What do you want to be when you grow up?
Remember in grade school when everybody would ask you this?
A firefighter? Astronaut? How about president?
For me, it was a writer. I remember the weekends when my mom would take me to the library. I was a very active child and the only way to settle me down was with a book in my hand. When I wasn’t devouring tales of adventure and mystery, I would weave my own stories and share them with my classmates.
Now fast forward to your high school graduation.
You finally accept your diploma and the whole world opens up to you. After a decade of weeks structured into courses and periods, you now have the freedom to choose to do what you want. To be who you want.
Until reality kicks in.
You quickly learn that life isn’t very accommodating to your passions. It’s strange how your kindergarten dreams seem so distant on the cusp of adulthood.
Rather, you and I were indoctrinated to pursue what is practical. What works. What most closely guarantees an acceptable degree, an acceptable paycheck, an acceptable livelihood, which all leads up to an acceptable retirement.
Be practical. Be smart.
When I graduated college, I was quickly pressured to become a nurse. All of my family members, cousins, aunts and uncles, even classmates were in the medical field. They all said the same thing: It’s a good paycheck.
However, nobody told me how much they loved it.
Naturally, being the rebellious teenager I was at the time, I pursued what I loved: reading and writing. Rather than going to medical school, I declared myself as an English major. I got myself a job and paid my way through college.
At first, I loved it.
I loved reading literature and I loved writing about literature. Shakespeare. Hemingway. Yeats. These incredible writers were my heroes because I was forever fascinated by how these literary masterminds could summon thoughts from the universe and string them in beautiful sentences that inspire people.
I wanted that.
To write and inspire readers the same way that they did would be a dream come true for me.
However, somewhere in the process, I buried this dream. I replaced my passion for writing with anxiety and worry about my future. In my head, the same question played on an endless loop:
What am I doing with my life?
At this point, I was doubting my ability to become a writer. I was doubting myself. Even worse was that I was allowing others to tell me what was best for me.
People told me that I wouldn’t be successful as a writer. That I wouldn’t make money with a degree like yours. It’s not too late for me to do something more practical.
I dropped my Kindergarten dream of becoming a writer.
Feeling lost, I consulted with a career counselor and asked what practical and respectable careers could an English degree could lead me to?
Her answer: law school. Many English majors excel in law school, partly due to their writing skills.
Perfect! Becoming a lawyer was an acceptable, even admirable career choice. It pays well and is far more stable and structured than writing, right?
Law school it is then!
So, I enrolled in pre-law courses. Joined a club. Interned for the public defender’s office. Took the LSAT. I even quit my job to work for law firm as a legal assistant. I was so proud of myself for choosing a conventional career that was sure to make me tons and tons of money when I was older.
Then something started happening.
It wasn’t noticeable at first. It wasn’t quick nor sudden. Rather, it was a slow, creeping realization. A restlessness with this newfound plan I created.
I didn’t see all the red flags. I didn’t hear the question I desperately needed to hear: why am I not happy?
Everything that I’ve done for the past two years was working to get me into law school so that I could become an attorney. My parents were proud of me. My friends were proud of me. My professors were proud of me.
Why wasn’t I happy?
I arrived at the awful realization that this isn’t what I want to do. I was a college graduate with no plan. I was terrified.
I sunk into a pretty awful emotional slump for a while. I was a wandering young man drifting through life. No goals. No plans. No passion.
Then one day, one of my English professors approached me about an event in which you can submit a paper and if it’s good enough, you can present and discuss it with a panel of fellow writers.
Why not? So I did it.
Something inside me ignited. Through the reading and the researching and the drafting and the editing, I was re-discovering myself. I was unearthing that dream I buried.
Presenting this paper was not a course requirement. I wasn’t being graded. I didn’t do it to build my resume either. I did it because I genuinely enjoyed doing it.
I realized that this is what I want to do.
My life leading up to that epiphany was me listening everybody else’s thoughts at the expense of my own. I gave permission to my family, my friends, and even my career counselor to dictate what was best for me.
In doing this, I removed myself from the equation that was my life. I forgot to factor in my thoughts and my feelings and my interests.
I’m not doing that anymore.
I understand now that your life is the compilation of all the little and big decisions that you make. With a big decision like deciding your future and your passion, you must take full ownership over it.
Because something as amazing as living a life with purpose also means choosing to pursue a dream that drives your passion. If becoming a lawyer or doctor is something you’re passionate about, do it! If being a writer or artist is something you love, do it!
Pursue what ignites your soul.
And it’s scary, I know.
Especially when you don’t have all the answers you’re hoping for.
When you’re unsure of where you’re heading in life, try asking yourself what was asked of you so many times in grade school:
What do you want to be when you grow up?
You just might find your answer.
Dan Recio loves sharing tips on how to create and achieve goals the smart way at Motivationalist. Set yourself up for a productive week with his free guide: 7 Sunday Habits to Conquer the Week.
Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.
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