I hated that question as a child. It seemed like everyone else had a canned answer and I was (for once), without a reply. I remember being in the back of a car and the passenger asked me the very question, I looked down at the little stuffed animal I held and answered, "I want to be a veterinarian". Picking something (anything, really) seemed to make the adults happy and made them leave me alone, and I quickly learned to not avoid answering because that led to grown-ups scooting closer to your face and crooning, "But what do youuuuu liiiiiike?" And really, when you're a whopping six years old you like recess, stuffed animals and shiny stickers. Where's the job for that? (If anyone can still answer this question, I'm all ears).
It became evident that my creative round self wasn't going to fit in super-square society when that question became attached to what classes I needed to take and what colleges I was interested in. It was no longer enough to simply be intelligent, I had to have a focus. I had to join clubs. I had to pair my love of books with a supposed love of people. Yet, in high school, the things I were most passionate about were given a solid no by the parent until I had a bachelors degree in something 'respectable'. No art. No fashion design. No culinary school. Regular college only. I was an excellent student, but I never saw my future being aligned with a degree. Sure, I could be a lawyer, a doctor, a professor, an accountant...but I just didn't care enough to bother. Even at a young age that just felt like a farce. Everyone's simultaneously telling you that you can be anything you want if you work hard enough, but also saying, "Except these top 5 things you actually like doing".
Fast-forward to college orientation and I'm at UCI with a bunch of other bodies in a big auditorium. The voice at the front of the room drones on about all kinds of boring rules and expectations and dates. I doodle in my Welcome to UCI notebook absent-mindedly. Minutes tick by, turning into longer stretches and all of the sudden I'm being asked to pick a major and move into groups based on that selection. Here? Now? I just got to college! How the hell am I supposed to know? I haven't even delved deep enough into any realm of knowledge to find a spark of interest. Imagine my relief when we were notified we could at least select Undeclared, but even so, the threat to pick a damn major you indecisive twit was looming.
As a young adult you're constantly cloaked in this where-are-you-going business. Decisions in high school affect reality in college. Decisions in college transfer over to your first job(s)/career. Who you know and how you know them is vital. Relationships are formed to become the base of necessary social networks. I was more interested in getting good grades, going to underground house parties, late nights spent doing drugs and painting by myself and reading endless books. Yes, I realize that's a complicated to-do list, but I was an odd young adult. I looked around at the adults I knew, and didn't really like what I saw. You can work hard for someone else, and they can lay you off. You can work for money, but no passion. You can be passionate, but not necessarily paid. You can own your own business and never have a moment off. I pushed off the decisions about careers, added another degree to my study, cleaned up my act a little and started skydiving instead of career-planning while I finished college. I graduated with two Bachelor's degrees, a minor in Business and very little idea of what I really wanted to do and the overwhelming feeling that it was all a farce. You need things to live, things cost money, you must make money to pay for those things - how many things you are allowed to have is dependent on how much money you make and that's decided by what job you select. All that talk about doing what you love? Not reality chump! (Now pay those bills!)
I always had this haunting feeling that I'd missed the day in life where everyone found out how to know what you want to do for the rest of your life. Everyone else was so certain. "Oh! Just wrapping up this degree, then off to law school, then marrying and having 4 kids!" or "I'll be heading to wherever this fall with so-and-so and diving into my work-study program". And then, there was me saying, "I like skydiving, drinking, painting, camping and reading. I also like plenty of time alone and I still like animals." << crickets >> But I never realized that a lot of these people were like me in some way - they were just doing what they were told they had to do. Be a doctor like your father. Be a good wife like your mother. Be an architect like your brother. It's a good job with good pay, you'd be a fool to walk away. So-and-so is a nice man, you should marry him. When are you having kids? Everyone is on auto-pilot, hurtling through the most formative years of their lives and no one tells you that by 35 you'll be slamming the brakes on your life trying to slow down instead of accelerate and you'll simply be out of time and wiggle room to change your trajectory because you've now got $20,000 in student loans, a $500,000 mortgage, a spouse and a few screaming toddlers and while you're at it, pay the damned bills.
I grew up, as much as I could. I made some money, then I made a lot of money, I spent it all because I was unhappy, because deep down inside I still really just like recess, animals, art projects and reading. And I thought what if decades of adults got it all wrong? What if we stopped trying to get somewhere, stopped trying to be somebody, stopped waiting for the right time, stopped making excuses for why we can't have what we want right now? What if my childhood aspirations of just being alive and experiencing life were the answer all along?!
Growing up is a trap. Sure, bills need to be paid - but what if we could carefully curate a life in which we didn't need so much and that allowed us the time and space for doing what we love. Me? All I want to do is cook real food, hang out with my cats, ride my bike, read and write books, and watch countless sunrises with my husband. I want to live somewhere quiet, away from sirens, freeways, somewhere that people don't wear eyelash extensions and know who the Kardashian's are. I want to live somewhere with seasons, tall plentiful trees, and neighbors that know each other. I want to update my status by writing books or painting a perfect clearing in the woods on a misty morning.
It's pretty incredible to be born - our very existence on this planet is a cross between a miracle and circumstance - all the things that make us up - how our parents met, how we were raised, the stardust that makes up our cellular composition, the unique pattern of our fingertips, the way our irises are flecked with multitudes of color, the distinct sound of our laughter when we're truly laughing from the gut, the wisps of dreams we wake up with, the fact that we dream, the sound our heartbeat makes in our own ears when you listen close. Our presence alone is a mighty beautiful thing. Don't piss it away climbing a ladder of competition, or fulfilling someone else's dreams for you, or pleasing anyone else. You weren't born to just pay bills and die. You were born to simply be alive, and that is a gift that should be fully explored daily instead of squandered and set aside for a retirement that may or may not come.