Burning the Checklist

The dreaded question, “What are you going to be when you grow up?” I remember being asked it time and time again as a child. Each time I would answer with something different, a doctor, a lawyer, a veterinarian, the first female president. As children, it is perfectly acceptable to change your mind about what you want your future to look like. There is still much to learn about yourself and the world before making such decisions. You continue to grow up through elementary school, then junior high, then high school, and the question is asked again and again.

“What are you going to be when you grow up?”

“What are you going to do with this life of yours?”

There is an odd pressure put upon ourselves to have a dream and a plan to reach it. We all have such potential, we are told, and we must do something miraculous with it. We must shoot for the stars, anything less is lazy and a waste of life. Odd that such a high expectation exists in the first place, odder still how it is thrust upon us at such a young age. You graduate high school and in the same year that you were asking permission to use the bathroom, you are supposed to have your life planned out. What are college are you going to, if you go at all? What major, minor and emphasis will you be studying? What about marriage, kids, family? We do our best to make these decisions, these lifelong choices for ourselves because we are expected to. Idle time is wasted time, we have been taught. What a terrible burden to put on oneself in a world already confusing and harsh enough.

Don’t get me wrong, it serves one well to have an idea of your basic interests, wants and desires, but there is no need to set them in stone. From the moment we are born until the moment we take our last breath, we are growing and changing. Not a single cell of our body, or idea in our head will remain the same for our entire existence. We will learn new things, forget old ones, discover introspective details, and pick up new phrases, hobbies and ways of thinking. Every day the complex experience of life will mold us. Five year plans, ten year plans, lifelong plans are absurd. Instead of struggling against the gravity that is “dreaming big”, let us dream small.

Let us dream small dreams and embrace every moment we spend achieving them. Let us focus on the short-term goals in front of us, but never get too busy to glance at the horizon. Let these short term achievements bring us joy or failure, sadness or success. Let them show us new ideas and perspectives. Let them change our minds. Opportunities lie everywhere if we are only willing to keep our views open enough to see them. This is not mean to only watch out for the ones that help you reach your “big dream”. That is tunnel vision at its finest. Chances are the greatest opportunities are caught out of the corner of our eyes, just a flash. Take a moment to look up. The definition of unexpected is something not previously thought of or conceived pertinent to oneself. You can’t be looking for it, only paying attention.

I no longer wish to plan out my life for the next twenty years, ten years, or even five years. I refuse to answer the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, or, “What are you going to do when you graduate?” I will simply reply with what I want to be today or tomorrow. Today, I want to be writer, a motivated student, a hiker, a good friend, a lover of music, someone who ran a mile, someone who slept in, someone who ate her weight in chocolate and loved every minute of it. Today, I want to learn something new, about myself, or the world, or someone I love. Tomorrow I want to take note of the way the grass glistens on frosted winter mornings, call an old friend, share my knowledge with someone, be vulnerable, and make a person laugh.

This is not to say that I will become irresponsible or lose my sense of ambition and drive. I will still save money, go to work, pay my bills, make it to class, do my homework and everything else that classifies one as a responsible member of society. What I will not do is confine me, as a person or my life, to a box created by myself and those around me. Success is determined by the person succeeding. Only the person living their life is allowed to decide if it is a good one or not. I refuse to define myself by met or unmet expectations, my own or otherwise. Instead, I will define myself by what I love, what I’ve learned, what I’ve taught and how I’ve grown. Life is blank slate to be filled with memories and experiences, not a checklist to be completed.

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