Walking toward the racing track, tensions rise. Casey warms up before she gets into the “set” position. Everyone knows she’s going to win. She has never lost before. She’s the best. Her parents watch her from a distance; they cheer and clap for her. Casey looks to the ground and then the path ahead. The plot unfolds as a song is played, “I’d wish to have a robot heart…”

The starter yells the command “Set” followed by a loud shout from the starting gun. The crowd cheers, and the sprinters begin to run with all they’ve got. Casey is unable to move, she stays behind. Still in the ‘set’ position, she looks around, and then at her parents.

Casey’s father: “Go! Casey, run.”

Casey stands up, leaving her position, breathing heavily, her steps reverse from the racing track. She goes home.

(Going back a few days before the final race.)

Casey’s Father: “Check this out. It’s from UCLA.”

Casey: “What is this? Are you opening my mail?”

Casey’s father: “I’m sorry. It said UCLA. I got excited. It’s an official letter of interest. It means they’re really interested in you. They’re even gonna send a recruiter to watch you run at the next race.”

Casey’s mother: “Our little speedster!”

Casey’s father: “I am so proud of you, Casey.”

Casey is a young girl and a racing athlete in college and she is training to get into a university and also fulfill her career aspirations. But somehow, she finds herself staring into her bathroom mirror, putting Band-Aids on each fingernail she bit, and breaking into a panic attack. Something is troubling her but she doesn’t know who to turn to or talk to about her inner dilemma.

(A few hours after the racing track incident, Casey sits by a window in her house. Her college friend who was also on her racing team visits Casey.)

Izzie: “You just walked off. Are you hurt? Are you sick?”

Casey: “No. I don’t know. I couldn’t do it.”

Izzie: “Do what? Run?”

Casey: “It’s just too much. People expect too much from me. I just couldn’t breathe. I mean… track used to be fun. It used to be the only time I could breathe… but today I couldn’t.”

Atypical is a coming-of-age television series that focuses on Sam Gardner, an 18-year-old who is on the autism spectrum. But today, we focus on his sister, Casey, who was on her way to a bright future when suddenly she developed cold feet, literally, on a racing track.

She faced pressure from her family, coaches, and peers to take up a specific path in her athletic career. Her parents were so excited that they failed to see what Casey was going through and neither did she find it in herself to open up and talk about how she truly felt.

Struggling with the part of meeting everyone else’s expectations, Casey grappled with her desire to assert her independence. She felt targeted while trying to align them with her personal goals and aspirations with her decisions. This starts to affect her on the racing track, including the dynamics of her relationship with her family and friends.

Why did Casey lose the ground from under her feet when she finally had the opportunity of a lifetime? What was holding her back?

Deciding on your career includes several factors, from identifying your interests, strengths, and natural tendencies. It also involves figuring out the field where you can integrate yourself into the right career path based on your natural inclinations. However, for many children, unwanted factors are also forced into their decision-making process. These cover aspects that are not even supposed to be part of the decision-making process.

Some of the common factors include:

· Parent’s aspirations – what they want their child to become.

· Backup plans – Many times, parents “allow” their children to follow their dreams with a condition; to ensure a backup plan is in place.

· Peer pressure – a child may decide what they want to become because it’s what their peers are pursuing.

· Salary-rich jobs – Some career paths are chosen solely based on the income level.

· Economic conditions – Understandably, some career paths are selected based on what one can afford for their child to pursue.

While the last decision may not be in one’s control, one can revisit the remaining factors within reasonable boundaries. Parents want their children to succeed in life. Here, the desire to ensure their children succeed in life is a result but what about the journey, the actions, or the intent? Furthermore, if the child wishes to pursue a career that doesn’t seem promising to the parents, they give their approval but with a clause. “Do what you want but first complete your MBA or IT, Engineering, etc. This way if your plan A does not work out for you in the next six months or one year, you’ve got plan B to back you up.”

On the other hand, peers play an influencing role but one can still decide whether or not it needs to drive their career choice. Similarly, many career decisions are made solely on the salary package of the first job. Whether or not it aligns with one’s aspirations, natural tendencies, and strengths becomes an afterthought.

Casey loved to run, but the moment she felt pressured into achieving everyone’s expectations, she was weighed down. She would breathe nervously, she would chip off her fingernails when she was stressed, and sometimes she would just sit quietly, uncomfortable to reveal what she truly felt. All this led to the final moment where she froze on the racing track and was unable to run.

This brief monologue of Casey confiding in her friend spares no detail about what most children being pressured about their career decisions experience.

Casey: “We went to this meeting, me and Izzie, with the GSA at school, and she just felt like they got her. She found a community there immediately. And I feel like she knows herself better. And I don’t. I feel like I’m not supposed to not know. I’ve just done all this work on myself, in my head, trying to figure out what I want… I feel like I need to do more, say more, and be more certain… but I just don’t know how I’m supposed to be loud, bold, and political about something if I don’t even know how to talk about it yet. I mean, is there something wrong with me because I don’t know exactly who I am?”

When one is plagued with assumptions of the self, fulfilling the expectations of others, and is driven by desires about the future or a career choice, one tends to lose their ground of neutrality. They are unable to transcend above the expectations, assumptions, and desires that pull them down. All of these collective elements cause them to develop a sense of fear about the result of their actions. This in turn compels them to focus more on the result than on the intent and actions. They can no longer identify their natural tendencies and strengths.

When the focus is on the result, the actions are based on fear and desire. Finally, when the result is achieved, it troubles the person even more as it’s not exactly what one intended for their future.

In the case of making a career decision, identifying one’s natural tendencies and strengths is very important. It can help develop the right roadmap for one’s career path. Casey was struggling with her identity – who she was, and what she wanted. She was also trying to meet her parents and coaches’ expectations. The walls started to close in on her when she realized how everyone was riding their expectations and desires on her back. This is what started to weigh her down, making her lose her ground of neutrality. Even though she knew her strengths, she just didn’t know how to rely on herself without feeling the burden of presumptuous desires.

When you apply just the right pressure on anything, it can be molded into what you want it to be. However, if you apply immense pressure on it, you are bound to break it. Hence, defeating its purpose! You were never meant to be a pressure valve for others to control. Therefore, do not try to be one just to please others and meet their expectations, assumptions, and desires.

Casey felt the same kind of pressure even though those around her meant well. However, after much reflection and deep introspection, Casey could see the clear picture and decide what she wanted to do. She goes back to the place where running made her feel good and breathe again. It was a decision that naturally flowed within her. Casey went back to her previous high school because it was what she truly wanted.

Casey: “And that’s why I want to come back to the team. If you’ll have me.”

Coach Briggs: “Wow. Well heck. We’ll have you back, of course. We are exceptionally mediocre and you are freaky fast. But are you sure this is what you want to do?”

Casey: “I am”

Coach Briggs: “Welcome Home”

Casey took her time to self-reflect and realized early on where she wanted to pursue her career. Similarly, students who need guidance can:

·       Seek professional help from a Career Mentor

·       Seek guidance from a trusted individual with a neutral perspective

·       Or, do what Casey did; pause and self-reflect until the answers from within emerge

With the right guidance and career mentor, you can develop the best career compass to navigate your journey and future.

Just remember that life is not a race although one has to be reminded about it many times.

Almost every child is put on a racing track that’s not theirs to run. Ultimately, they’re forged into robot soldiers manufactured simply to overcome the speed of a racing bullet. Therefore, whatever career path you decide, make sure to align it with your purpose and true identity.

Here are some meaningful words that I once heard. It’s from a song sung by Fleurie and Tommee Profitt that perfectly talks about the race most of us are trying to conquer.


Soldier keep on marchin’ on

Head down ’til the work is done

Waiting on that morning sun

Soldier keep on marchin’ on

Head in the dust, feet in the fire

Labour on that midnight wire

Listening for that angel choir

You got nowhere to run

You wanna take a drink of that promised land

You gotta wipe the dirt off of your hands

Careful son, you got dreamer’s plans

But it gets hard to stand

Quiet now, you’re gonna wake the beast

Hide your soul out of his reach

Shiver to that broken beat

Dark into the heat

Soldier keep on marchin’ on

Head down ’til the work is done

Waiting on that morning sun

Soldier keep on marchin’ on

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