“What do you want to do when you grow up?”
The question we all face numerous times throughout our school days, and one which seeks answers such as ‘teacher’, ‘doctor’ or ‘artist’. Growing up, I played with the idea of different roles to fill this gap of expectation, seeing if any of them took residence comfortably, like a coin sliding into a slot machine.
“You’re good at maths and science,” they told me at school, and then, “you’re top of the class in humanities”, followed by “you show potential for languages”. My head scrolled through the plethora of career ideas other people could see me doing, rolling endlessly like the reels of the fruit machine, and I, sucked into this world of gambling, stood helplessly by, watching with naive hope for three identical symbols to pull up in a line: waiting for fate, someone else, or at least something out of my control, to make my future decisions for me.
I was starting to realise this is what was happening, I was evading responsibility and losing out all at the same time, in the vague hope that some mystical force would step in and make my future possess the clarity and allure of the sea off the Maldivian coast.
That wasn’t going to happen, yet still I listened out, desperate for suggestions.
“How about English?”
Yes… Maybe? I liked studying words, and primarily the idea of creating stories in other people’s minds just by ordering black squiggles on a white page. ‘Writer’, ‘journalist’, ‘editor’? Are any of those coins that could fit right?
Since then I’ve learnt that it’s not as simple as that. Like thinking your mum has the answers to everything, or believing in santa without cross-examining the logistics of a chubby man being able to squeeze down millions of chimneys in one night, or possessing the capability to carry all of those presents in one sleigh… I digress.
People are not two dimensional. The majority of us don’t have one passion and one passion only; a lot of us don’t have a clear vision of a defined pathway we’d like to follow.
As I’ve wobbled uncertainly closer to the border between innocuous childhood and the stark-yet-overwhelmingly-complicated thing that encompasses ‘being an adult’, I’ve had moments where I’ve wanted to hold up my hands and admit, actually, I don’t want to move to a foreign country. Yes, I did literally move to Australia on my own, metaphorically being a tourist in the realm of the grown-ups, and I loved it, but I don’t think that qualifies me for a permanent move into that world. Is this metaphor becoming too contrived? Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that somehow, for me, adulthood has become inexplicably intertwined with a lack of control, and that’s one of the things I find hard to face.
In my mind, making future decisions presents itself as a dichotomy: choices are splayed out wildly like a multicoloured, woollen jumper pulled apart on the floor, a victim of a cat’s predatory nature, yet the flip side of the decison-making coin holds a feeling of being forced into a funnel with everyone else, constricting any choice I may have.
The last few years have been a bit of a battle in my head, trying to figure out how representative of reality these two feelings I have are, and what I should do as a result of that. At this current moment, I feel that there are choices out there, but society is weighted to make some options less accessible, some less desirable, some less reputable, some impossible… Forging a future is rarely a passive process; I’m going to have to fight for what I want, even if I’m not sure what that is yet.
I have also come to the decision that I don’t necessarily want to take one of the ‘easy’ or most popular routes, not because I welcome difficulty into my life – although I’m starting to question that myself at this point – but because they don’t interest me right now.
If going against expectation means that I’m less easy to define, then so be it.
I’d rather be seen as an amalgamation of my passions and uncertainties even if that is clumsier and refuses to be squashed into a simplified one word description, like ‘dentist’ or ‘engineer’. Because, as I learnt growing up, life is not as simple as that; people sometimes won’t be existing in a way that can be reduced to one word and that’s okay. We’re not all the same round pound sliding into that slot machine, sure of ourselves and with a life goal in mind. Some of us are, and that’s great; it’s admirable when someone has a defined dream they’re striving for. But some of us are that fifty pence piece, with several edges to explore and an uncertainty about the future. And I think that’s admirable too.
I’ve also come to the conclusion that it’s okay to answer ‘what do you want to do when you grow up?’ with more than just one word.
It’s even okay to say ‘I’m not sure’.