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By Maxine Roeper Cohen, M.S.

This is an exciting and frantic time of year for high school seniors. Many are laboring to complete college applications, and then are anxiously waiting for college acceptances. Others are graduating with high school diplomas and are eager, and also petrified, to enter the work world. This is certainly a pivotal moment in teenagers’ lives, when they are ready to leave the proverbial “nest” and strike out on their own, wherever that might be. In planning for the future after high school, many are advised to find their Passion (with a capital P) and pursue it. For the lucky few who have a clear vision of that passion and how they will work towards that goal, life is not that complex. Most teens don’t know what that passion is.

Between the years of 2002 to 2009, a series of studies were conducted at the Stanford Center on Adolescence. More than 1,200 teens were surveyed. The findings are very interesting. Only about 20% of young people between the ages of 12 to 26 had a clear idea of what they wanted to accomplish in life. After graduating from college, and within only a few years, only 27% of young people worked in a field related to their college major. How does a young adult find that passion?

Most of us don’t have a single passion, a singular motivator which guides us on a straight path through life. There is no one, or right, path to take. In fact, students today should expect to have at least three, and more likely five, different jobs or careers during their working lives. The way to finding that passion is to be curious and look for hands-on experiences. Students need to read, to build with technology. They need to help in their communities and learn to interact with all age groups. They need to join clubs and work in small groups on projects. They need to stand up for what they believe in, to communicate eye to eye, and be well informed. They need to learn the importance of time management, self-control, and taking responsibility. They need to look forward to each day, to be open, aware, and eager to take the next step. They don’t need to plan an entire life. Passion, or motivation, comes from being involved in a variety of experiences, and then analyzing and seeing what “fits” for the time being. Building a future requires a strong academic foundation, bolstered by participating in extracurricular activities, trying out roles, and strengthening personal skills and strengths. Teens don’t need to wait for Passion to strike; they just have to be mindful of what they do each day, and pursue what is meaningful, interesting, and worthwhile.

Maxine Roeper Cohen is a Parent Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at



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