Beating around the bush
Blank of all trades
FREYA WASTENEYS // COLUMNIST
Photo c/o Daria Nepriakhina
Do you ever dread the annual holiday question period from extended family and acquaintances? For me, at 26, “what are you doing with your life?” is a difficult question to avoid, and even harder to answer. For most people, it’s standard small-talk, but regardless of their good intentions, it often sends me into existential crisis mode. Despite my inner turmoil, I’ve learned to smile calmly and say, “I’m still going to school.” This usually leads to another set of typical prompts and queries, which I similarly shut down with minimal word answers until the interrogation stops. I’ve never been great at small-talk, which is slightly ironic since I’m pursuing a degree in Communications.
After agonizing over these awkward interactions, and much mulling (of thoughts, not wine), I have come to realize that most of us don’t know what we’re doing, and some people are just better at bullshitting. While it might sound nice to say, “I’m going to be a professor” or “I’m going to be an accountant,” the reality is that the world is changing fast – we often have to take whatever jobs we can get out of financial necessity, and the job market is increasingly volatile. For most millennials, the idea of having one stable job with a pension is equivalent to being a unicorn (I do not, and will not apologize for this comparison).
Lucky for me, as a child I never had one thing that I wanted to be when I grew up. I alternated between wanting to be a ballerina, a firefighter, a dragon, a spy, an artist, a writer and a teacher. Or better yet, everything all at once! Picking just one thing seemed like such a drag, and I wanted to be able to do it all. When I was about 10, I asked my mother if she remembered what she wanted to be when she was a child. “I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up,” she replied.
It struck me, because in my eyes my mother was the epitome of success. As a former Olympian, an author of a book, an active non-profit organizer, with a master’s degree and her own business, it seemed like she had done it all, and I idolized her. But at a young age, I also saw the stress it caused her – having to juggle so much – and the constant threat of burn out. When such a high priority is placed on traditional forms of success, it can be difficult if you lack a single focus. Despite changing times, we still live in a world that wants to use rules, boxes, definitions and linear paths to make sense of the world, and it can be threatening when we lack the ability or desire to conform.
While I often envy the people with the one passion or pursuit, I recognize that there is also a beauty in being able to pursue many different paths. I am also coming to realize that there are numerous definitions of success, which can alleviate some of the anxiety that occasionally takes hold.
My lack of direction is not without emotional turmoil, but it has also allowed me to have many interesting experiences, and has given me insight into a variety of industries. Since graduating high school, I have tried my hand as a full-time athlete, a cross-country ski instructor, an outdoor instructor, a gelato chef, a geological assistant, a geo-physics technician, a camp cook, a snail counter, a volunteer director of communications and a tree planter, with a few (occasionally soul-crushing) customer service jobs thrown into the medley. Between all this, I have now done four years of school between two separate universities, travelled, adventured, made silly mistakes, and learned (as they say) “a butt-load.”
From each experience, I like to think I’ve gained a little something, whether it’s new perspectives, insight into an industry or sometimes simply the knowledge that a certain job isn’t for me. By writing this column, I hope to not only use my experiences as a platform to discuss larger issues, but also fulfill at least two or three of my childhood dreams, and be a writer, a teacher, and maybe one other thing…
Let’s talk about jobs, baby.