You watch your 5-year-old child as they play with Tonka trucks in the corner… making the trucks pick up small debris from the floor and replicating sounds that remind you of a car revving its engine before the light changes to green. You’re having coffee with a friend who smiles and says to your child: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and your child doesn’t even hesitate before saying “A trucker!”
Is this how we decide what to do with the rest of our lives? I loved dressing up and creating characters that would dramatically saunter around my house in my mother’s high heels… but I didn’t wind up an Oscar-winning actress. In fact, I also loved (and still do) watching a scary murder-plot movie, but somehow avoided the destiny of becoming a serial killer. Well, the fact that I thought the expression was CEREAL Killer (someone who fishes out the lucky charms and then puts the empty box back in the cupboard) when I was a child, might be an example of my innocence that kept me from fulfilling that prophecy. I sometimes hear people reminisce on their childhood and make remarks about personality traits that led them to where they are now, but how many kids really end up being firemen because they dressed up as one when they were 8 for Halloween?
I’m 28 years old and I still have a few friends that sit around with me and talk about what we’re going to “be when we grow up.” Wait a second, aren’t we grown up yet? It’s a battle that I struggle with—wanting to be a regular mature adult, but really just wanting to dance on my couch in my penguin pajamas to old Spice Girls songs. When do we become what we always thought we would, and what happens if we never really knew what we wanted to be?
I think often of lyrics from a song I heard on the radio in the late 90s: “Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life… some of the most interesting I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives, some of the most interesting 40 year olds I know still don’t.” – Everybody’s free (to wear sunscreen) by Baz Luhrmann à
One way people seem to stall choosing their future career these days is by becoming a “professional student.” This sounds ridiculous, but it’s a common phrase thrown around among people in their twenties and early to mid-thirties. A professional student is someone who can’t figure out what they want to do so they just keep enrolling in different degrees and diplomas. They hide safely under the student status. Instead of telling people they don’t have a job right now, they can say they’re a student and a whole new level of respect is instantly administered to them. Heck, you could take a calligraphy class for two hours once a week on Tuesday night and somehow gain respect under the title of “student” to your peers.
I’ll openly admit that I know what a professional student is because I am one myself. When I need car insurance, it takes me at least an hour to sort through which university alumni deal gets me the best rate. However, I’ve had a lot of great jobs throughout my university years and in between programs that would normally be enough to make other people settle down and call themselves a lifer. I just can’t deny that small voice in me that wants something different… something more. For, how would we know we truly LOVE a job until we’ve worked one we certainly don’t? The same rule applies to happiness generally. You cannot feel true happiness unless you’re aware of how uncomfortable and awful it is to feel unhappy. Only once you’ve experienced the bad can you harvest an appreciation for the good.
I had a job interview recently where the prospective employer was looking over my resume and then said “You have a very… eclectic resume. It looks like you have a lot of education and extra-curricular courses you’ve taken, but your work experience isn’t related to any of them. Why is that?” I can’t even remember what my reply was. I remember mentioning something about my obsession with learning and the fact that I’ll be taking sporadic random courses until I’m 90. The answer really is that I love finding new skills and acquiring new knowledge. I just haven’t found anything that I’m ready to dedicate my entire life to. I’ve felt guilty about this since the beginning of university, but I think I’m ready now to let go of caring how fancy my job title is and mulling over the fact that I don’t have a five-year-plan. I’m learning as I go and I’ve gotten to work in some fascinating industries with incredible people that have made a deep impact on my life.
After years of fighting myself over what career path I could eventually collapse into, I realized that as long as I enjoy whatever task I’m doing, I refuse to be embarrassed about it. If I was the BEST barista at a coffee shop and had a great group of regular customers I could call by name, I’m OK with that.
By no means am I saying one should settle for mediocrity. I just mean that you need to love what you do and how you do it. If you’re driven and passionate about running a Fortune 500 company, then do everything you can to get there. If you find peace in creating art or even something like knitting, maybe you could try to sell your creations at a local flea market. Maybe you love money and determine your level of success by having only the finest things, or maybe you just want to have enough to live a regular life and buy something fun for yourself every now and then. Regardless, don’t let anyone tell you that something you love isn’t right. Take your time to find what you love and never dull down your own success to make others feel better; instead let it inspire those around you to spend some time exploring and discovering their own passions.