It’s not about what you want to do when you grow up; it’s about how you want to live.
Being young can be challenging. There are so many options, opportunities, and uncertainties that make the future difficult to determine. With all the questions around school, work, building a career, traveling, friends, family, and so much more, it can be hard to decide how to approach this looming stage in life I like to call being a Real Adult. Sure, you can vote. You can order a beer. Technically, you’ve lived enough days to qualify as a grown up. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to have all your ducks in a row. Even as I write this, my brain is yelling, “Age means nothing! You’re not a grown-up yet! Who even lets you out of the house? You’re only twenty-two!” Calm down brain, we’re getting to that.
Let’s talk about your priorities for a minute here. If they seem hazy to you, think about where you’ve allotted your time for the past few years. Is there anything you wish you’d done more of? Less of? These, dear reader, are your priorities. If you’ve spent more time on Netflix than with friends, you might want to reprioritize or deactivate your account. You want your experiences to matter and your priorities to be worth it.
Let me just be really Canadian for a moment here. You know Anne of Green Gables? There’s this entertaining character in one of the books who has a hard time making up her mind. Eventually, she develops this strategy where she takes problems or decisions, thinks about what she will have wanted herself to do when she’s eighty years old, and goes with that. It might sound crazy, but it works. If you’re seriously struggling to figure out what you want to do, pretend you need a cane, and all shall be well. Where do you see yourself when you’re eighty? Are you still active? Do you have crazy travel stories? Grandkids? A lot of hours logged in the office? A reputation for dominating the tennis court? An impressive collection of books? Can you make cookies to die for? Have you led a happy life? What you decide you want are your long-term goals. They deserve some thought.
The time has come to amalgamate your answers from the last two paragraphs. Are your priorities lined up in such a way that you will be able to reach your long-term goals? If they aren’t, what can you do to change that? Once you have that figured out, the rest will fall into place. I find simply knowing what I want from life helps me make decisions about where I want to spend my time. Yes, work is a big factor of that. Working allows me to do the other things that are important to me while simultaneously affording to eat food and not live in a closet.
You might not realize it, but being a student or young professional are two of the most liberating times in your life. Your main responsibilities are to yourself, developing into the person you want to be, and choosing your lifestyle. You get to decide how you want to live your life. When it comes down to it, your happiness is important. If there is something you think would make you happy, try it.
If we are honest about the student lifestyle, there isn’t a lot of disposable income floating around in the bank account. Don’t worry! This should not prevent you from being able to try new things. You’re reading this on some sort of electronic device and using the Internet to do so. There is so much free knowledge online, and you have access to it. You can learn how to do almost anything, from cooking to dancing, yoga to math; you name it, and it’s there. Try doing something you’ve never even imagined yourself doing before. Make butter. Do your own tax return. Learn an instrument. All of these things are relatively inexpensive (except the instrument, but what is Craigslist for?) and are empowering. You might just find you have a new hobby or you can at least impress people at a potluck without breaking the bank (protip: don’t just bring butter). The point is, we all have things we’ve been meaning to do or try but we simply haven’t. As the Queen of Procrastination, I know what it’s like to have unfulfilled goals. My only piece of advice is that you take advantage of the opportunity of being young and relatively free. Furthermore, in a time during which you might feel like you have very little control, when everything is up in the air, having small accomplishments and achievements can be really satisfying and fulfilling.
Make the memories you’re going to want when you’re no longer able to do all that you can do right now. Are you going to have a career and family and be thinking, “I really wish I’d gone backpacking when I could”? If you can see yourself feeling that way, try going backpacking sometime. Work. Save up. Choose somewhere safe. Find a friend (or not). Go. Don’t sit around complaining about how you really want to do something but can’t. If it is something you really truly care about, you’ll find a way to make it happen.
“What do you want to do when you grow up?” is a highly overrated question. People don’t tell you how hard it is to get your first real job out of university. Unless you’re in a high-demand job market, it can be a struggle. There is nothing wrong with being a “BA-rista” while you look for a job that aligns more with what you want to do with your life. Don’t expect to fall into your dream job on your first try. Instead, ask yourself, “How do I want to live when I grow up?” This is the best thing you can do for yourself because it is the first step in leading a full and exciting life.