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‘What do I Want to Do When I grow Up’ | A Teenager’s Reflection

Leo Yu, a 16 year old Chinese student attending international school in Beijing, recently joined our teens empowerment/mentorship project this summer in 2023. I took him to the entrepreneurship story night by startup Grind where I was presenting as a guest speaker, with the hope of giving him some idea of what entrepreneurship is about. Not the logistical knowledge on how to start one, but rather the awareness of each entrepreneur’s inner self, both strengths and struggles, and understanding of ‘entrepreneur’ as a manifestation of how we interact with the world. At his age, teenagers are starting to answer the big question. Some teens set foot on the right path, and some do not. Those who do not, are still seeking answers today, regardless of their age.

What do I want to do when I grow up?

If you are a parent, a college application counselor, a teacher, I hope this #TeensOpenLetter can offer some deeper insights into a teen’s world beneath the surface level, and aid you to work with them better.

If you are a teenager reading this article, I hope you understand that the confusion, doubts, pressure, and stress at this time of your life are emotions that every teenager experience. Yet if you find that they are too much for you to deal with, and you start to experience depression or anxiety, don’t forget to reach out for help. School counselors are always there, guiding you through it. Have you met them yet?

Xiaojie Qin

Psychotherapist, Director of CandleX

Oct 2023


Leo Yu, that is my name. As you can tell from the last name, I’m Chinese. I'm currently 16 years old and in my junior year at an international school here. I grew up in an ordinary family no different from any other, with kids entering the world in the mid 00’s capital city of Beijing, China. My mother is a housewife, and my grandfather has been a doctor his entire life. He aspires for the younger generations of his family to pursue the same occupation as him. It was when one of my cousins told him she was going to major in medical management, that I saw a smile on his face that I had never seen before in my life. My dad, on the other side of my family, CEO of a well-known business abroad, also holds his own expectations for me to start a business. As for me, at the age of 16 I question myself, "What occupation should I pursue later in life?”. The thing is at this age, nearly reaching adulthood, teenagers get anxious due to the lessening amount of time they have left to answer to this question. A question that is asked by almost all family, relatives, and friends.

It wasn’t long ago in 2022, during my freshman year in high school, when I started pondering what the future holds for me almost on a daily basis. Viewing social media everyday and seeing people starting and booming up with their businesses caused me tremendous stress and pressure. In my view, being an entrepreneur, especially one with an economics or business major, is not such a unique or personal choice since it is the advice that almost every Chinese family provides their children. At the same time, I felt scared about being replaced by artificial intelligence. Or ending up in a job that cannot sustain my desired lifestyle and hobbies (take for example my interest in the rhetoric of English language and literature). I, like many of my peers, was raised with the constant question of what career path we are going to follow. Occupations such as “doctor”, “CEO”, or “engineer’’ are the most common responses that fill our classroom. All of us have, at one point or another, aspired to get a job that offers a lucrative wage; to make a name for not just ourselves, but for our family. My journey towards discovering my career path has been filled with twists and turns, not just from peer pressures, but also the “iron chains” that family expectations put on us, restraining our choices. I don’t know if my parents know that the high expectations they put on their children creates such heavy burden.

To be quite frank, I really wish that my parents could communicate with me in a way that differs to how their own parents demonstrated their love. I wish that I could overcome the fear of opening up to my parents, and tell them the way I actually want them advise me when it comes to my future career. Not through common phrases such as: “this is for your own good” or “this is what you really need in the future to live a lavish life.” Rather, I dream that maybe someday I could hear them say: “I'm here to support you every step of the way,” or “I trust and have faith in every decision that you make.” I don’t tell them this because I fear that they might take it as criticism, and that’s not what I mean. I also know that they do what they do out of love. So I haven’t expressed how I really feel in an honest and transparent way. I fear that, if I do, they wouldn’t be able to listen because they already know what they want from me. Do they care about what I want for me? Although this is their way of expressing their love and care, and they do want the best for me - a stable, rich life ahead - I just have to say it all feels just like any other traditional family with kids born in 00’s. I personally believe that what I really need and want is to have my parents’ method of care changed, the tone of their voices from demanding to inviting and affectionate.

Ultimately, what I seek is a shift in the way my parents and I communicate as I continue to explore my career path. I aspire to find balance between following my own passions in psychology and mental health, and fulfilling the desires of my parents to the fullest possible and attainable extent. In the end, I hope that my parents can embrace the idea that my happiness and fulfillment lie not just in meeting societal and familial expectations, but in pursuing a career that truly resonates with my passions and values. And so, as I continue this path of self-discovery into the unknown, I remain optimistic that we can bridge the gap of misunderstanding between generations to foster a bond and bridge built on mutual understanding and unwavering support.


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