Growing Up

The Never Ending Question Of What You Want To Do With Your Life

words by Joseph | photo by css-ette

In kindy you’re given a worksheet with the question, ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’. You watch as your peers draw expertly rendered stick figures of firefighters and lion-tamers, and you decide to scribble something that resembles a postman. In your childish stubbornness (and perhaps panic) you stick by this decision for the next several years, because you’re old enough to make choices now and goddamn you want everyone to start taking them seriously.

In Year 8 you’re given some control over your subjects for the first time and choose the electives you’ll study for the next couple of years. You made a pretty dope ladder in Woodwork the previous term, so you choose that first and float the idea of escaping to the mountains making artisanal furniture for bored housewives and househusbands.

Senior school comes around and you realise you’re not as good with your hands as you thought you were, but holy shit why are microbes and cells and atoms and all that so interesting? You pick a few sciencey subjects thinking that maybe one day you can be that one kooky member of a crime show team.

By the time you finish high school you’ve realised you’re pretty bloody terrible at all the maths that’s required in being a scientist, plus you look daggy in a lab coat. One day your cool aunt finds out about your blog and with her advice you realise for the first time that some adults in the real world get paid to write and it’s not just something people do for fun. You discover Journalism degrees and you’re excited, finally knowing what you want to do with your life.

Two years in and you still fucking hate it, so you drop out.

Before you’ve even gotten your first full-time job, you’ve already changed your mind about what you want to do with your life a handful of times. You’ve discovered new interests, fallen out of love with others, and even found out your strengths don’t necessarily lie where your hobbies do. Of course, this indecisiveness is considered normal when you’re younger; after all, you’re still exploring the world and your place in it. But after a certain point the clamps start to tighten, and the pressure to find your purpose increases. It comes from your parents, your teachers, your peers–even from yourself.

The thing is, you never stop wondering what you want to do with the rest of your life, and that’s okay. The stats show that this is becoming more and more normal, and it covers all aspects of supposed adult life. Data from the Federal Government shows that only 66% of students that started a degree in 2010 had finished their course within six years; while this figure doesn’t explicitly highlight drop out rates, it does show the combined rate of people discontinuing their studies, changing courses, and taking longer to complete their degree, all of which are symptoms of an indecisive student.

It doesn’t stop when you finish studying, either. There is so much more workplace mobility these days, and it is said that you will have taken on 17 different jobs across five different careers in your lifetime.

All the recent trends and statistics are suggesting that the choices people make about their lives aren’t forever, so why are we asking about it? It’s not that you should be indecisive forever, but it’s the pressure to find something you supposedly want to do for eight hours a day, five days a week, for the next 40 years that’s making you indecisive. Or at least making you panic.

Since choices in life and work are temporary, and changes are being made more frequently, the questions we ask need to change. Instead of what we want to do with our lives, we should ask what we want to do with our time. We should ask how we can be valuable now, and for a while after, and what we can do to make sure we get there.

So, what do you wanna do right now?