For years, when other people (seemingly) knew exactly what they wanted to do, I felt lost. How the heck did everyone else know with such certainty where they wanted to go to college, what they wanted to do after college, that they even wanted to go to college? I looked at my friends and family; my sister, who started on her path to nursing school straight out of high school and straightaway got a job she loved, my best friend, who had known which university she’d attend since we were fourteen. Yet there I was, feeling rudderless and very sure I was the only person who felt that way. I took career tests, I researched different jobs, but I still didn’t feel the least bit drawn to any particular course. I was paralyzed but the hugeness of it all. This was my life, and I had no idea where I wanted it to go. I had opportunities that generations before me didn’t have. I needed to show the world that I was a strong woman, that I could succeed at whatever I put my mind to. I had to go to school.
A part of me wondered if I should just pick a random career course, so I'd blend in with my friends.
I graduated high school and got a ‘good enough’ job, which I stayed at for four years. It didn’t require a college degree and it wasn’t an especially impressive or enjoyable job, but it gave me something to say when people asked what I was doing. “Oh, yeah, I’m just keeping busy working,” I’d say, and effectively cover my feelings of inadequacy beneath a guise of purpose. I felt that it made me appear ‘successful’ and ‘motivated’ and not like the aimless mess I really was. I felt like I fit in.
Every day on the way home from work I thought about my life. I wanted to do something. I looked around at the world and felt so passionate about everything, but I had no outlet for my passion. Whenever I tried to communicate my feelings aloud, my thoughts were just so abstract I became overwhelmed. For so long, I trudged along, feeling unheard and uninspired and just alone.
Then I found writing, and it just fit. All the thoughts that had circled around in my head found their proper places on a piece of paper, and I knew that in some way or another, I was meant to write.
But even that certainty scared me, because writing wasn’t secure. It wasn’t like medicine or law or education, you weren’t guaranteed a job, and the going was sure to be difficult.
Then one day a relative asked me when I was planning on getting a real job, a job with a college degree, and it shook me out of my comfortable cocoon. I thought I had a real job. I was going to work, clocking in, paying taxes, putting money in the bank; what more did she expect of me? What more did I have to do to please these people?
Sure, I didn’t really enjoy my job, I didn’t feel it was anything I was born to do, but wasn’t it enough I was trying?
I wish I could say that everything clicked in that moment and I told her to mind her own business, but that’s not how it happened. I went home and researched the highest paying jobs out there, determined to finally get a degree and start working ‘for real’, because that would show her. When I became an ER doctor then she’d see what a real job I could get.
But even then I still wasn’t happy. Everything I did was to please other people; no wonder I didn’t know what I wanted in life. I was never considering my feelings about a potential life course, only the image that life course would project, because the thought of other people knowing how aimless I was and disapproving of my life was paralyzing.
I never really feared failure, I feared being viewed as a failure. I obsessively cultivated a life that would impress others, that I could spin to make myself seem more important, but you know what? There is no impressing people. No matter what you do, there’s always going to be someone who thinks it’s not valid. Become an attorney, someone will say that law is a crooked practice and only a crook would get into it. Become an acclaimed actress and someone will say your work is worthless in comparison to all the real things going on in the world. You’re not going to get a pat on the back from everyone, so you may as well do what you want to do.
Recently my sister confided in me that she didn’t ‘know’ she wanted to be a nurse. She just felt she had to do something, and she happened to choose something she ended up liking. There is no right one size fits all path, and viewing it that way only magnifies the feeling of inadequacy we all feel.
I don’t have a job. I don’t have a single visible sign of success at the moment, and it’s terrifying. When people ask me what takes up my time, I can no longer give a satisfactory “just working up a storm at [insert business here]”. I don’t have a success story yet, and I don’t know exactly what success story I want to have. But I’m doing something that I enjoy that I feel meant to do, and that helps.
I’ve started my own business, and I make youtube videos, and I blog. By no means is this is what I’m going to do forever, but it’s what I want to do right now, and that’s good enough for me.