations, and any activity your school makes available to you is paramount. You have to remember, there is a lot more to school than just going to classes every day and studying required coursework. Sure, you may learn a lot academically, but you’ll fall short in developing many crucial life skills that can only be developed outside of the classroom environment. And more importantly, you won’t be able to fully explore and cultivate your unique talents and skills. And it is these talents and skills that can serve as the foundation to your chosen career.
Remember, your school isn’t just a vessel for which you attend courses and earn grades. It is also an all-encompassing resource haven for which you can tap into your abilities, talents, and unlocked potential. Showing up to school each day to just attend courses does a huge disservice for uncovering hidden potential, talents, and abilities you possess. How in the world are you going to know what talents and strengths you have if you don’t get involved and try things?
One of your main objectives when you are at your school is to look at what your school makes available for you in terms of clubs, organizations, and any activity—and then get involved! Don’t sit on the sidelines. Don’t observe, or be a passive spectator. And don’t overthink about what activities you think you may want to join. Just get involved and start trying things. The students who are the most fulfilled, most happy, and most successful are always the ones who are the ones who get involved and who are the most engaged.
But which school activity is right for you? The simple answer is any activity you enjoy is right for you. Just think about which activities you feel will be fun and spend time getting familiar with them. Your school may offer options that range from student government or model united nations, to the journalism or drama club, to the baseball or soccer team, to the jazz band. You just need to think about what excites you and how you want to spend your free time—and then seek out those activities. And the more you get involved, the more you will find out which activities you enjoy, and which activities you don’t.
And it is quite simple. Get involved and join different clubs, organizations, sports teams, or any activity that your school offers, and the ones you find you don’t have a strong interest in, and feel unfulfilled by, don’t continue being part of that activity. And the activities you find very interesting, develop a passion for, and get excited about, obviously continue to nurture and cultivate these activities. And then as you cultivate your interests and passions, you can deepen your involvement in activities by taking on leadership positions, and becoming more involved in meaningful and significant ways.
The bottom line is it is crucial to your development and growth to get involved at your school and to find your talents and abilities, and strengths. And then once you find your key strengths and talents, develop and nurture them. Then try to find a suitable college major that is aligned with these attributes. And ultimately, once a college major is chosen, you can then pick a career choice that makes sense and excites you! Now let’s look at how you can develop your passions through coursework offered at your school.
Be actively engaged in course selection at your high school
Another key way you can develop your interests and passions, and strengths is through coursework at your school. Colleges are interested in your course selection and that you are able to challenge yourself to the best of your abilities with the curriculum your school offers. Although this is important for college admissions, what is more important is that you are able to comfortably take coursework that you are passionate about, and you can excel in, and you show demonstrated interest and meaningful results. It is not good to attempt to excel in all your coursework at the highest level and then flounder in some courses because they are hard for you, you don’t have a strong interest in and desire for the subject matter.
It is important to assess your curriculum at your school and then try to maximize your potential at a level that makes sense for you. This means assessing your interests and strengths, and to take the most challenging classes that you can handle in the subjects that most interest you. So, if you are strong in English, take an honors English course, or if you are stronger in the sciences, push yourself to take an honors or AP biology course. The bottom line is develop your strengths and passions in your coursework that makes most sense for you, that is comfortable for you, and for which you are good at and most fulfilled. Because if you aren’t fulfilled and happy with the courses you push yourself in, you aren’t going to do well, and this poor strategy will not serve you well in later years when the bigger decisions come into play, like choosing a college major and career choice.
Remember, course selection is about developing you as an individual, not about trying to select courses to impress college admission officers. One of the most important aspects of high school is to develop yourself as a person, and what better way to do this than to discover passions through exploring different fields of study or topics of interest, not only through your core coursework, but in particular through elective classes. Elective courses give you a choice to nurture and cultivate your strengths, and to tap into hidden talents and abilities you possess through intentionally choosing those courses that most excite you, and for which you have a strong interest. Take full advantage of the flexibility and course offerings your school makes available to you to unlock your talents, abilities, and strengths, and to nurture and cultivate your full potential, because at the end of the day, that is what matters most. Use your course offerings at your school to pursue things you love, and grow, challenge yourself, push yourself, learn from your mistakes, and become the best version of yourself you can be.
Take advantage of summer breaks to develop your interests and passions
Summertime is a great time to really dive into your interests, passions, and strengths. This is a time to both have fun and relax, but also to further explore any passions you have. Summertime is not a time for you to turn into a human vegetable, to play video games all day, or lay around the house and do nothing. This is a great time to really explore and cultivate those things that excite you, that will help you grow as an individual, and that will help you in your future endeavors, both in college, and in your intended career.
For instance, if you are really interested in a certain course subject, then this is a great opportunity to build upon your area of interest by taking a summer class in this subject. If you like the sciences, you can take an extra science class either at your high school, or at the local college. This also applies to many other subjects: 1. Business, 2. Law, 3. Computer science, etc. Use your summer break to further learning opportunities and deepen your knowledge in a subject that really excites you, and for which you feel happy and good about. Taking an additional course during your summer break allows you to not only deepen and strengthen knowledge in areas that interest you, but to also do some pre-college course planning that can be directly in-line with a future intended college major. Always think about how what you do, and each choice you make, fits into the bigger plan of your life, and where you envision yourself in the future.
Another opportunity to develop your interests during the summer is through enrichment programs that many colleges offer for high school students. These programs might be for a certificate of completion or you can get college credit. Some programs can go beyond the content of a class by offering field trips, guest speakers, and/or a project. These enrichment programs sometimes are full-immersion experiences where students go off to another part of the country and spend upwards of a month living at a college campus immersed in a science camp, art program, or doing exciting research with a college professor. There are many types of enrichment programs, and these are powerful ways for students to really grow, learn, develop, and unlock talents and their potentials.
Also, using the summer for employment in an area that is interesting to you, and preferably is aligned with a college major or intended career choice, is a strategic, and wise way to spend summer months. For example, if you have an interest in the medical field, you can work as a lifeguard or at a doctor’s office; or if you enjoy the world of business, you can get an internship in a specific area of business that excites you. The point is to find some sort of employment opportunity that is not just doing remedial, repetitive, unfulfilling work that is not aligned in some way with your future goals, college ambitions, and intended career. Use summer months to deepen, and strengthen talents you may have and to find employment opportunities that will be a good stepping stone and building block for your future.
A recent study showed about 2/3rds of people say if they could have a different career, they would. They aren’t satisfied, they aren’t fulfilled. They don’t think they are in the right job after all. This is a sad and unfortunate statistic. This is a statistic that the young generation can greatly learn from. And it all begins at school. Are you going to show up every day, do the bare minimum, hang out, and not do anything to maximize your full potential, and unlock talents and abilities, and strengths you possess. Or are you going to use the opportunities and resources at your school to nurture and cultivate hidden and unlocked potential. Are you going to explore clubs, organizations, and athletic teams, and those activities your school makes available for you to really develop yourself, push yourself, and grow as an individual?
Also, are you going to use your school’s course curriculum to your advantage to learn from, to deepen and strengthen your passions, and to be the best version of yourself? And are you going to use summer breaks to find cool, exciting, and creative ways to grow and learn in a way that makes sense for your future. Being the best version of yourself and tapping into your talents, abilities, and strengths to grow in exciting and fulfilling ways during your school years is what you should be doing. And then aligning these attributes with a choice college major, and lifelong career is what will make your life successful, prosperous, rewarding, and empowered!
Dr. Jeff Haig, Dr. Brian Haig, and Maya Kelley, MS