Those words started it all. And they were spoken by the career officer at my high school. Fourteen years old, about to take what were called options back then, a set of subjects that were to be geared towards “my future”. I was supposed to know what subjects I wanted to take and what I wanted to do for a job. I had a few questions of my own:
- You mean, like… what will I do when I am older?
- A career? Isn’t that what my Dad has and he always looks stressed!
- You mean aside from trying to look cool, dj’ing, playing football and chasing girls?
A few of my answers were:
- A detective
- A footballer
- A DJ
- An actor
Crazy isn’t it. This is the point when adults try nudging you towards a few “safe” boxes in the hope you will pick one and follow it without too much deviation. And that’s the start. Everything from this point on changes in life. No longer are you allowed to be spacious and detached. No longer are you allowed to sleep without thinking what the next day will bring. No longer will just “being” be enough. You must instead develop tunnel vision, along with practical, sensible and achievable goals, and work towards them every day, knowing that when you reach one level you must go to the next. At at every step of the way you will be hounded by the question, “What next?”
When I was a young boy I honestly thought I could be anything. I’d watch a Rocky film and practice shadow boxing in my room for a week. I’d watch an episode of Columbo and want to be a detective for a month; not just any detective, of course – a cigar smoking, aloof, cool one. I was good at sport, too, and at times I wanted to be a runner or a footballer, and probably could have had it not been for being a boy that always followed the next idea, the next hobby, the next fad, all too easily. I was very happy in the moment; just doing what felt fun and soul rewarding at the time. I was content socializing, exercising and being interested in everything that seemed interesting.
I never fell into a box. I always asked why. I always challenged the status quo. I always had this feeling that people were doing things for the sake of doing them, either out of expectation or complicity, and that troubled me. As such, I failed the system somewhat. But it took me many years to realize that the boy who loved to be in the moment and rarely stuck to one thing for long was who I am, and that it was fine to be him. I suffered mentally though. I unnaturally forced myself, like so many others do, to try and follow the expectations of others and choose “sensible” paths. I was strong willed, and for the most part I did do what I wanted to do, but found that when I made progress on my alternative path I would become fearful of failure and begin to compare my life with others, as if it was abnormal. I quote, “What if that doesn’t work out, Alfred”. “Risky business that. Not many people make it.” Hard to make money money doing that”.
It took me many years to realize that whenever I completely followed my intuition and passions, my creative mind-heart, I always ended up in a positive place. Once I began to use mindfulness to ward off fear and attachment to money and material gain, and to realize that success in life couldn’t be measured by the type of work I did or goals, I allowed myself to be me; a guy that likes to do lots of stuff – a jack of all trades and master of none, one might say. The point is, there still isn’t one particular thing I want to do, and I don’t know what I’ll be doing next year. One thing I do know is that I want to keep living, ready to take a new pathway if it puts a smile on my face. I also know I want to continue helping others to cultivate true awareness of self.
This isn’t an anti commitment post. If you know what career you want at 14 or even 40, then great. Follow what makes you feel alive. But if you don’t know, want to do something out of the ordinary, or don’t want to do any one thing in particular, then that’s fine, too. Don’t let anyone try forcing your hand like my career officer did. Go at your own pace, with your eyes fully open and your awareness in the present.