one of my mother’s favorite stories about me goes like this: when i was 3, she asked me what i wanted to be when i grew up. i told her that i wanted to do every profession in the world for 10 days. i wanted to be a lawyer for 10 days, a mom for 10 days, a mcdonald’s cashier for 10 days. anything and everything, but only for 10 days.
chuckles aside, that response was oddly prescient — and not just in terms of professional interest. i excelled in math and science in high school but chose to study psychology in college; after two years of grad school, i started to wish i had studied sociology or something else. if given the choice in a crowded room, i would prefer to meet lots of people for about 5 minutes each instead of having a sustained conversation with any one person (a trait i considered a weakness until strengthsfinder told me otherwise). at buffets, i crowd my plate with about two bites of everything, which leaves me so full in the end that i have no room to get more of anything i really liked.
i think of that story often at this point in my life, as i find myself at the end of one chapter and wondering where to start the next. i look at people like my mother, who has spent 40 years researching the same thing, and wonder how she doesn’t get sick of it. not to play the “i’m not the kind of person who…” card, because we all know how i feel about that, but i can’t imagine waking up every morning for decades in pursuit of any one thing, regardless of how noble or selfless it is. i can’t imagine staying interested for that long.
in 2005, time magazine had a cover story about my generation — the “twixters,” they called us. they said that we’re taking our sweet time figuring out what we want to do with our lives and we’ll have an average of 5 to 7 careers, not just one. i think it was this article that gave me permission not to have the same kind of career that my parents (and most of their peers) have, the kind where you start with an organization right after graduation and retire from the same organization 40 years later. for the last few years, i’ve imagined that i would have a revolving door of overlapping part-time jobs, which would make my taxes a pain and benefits questionable but would engage enough of my disparate interests to keep me from getting bored.
even though i’ve had this thought for a while, it didn’t occur to me to apply it to my immediate situation until last week. every time i would think about what to do next, i would find myself slightly paralyzed. i know i want to write, but how do i support my husband and myself financially? do i just find something to pay the bills? pursue something else meaningful? what would any of that even look like? how do i want to be earning money? there was this looming pressure to pick the right thing. somehow, in spite of my earlier paradigm shift, i had subconsciously reverted back to the mindset that i had to pick something now and stick with it, forever and ever, amen. maybe it was the relentless barrage of “what are you doing now?” questions and the pressure i felt to provide some kind of satisfactory answer: i was on the wrong path before, but i’m heading in the right direction now. then everyone would feel better — me, the other person, everyone.
i don’t know when i put 2 and 2 together, but at some point, it seemed to click: you don’t have to do anything forever. you probably won’t, given your track record. you just have to find something you enjoy, and when it stops being interesting or meaningful, you can do stop and something else. it’s okay. you don’t have to figure out your life’s work right now.
and that has been incredibly liberating. i feel a sense of relief now — i don’t have to commit to anything for life.
now i just have to keep reminding myself of that.