As a child the future was a source of great wonder. Who will I be? I could be anything. I could travel. I could be charming and well liked ,or incisive and well respected. I could be a recluse who lives with two dogs in the country, or a socialite who knows everyone in town. Future me was a veritable chameleon. Future me was impressive. Future me was someone I could be proud of.
As a I grew older I began to recognize that future me was, in part, a product of present me’s work. The question I asked myself as a child was coupled with another: Who am I now? Now “Who will I be?” is a source of great anxiety for me. At times I find myself laying awake at night, my current successes and failures tumbling around my head like clothes in an old, worn out washing machine. At some point the cycle stops and the water drains, easing the heaviness of my regrets and the concerns that even my successes might not lead me to a place where I feel proud of what I’m doing and who I am.
How exactly do I get to that place? Finding a place without a map, or landmarks, or a name, or the slightest idea of its geography is next to impossible. So what do I do? I often find myself cycling between phases of inspiration and despair. Sometimes I read motivational articles that encourage a if-you-put-your-mind-to-it-you-can-do-it work ethic. Other times I find myself reading an article on Forbes magazine about how many college graduates are either under-employed or unemployed. If one is to believe those inspirational, happy articles– many of them failed because they didn’t have the motivation or drive to push themselves. Is that enough though? Is that really enough? Can we attribute some people’s overall success to work ethic alone? Of course, part of me finds the argument distasteful because accepting sole credit for failure can be a heavy blow to the ego; I sometimes convince myself that such a sentiment relies heavily on rhetoric and ignores reality. After all, anyone who has attempted to bring to fruition a new idea–whether that be through law or scientific experimentation or through some creative medium– knows that the finished product often deviates from the initial idea. In other words, confounding variables can be a bitch.
I mean, identifying all the variables is hard enough in a controlled environment, but when one considers all of the variables in the world that can affect an individual…well it’s a wonder that statisticians don’t descend into madness. After sinking into fatalism, I pull myself out and back to the beginning by accepting the notion that we must narrow our view to make sense of the utter chaos that surrounds us. We can’t spend forever concerning ourselves with millions of incalculable probabilities. We simply have to do. We have to pick something and do it. If we fail, we have to continue until we find a method that works. Even a failed experiment is valuable, right?
My childhood self resurfaces: I can be anything as long as I put my mind to it. With renewed focus, I dedicate myself to a project. I look forward instead of back. I ignore the voice that tells me to look forward one must also look back, and focus solely on the future. I bend my head down and push away the voices that tell me I’m not good enough; that urge me to reconsider dedicating myself to this project because ,even after weeks of practice, I’m still not good enough. “Let yourself be a beginner,” one voice, perhaps the angel, on my shoulder, says.
“How long do can you allow yourself to be that way?” another voice rebuts. “At some point you have to cease being a beginner and achieve something worthwhile. Like your mother says ‘Following your bliss is great, but it doesn’t pay the bills.” It’s not enough to be dedicated, you have to be good too.
I begin thinking of grad school. I envision myself going into public diplomacy; going into writing; into medicine. Which one should I choose, I wonder? Can I prepare myself for all of them? I know I need to choose a direction, but choosing one direction leaves out the others. I ask myself if narrowing my path will increase or decrease my chances of success. My adult side steps in again to remind me that it’s not enough to dream about the future, you need to do things to prepare now. What things are the right things and how do I involve myself in them?
Sometimes I successfully identify the right things– an internship or work with an NGO. I stare at the job posting for a few days, a week even, trying to convince myself I’m good enough to apply. I waver. I pause. I think of my past experiences. My head turns. I look back. I reconsider. I look forward again. Maybe I’m not good enough, I say silently, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try. Still, I’m afraid. I’m afraid of failing. I’m afraid of failing at something I so deeply want to do. So most times I avoid even trying. The sting of not applying and thinking you might have gotten it is much lighter than the feeling you’re being told you’re not good enough (“Rejection doesn’t mean you aren’t good enough, just that you aren’t the right fit.” The generic career counselor line never fully assuages self-doubt).
Right now I’m battling myself during one of the most pivotal moments of my life. Will I challenge myself to become someone I’m proud of being? Can I push myself past my fears? Can I choose one thing without allowing failure to dissuade me from the direction I’ve chosen?
Am I audacious or cautious? Am I determined or apathetic? Am I fearless or fearful?
Who am I?
Who will I be?