“What would you like to be when you grow up?”
This is the question all Americans seem to be posed with from day one. Some of us have people in our lives (parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, godparents) ready to answer this question for us; they buy various articles of clothing, toys, and books reflecting their dreams for our future. Others of us are presented with many options, enrolled in a multitude of extracurricular activities, and pressed upon to find something we will succeed (or preferably exceed) in. Most of these people love us and want us to be happy, continually encouraging us in one direction or another to become successful so we can “afford to enjoy life”. Some of us have lacked particular family members or loved ones to help guide us into a career choice, maybe there was an a concerned teacher or mentor that took children under their wing. Even if we manage to be overlooked by all these people, society will quickly step into the role offering a and extended list of skills it is looking for; grudgingly exchanging three weeks of paid vacation for after four years consecutive years of adequate work.
Personally I was somewhere in the middle. My parents indulged many of my constantly changing interests; getting frustrated after investing the money for me to learn the basics of a skill before finding a new pastime. My dad shelled out one enrollment fee after another; signing checks and waivers hoping I might actually stick with something for a while while my mom would find little knickknacks that related to my current hobby. I never felt like my parents pushed me into a particular direction. Ballet, tap dance, art, soccer, softball, gymnastics, basketball, swimming, drama, golf, writing, hula dancing, Japanese, Adventure Ed…. the list goes on, and as I got older I continued the pattern on my own dime. Most of these activities I never really lost interest, I just found something else that I wanted to learn as well. Some of my interests I took to naturally and was encouraged by instructors or teachers to pursue careers in them, while others I was terrible at and decided were better left to someone else. As much as I really did and still do enjoy the things that I am good at I could never truly commit to being tied to one endeavor, so I continue to dabble in various activities never quite putting one down before I move onto the next. This tends to leave those in my life more than a little mystified and some slightly annoyed by my spontaneity.
I have found that even now I am frequently told “You know you are not too old to go to college. What would you like to do for a living?” More often than not before I can answer, the person presents a list of high paying career choices. When I get a chance to tell them I don’t plan to go to college I am often met with a look of shock, disbelief, and scrutiny that leads to the inevitable “Why not?” Inside I am shaking my head at this person, sad that we have been conditioned to react to a young women choosing opt out of the college route as a scandal. How many years ago was it that middle class women were not expected to go to college? It doesn’t seem like that many too me, realistically it wasn’t that long ago that college was for young men from wealthy families on a predestined career path and those who already had a higher IQ than average. Don’t get me wrong I am not against anyone taking part in a higher education; I just don’t like people treating me like I should have to go because everyone feels they should. My response is usually “What for? I am not interested in anything enough yet to spend that kind of money.” Most people dislike this answer, probably because it sounds unmotivated, and rightfully so.
People say “If you find a job you love you will never work a day in your life”, but I just can’t relate: looking back it was when someone would start suggesting how I could make a living by pursuing my hobbies I would change directions. I think because what it seems most people mean by “making a living” is “live extravagantly”, we constantly are filling our lives with things we do not need to live. We go to work so that we can afford live, then we are told that just living is not enough: “you need this to be able to enjoy life”: we work more to be able to buy “this”, we realize we now need accessories to use “this” so we work harder, and since we have now invested in “this” we need to protect “this” which means more time working. But wait now there is a new and improved (faster / less time consuming) version of “this” and we the accessories to use it now we need it because the old one takes too long and we don’t have enough time away from work to enjoy it. I can’t justify the cycle anymore, and now that I look back I didn’t need “this” in the first place. I am not saying that I don’t enjoy a nice bubble bath now and then, but I could be just as content without it. I can get sucked into watching TV just as easily as the next person but it has been my personal experience that I enjoy life more when I am engaged in doing and learning; I like being conscious about what I am absorbing rather than having a constant flow of media trying to convince me I can’t live without (insert product in the next commercial you watch here). I am an American and have to reestablish what it means to be content with simply living but I have always enjoyed the mental and physical stimulation that can come from inconveniences. I view that as having an advantage to stepping back and embracing what it takes just to live.
Unfortunately being content goes against the flow of a progressive society, I need to want bigger, better, and faster in order to have the motivation to progress. I am fighting against what we have been conditioned to think it the best way to live; “How are you going to shower? Where are you going to sleep? What are you going to do about healthcare? Don’t you want to be comfortable?” I hear these questions almost daily and they sound so silly to me. People lived for thousands of years with less than a self inflating sleeping pad, a collapsible bucket and a water purifier. Sure there will be times when I am extremely uncomfortable and miss my queen size bed with a down mattress pad, but isn’t it the times we go without that can make us really appreciate the beauty and luxury of a soft moss covered log after a long day. Instead of over indulging in and feeding my desire for things I cannot afford, \ I am opting out of the rat race; I have started giving away or selling most of my possession; minus a few sentimental items in a trunk in my parents’ garage, and a few items in a backpack, and I am releasing the wandering spirit that has been fighting to get breath of air.
I guess I found the answer to the society based question that I have always felt but never expressed, and next time someone asks what I would like to be, I will smile and say “I already am.”
“He who knows he has enough will always have enough” –Lao Tzu