When I Grow Up

The question of what I want to do when I grow up has been looming large in my life lately. A forum that I frequent just had a discussion about quarter-life crises this morning. I had a job interview last week that asked me what my dream job was. A couple weeks ago, I took a psychology test that is supposed to overlap your skills, interests and aptitudes and suggest areas of development. As my 27th birthday approaches (June 22, for those keeping score and/or watching my Amazon wish list), I think I can’t help but feel a little anxious over here. Aren’t I supposed to know by now? Why haven’t I figured everything out? How is grownup formed?
I’ve written about it here on the blog before but I’ve had a lot of false starts in life. I’ve enrolled and dropped out and put college on pause so many times at this point, I’ve lost count. It wasn’t always like this. When I was younger, I was labeled “gifted” (just barely… I scored one point below the required score to get into the GATS program but my mom lobbied on my behalf for me to be admitted). I got good grades, my teachers were constantly impressed with my work and abilities, pretty much anything I set my mind to I did well in. The adults around me talked up my smarts and talents so much that I bought into my own hype. I was definitely going places! I was special! I survived the confidence-crushing years of middle school and high school by telling myself that by the time I got to college, I’d really have a chance to shine. But by the time I reached college, I crashed and burned spectacularly (because school had come so easy to me and I had been able to coast through K-12, I never really learned proper study skills, which, as it turns out, are pretty important on a collegiate academic level). My GPA and my confidence have never fully recovered. Despite discouragement from everyone from my mother to my boyfriend to my therapist, I will invariably compare my life and accomplishments to those of my peers in the same age group and wonder why I haven’t made it “there” yet.*

I’ve gone on to do okay for myself, mostly, regardless of my lack of degree, I was able to obtain a lot of experience on my wits and Brilliant Personality™(they’ll get you farther than you think, regardless of the economy, in my experience). Right now I’m holding down two jobs which is a lot of work but allows me to live pretty comfortably. But I’m still searching for what I like to call the Sweet Spot. It’s that overlap between what you’re good at, what you enjoy and what you can feasibly get paid a living wage to do. And I’m still figuring all that out! I know that I am satisfied by helping and educating people and empowering them to help themselves. I like and am good with writing, animals and kids. I enjoy good design and feminism and social justice, although I don’t have any particular skills in those areas. I’m a fast typist, am good at and can sometimes even enjoy “mindless” tasks data entry and filing. Is there a Sweet Spot for all of that? For that wide spectrum of interests and skills, probably not. But you know what? I think that’s okay.

This article I found (via LifeHacker) last week hit the nail on the head for me: “‘Do What You Love’ is Bad Advice.” I don’t necessarily agree with the sentiment that doing what you love is always a bad idea (if you can are going to or currently doing it, you go, Glen Coco). But I realized I see the premise of the article is something that I see everyday, all around me – people living happy, productive lives even though they’re not doing the most glamorous work or getting paid for their passions. The most prominent examples in my life are my mom and my stepdad, both of whom use their day jobs to supplement their side businesses that they truly enjoy (personal organizing/wedding planning and photography, respectively).

Only a handful of people are lucky enough to have a career that overlaps with all three criteria and fulfills all their needs. Not everyone is going to be the skills, education, ability or access to obtain and do well in their dream job (at least not without overcoming some hurdles). So we find other ways to fill the holes – we volunteer, we take on side jobs in our desired field or we simply allot as much free time as we can to our hobbies and passions, even if they don’t pay the bills. It’s like your personal relationships – you can’t expect one person in your life to give you everything you need emotionally, physically and socially, that’s why we’re closer with some family members more than others, why we cultivate different friend groups. Why should I expect the same from a job? And the more I think about it, the more I don’t want a job that I’m so into, it consumes most of my time, passion and energy. I want a job that I don’t have to bring home with me** or drains me to a point that I barely have anything left for my friends and family. Basically I want to work for a living, not the other way around.

All that said, it would still be nice to know sooner rather than later what I’m supposed to be when I grow up. I haven’t given up figuring it out but I am now making a promise to myself to try not to stress out about not being “there” as much. Maybe like… once a month instead of once a week, to start.

* DO NOT RECOMMEND: This accomplishes nothing, this is a terrible idea, I know it’s a terrible idea as I do it and yet I CAN’T STOP MYSELF KEEP DOING IT because I am clearly a masochist.


** I know that’s sometimes a given, depending on the job but if I have to, at least not too much.