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The Art of “Finding” Yourself

When I grow up, I want to be a *insert chosen career here*.

From age four until we die, we get asked that question. What do you want to do? What do you want to be? What are you good at? How can you make that a career? Don’t you just want to work a regular job and then do what you want when you retire? It’s a question none of us is ever going to escape. Even the ones who know, from day one, what they want to do.

I was not fortunate enough to be one of those people. As a child, I went through many iterations of what job I wanted to be “when I grew up.” For most of my formative years, they centered around animals. I wanted to be a veterinarian, a professional handler, a zoologist. Then the teenage years hit, I was uprooted and moved to a completely opposite place than I was used to, and all my dreams sort of faded away. For four years in high school, I clung to the knowledge that it would be over soon. I didn’t think much into the future except getting the hell out of high school.

Except, of course, after high school came college. That meant picking a major, a field of study, something to learn about for the next four years in preparation for the Real World. I know this blog is supposed to be a blog about writing, but I’m gonna be honest. Until the age of eighteen, writing for me had only been essays and research papers for school. I always got decent grades and English was one of my best subjects, but it wasn’t a passion. We didn’t do creative writing. We did book analyses, persuasive essays, business letters. So when it came time to choose a major, I didn’t pick English.

I was already going to a university that hadn’t been my first choice. I was still in Arizona, a state I despised. I was still going to be around many of the people I had hoped to get away from after high school. The only bright side was that University of Arizona has 50,000 students, so the odds of seeing people from high school dropped dramatically, especially after that first year when people finally made new friends. Of all the people from high school that went to the same university as me, I keep in touch with all of zero of them. Sure, we’re “friends” on facebook, but my best friends from college are people I met there.

So what major did I pick? The writer who didn’t choose English? I chose French. Okay, so it’s still a language, but it’s more about the intricacies of conjugating verbs and learning vocabulary and spending classes watching French films and reading Molière, and studying the political ramifications of France in Africa.

You might be wondering how any of this relates to writing and being a writer. To be honest, it doesn’t. For the first time, I discovered I liked writing fiction, liked writing outside of class. By the time I seriously thought about becoming a writer, changing majors was too far gone. And I didn’t want to change my major. I loved studying French. This is the part where I thought to myself, when I get older, I want to be a _______ (translator, analyst for the CIA, work for the UN).

College is supposed to be (according to society) the time to “find” yourself. You spend four years in a relatively sheltered environment where you can choose to go to class, to do the homework, or to spend all your time playing beer pong and partying in Mexico. Well, I certainly didn’t find myself in college. I’m still not sure, six years later, that I ever will.

You know where else people go to “find” themselves? Foreign countries. And that’s exactly what I did.

I graduated into the worst recession in years, and with no jobs on the horizon (certainly nothing my degree would be useful for), I took off. I moved. I got a job teaching English, irony of ironies, in China. This is the part where I thought to myself, “This is it. This is the year I’ll finally figure out what I want to do with my life.” Yeah. Right.

After a year in China, eleven months of struggling with language barriers, frustration at being constantly stared at like a circus sideshow, and the unbearable cold that often found me bundled in six layers of clothing, I was no closer to figuring out what I wanted. The only thing I knew for sure that I wanted to get the hell out of China.

So I did. I wasn’t ready to go home and face the same question that had been plaguing me since I was fourteen. I jumped at the chance to move to France. I applied to a (definitely more rigorous and competitive) program to teach English in France for a year. It was all that I wanted at that moment in time, and I spent four months anxiously waiting for the program to send out letters of acceptance or rejection. My time in China grew unbearable as the thought of leaving became more and more real. By the time I was accepted and it came time to leave China, I was more than ready to start something new.

You would think that living in France would be much closer to some kind of goal for myself. And you’d be right. Partially. I didn’t want to teach. I just wanted to immerse myself in France. At this point, my career goals had all but dwindled. I was sort of floating around, wasting time until I’d have to figure something out. I wanted to be a writer, but how? I wanted to be published (by a “real” publisher. I already had one book self-published at this point). I wanted to do nothing more than live in France, write novels, and gorge myself on macarons. Okay, I still want to do that, but who doesn’t?

Unfortunately, or fortunately? I’m a realist. I wasn’t going to abandon financial security to attempt to be a “real” writer.

My year in France was beautiful and I want to go back almost every day. I wouldn’t have traded that year for anything. But then it came time to return to the Real World. Where people ask the dreaded question; “So what are you gonna do?”

My years abroad didn’t help me “find myself.” But they did help me figure out what I didn’t want. They helped me grow as a person, become more well-rounded, more open-minded. Even if they didn’t do what I thought/hoped they might, I can’t say I regret spending that time abroad.

Four years later, here we are. Have I “found” myself? Not at all. Do I know what I want to do with my life? Nope. I went through a lot of existential crises in the past few years, the panic of I don’t know what I’m doing. Being in your twenties, which is when everyone says you should know what you want, isn’t easy. I felt like I wasn’t keeping up with other people, not having a solid focus for my life or career. I didn’t know what I wanted and I still don’t half the time. Maybe when I hit 30, I’ll have an epiphany, but I’ve started to realize that I won’t. I may never know what I truly want. I may just keep trucking along, writing on the side while I do my job. I’ve been lucky to finally find a job I enjoy with a good company and it has endless potential to lead into a life-long career. For now, my intention is to follow that through and see where it takes me.

I used to think I’d have life figured out by now, and maybe if I’d stuck to my original goal of becoming a veterinarian, I might have it figured out. But for most people, that isn’t how life works. We go through so many changes it’s hard to pin down where we’re going. Times have changed. When my parents were my age, they had careers. People their age chose one job and stuck to it. That’s not how it is anymore, which has in turn created the internal crises we face as young adults struggling to figure out the future.

I want to be a writer. That hasn’t changed. And it won’t change. The only thing that has to change is the way in which I go about achieving that goal. I won’t give up. Like everyone in my generation, we must adapt to change, and so far, we’ve proven to be good at doing just that.

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One thought on “The Art of “Finding” Yourself

  1. Yeah. I had a lot of things I wanted to be when I grew up: astronaut, librarian, teacher, veterinarian… I still have a hard time deciding on what I want/would like to do, as I find myself interested in a lot of different subjects. I ended up majoring in History in college, thinking I’d like to teach it or eventually work in a museum. I minored in English. I never followed through on the teaching thing, and would have to go back for a further degree for the museum thing, but I find myself thinking that if I ever do go back for a Master’s degree, I might rather get it in English instead, because I really do enjoy writing, though I have trouble finding/making the time for it right now.

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