I Have No Idea What I Want to Be When I Grow Up
When I was a kid, I was 100 percent sure I wanted to be a librarian when I grew up. I believe my exact thoughts were: CEO? Boring. Astronaut? Not interested. Surrounding myself with dusty, odd-smelling books all day? That’s the dream, baby. Admittedly, I lost interest in that idea when I realized that no, librarians do not in fact get to sit around reading books all day. (Also, not the most lucrative career choice for someone trying to make a living in the Bay Area.)
I’ve ruled out librarian, but the broader question still looms: what do I want to do with my life? Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) for me, I wasn’t born into a super wealthy family. So no life of leisure for me. Also, vacationing feeds my soul, so at the very least I need a way to fund that habit (and I guess pay my bills as well).
I’ve only been part of the workforce for a decade or so (and yes, I do count those unpaid internships), but I already have lots of thoughts as far as the whole career thing goes. Have you ever really stopped to think about the whole concept of a career and what it means to us? I’ve been a bit consumed by this topic lately, so I’ll attempt to organize the chaos of my mind into coherent points.
Thought #1: The Perfect Career Is an Illusion
I want to let you in on a little secret: I’m less than a year away from 30, and I have no idea what the fuck I want to do with my life. I’m lucky enough to have a job that pays me well (though I also live in a ridicuously overpriced city, so there’s that), but is it what I want to spend my whole life doing? I’m not sure. It’s not what I imagined myself doing or where I’d be, and yet here I am. I’m happy and mostly content with life — but the job part, that’s an area of uncertainty and more misery than I’d anticipated.
I think I’ve — no, we’ve — been scammed on the whole job front. I grew up being indoctrinated to believe in this idea of a ‘perfect job’: a beloved career you keep your whole life that always fulfills you. I now no longer believe there’s such a thing, and as for the men and women I read about who claim to have the perfect career that they absolutely love — I think they’re painting a glorified and unattainable picture for the rest of us. Because for those of us who only mostly like or sometimes like (or rarely like) the jobs we have, this means we must keep searching to find that ever-elusive perfect job. And how will we ever feel satisfied if we hold every job up to this impossible standard?
Thought #2: This Unrealistic Idea Is Fed to Us Our Whole Lives
Nowadays, from the time you’re a miniature person who can’t form comprehensible statements all the way through schooling, college, and beyond, people ask you what you want to be when you grow up. The whole process starts out innocent enough, but before you know it you’re being bombarded with messages to figure out what you want to do with your life. Somehow your late teens/early twenties becomes both the time to figure out what you want in life and the time to begin working toward a career in a field that you must decide on immediately.
That’s a huge burden to place on a small child, or a teenager, or even a young adult. Tell me right now what you expect to spend the rest of your life doing even though you’ve only been alive for one or two decades and your brain is still forming and you still don’t understand all the nuances and complexities of life. No pressure.
I won’t speculate about how others have felt when faced with the never-ending pressure to magically discover your perfect career, but I found it all incredibly overwhelming. Before I went off to college (around the time when I was fretting about what career direction to propel myself toward), I was told by teachers and family that I was a decent writer. All I really wanted to do was read (librarian, remember?), but I quickly learned that reading was neither a standalone career nor a viable college major. So writing seemed like an okay second choice. Except even “writing” is more of a career category — there are many types of writers who are experts in many different subjects. It’s like the find-your-career game never ends.
Thought #3: The World Is Changing, and So Are Jobs
My parents and grandparents spent the majority of their life on one career path. My grandfather worked in the airline industry, starting as a ticket agent and working his way up to cargo handler and then management. My mother started as a nurse and now works in an administrative role for a large healthcare company. She’s spent the last 30-plus years of her career at two companies. TWO! They’re proud of these accomplishments, and they deserve to be. (Although one thing those generations shouldn’t be proud of is fucking everything up for the rest of us. Economy, housing market, climate change, cost of an education, income inequality. You get it.)
But the world has changed, and loyalty has lost its place in the business realm. Companies aren’t loyal to their employees, and workers aren’t loyal to their employers. In Silicon Valley, people hop from tech company to tech company every one to two years— from startup to major tech player to pre-IPO company and back to a startup again. Part of it has to do with the fact that so many tech companies have the same structural problems (if you ask me, startups are basically a network of founders/executives who have poor business sense and spread bad behaviors to one another). Another key problem is that as employees we have less space to grow within a company and advance up the corporate ladder (we get bored, so we say ✌️out.)
And unfortunately for all of us who were sold the ‘perfect career’ illusion, the concept of a career is itself changing. Technology and automation transform which roles are available and what they entail. It’s become nearly impossible to hold down a job in a single industry for decades. Instead of devoting our whole lives to a single career, it’s far likelier that we’ll have multiple careers in different industries as we adapt to global and societal changes.
Thought #4: It’s Okay Not to Have Life All Figured Out
Am I grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given? Absolutely. And am I a picky person who likes to complain? Definitely sometimes. But also — do I think it matters whether I’ve determined a career path for the rest of my life? Nope. Is it okay to be a mess? Yes! (Though you should absolutely bury that mess deep inside while at your job.)
As a Millennial — and a woman (girl power!) — I have so many more opportunities in life than my parents or grandparents had. But with those additional opportunities come more challenges. If I’ve learned anything from my jobs thus far, it’s that being a part of the workforce today is damn hard. Being in tech as a young woman is hard. (Half of my job is basically dealing with mansplaining.) Being a Millennial in the workforce is hard. Being a worker in this decade is hard! And finding a picture-perfect career? Impossible.
I have no idea where I’m headed, and I’m okay with that. As 30 inches closer and closer, all I have to say is bring. it. on.