I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up…
And that’s OK.
As kids we’re told that we can do anything; that we can be anything. But as we get older, the world‘s less than favorable track record of opening doors and presenting opportunities becomes abundantly clear.
I say this knowing full well that I have been afforded far more opportunities and had at least two doors held open for me longer than they should have been simply because of my completely, uncontrollably favorable life circumstances.
But as the beginning of my fourth decade looms around the corner, I find myself returning to those days as a kid when the world was laid out like a blank page in front of me, waiting to be filled with excitement, adventure, exploration, curiosity, and the limitless possibilities that existed so freely in that moment.
That kind of unadulterated freedom and creativity existed simply because it was encouraged, it was allowed, and it was expected. Some poor overly energetic souls may have been tethered to the eternal confines of the child leash, but there were no reins to hold back our imaginations. Not yet at least.
Fast forward to my 4 (OK, 5) years of college, where I really only learned two things. 1- That I was, by definition, a failure at math and science. 2- That there is no way anyone can know what they want to do for the rest of their lives without actually doing it first. I went to school for the better part of two decades, but all I learned was that I didn’t want to go to school anymore. That was about it for my “hands-on experience”.
My chosen field of study was Communications, which is kind of backwards for me since I’m most comfortable not talking to people. All I knew was that I wanted to create things. I wanted to make the things that make other people happy. My love of movies and video games, sci-fi, and a freakish ability to churn out “B” worthy papers 3 hours before they were due indicated that writing might be a worthwhile endeavor.
Employers, it seemed, did not share the “you can do and be anything” mentality that I was informed of as a kid. It turns out that you need tangible skills in your chosen field. Luckily for me, I had written a Dickensian amount of papers, both creative and scholarly, in my years of diligent study. Surely that would convince them of my raw talent, waiting to be… What’s that? I need experience too? Well, this is awkward…
I finally managed to land a few jobs in marketing/advertising, which gave me the opportunity to stretch my creative muscles, but only so far as other people would let me. My bosses and clients preferred to dictate so much of what I wrote that I ended up asking them why they even bothered to seek my help, shortly before it was suggested that I begin looking for other employment.
I’ve come to realize that society has a funny way of encouraging us to be ourselves, so long as we don’t color too far outside of its lines. Like playing in a sandbox as a kid; you can do anything you want, so long as you keep the sand inside the rigid, preset confines. Advertisements tell us what to wear, eat, drink, and do while our families tell us how to act, think, and feel.
As I watch my friends get married, buy houses, and have kids, the traditions and pressures of a society whose sum changes slower than its parts continually remind me that I’m not doing things the way they are. I used to give these pressures the time of day, allowing them to influence what I thought and how I felt, but I could never fully understand that way of thinking. I didn’t once begrudge anyone for living their life in their chosen fashion, but I knew that certain aspects just weren’t for me.
I can happily say that I’ve found a good job, but I’m hardly alone in saying that I don’t plan to be a cog in the corporate machine until I retire (if retirement is still a reality in 2050). My childhood dreams of being an astronaut have long since faded (thanks a lot color blindness), and I’m beginning to think that these NHL teams aren’t getting the super sweet skills videos I’ve been sending in, but is there an age where we’re expected to give up on our dreams? To stop wanting and needing something more?
I don’t know if I’ll ever be satisfied with where I’m at in life. I don’t think enough is enough, and I don’t think that’s such a bad thing, as long as we’re driven to do better. To make our lives better, to make the lives of others better, and with hope, make society better. Even if we don’t know what we want to be when we grow up, as long as we want to be something, that’s OK