Some children know what they want to be when they grow up, and then grow up and become that thing and enjoy it. If you are one of those people, please never talk to me or look at me. I don’t understand you and I don’t want to see your gross contentment.
Not only do I still not know what I want to do when I grow up as a grownup, I don’t even know what I want to eat for breakfast or what kind of toilet paper I want to buy. I’m not sure how you’re supposed to tell. How on earth are you going to decide what you want to do for a career, or who you want to spend the rest of your life with, or where you want to live that life? How does anyone know what they want?
When I was a kid, everyone said it was important to have goals. “Yes,” I agreed. “I want to be an astronaut. And a writer. And a turtle. And a princess. I want to be an astronaut writer turtle princess.”
“But you can’t be all of those things,” people said. “You have to pick one.”
That’s where they lost me. And I was never seen again. To this day, you can see my ghost wandering the hills, asking itself, “What exactly am I doing here with my ghost self and is it the right thing and have I adequately explored all the options? Boo-oooo-oo!”
Being unable to decide exactly what it is I want is an ongoing issue, but it comes to a head when something causes me to think about the future. I start worrying about what color I should paint my house and suddenly remember that the future is hurtling towards me faster than I can say, “Oh my god, oh my god, the future is coming and it’s actually going to kill us all!”
Areas in Which I Could Really Use Some Guidance
1. My job and possible careers! “I feel like you know what you want to do, but you’re not telling anyone,” someone said to me once. If that is the case, I am really good at keeping secrets. I haven’t even told myself.
2. My relationships! I’m pretty sure I want to marry a 60-year-old biker with Willie Nelson braids who flirts with waitresses at the diners where we stop on cross-country rides, but not in a creepy way. I think. Is that what I want?
3. Where I live! I like this town. Wait, do I? Do I like it enough to stay here forever? By staying here forever, am I reducing my career and biker husband options?
4. My hobbies! I’m pretty sure I enjoy what I do, but what if I’m a really good Tuvan throat singer and I never know it because I live in this town and have no mentor? Do I want to give up everything and dedicate myself to Tuvan throat singing? I might. I bet I’d be less stressed.
5. Lifestyle choices. Am I a drapes person or more of a blinds person? Do I want to keep eating meat now that I know about factory farms? Do I want to read Go Set a Watchman and risk losing my hero, Atticus Finch?
For a lady who claims to be all about personal freedom, all I want is to be assigned a job, put in an arranged marriage, and placed in the best location for those things. Except I don’t really want that. Maybe.
If I think about this for too long, I start to feel like a jerk. “Boo-hoo, I have too many options. What will I do?” A friend from Wales once visited me here in the U.S. and was overwhelmed by how many restaurant options we have in comparison. In some parts of the world, the only “Do I want…?” question people are asking is, “Do I want to keep trying to survive today, or is it time to give up the ghost?” So I try whatever I can to get out of my funk.
Methods of Discovering What You Want
1. Career interest surveys! I took one of these in high school and it said my friend Kristin should be a hairdresser and my friend Hannah should be a designer and it placed me in something called Area 99. “Your interests are too broad to show a distinct direction at this time,” it said. My newest interest became complaining about the survey.
2. Personality tests! “INTJs are defined by their exceptional decision making,” I read at the end of Meyers-Briggs. I remain undecided on this point.
3. Tricking myself! Sometimes I sneak up on myself and say, “Here is what I want” out loud, and then wait a second just in case I suddenly know. It hasn’t worked yet.
4. Turning questions back on interviewers! When they say, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” I say, “Where do you see me in five years? Please be as specific as possible.”
5. Identifying things I definitely want and trying to work from there! For example, I know I want a bagel. Does that mean I should go to library school?
6. Folk remedies! Breaking an egg over my head, saying my name backwards in a mirror, and burying a rutabaga under a full moon did nothing.
In fact, none of these worked. I’m starting to believe that the only way you really know what you want is to flounder around until you find yourself doing it. Things are more interesting that way. I guess I don’t really want to know everything about my life right away. Or maybe I do. Or maybe I don’t.
Or maybe I do.