Kids Don't Know What They're Going To Do -- and that's OK.
To be fair, in my circle of friends, the parents seem to have a good grasp on that, but the kids don't believe them. The fledglings are stressed, worried, unsure, and a little weirded out by this whole process. The parents, after a couple of decades raising children, have realized that nobody really knows what they're doing, and that's OK.
Certainly, we educate ourselves, we approach choices thoughtfully, and try (with all our might) to make sure we're making the best choice we can with the information we have. But in the end, it always feels like we're blindfolded, throwing darts. It takes us a while to realize all the others around us feel the same way. Thankfully, we're not all actually doing just that (that sounds like a terribly dangerous room to be in), but it absolutely feels that way. We come to terms with that at some point.
So I'm not really talking to you. But in a way, I am. When we understand that about ourselves, we can combine that understanding with the fact that that kids - who still have way more energy than we do, tend to experience things very deeply, have a drive to do Amazing things, and are also blessed with the ability to be ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN about many things - are also still very much just younger versions of their adult selves (they just haven't realized yet that the blindfolds-and-darts feelings don't ever really go away), and we can then relate to and encourage them in meaningful ways. Mostly by modeling and living what we know to be true. Definitely by using more than words...
Other than, "Don't worry about it," which sounds supremely ridiculous after umpteen years of, "You have to take care of the things in front of you!" and "Deadlines matter!" and other such prudent direction.
...Other than, "You'll figure it out".
...Other than, "You don't have to know what you're going to do." Again, compare this to at least a dozen years of hearing people - family, friends, strangers in the grocery store - ask them what they want to be when they grow up. After a while, it's pretty easy to interpret that to mean they're expected to have not just a clue, but an entire plan. If your fledgling is in the last few years of school, he/she likely feel like it's quickly heading to a double jeopardy round -
"I'll take College Majors for a thousand and pray I don't choke, Alex."
Some kids do have a plan. They have a solid plan. It is THE PLAN. And they come apart at the seams when that plan changes, or dissolves. They need us to model that it's OK.
Some kids are afraid to make a plan, because if it changes or dissolves, then that's failure. We have to think fondly back on some of our more meaningful failures and let them see us laugh about it, now. It's OK.
Some kids use the hold-off-on-all-decisions-until-there-is-only-one-option left approach to figuring out their path forward. For this, I can only recommend a hearty snifter of brandy and a good book. That one's painful to watch. But they're going to be OK. And honestly, they're going to be OK much more quickly than they feel, or we fear, or than anyone suspects. We need to reflect that they can do it, and that it will be OK.
I think the key might be in knowing (in our hearts) that it will be OK, and then freeing ourselves up from the pressure and the uncertainty to listen to (really hear) them, to empathize, and then we can throw darts to get the timing down for when to nudge and when to break out the tea and sympathy.
If you have fledged ones, what do they say was the most encouraging for them? What would they say helped the most as they were heading out? We'd love to hear their thoughts!