“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
An adult’s go-to question when they run out of ways to get a child talking and engaging.
My mom likes to tell the story of my response.
Depending on how far back you go or when I was asked the question, the scene would be set with some background information about how I only wore dresses, for I hated pants, or how I only wore my scuffed-to-shreds hot pink cowgirl boots, for I hated any other shoes. You see, I could have been asked at either time in my life or even between them; we will never know exactly what the setting was thanks to the inevitable recurrence of this question.
Yet, as a child, it never grew tiresome. Although I could say anything I wanted, felt as though I could be anything I want, I always answered with the same words, with the same enthusiasm, with the same energetic motions.
“I want to be an attorney so I can turn and turn and turn.”
This, of course, would be followed by turn and turn and turning.
As I grew up, I idolized the future. It was color I had yet to invent, a galaxy I had yet to dream. Every time I was asked this plaguing but innocuous little question, my imagination took control and made its own dish, lightly salted by ambition and spiced with impossibility. I could own a free hotel and beauty salon for dogs that was ten stories high or become a world-renowned fashion designer who carried her puppy in her purse everywhere she went— I really wanted a dog.
And then I grew up a little bit more, and the future became a color by number piece of artwork. Is it even artwork at that point? I knew what I wanted to do, and I knew the path to cultivate all the necessary skills. I was the kid who could confidently and assuredly tell all the adults about how I was going to be a broadcast journalist and that they should watch for me twenty to thirty years from now when I would be hosting the Today show.
And it made me happy impressing all the adults with my meticulous planning and decisiveness.
But now, at the culmination of my childhood, the question has changed. It’s no longer impressive to have every detail of your life set up. It’s no longer about naive desires or childish whims. It’s no longer about wants and instead is about what will happen.
“Where are you going to college? What are you majoring in?”
Around and around, these words encircle my head, growing more and more insistent with each passing day. Like vultures, they creep closer and closer until they are upon you, pecking and ripping you to ribbons, before you even knew they were there.
What my definite future holds is all anyone wants to know.
But I don’t know.
I don’t know where I want to go to school. I don’t know what my top choices are. I don’t know where I don’t want to go. I don’t know what school feels like home. I don’t know what schools I could see myself at.
Please stop asking me these questions.
Don’t you think I want to know the answers, too? That if I could just decide, I would?
My head is too full and my options too empty. I don’t want to your decision-making advice. I don’t want your stories about others flourishing at college or your horror stories. I don’t want your cliche reassurances that I’ll “find my place,” that you know I will.
I don’t know that I will.
So, please stop asking me these questions before I snap.