Auntie SparkNotes: I Don't Know What I Want to Do with My Life
Dear Auntie SparkNotes,
You must get this type of letter all the time: I am terrified about my future. I don’t know if I am just (very) lazy but it has come to the point where I will procrastinate anything career or education relate—applications, intern placements, even school work. It feels like all my friends are gearing up for brilliant things—becoming pharmacists and psychologists and every other –ists, while I'm stuck here, walking around in uncertain circles, preferring to bury my head in the sand than to admit I have no idea what the heck I'm doing with my life.
I always got really good grades, was in the top three of my class at least and was the student that everyone expected great things from. But the problem is that I never had any career aspirations and I'm not particularly ambitious (I always just wanted to be a mom). Now I'm at college, studying for a non-vocational degree, which I enjoy, but don’t feel particularly passionate about. I was an awful student this year, procrastinated EVERYTHING, missed loads of deadlines and it’ll be a miracle if I've managed to pass all my classes. I'm considering changing course to study to become a speech and language pathologist which I'm interested in becoming, but again, not particularly passionate about, but at least it gives me direction and a chance to work one-on-one with and help people (which is what I definitely would like to do). However it means I’ll have to take a year out to reapply, and I can’t study at the same college as they don’t run the course, and I’ll have to deal with the hassle of starting over again, making new friends, getting to grips with a new course and school. As you can probably see, I'm totally confused about what to do. I have this summer to work things out but knowing myself, I’ll end up procrastinating. Again. My worst fear is that I’ll end up a disappointment, to myself and my family, and I don’t want to waste any potential I have. I know that at some point, it will all come together, but what am I supposed to do in the meantime?
Well, if you're looking for permission to lie around with a bag of Oreos, waiting to either a) get struck by the lightning bolt of professional ambition, or b) be swept off your feet by a rich, handsome prince and/or hedge fund manager who'll solve your lack of career aspirations by giving you a lifetime, highly remunerative position as the mother of his children, then I've got bad news: there are not enough Oreos in the world to last as long as it would take for these things to happen. Because they won't. Ever. If you want things to come together for you, you're going to have to actually do something.
The good news is, you can eat Oreos while you do something. And the something you do doesn't have to be spectacular, or showy, or even particularly exciting. In fact, reading your letter, it seems like a big part of your problem is that you've bought into a pervasive myth about making your way to adulthood: that a course of study (or potential career) is only worth pursuing if you're 100% gung-ho passionate about it.
And seriously, Sparkler, you don't have to be passionate about your work. Go for interested; go for content; go for the sense of fulfillment that comes from being capable and engaged in something that you're good at. But don't go for passion, which ebbs and flows and can't be relied on. Even people who have awesome jobs don't wake up every single day feeling passionate about what they do. And for someone like you, who's a) already a fearful procrastinator, and b) never felt any particular drive to pursue a given career, waiting around to get pee-in-your-pants excited about your course of study is just more self-defeating stagnation. You put things off because you're afraid that if you move forward, you'll screw it up—and sitting on your hands while you wait for things to magically come together is just another way of keeping yourself in limbo.
Meanwhile, as lost and confused as you feel right now, things aren't as bad as they seem. Really! Consider: you know that you want to work one-on-one in a position where you're making a positive impact on other people's lives. That's huge, and for now, it's all you need. So, let it be enough. Take that knowledge, and give yourself permission to explore what it might mean. Find a mentor or advisor at your current school who can help you choose some useful core classes in fields like sociology or psychology—or who can direct you toward other, less-conventional opportunities that might let you test the waters. Look into volunteer opportunities or internships that let you experience the day-to-day world of any jobs—therapist, social worker, nurse, counselor—that might interest you. Talk to people who have these jobs about what they wanted when they were your age. Seek an education that could take you on several different paths; let yourself be okay with not knowing which one you'll end up taking; and accept that you're going to flounder around and make mistakes and that that is part of the process. (Or, if you honestly feel like you just don't know and can't motivate yourself to find out, then maybe a gap year—and a job flipping burgers—are what you need right now.)
Because dude, you can do that. You have time! Specifically, you have this time—this in-between-y time that comes right after high school. This is the time when you're supposed to mess around, screw up, try things out, and get a better idea of where, and who, you want to be, other people's expectations be damned. This is one of the few times in your life when you can devote yourself completely to figuring out who you are. And no matter who you are, there's no way that finding yourself could ever be disappointing.
Are you having a what-do-I-want-to-do-with-my-life crisis? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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