What Shall I Do When I Grow Up?

A friend once wrote about her frustration with herself:

I’m going through a fierce “period” of “What am I doing?? Where am I headed? What is my purpose? What am I worth? What’s the point?” It may be a period thing, but everything is more intense lately. I think I block this stuff out a lot of the time because when I let it in I get overwhelmed. It’s hard to explain, this rush of loving life and its beauty and then finding it all absolutely, crushingly sad.

I feel a bit like I’m floating along and I’d love a sense of direction to guide me. I feel sometimes like I have more potential than I’m living up to…and other times I feel like the laziest person on the face of the earth, incapable of taking two steps. Being in school, there was always a “next step.” And now, I’m floundering. There’s nothing I can imagine myself doing and being happy with. And that makes me so very sad. Now when I say this, I mean doing as a “job.” There are things that make me happy, but nothing that translates into a paycheck. I feel like I need to be making steps towards my future. Nannying isn’t going to sustain me for life. But, but, but….In a Finagle a Bagel parking lot today I wished that I knew what I wanted to do. I wished that I had always wanted to be a doctor and that, that would make me happy, like my dad. But I don’t. And then the sadness seems to enter my bones and I feel immobilized. Blah. Funny, I just want someone to give me the answer(s). I’m afraid if I wait to figure it out for myself, it’ll be way too late to do anything about it.

How well I know those questions! I have diligently applied myself for four decades and still haven’t come up with absolute answers. The closest I have come to identifying “what I want to be” is the description of my ideal job. The more I learned about personality type, the greater my self-understanding and compassion became. I am, according to the Jungian/Meyers-Briggs type, an Idealist. What has appeared as constant dissatisfaction combined with restlessness, movement, and striving, is part of the identity–the Idealist wants to become all that she can. Living is a process, a mystery, infused with meaning.

L’s conundrum is too large to answer at once, and it’s essentially unanswerable by anyone but her. But this is what I’d like to say:

Dearest L,

Rare are the people who, from early in life, know what they want to do as a profession later. Some people think they know what they want to do, but are often following deeply embedded family expectations and sometimes don’t wake up to this fact until mid-life (when all hell breaks loose). Sometimes people are following their desire but it changes, and suddenly what they were so sure of is no longer solid (and then all hell breaks loose). Some people never “wake up” to this uncertainty–they either aren’t yearning souls, or they accept less than scintillating jobs (by choice or circumstance) and enjoy their passions as hobbies. Some accept jobs which do not challenge and fulfill their intellect (usually because of circumstance or ignorance of one’s vision) and actively know this and burn with resistance, sometimes doggedly pursuing a cherished goal, other times living miserably. These folks figure it out as they go. I fell into this last category for lots of years.

It totally, completely, absolutely sucks eggs to not have a clear vision for one’s life. It’s like taking a walking tour of Venice while blindfolded.

Knowing one’s vision and mission provides a sense of purpose and guidance, but it will not guarantee job happiness.

Feeling as though one has untapped potential, juxtaposed with a perception of laziness, can be a sign one is feeling overwhelmed by possibility and grieving over having to choose. This is where knowing one’s core mission in life can provide guidance and comfort.

Growing up and taking responsibility for one’s happiness is hard and scary. The lack of desire or inability to decide is a sign one is hanging onto the last vestiges of childhood. This is understandable, but it will likely be an obstacle to your contentment unless it is acknowledged and dealt with.

Eliminating possibilities based on assumptions that one might not like some part of it often reflects a fear or lack of confidence. A fear of what? Of failure. Of judgment by others for “being a failure” or, if one leaves the pursuit because of a change of heart, there’s potential judgment for “being flaky.” Choices based on negation are often rooted in fear. This style of decision is less daunting, but it’s also limiting. Again, this is where “knowing thyself” can serve. I can’t say it enough: values, vision, mission.

It doesn’t matter how old you are when you start a new venture, nor how old you will be when you accomplish a goal. You will still become that age (assuming good fortune) whether or not you undertake the goal.

Living against convention isn’t always easy. But if you are not one who wants to marry and have 2.5 children with a white picket-fenced yard, then don’t betray yourself for the sake of measuring up to societal habits.

Your worth is an entity of its own; it does not depend on validation through work, relationships, or creations. You are worthy because you are. It is a difficult truth to learn.

Your talents were not given to you as a cruel joke of fate whereby you aren’t given a venue in which to use them. No. They were given to you to use, and you will discover how. This is where faith and patience play a role. And where self-discovery of your core values, vision, and mission can, again, serve as a touchstone and guide.

All of these words result from years of my own struggle, and are true for me because I’ve earned the understanding. If someone had said these words to me in my twenties and early thirties, they would not have sunk in. (In fact, people did say these things. However, I had some skewed beliefs which were firmly rooted and supported by my depression and low self-esteem.) Ironically, one must suffer the confusion in order to learn these truths. If one didn’t have the confusion, one wouldn’t be asking the questions.

While these questions are important, remember to live here and now. You already know and do this, but since you’re feeling down, I’ll remind you: pay attention to small pleasures; make note of your blessings and feel gratitude; be as kind to yourself as you would be to your own child, a beloved family member, or a dear friend; and while you may not have faith in a defined God, Spirit, or Grand Something, you do have the ability to live faithfully. And eventually, actively being faithful to what you know (vision, mission) will create the faith within you.

There you go, L, for whatever it’s worth. With lots of love,

Explore posts in the same categories: Arts, Social Science

4 Comments on “What Shall I Do When I Grow Up?”

  1. andy Says:

    Those are the some of the very questions I’m struggling with at the moment. Perhaps more than anything else, this sits at the heart of my confusion:

    “Your worth is an entity of its own; it does not depend on validation through work, relationships, or creations. You are worthy because you are. It is a difficult truth to learn.”

    The paradox is that I know the truth of that in relation to others, yet not for myself. Not quite yet.

  2. L Says:

    hah, you know when i was reading this at first i didn’t recognize my own voice. i wasn’t sure it was me until the bit about my dad. i do that a lot when i read things i’ve written a long time ago. i surprise myself. anyways, yes, a mission statement is something i should re-work. and thank you for all of that. xoxox

  3. zenchick Says:

    I thought I knew what I wanted to do since childhood…and it took until several years ago (in my early 30’s) to realize that all of that “know where I’m headed” stuff was, in fact, a story I was telling myself as I dragged all of my childhood/family baggage around. It got heavy. It took me years to find out who I “am”, what my mission and purpose are….and still, I yearn and reach. It seems that the clearer I though I was on it, the less attached I became to how it looks on the outside, how it manifests itself. I think it’s a lifelong process.

    (*should anyone be interested in books on this very subject, I have an extensive list I’ve read 🙂 Just email me.)

  4. Kathryn Says:

    L — in point of fact, you wrote that bit last year around this time. I’ve been mining my old blog posts for gems that I can post here. You’ve taken some big steps on your path since you wrote that! xoxo