I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up.
I’ve always thought it was insane that we treat kids like kids until they’re 18 and then suddenly they have to decide what they’re going to do with the rest of their lives.
I guess I thought this was because of my tendency toward slow maturation.
I felt 14 when I was 18. I was nowhere near decision-ready.
I based my college decision on it’s proximity to a beach and a few other factors other than what I wanted to be when I grew up.
What did I want to be? Still in high school, that’s what.
This week a runner on the cross country team I coach approached me about the college I attended. I know, from overhearing previous conversations, that she’s been slow to look at schools. She’s a senior. At this point in the year she has just a few months to figure out what’s next.
She doesn’t know what she wants to be when she grows up, any more than I knew at 18… or 20… or 24.
She wanted to know about my alma mater, but wasn’t sure what she wanted to know.
I told her what I could about location, class sizes, the major she’s sort of considering. I told her why I loved it. At some point while I was talking another senior walked up. She was hanging on my words. She waited for a pause.
“Did you just know? Is there a feeling. Should I know where I want to go to school? Is that how it happens?”
I’ve been there. I applied to five colleges and while I was thrilled to get into all of them, a small part of me wished I’d been rejected from a few so I wouldn’t have the responsibility of the decision.
I had two options – I could tell them they would know the right decision. I could lie and tell them their gut would help with figuring these things out. Or I could be honest.
“I had no idea. There was no feeling.”
I wasn’t saying it to scare them. There was no feeling. There was a beach and small class sizes and the chance to run track & field. There was the chance to live in a new and exciting place.
There was the promise that I could transfer closer to home, if it wasn’t right.
Their fears were familiar to me, though I admit they sound sillier now that I’m older. They’re afraid to make the wrong decision. They worry transferring or changing majors will ruin their college career. They worry they’ll be stuck forever in a job they hate.
They don’t yet know that they can control these things. Stuck, in so many cases, is a personal choice. Thousands (millions?) of people do something unrelated to the degree they hold. Some have the same job forever, others opt for a career change five years in and find themselves happier at work than they’ve ever been.
I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I didn’t know it then, but I know it now – no one is truly stuck.
The only question I have is how am I supposed to relay any of this to a couple of 17 year olds who are probably less concerned about college and more about how they’re going to do this whole thing on their own in just a few months?