“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…” – Dr. Seuss: Oh The Places You’ll Go!
When I was five, I was certain I wanted to become a ballerina. At seven, I wanted to be a doctor. At ten, I thought becoming a professional singer and joining the Spice Girls was for me. At thirteen I wanted to become a forensic pathologist. At fifteen, a lawyer.
At every stage of my childhood, when someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I had an answer. And more often than not, it was a different answer to the one I gave the week before. But funnily enough, when I actually ‘grew up’ I started running out of answers.
Through school I’d always been hardworking and studious so with my good grades came a self belief that I could do anything I put my mind to. The only problem was that I didn’t know what that ‘anything’ was. When I graduated high school I was offered a scholarship to a top University and took it with open arms assuming that when I finished my undergraduate degree I’d be a grown up and thus know what I wanted to be.
I’ve finished my undergraduate degree, but I’m still no ‘grown up’.
The past few years have seen me go through many phases of self discovery. I’ve met incredibly diverse people and travelled to exotic and contrasting parts of the world. I have found myself a thousand times only to realise a week later that the person I found was just one facet on myself rather than a whole. I’ve been surprised by my abilities, disappointed at my failures and encouraged by my resilience. I’ve experienced highs climbing mountains – both physically and metaphorically, near death experiences at the hands of hippos and extreme lows which have left me drunkenly analysing my life at 11am on weekday more times than I wish to admit.
But after all that I still don’t think I am any closer to figuring out what I want to be when I grow up. To be honest, the only thing I have figured out so far is that I don’t think I want to grow up.
No doubt, most twenty-somethings reading this would know the exact feeling I’m trying to describe. None of us can change the decisions that have brought us to where we are right now: the job we have, the city we live in and the path we’re on. But we do have control over the future. After all, we’re twenty-something, not eighty-something, which means that we have a lot more life still to live and quite a few more chances to get it right. There is no such thing as ‘too little too late’ in regards to learning a lesson or creating a life that makes you happy.
I think the biggest obstacle people face is fear. We are afraid that there is something wrong with us because we aren’t happy with where we’ve ended up; despite the carefully calculated plan we followed to get there. We’re frightened of the uncertainty of the future and thought that no one else is feeling the need to walk out of their current life and start over. We’re increasingly scared with each passing thought of a new beginning, that our decisions will be frowned upon and those we love the most may not be proud of us when the dust settles. And not to mention, we all become a little more fearful and crazy when our constant need to compare ourselves to others only serves to illuminate our own faults and shortcomings.
It’s all pretty scary. But I don’t have the ability to erase the fear or a step-by step guide to a solution. But maybe that’s a good thing as calculated paths are what got some of us to this point in the first place. We followed specific plans until we landed in a place so far removed from what makes up happy that we forgot where our passion lives; so far down the wrong path that we can’t even figure out what we want to be when we ‘grow up.’
At the end of the day, I think if we’re all superbly honest with one another (and ourselves) we’d soon find out that none of us are certain about much. We’re not alone and we’re all just trying to figure it out without screwing too much up in the process. We need to set happiness as our only goal and learn that the key to life is making yourself proud. I’m not sure if or how it’ll all work out, but I have faith that what’s meant to be, will be.
The reason for my reflective-state-of-mind, if you will, is that I’ve recently been accepted into a Masters program. After working so hard to get into the program, I’m now left second-guessing whether I truly want to be in it. I suppose part of it is fear of change and fear of the unknown.
It’s safe to say though, that I’m not sure if I’ll ever figure out what I want to be when I grow up. I still just hope that I will never have to grow up but rather have an entire lifetime to exhaust all resources and opportunities to figure out who I am and what makes me happy.
If the past few years have taught me anything it’s that we never stop changing. Life is about mastering the ability to continually keep going after what you really want; having the courage to always start over when you aren’t happy and acquiring the knowledge that you’re not alone in the process.
John Lennon credited his mother for telling him that happiness was the key to life. At school when a teacher asked Lennon to write down what he wanted to be when he grew up, he wrote down ‘happy.’ Lennon said “They told me I didn’t understand the assignment and I told them they didn’t understand life.”
I just hope I can continue to grow old and learn; all the while never growing up or out of happiness.