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When I was a little girl, for a brief period of time, I wanted to be a lawyer. I don’t recall having any emotional attachment to the idea – I simply knew that it was a respectable profession that afforded one the luxuries that little girls dream of; sharp clothes, nice shoes, people taking you seriously, a swimming pool. I don’t know how long this desire to be a lawyer lasted, but I can with absolute certainty tell you that it ended well before I got to high school.
In high school my mental image of the possible future changed so often that I stopped thinking about it. And adults stopped asking me. I spent too much time thinking about how to fit in during the present and not enough time trying to stand out while planning for the future.
And I know I’m not the only person who thinks that, because Jodi Picoult – the incredible, beautiful, powerful writer that she is – wrote about this in one of her wonderful books, The Tenth Circle.
“For years, parents tell you that you can be anything, have anything, do anything. That was why she’d been so eager to grow up-until she got to adolescence and hit a big fat wall of reality. As it turned out, she couldn’t have anything she wanted. You didn’t get to be pretty or smart or popular just because you wanted it. You didn’t control your own destiny; you were too busy trying to fit in.”
I didn’t control my destiny; I was too busy trying to fit in.
And sadly, that didn’t end in high school. Sure, I went to college instead of sticking around my hometown with that train wreck of a boyfriend I thought I was in love with. But the college I went to wasn’t as good as some of the other ones I got into. And I continued to make choices that were easy, instead of stimulating. Took classes that were fun, rather than challenging. Waited tables for the cash to pay for the fun classes instead of going for an internship that would’ve guided me toward a more successful career.
Don’t get me wrong, I had a wonderful time in college. I made incredible, lifelong friends and had countless life changing, mind altering experiences. But I do think I could have done more to have better prepared myself for the future. To have controlled my destiny.
Somewhere in high school, probably the second day of my journalism class, one of the best teachers the world has ever produced told me that I had a talent for writing. Maybe he was right – perhaps I was good for a high school sophomore. Maybe he was just a really good teacher who knew that the best way to encourage kids was to praise them for the good things they do rather than criticize their flaws. Either way, he inspired me to keep at it and encouraged me to pursue all forms of journalism. So I did… For a while.
But that confidence in my ability to write lead to a lack of practice which inevitable lead to a lack of interest until eventually that “knowing what I want to be when I grow up” feeling faded into “what the hell am I gonna do with my life?”
And here I am – twelve years out of high school, eight years out of college and I still don’t know what I’m doing, not really. But I do know that I care a lot less now about fitting in. Now I know that standing out is far cooler, and that taking steps to control my destiny is much more fun (see my first blog post).
It’s good that parents tell their kids that they can be whatever they want to be and do whatever they want to do with their life. But maybe they shouldn’t stop telling them.
Adolescents and adults need to be reminded, too, that they can still be whatever they want to be. Because it’s only then that they are really able to take the steps to make it happen. They need to be reminded that they’re not trying to survive high school anymore – they don’t need to fit in. After all…
“Why fit in when you were born to stand out?” – Dr. Seuss
What do you want to be? Are you taking steps to control your destiny?