I Have No Idea What I Want to Do When I Grow Up

“What do you want to do when you grow up?”

I never had an answer for this question, yet I continue to be asked. When adults ask this question, why do they expect the answer to be a profession? “I want to be a doctor, I want to be a race car driver, I want to be a teacher.” We are sold this idea that if we do well in high school, go to college, start working a career at 22, get married, have children, start our children on the same cycle, then one day we can retire and finally live the life of our dreams.

Somewhere between getting my teaching degree and never actually becoming a classroom teacher, I realized this cycle was not meant for me. Man, I wish it was. How much easier my life would be if I could just fit this mold made for me. 

Instead, for the last seven years, I wondered why I have no desire to achieve the same things as my peers. I floated through the cycle, got further education, flirted with a few different careers, and married a partner who somehow understands me. I balanced work with play as I became a competitive cyclist, rock climbing instructor, self-proclaimed artist, and backpacker. For a while, I thought this balance was enough; I thought I could continue to live in this cycle until I was old enough to retire and then I could pursue the things that really excite me full-time.

Then poo hit the fan harder than I hit the ground…

Last year, on a long weekend, while enjoying one of those short adventures that I hoped would help me get through the rest of the fiscal quarter sitting at my desk, I broke my leg. Like, full-on, unusable, stuck on the couch, two-months-off-work broke my leg. It shocked me. It briefly stole my independence. It exacerbated my depression. My husband, despite his best efforts and constant support, did not know how to help me. Through the 10 months, 11 x-rays, 2 surgeries, 1 bone graft, 2 screws, 9 medications, and 34 physical therapy appointments, I found the bravery to break the cycle.

I realized that I cannot continue to live on the factory conveyor belt and put off my dreams. My mobility is not promised. There are no guarantees that doing the “right” thing, the expected things, will reward you with your dreams… So here I am, quitting my very good job, temporarily leaving my husband and dogs, surely disappointing many people in my life, pursuing this thing that has not left my brain for the last five years: I will be attempting to hike the Appalachian Trail in its entirety this year.

What do I want to do when I grow up? I have no idea, but I’m confident in it. 

What are you ignoring or avoiding because it doesn’t align with others’ expectations of you?

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Comments 7

  • Brian Parkison : Jan 27th

    I’m 59 and still trying to figure out my career path! Don’t sweat it, just keep moving forward and learning as you go. Your interests will change over your lifetime and it will lead you to new opportunities and new career paths.
    It’s going to be fun to follow you on your AT adventure.

  • jhony : Jan 27th

    70+ years old. Thanks for letting us old guys that only wish they had done as you are doing follow along. All the best. I hope you have such and amazing happy adventure.

  • MojoRisen : Jan 27th

    Just to be sure I had the same instructions and parenting. Now that I am seeing my daughter heading toward her high school graduation this year and college in the fall, I have told her the following.

    Get your desired degree, but first and foremost, do not get committed to anyone, engaged, thoughts of marriage etc. Have your desired degree but upon finishing plan on buying a plane ticket and heading out. Be safe but plan on seeing things, anything’s but travel and meet people. Explore and get a world education. You will find your place when you know.

    Being old has its drawbacks and finding your place while young is so much more rewarding than following an indoctrinated culture. Thanks so much for bringing this out and taking the steps you needed to find your place.

  • Bluewhale : Jan 27th

    I’m excited for you. I’m looking forward to your thoughts during your AT great adventure!

  • Lizzy : Jan 27th

    The conveyor belt / life formula didn’t work for me either. Trying to “make it work” about broke me (multiple times), which is just to say your experience resonates! Cheering you on for adventuring and exploring your own kind of living!

  • kb : Jan 28th

    I’ve told a few folks here I maybe able to provide some “magic” if you make it to the Harpers Ferry area. I’m not far.
    If the timing is right You could coerce me into a burger and in my case a cider at the rabbit hole as well as a drop
    off of anything REI (one is very close to me) you may be inclined/need to get hold of. I am of a hiking family; my
    oldest daughter and her fiancé will be on Isle Royale in August but the wife and I should be somewhat local (I
    still have a year or two left at nine to five) June and July.

    • kb : Jan 28th

      oh yeah, I’ll be at Isle Royale as well then.


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