A woman in her mid-50s in a local group I’m in stood up and admitted, “I still don’t know what I’m going to be when I grow up!” She was clearly frustrated that she was her age and still hadn’t figured it out. I was puzzled because I don’t understand the yearning under the worrying about what you’ll be when you grow up.
I saw looks of sympathy and understanding come from many of the other members of the group. This issue seems to be something that creatives and wanderers worry about more than other people. But who knows, perhaps when I’m older I’ll feel the same way.
What puzzles me about it is that creatives are always on a quest of one type or another. Always altering reality around them. Getting bored with “who they are” and what they do. To be a creative is to be a wellspring of change — it’s for good reason that we aren’t known for our predictability and stability.
So, the yearning to “know what you’re going to be” or what your “true calling” is seems to be a wish to be something you’re not, to know where things are going, like there’s a there somewhere in the future that we’re heading toward. But as Machado said, “wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking.”
There is no who or what we’re going to be out there in the future; we become who we are and what we are by walking. (Tweet this.)
I think there’s something deeper at play: the person who yearns to know who they’ll be is looking for meaning and acceptance. They want to know that the choices that they’ve made — the adventures and the misadventures — were all headed in a direction that made sense and meant something. They want to be able to tell their story in a coherent way that doesn’t look like it’s been aimlessly going from one thing to the next; a story that doesn’t look like a score of unfinished creative projects, half-careers, and sojourns in a yurt in a desert somewhere (real or metaphorical).
They want a simple story of a successful life well-lived rather than the complex, wandering weirdo life that looks more like a tapestry constantly being woven or like damaged goods constantly being repackaged.
Every choice we’ve made in the past becomes a part of our story, and some stories are simply more complex than others. There’s rarely a correlation between the richness and depth of a story and its simplicity. We write our stories and make meaning daily. We are conscious beings hurled moment by moment towards a void that becomes firm on impact.
Most of us couldn’t have imagined the life we live today 5 years ago, let alone 10 years ago. If we truly show up, we have no idea what our life will look like in 5 or 10 years, either. Next year, I can see. Next quarter, I can make concrete. Next week, I can plan. Tomorrow, I can live in the present AND build a better tomorrow.
But I’ll pass on the helping of worrying about what I’ll be when I grow up, thank you. I’d rather have a generous portion of the adventure du jour.
I really like this perspective on the “When I grow up…” mindset. I’m in my mid-twenties and I sometimes worry that I struggle to define what I want to be doing in 10 years. Truth is, I don’t know. What’s more important is what we are doing right now, on a day-to-day basis. That’s what we are and who we are, and there’s so much joy to be found in the journey.
Good stuff as always, sir Charlie.
I often ask people who tell me this the following question: “What if you didn’t have to know what/who you wanted to be? What would you do then?”
For me it’s been crucial to notice that ideas like this keep us from being fully in the present moment and following the nudge we creatives feel. That nudge of excitement and that nudge from our heart to go where we are meant to go.
Because really, why do we have to know what we’re going to be when we’re constantly changing?
All we have to do is do what we enjoy right now, then allow the rest to fall into place. And realize that we don’t have to figure anything out, we just have to live, and the good news is that we can’t not live.
At least that’s what works for me.
Sally Branch says
Well, yes and no, for me :-). Because as we reach mid-life, we do turn to questions of whether what we are doing really matches who we are. I’d agree it’s about the need to fnd meaning, to be sure that we are not ‘leaning our ladder against someone else’s wall’, as Stephen Covey put it. I also completely agree that it may be about learning to do what is in front of us, rather than constantly questioning that or looking elsewhere for our ‘true selves’. Yet this is also a time to take stock, to look at what truly matters to us and make adjustments where needed or desired. To get to know ourselves again, or possibly for the first time. Feeling confident about ‘where we are headed’ (or confident NOT to know where we are headed and to be ok with that) requires knowing and accepting ourselves.
When I was young, my father asked, “What do you want to do in your life?” I said, “I don’t know.” After several times, he said, “Well, think of something!” Now I’m 76, and I’ve done a number of things; some worked, some didn’t, but when I grow up, I may have figured out what it was. If I had know how enjoyable old age would be, I’d have done it sooner.