It’s totally okay to not know what you want to be when you grow up

One of the first questions we are asked when we start school is “What do you want to be when you grow up?” At four or five years old, we never really had to put much thought into the answer to the question. It was usually something fantastical, and frequently (but not always) gender stereotypical: Astronaut, princess, footballer, ballerina, firefighter, artist. The list is endless, but the point is that even as children, we are still expected to have career aspirations. Not necessarily realistic ones, but still, we are supposed to have considered what we want out of life. At age four. Personally, I can safely say that since I was first asked that question, my answer has changed all the time.

It seems that everyone knows what they want to be when they grow up — when they’re a kid, that is. Up until I was about seven, I wanted to be a nurse. I’d always wanted to help and take care of people who were hurt or in pain, and I also wanted to follow in the footsteps of my grandmother, who was a midwife. It seemed like a worthwhile job, something where I could go home knowing what I’d done had made a difference (even at seven, I had some very deep thoughts about how I wanted to live my life). Unfortunately, that dream fell apart when I tripped on a crack in the pavement and split my knee open and very quickly realized that large amounts of blood was not something I coped well with…at all.

As I got older, I started to get involved in drama productions at school: I was Mary in the school nativity, the Witch in Sleeping Beauty’s Dream, Mrs. Corney in Oliver Twist, Lady Macbeth in Macbeth. The list goes on, and I found I had a knack for the theatrical. I didn’t take it too seriously, but I enjoyed myself and people seemed to enjoy my characters, so it didn’t take long until I had plans to be an Academy Award-winning actress. A modest dream, I know. I did get recruited into an acting agency for a couple of years, but unfortunately my mum got into an accident just before an audition with the BBC (the biggest British television broadcasting channel) so I couldn’t go, and that was that. The agency closed down before I got another chance at a big role. My mum was OK though, and that was my main concern.

In my mid-teens, all I really wanted to do was travel. I wanted to escape my hometown (I’ve only lived in one place my entire life), because as much as I loved it, there was an entire world I wanted to explore, cultures I wanted to experience, sights I was desperate to see. It was only natural that my career aspirations revolved around my longing to see the world, and after a bit of research I found the perfect career that would not allow me to do just that: I was going to be location scout. I would become an all-star globe trotter, finding locations for huge film companies, meeting all the stars on set, and filling my boots with enough memories and adventures to last a lifetime. But, finding a footing in the film industry is hard, and although in all honesty I’d still love the opportunity to be a location scout, and I’ll keep trying, at some point I realized I might need to make more realistic plans.

At the moment, my main focus is on becoming a writer. Maybe a columnist, maybe a journalist, maybe an editor, or a publisher, or who knows what? I like writing, I like seeing how people respond to my opinions. I like other people’s opinions. But writing is a big field, and it’ll be hard to find my niche.

There’s a lot of different things I could do, and a few things I really want to do. But I’ve changed my mind a lot in the past, and I’ll probably change my mind even more in the future. The important thing is not to be disheartened if what you originally wanted, or what you thought you wanted isn’t what happens. It’s okay to not know what you want or where you’re going, so long as you don’t ever have to do something you hate. But, even if you do, know it’s not permanent. Nothing you do is set in stone, there’s always room to change and grow.

I’m still going to see the world, a little bit at a time — in fact, I’m headed to Australia for three months during my gap year. It just goes to show, if you really want to do something, you can still make it happen, even if it’s not in the way you originally expected.

Megan McGuinness is a sun-deprived Brit living just outside of London. She has two cats, an obsession with lipstick (the brighter the better) and an addiction to coffee. She plans to travel the world, and if possible, conquer it. But only so she can control the chocolate supplies. And live somewhere where the sun shines everyday!

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