The first thing that I can really remember wanting to be when I grew up was a tree. I think I must have been three or four. I was in daycare and my pals and I were shooting off things we wanted to be when we grew up, not exactly understanding how growing up really works, mostly just listing off things we really wanted to be instead of being little kids. I remember one boy saying he wanted to be a tiger when he grew up, one girl said she wanted to be a fairy, another said she wanted to be a giant. And I said I wanted to be a tree.
After that, maybe when I was six, I think I wanted to be a veterinarian. But then again, I don’t think I really wanted to be veterinarian, I think people just kept asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up (what a question to ask a six year old, am I right?) and I landed on veterinarian, because it was one of the only career paths I was even aware of at the age of six and helping animals seemed noble enough. After that I wanted to be a pediatric neuro-surgeon, I wanted to help remove tumors from the brains of children. Then I wanted to be an immunologist, I wanted to find the cure for cancer. Then I wanted to be an actress, I wanted to go to N.Y.U. and sing on Broadway.
I must have been sixteen or seventeen when I stopped dreaming big like that, because it’s around sixteen or seventeen when all the adults around you start harping on how you have to be realistic. It’s around sixteen or seventeen when they start giving you those quizzes that tell what practical careers you would be most successful in, based on your still developing, far from rounded personality traits. It’s around sixteen or seventeen when they tell you that you need to choose a career path and start planning accordingly, start applying to the colleges that have the right programs, or looking at trade schools, or enlisting in the military, or taking and retaking the S.A.T. to get just the right score, because that score determines the type of future that awaits you.
And it was around sixteen or seventeen that I decided I wanted to be a high school English teacher, because at that point I had been in public school for pretty much all of my cognizance, I was not fully ready to accept that one day I would have to leave school, and I really liked forcing people to listen to me talk about Of Mice and Men.
So I applied to my schools. And when I commited to NEC I declared a double major in Secondary English Education and Creative Writing (because maybe I actually wanted to be a writer and I was too afraid to tell them that because of the face people make when you tell them you want to be a writer).
And what I found out was that being an educator takes a lot of work and a lot of discipline and a lot of rubrics and false smiles that I am truly not cut out for, and had I continued in that direction I would have been miserable.
So I changed my major. And now I am a double major in Philosophy and Literature and Creative Writing, and frankly, I am having the time of my life, because all I do is read things, and think about what I’m reading, and talk about what I’m reading, and sometimes I write stories or poems, and people read those, and I read their stories and their poems. It is the perfect balance of stimulating discussion, challenging work, and utter academic clownery.
But I find myself in this situation a lot, probably daily, where people will ask me what I am majoring in at school and I will tell them, I will say “Well I’m a double major in Creative Writing and Philosophy and Literature,” or maybe I’ll mix it up and I’ll say “I’m a double major in Philosophy and Creative Writing,” and the people will nod their heads, and then crinkle their brows and they all pose the same question:
“And what are you going to do with that?”
At this point, my answer is well rehearsed and I almost always say exactly this, “Well ideally I’d like to be a writer,” and then when I see them start to cringe I say, “but basically after I graduate I plan to go to grad school and get my M.F.A. in either creative non-fiction or fiction writing, which will open a few doors, I could potentially teach at the high school or university level, or…” and then I usually start to trail off and just shake my head and wave my hands, and it’s a really good non-answer to give because what I really want to say is:
“I DO NOT KNOW! I LIKE WRITING STUPID STORIES AND I WOULD LIKE TO DO THAT FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE BUT THERE ARE ALSO A LOT OF OTHER THINGS THAT I WOULD ALSO MAYBE LIKE TO DO. I SORT OF WANT TO BE A LONG DISTANCE TRUCK DRIVER AND I ALSO SORT OF WANT TO BE A REALLY SMART BARTENDER. AND I MAYBE WANT TO GO TO A FORIEGN COUNTRY AND GET PAID TO TEACH PEOPLE ENGLISH AND I MAYBE WANT TO WORK AS A JANITOR, BECAUSE I HAVE NEVER DONE THAT BEFORE AND I FEEL LIKE I PROBABLY SHOULD AT SOME POINT IN MY LIFE. AND I HAVEN’T RULED OUT THE POSSIBILITY OF TEACHING IN A HIGH SCHOOL OR AT A COLLEGE SOME DAY, BUT THEN AGAIN, I ALSO HAVEN’T RULED OUT THE POSSIBILITY OF GETTING MY MASTERS DEGREE IN LIBRARY SCIENCES AND BECOMING A MYSTERIOUS LIBRARIAN, OR LEARNING A LOT ABOUT AGRICULTURE AND BECOMING A SUSTENANCE FARMING HERMIT. AND YOU, PERSON WHO IS JUDGING MY RIDICULOUS DOUBLE MAJOR IN CREATIVE WRITING AND PHILOSOPHY, NEED TO CONSIDER FOR A MOMENT THAT I AM NINETEEN YEARS OLD AND I HAVE A GOOD SIXTY TO EIGHTY YEARS TO FIGURE OUT WHAT I WANT TO DO WITH MY LIFE AND IF I DON’T FIGURE IT OUT BY THEN, IT WILL BE FINE, BECAUSE I’LL BE DEAD.”
So, I suppose it goes without saying, that I am kind of tired of getting asked this question, because I feel like my entire life people have been expecting me to know what I want. And if you know what you want out of your life, whether you are five or seventy-five, then I commend you, that is really great. But I am of the belief that I really do not know enough about anything to know what I want. That’s why I’m here, dedicating way too much time and money to reading and writing and talking about what I’m reading and writing. And yeah, maybe it isn’t practical, and maybe I’m going to be in debt for the rest of my life because of it, but at least I’m not committing myself to a life of misery just because I think it’s necessary in order to survive in capitalist America.
I would like to end with a plea, though I know that I am going to continue to receive this question, and I am going to continue to give my non-answer, and I am going to continue to feel bad that I don’t really have any discernible direction in life, I just want to speak this into the void: Stop making that face when people tell you that they want to be writers, and stop asking six-year-olds what they want to be when they grow up.