Let Me Get What I Want This Time

Some children know what they want to be when they grow up, and then grow up and become that thing and enjoy it. If you are one of those people, please never talk to me or look at me. I don’t understand you and I don’t want to see your gross contentment.

Not only do I still not know what I want to do when I grow up as a grownup, I don’t even know what I want to eat for breakfast or what kind of toilet paper I want to buy. I’m not sure how you’re supposed to tell. How on earth are you going to decide what you want to do for a career, or who you want to spend the rest of your life with, or where you want to live that life? How does anyone know what they want?

When I was a kid, everyone said it was important to have goals. “Yes,” I agreed. “I want to be an astronaut. And a writer. And a turtle. And a princess. I want to be an astronaut writer turtle princess.”

“But you can’t be all of those things,” people said. “You have to pick one.”

That’s where they lost me. And I was never seen again. To this day, you can see my ghost wandering the hills, asking itself, “What exactly am I doing here with my ghost self and is it the right thing and have I adequately explored all the options? Boo-oooo-oo!”

Sorry. That got weird.

Sorry. That got weird.

Being unable to decide exactly what it is I want is an ongoing issue, but it comes to a head when something causes me to think about the future. I start worrying about what color I should paint my house and suddenly remember that the future is hurtling towards me faster than I can say, “Oh my god, oh my god, the future is coming and it’s actually going to kill us all!”

Boom. See? It's here.

Boom. See? It’s here.

Areas in Which I Could Really Use Some Guidance

1. My job and possible careers! “I feel like you know what you want to do, but you’re not telling anyone,” someone said to me once. If that is the case, I am really good at keeping secrets. I haven’t even told myself.

2. My relationships! I’m pretty sure I want to marry a 60-year-old biker with Willie Nelson braids who flirts with waitresses at the diners where we stop on cross-country rides, but not in a creepy way. I think. Is that what I want?

3. Where I live! I like this town. Wait, do I? Do I like it enough to stay here forever? By staying here forever, am I reducing my career and biker husband options?

4. My hobbies! I’m pretty sure I enjoy what I do, but what if I’m a really good Tuvan throat singer and I never know it because I live in this town and have no mentor? Do I want to give up everything and dedicate myself to Tuvan throat singing? I might. I bet I’d be less stressed.

5. Lifestyle choices. Am I a drapes person or more of a blinds person? Do I want to keep eating meat now that I know about factory farms? Do I want to read Go Set a Watchman and risk losing my hero, Atticus Finch?

I'm not sure I can live in a world where Atticus isn't perfect.

I’m not sure I can live in a world where Atticus isn’t perfect.

For a lady who claims to be all about personal freedom, all I want is to be assigned a job, put in an arranged marriage, and placed in the best location for those things. Except I don’t really want that. Maybe.

If I think about this for too long, I start to feel like a jerk. “Boo-hoo, I have too many options. What will I do?” A friend from Wales once visited me here in the U.S. and was overwhelmed by how many restaurant options we have in comparison. In some parts of the world, the only “Do I want…?” question people are asking is, “Do I want to keep trying to survive today, or is it time to give up the ghost?” So I try whatever I can to get out of my funk.

Methods of Discovering What You Want

1. Career interest surveys! I took one of these in high school and it said my friend Kristin should be a hairdresser and my friend Hannah should be a designer and it placed me in something called Area 99. “Your interests are too broad to show a distinct direction at this time,” it said. My newest interest became complaining about the survey.

2. Personality tests! “INTJs are defined by their exceptional decision making,” I read at the end of Meyers-Briggs. I remain undecided on this point.

3. Tricking myself! Sometimes I sneak up on myself and say, “Here is what I want” out loud, and then wait a second just in case I suddenly know. It hasn’t worked yet.

4. Turning questions back on interviewers! When they say, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” I say, “Where do you see me in five years? Please be as specific as possible.”

5. Identifying things I definitely want and trying to work from there! For example, I know I want a bagel. Does that mean I should go to library school?

6. Folk remedies! Breaking an egg over my head, saying my name backwards in a mirror, and burying a rutabaga under a full moon did nothing.

And frankly I feel a little silly now.

And frankly I feel a little silly now.

In fact, none of these worked. I’m starting to believe that the only way you really know what you want is to flounder around until you find yourself doing it. Things are more interesting that way. I guess I don’t really want to know everything about my life right away. Or maybe I do. Or maybe I don’t.

Or maybe I do.


  1. ragtimecyclist

    The quickest way is to try everything, tick things off as you go along, and by the end if there’s anything you didn’t discount this is the thing you want to be. This is the quickest way. If you discounted everything you’re lost. Maybe just go with the throat singing?

  2. chrysaliswithaview

    I do not think you want to read that book. I do not know if she even wanted to publish that book. Maybe you should just keep on being you and the rest will come along. If you can’t face buying the meat to eat it, then you will know. When you choose the blinds or the curtains, you will know, and if you want to be somewhere else, you will know. And if you buy the wrong toilet paper, you will know that too.

  3. Sparrowgrass

    When I grow up I want to be a gymnast. Then I can retire by the time I’m 30, which would be especially nice as I’m now 34.
    “Oh my god, oh my god, the future is coming and it’s actually going to kill us all!” — you are so right.

  4. johjaja

    This post was hilarious, though still thought-provoking intriguing throughout. It would translate well to a character in a novel (perhaps not your intention). I can relate in the aspect of lacking a clear vision, though for me it’s having tried several work disciplines, inconsistent preferences in academia and outright incompatibility in the relationships I’ve had. Like yourself, I can only hope that continued trial and error will eventually narrow my goals to the point where something prior unnoticed, will enter my vision to inspire a fulfilled life without regret.

  5. George

    Growing up is way overrated. Too many choices and decisions. Whatever makes you happy today is what you should be or do. The decisions then become easier to make…:)

    • Anne

      I like what George said! I’ve yet to work out what I do when I grow up although I seem to be rather enjoying the journey…and I’m 41 next week. THE JOURNEY. That’s the one. Why does anybody need to decide ANYTHING forever?

  6. Jane Clancy

    You are describing my life. At 57, it’s still rushing toward me yelling, “Be an adultier Adult. Get better at Adulting. You suck.” (Go with the biker dude. You will have interesting stories. In case you need a random two cents.)

  7. Lorna's Voice

    When you get old enough, AARP has all kinds of surveys to help you figure out what you’re really good at now that your life is over…I mean, um, just beginning. :|

  8. rixlibris

    When I was a little guy all I wanted was a robot monkey and a jet backpack. I trained one of the kids to replace the first and I’m about to give up on the second in favor of an all expense paid weekend in Hahira, Georgia.

  9. BunKaryudo

    Why not just stick with the astronaut writer turtle princess? So what if it’s not conventional? You’ll be the first!

  10. Heya, Monster.

    My first thought was, ‘Why not try it all and see what you like?’ Life is kind of like a haircut – it will grow back. Mostly. And if it doesn’t, there’re always wigs. (Okay, I’m not sure my analogy works at all…. Hrm..)

  11. wavygirl27

    I hear you. 42, and still saying, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” Another voice: “You’re too old to change. Just stay here on the safe path.” Still another: “Follow your dreams! It’s never too late!”

    It’s a little schizo in here. Don’t tell my husband.

  12. Terra

    I have a nephew who was born knowing that he wanted to be a farmer, born in a family of farmers. He is five and already knows and loves what he will be for the rest of his life. I am 40, I have no idea what the next week should be like. I am so envious of the twerp

  13. zilverka

    This was some quality reading and I can totally relate to the neuroticism and doubt that it portrays. Feels like it might as well have been written by myself! Well, except for the fact that my piece would have been less structured due to 1. writing while drunk or 2. writing while at work. Hm, maybe this is the reason as to why after nearly three years I’m still “stuck” in a bookstore: I just don’t want to commit to a job where I can’t surf the Internet? JOKE, I love my job because I love books! I just don’t want to do this forever. I actually want to do a lot of different things in a lot of different places and I don’t think that has to be someting bad. I don’t think we have to make big decisions about our futures or settle for a certain career or relationship. Why not jus go with life and see what happens? Try what we feel like trying, for the moment, and not worry so much about tomorrow? Of course that’s easier said than done but I think it’s the only way. We don’t have all the answers and maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe that’s the best way to evolve and be happy with life because honestly, look at the people who have settled. So many of them are complaining about routine and being stuck in their cities or with their families. Do we really want that? Perhaps we think we do because there’s a sense of safety to it? Going out in life without a clue can be scary and after all, the people who are stuck with their perfect families and perfect careers and perfect complaining about routine, they don’t change their situation because there’s comfort in it, there’s comfort in knowing exactly what will happen every day for the rest of your life until you die?

  14. todduffey

    I think you should’ve just stopped at astronaut writer turtle princess. That sounds like the best bet by far.
    Great writing! Hilarious!

  15. luckygirl1791

    God, I so relate, astronaut writer turtle princess. I had a very specific plan for my life at age five that involved me being a gold-medal-winning figure skating champion in my teens, a slammin’ WNBA player in my twenties, a dolphin trainer in my thirties, and a very reasonable career as a doctor in my forties. Sigh. Why can’t we have it all?

  16. aintwegotitmade

    Oh dear….I’m in my 50s and have been trying for some time to find out what I want to do…and after extensive introspection, research, personality tests, careers advice and lots of lists of ‘what other lives I’d like to have’….I’ve found out that I’m only really interested in being a free runner/parkour girl with a parkour dog…like this guy….https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=39oGCTAJ9Vw. … but I’ve never so much as thrown a cart-wheel my whole life. But hey, it’s my dream and I’m gonna try. Actually I just wanna be a parkour dog.

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