“What do you want to be when you grow up?” This question, which appears harmless and solicits adorable answers from five-year-olds, has the potential to be the most daunting and suffocating question you can be asked. That is, if you are a member of the twenty-something club. If you’re anything like me, this question might even send you running for the hills, or frantically attempting to grasp some idea of a plausible future career, true or not.
So, why does this question produce so much anxiety? Is it because you’re also twenty-five years old and have no idea how to answer? It’s not that I don’t have any interests, or don’t feel skilled in any particular area. The perturbation that stems from this question is based on the fact that I have too many interests. I am constantly interested in new things, starting new hobbies, perfecting a certain skill or interest, then moving on. If you were to ask me what my favorite subject in school was, I would say, “History, Math, Science, English and Acting.” While being interested in all subjects in school shouldn’t be considered a bad thing, it becomes much trickier once we graduate, when we are forced to choose just one. As a first grader, I was asked to draw a picture of what I wanted to be when I grew up. Even as a child, my interest in careers was vast and rapidly changing. I first wanted to be an astronaut (likely story, I know). Then, I dreamed of being a veterinarian, then a marine biologist and also a magazine editor. However, the assignment was to draw one. How do I choose? Then, as we reach the end of high school, we are expected to choose a career path and a college that will lead us there. Once we are in college, you must select one major, sometimes two. You are forced to decide what you want to do at the ripe age of 18 and stick to it. Those who switch majors once, twice, maybe even five times are frowned upon or viewed as “lost souls.” Sometimes, they are even categorized as unintelligent. Rather than switching majors, I was constantly finding something new I was interested in and began collecting majors. I loved the variety I had in my classes and really felt like I was learning something new daily. The real problem began, however, when it became time to wrap up my senior year. While being educated in a variety of topics is a great thing, it makes choosing a career path almost excruciating. How do you decide the career you are supposed to carry through adulthood when you have so many interests? Why is it that we, as a culture, place such an emphasis on choosing one path in life and staying on it? Many jobs these days award employees with longevity incentives. My grandmother worked in the same company for the majority of her professional career and retired at the age of 45-which I will admit is extremely impressive. While remaining in the same job is admirable, must it be mandatory? When did exploring oneself and interests become a bad thing?
Asking the question of what we want to be when we grow up, and only expecting one answer, inspires what to be, not ALL we can be. For those of you who came out of the womb with a stethoscope in your hand and clear vision on your calling in life, good for you. I admire you. I have even envied you on multiple occasions. But for those of you who want to teach and build furniture and maybe design websites in your spare time, there is nothing wrong with you. This should not cause you anxiety; rather, it should excite you. There is no reason you should be waiting and willing the world to hand you your dream job. You can create it. Every job position you uphold has the potential to teach you something new and prepare you for a job in the future. The world is full of complex problems in need of innovative, creative minds. Utilize your assorted skills. Embrace your diverse mind and adaptability and use it to your advantage. Follow your curiosity. Explore various venues of life, careers and interests and make them count.