When I was in kindergarten, I wanted to be a school bus driver. The lady who dutifully drove me to and from school every day was a warm and welcoming older lady. She let me chatter away as I sat in the front seat and hung up the many drawings I gave her throughout the bus interior. In my five-year-old mind, she was perfect, and I aspired to be just like her when I grew up.
From the time children start their very first day of school, we ask them, “So what do you want to be when you grow up?” By the time they’re 18, we’re asking them what they plan to major in. By 21, everyone wants to know what they plan to do with that major. At 22, we’re reassuring them it’s OK to not have their dream job right out of college. And now, at 24, I’m realizing for the first time that it’s also OK to not have a dream job at all.
In college, I wanted to do sports public relations. I enjoyed sports, I was majoring in PR, and I got an internship at a minor league baseball team right out of school. I could confidently tell any adult who asked that I had a full-time, year-long internship that would likely lead to a job. It sounded like I had a plan. It sounded impressive. Until it didn’t turn into a job. “Maybe I didn’t actually want to do sports public relations. Maybe I want to work for a huge company. A company with room to grow,” I thought. And so, with that, I got a job at a huge company, with room to grow. Brushing off the sting of my internship experience, I could now say that I was working for an international company, with tons of room for professional growth, and much experience to be gained. I could still convince a room of adults that I had a plan, that I was following my career goals, and that I was utilizing my degree. Until that job wore me down. Until the realities of working for an international company came to light, and I began to dread going to work every day. Many people have less than ideal experiences at their first job, but I can assure you this experience was worse. I could hardly get out of bed some days, sick with dread of the stresses the day would inevitably bring. “Maybe I should get into nonprofit. Get away from corporate. Into a more compassionate field,” I told myself. And once again, I started exploring other options.
But as I re-entered the job search, and six months of interviews led to nothing, I started to panic. I started toying with the idea of going back to school for something completely different, something that would give me more direction, a degree for one specific job. When I brought up the idea of physical therapy, it was well received. “You’d be so great at that!” And with every positive reaction, I was increasingly reassured that this was a smart decision. I realized quitting my job to “go back to school” sounded better than “quitting my job because it’s sucking the life out of me.” I finally had a plan that got me into a specific career, that my parents approved of, that made me sound like I had direction back in my life.
Yet now that I’m two months into school, living at my parent’s, and waitressing full time, I can say that I’ve never been so miserable in my life. But in my misery, I’ve made some important revelations, namely that I’ve never really had a dream job. I’ve felt pressured by society, by my parents, and by my peers, to have a “dream.” My best friend has known since 15 years old that she wanted to be an architect, and studied at an Ivy League university. My younger sister has known since she was very young that she wanted to be a Physical Therapist; now she’s on the Dean’s List, and is sitting pretty for grad school. I’m surrounded by people with big dreams and aspirations. Society makes us feel like we should have dreams and career goals, that we should be actively working to achieve them from the time we enter college. I’ve had a bunch of career ideas that I COULD excel at, but nothing ever stood out enough that I wanted to dedicate my life to it. Every job I’ve considered has been something I could POTENTIALLY spend my life doing; not something that was the ultimate end goal.
And now I’m realizing that’s OK. It’s OK to not have a response to “what do you want to do with your life?” I might not have a career goal, but I’ve excelled at every job I’ve held, I have a wide variety of hobbies and interests, and I have a work ethic that has never gone unnoticed. I’ve found the most enjoyment at jobs where I connect with my co-workers and management, and for right now, that’s all I want in a job. So long as my bills are paid and I don’t dread leaving my bed every day, who cares if I don’t have a specific end goal in mind in terms of my career? I might not want to be a physical therapist, or an architect, or even a teacher, a doctor, or a lawyer; I just simply want to be happy and have fulfilling relationships. And that should be regarded with as much respect as any other career path.