When I was younger, as I’m sure you’ll relate, I’ve been asked what I wanted to do when I grow up.
At five years old, I had endless paths laid ahead of me. I could be anything: fireman, astronaut, ballet dancer, singer, doctor,… My relatives thought I was cute and smart, and that I could do whatever I wanted.
At fourteen years old, the possibilities started to shrink. I already had some school grades that would limit my future. I had an awful English teacher who would tell me I wasn’t good enough. I would start believing I was maybe not good enough. But still, I wanted to make my scientific parents proud. When asked what I wanted to do when I grow up, I would answer veterinarian.
At seventeen years old, my dad gave me an incredible opportunity. As we didn’t have any pets at home, he wanted to give me the chance to follow a vet for a day, which I did. I learnt that it would not be my calling after all. I came back as white as a ghost, just because the vet had polished a dog’s teeth.
But the question was more urgent than ever. Graduation day was around the corner, and I would have to choose a path. Of course, everyone expected that I would go to university.
What is growing up? In Belgium, you’re considered as an adult once you are eighteen. I had now reached that age, but I wasn’t feeling more adult than before. Wasn’t I supposed to know the answer to that stupid question by now? I had no clue.
I did a year at university without knowing what I wanted to do with my life. The following years weren’t more enlightening. I enjoyed the courses, but we were constantly reminded that journalism was an oversubscribed discipline and that we should consider doing something else.
How about being a writer? I love writing stories, I’m doing it since a young age.
People would laugh at me for being such unrealistic. After all, it was well known that writers, authors, weren’t making a living. They had to get a ‘proper’ job, and write as a ‘hobby’. So, of course, when I told my friends and relatives I wanted to be a writer, they would answer: yes, but what will you do as a job?
When I graduated from university, and after having done a couple of internships, I started applying to varieties of jobs. They would tell me I didn’t have enough experience, and that internships weren’t experiences. At twenty-two, I was discriminated by my age. Too young to have ‘enough’ experience.
I would take a meaningless job, which would not make me happy. I would look up at my parents and grandparents, who started and continued their one job until retirement age. What if I was stuck with this job? Is it truly what I had dreamt of becoming when I grow up?
I would look down at my younger self, apologising for letting her down. I wanted to become a ballet dancer and I’d never taken a dance class in my life. I would look at the arts as if they were nothing more than a hobby.
But I finally got lucky. I would meet someone who’d push me to follow my dreams, who’d challenge my every decisions, who’d make me grow out of my confort zone and made me think there was more to it.
Having a job isn’t the answer to that ‘growing up’ question.
Growing up, as I’ve learned, is more than becoming an adult. It’s gaining the maturity and keeping an open mind, to continue to grow over the years.
You never really stop growing up. It is an ever ending process.
What do I want to do in the future?
How about living in the present? That would be a good start.