Didn't get that college place you wanted? Don't stress, you have options, lots of them. Now might not be the right time for college, and you may need more time to figure out what you want to do. You could also choose not to go to college at all. Whatever you do, follow your gut instinct and go easy on yourself. You've spent most of your adult life in an education system that didn't always offer you many choices.
This is a crossroads in your life when you can make big decisions that will help you create the future you really want, although there shouldn't be any pressure to figure it all out now. Research shows that most people don't enjoy their jobs so it's important not to rush into anything.
My main question to you is what makes you come alive? Of course it's important to be practical and to think about money and all of that, but it's just as important to think about what excites you, what your passions are, and what your dream life might look like. There's a saying, 'follow your bliss', which means that if you follow the thing that makes your heart sing then you can't go too far wrong in life.
You have hundreds of options. Below are just ten that come to mind.
1. Knuckle down and try again next year
You can always go back to school, repeat your exams, and try again next year. Not an easy choice. Your friends will have moved on and it might be tricky gathering momentum again. Keep in mind there are no guarantees of success the next time round. However, it can be done. You might even be able to focus better and the time will fly. Consider it carefully and don't be pressurised by anyone. It is your life.
2. Look into different course options
Consider a short course as a taster, or one that is part-time or takes just a year or two. This will give you a chance to see if you like it before committing to further study. You can also take one of the many free online courses provided by universities like Yale and Harvard. Check out www.coursera.com and Irish website www.alison.com. There's a great list of Irish PLC and other courses here.
Remember too that some colleges allow you to apply directly to them for course entry, even up to the last minute, so have a look around to see what your options are. If choosing a course, try something that really interests you, otherwise it'll be hard to study and you may end up going down a road that you'll regret later.
3. Study up north or go abroad - it might even be free
Belfast, for example, is just two hours from Dublin and is a great city with lots of colleges, although fees can be expensive. It can be easier to get into colleges overseas but you might incur heavier fees in non EU countries. If you are from an EU country, there are lots of zero fee options and often universities in the Netherlands, Germany and elsewhere have courses that are taught in English. Living costs are generally less than in Ireland and you might even get a scholarship.
Check www.eahep.org/europeanhigher-education/study-in-europe.html or just do an internet search for 'degrees taught in English in the EU' and take it from there. Also, there are lots of websites with scholarship information. Search for 'undergraduate scholarships' and check out www.scholars4dev.com and www.scholarship-positions.com.
4. Get a job, or start an apprenticeship
This gives you a chance to save some money and it takes the pressure off decision making. Either choose something where you'll learn skills or something handy with no stress that gives you some space to think. You could also get an apprenticeship (electrical, carpentry, hairdressing etc.), which is a good mix of work and study while still getting a qualification.
5. Become an entrepreneur or an artist
You might have a winning idea that you've been sitting on and now is a chance to give it a go. Lots of really successful people started out young. Some never went to college, and many others were college 'drop-outs' including Abraham Lincoln, Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerburg, Oprah, Ralph Lauren, and John Lennon.
If thinking about a business idea, plot out your idea and try to find allies (not negative people) who will support and advise you. Draw up a mini business plan and ask for help from your local enterprise office. The key here is self belief. Likewise, if you are a really creative person, someone good at music, writing, arts or crafts, then now might be a good time to really dive into your art and see what's possible.
6. Volunteer at the university of life
Either volunteer in your local area, or in another town, city or country. Volunteering opens up the world to you. You can often get free food and accommodation, and it can give you a chance to travel, make new friends and learn new skills. If you volunteer with a charity that people want to support then your friends and family might help you fundraise to pay for your flight. Try to choose a volunteering opportunity related to something that interests you and where you'll be treated right and given a real opportunity to learn something. There are a ton of websites online with lots of info and opportunities.
7. Intern and learn new skills
This can be a bit like volunteering as unfortunately many internships don't pay, but some do pay a basic stipend. Choose a company or organisation that you really respect and where you'll be given real experience, not just treated as a 'dogsbody'. This could be invaluable experience and it's a chance to try out a career you might have in mind. It'll also look good on the CV.
8. Travel and see the world
The world is a big place and now is a great time to discover it. Travel can be the best education of all. You can travel cheaply if you stay in hostels or use services Wwoof, Helpx, and WorkAway, which can give you free food and accommodation and allow you to meet really interesting people in exchange for a few hours work each day. You can also volunteer and work part-time as you travel.
Couch Surfing is also a great option for meeting people and getting free places to stay. You can also survive in many countries in Asia, South America and Africa on as little as €15-€30 per day. Try to be adventurous, but always be safe and stay in touch with friends and family. Consider language lessons abroad. You can study cheaply and it's a great chance to practice as you learn. You could always blog as you go, which is what Irishman Niall Doherty is doing as he travels around the world without flying.
9. Chill out or mix it up
Sometimes you just need a break, to chill out and see what happens. Often people come up with their best ideas when they are rested and have time to think. Meditation is also a good way of calming the mind and getting clearer answers. You could always try a combination of all the above options; a bit of rest, study, work, travel and volunteering. There are many options on offer and you might think of others.
10. Still confused? Consider a vision quest
A vision quest is an intentional quest for answers that is common in many cultures. It can take different forms, and you can make up your own one, but generally it means some time alone, often in nature, seeking out deeper answers about who you are and what your special role on earth is. It could be walking the Camino, or camping in the woods for the weekend. Sounds mad? Maybe, but not as mad as going through life with no vision at all.
Whatever path you choose, do what is right for you. Don't live your life following someone else's dream. Life is too short.
I'll leave the last word with Nelson Mandela, who said:
"There is no passion to be found playing small - in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living"
Myself and Susan had been in the U.S for over a month and we were hanging for a good night out. We knew Glen Hansard was coming to Oakland and we made several attempts at booking tickets but always ended up putting it on the long finger. Susan's friend Patrice was due to visit and we wanted to check with her first if she wanted to come. Turns out Patrice had also tried to book them but there was a problem with the online booking system. In the days before the gig I hovered over Ticketmaster, ready to press the trigger. However something was telling me to hold off. I wasn't sure what it was, or why, but I just heard this little voice nudging me to wait.
I knew we might end up missing out completely but still, I decided to ride it out. Then, on the morning of the gig I got an unexpected email from Chris Drury, an American friend of a friend who had stayed with us two years ago in Dublin as part of his world peace pilgrimage. Chris had emailed months ago to say he was staying an hour north of us but I had totally forgotten. Turns out that he is living with Sean Hayes, a well known musician who would be supporting Glen Hansard at the spectacular Fox Theater that evening.
He wanted to know if we wanted guest list tickets. Boom, we were in!
Meeting Chris reminded me of the strange world of synchronicity and reciprocity, the random encounters that lead to other unplanned connections and happenings down the road. We had given Chris, then a stranger who became a friend, some Irish hospitality and here he was, unexpectedly, returning it in divine style over two years later.
We ended up having a fantastic night. We went backstage and met Sean, his wife Harmony, and some of the other musicians. Sean played an amazing set and later Chris presented us with a signed copy of his recently published book 'The Light Inside' which documents his peace pilgrimage.
As for the Glen Hansard gig, well, that man can rock! What a night. He was in his element, banging out his solo stuff, a few covers, and a Frames number. It was a little odd seeing some of the Frames lads on stage without violin supremo Colm Mac Con Iomaire. However I knew he was busy back home putting the finishing touches on his new solo album, which I'm sure will only serve to further highlight his own musical genius.
Speaking of Colm, another so called random encounter. On the way back from the bathroom I got a bit lost in the crowd. I couldn't find my way back to our spot up front. Standing there lost, a lady turned around to me and says 'hey, I know you'. I said 'nah, I don't think so'. She said 'sure, you're a friend of Colms' (Colm Mac Con Iomaire) that is. 'He told me to look out for you in San Francisco. I recognise you from Twitter!'. Turns out Lisa and her friend Ana are long time American Frames heads and friends of the lads.
It was another lovely twist on a beautiful night.
As for that thing, that mysterious voice that led us not to book the tickets. Well, call it gut feeling, a hunch, a sense, intuition or instinct, I don't know. It's like some form of higher intelligence beyond the realm of the mind, the world wide cosmic web that you can log into if you listen and trust enough.
The more I take this approach, the more I trust it and the more 'mad stuff', so called coincidences or random encounters occur. There's also the karma factor, you give with an open heart, and you end up receiving down the road.
It's still a mystery and one I love.
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In the week the world lost Robin Williams, some reflection on the theme of happiness is no harm. The day after his death I was given such an opportunity when I was invited to a free screening of the Project Happiness film at the Berkeley Impact Hub, which is located upstairs from my office at the Citizen Engagement Lab.
The film came about after Randy Taran discovered her teenage daughter was stressed, saying "I want to be happy, I just don't know how". Randy wanted to do something and so the Project Happiness film project was born.
It became a youth-led quest for answers by teens from the U.S, Nigeria and the Tibetan children's village in Dharamshala, culminating in a meeting with the Dalai Lama in India. Before heading off to India, the U.S students had the opportunity to interview George Lucas, creator of the Star Wars film series, and hear first hand how his spirituality and world view influences his creativity. They also met world-renowned neuroscientist Dr. Richard J. Davidson.
There was something inspiring about watching young minds open up to the bigger world, in all its forms. The teens were given the space to explore, discuss, debate and to dream in ways that modern life doesn't always facilitate in free and open ways.
The film has since given birth to an organisation, also called Project Happiness, that promotes youth health, resilience and empowerment in over 80 countries worldwide. They have a small staff but are growing rapidly, and have over 255,000 Facebook fans.
I know from my work with SpunOut.ie, Gaisce, Soar and various other youth orgs, that young people are crying out for meaningful engagement. Often their cries come in the form of alcohol and drug abuse, unhealthy sexual or so called anti-social behaviour, or silent suffering like self-harm, eating disorders, or depression. The remit of spiritual and emotional development has traditionally belonged to parents, educators, psychologists and the religious, but the world is changing fast and we need new, more open source, forms of engagement and support. In creating time and space for young people to grow, we all grow. Likewise, building a fairer, justice and inclusive society will benefit everyone.
Just minutes after the screening I got chatting to a guy about the same age as myself and he somehow ended up telling me about his own battles with alcohol and how he is now sober and living a richer life as result. There was something about us both making time to see the film that opened up space to reflect and to share, and this in turn led to a more meaningful conversation, beyond just the usual chat of work, weather or 'whatever'.
I intend looking into the work of Project Happiness further and seeing what lessons might be applied back home in Ireland, and how in particular it relates to the amazing work being done by Soar. As it happens, Soar is inspired by Joseph Campbell's concept of 'the heroes' journey', which was instrumental in inspiring the work of George Lucas. The idea is that we are all on a heroes journey, or at least we can be. We are called to act, to find courage and conquer demons, and it's up to each of us to rise to our own unique challenges.
Some of Robin Williams' movies took on these themes, especially Dead Poets Society, which documented the journey in helping young people free their minds. It was clear from Robbins' life that he was a man who battled with demons, but also became a magificant hero in his own journey, and in turn he inspired and helped millions. His death is a tragedy and a call to attention when it comes to the need to look out for each other.
For me, I know that I need to up my own game when it comes to my personal happiness project. I've slipped 'off the wagon' recently when it comes to meditation and self-care and it's time to re-focus on that as a way of being clearer and more effective at work and in all aspects of life. A big part of that means getting offline more, into the wild, and worrying less about money, and things that might never happen.
Remember, look after yourself, and as they say in Star Wars, 'may the force be with you'.
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Check out Project Happiness here, and their promo video below:
Wednesday August 6th marked the 69th anniversary of the U.S atomic bombing of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Between 90,000 and 140,000 people were killed in what was perhaps the most cruel and cowardly attack in history. On the day I was reminded of the Wally Page song about the bombings, which was made popular by the iconic Irish folk singer Christy Moore.
As a way of marking the day I attended a public talk by well known anti-nuclear activist Harvey Wasserman who has been campaigning against nuclear power and weapons for the past 40 years. Harvey addressed a crowd of over 200 mostly older activists in the meeting hall of the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists. I was struck by the average age profile (60+), which prompted me to wonder if the younger generation will continue on their work. I was also aware that these were people who had spent the last four decades working, mostly voluntarily, and against the odds, for a better world.
Wasserman, runs NukeFree.org, which is supported by Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne. He co-wrote the 'song for solartopia' with the legendary Pete Seeger. He told a story of living in a rural community in the 60s and how they beat back the threat of a nuclear power station at a time when many people weren't aware of the dangers. This reminded me of the inspirational 1970s campaign which prevented a nuclear power plant from being built at Carnsore Point in Co. Wexford, Ireland. The story also had echoes of what is going on in North Mayo, in Fermanagh, and in communities around the world that are facing the might of fracking and mining companies.
Wasserman spoke of the health dangers of nuclear power and in particular of the safety risks it poses, which are especially noteworthy given that nuclear power plant owners are not insured against the risks. The Chernobyl disaster is the most obvious example of things going wrong and he spoke at length of the fall out of this, which included thousands of deaths and countless others who suffered cancers and other health effects.
He mentioned one statistic, one he said he hates quoting, that 85% of children in Belarus are Chernobyl victims, meaning, incredibly, only 15% of kids there TODAY are considered healthy. He talked about how the Soviet Union sent 100,000s draftees to clean up the nuclear disaster and how these soldiers were subsequently instrumental in ending the Soviet Union after experiencing its cruelty first hand.
After Chernobyl, it was promised that this couldn't happen again but in 2011 the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan reminded us of the grave dangers of nuclear power. Not much is known about the true scale of the fall-out as the Japanese government, media and nuclear industry are keen to prevent a deeper look. ( Read more here).
What is known is that they are struggling to manage the disaster and that their new attempts at building a massive ice wall seem inadequate. Wasserman claims that thyroid cancer rates in children are known to be 40 times higher around Fukushima and that he has yet to have any real opposition to his article 'Fukushima's children are dying'. In the article he quotes a study from Fukushima Medical University which showed nearly 200,000 kids suffering from pre cancerous thyroid abnormalities.
It is also claimed that Japan's water and fish are polluted and that this toxicity has drifted into the Pacific Ocean, which has led to claims that fish in California have tested positive to having traces of Fukushima nuclear waste. (Note, this study is disputed). Meanwhile, the company which owns Fukushima, (TEPCO) Tokyo Electric Power Company, maintains control of the plant and recorded a massive $1.8 billion profit last year thanks in part to government clean-up subsidies.
Wasserman paid tribute to Masao Yoshida, the courageous general manager of the Fukushima nuclear plant, whose actions (against company orders), he said potentially saved millions of people from a far worse faith. Yoshida has since died from cancer.
While it might seem that much of Wasserman's talk was apocalyptic and depressing, his tone was determined and upbeat, saying that, despite the mountain to climb, there are reasons to be hopeful as the tide is turning towards a revolution in renewable energy. There was the reminder that after Fukushima, Japan closed down all of its nuclear power plants, as did Germany, and that the industry appears to be losing support in France. Wasserman said that China plans to build more reactors, as does the UK (one very close to Ireland), but that the real momentum is now with green energy and Germany in particular is taking a lead in showing the world a new way. He proclaimed that technologies that were laughed at in the 70s are now on the verge of becoming mainstream and the future is a 'solartopia' made up of wind, wave and solar power among others. He said that neither fracking nor nuclear can solve employment or climate change challenges and that some major corporations are now seeing the light.
Siemens are trailblazing a shift in approach in Germany and energy giant G.E is building giant offshore windmills, while Norway and Portugal are pioneering wave power. Wasserman believes that the world will soon remember the great potential offered by the hemp industry which was once a huge force in the provision of food, shelter, building and energy before losing out to the petrochemical lobby. He called on us to take hope from the massive uptake in electric cars in the U.S and elsewhere and the ambitious plans of the Telsa motor company.
He encouraged the crowd to check out the work of the Rocky Mountain Institute and to remember that if anything is more powerful than the profit motive, that it is humanity's survival instinct.
The topic of Wasserman's talk was not easy going but his delivery and his attitude reminded me that it is people like him, people who dedicate their lives to people and planet, that are true heroes. They often go under the radar, but their work, in saying what some don't want to hear, forces humanity to face up to a dark side that affects us all. It is in acknowledging the dark that we can liberate the light, and Wasserman and his campaigning friends are doing us all a great service.
Fulbright scholar at Citizen Engagement Lab, Berkeley
“The only people who should be allowed to govern countries with nuclear weapons are mothers, those who are still breast-feeding their babies.” - Tsutomu Yamaguchi
News - Fukashima worse than previously reported
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