At the mature age of twelve, I decided I was going to be an author.
Well… at the mature age of ten, I decided I wanted to be an author (and even thought up a whole publishing company scheme with my friend), but it wasn’t until seventh grade that I actually wrote any of my story ideas out.
I spent about a decade wondering what I wanted to be when I grew up. It ranged from ear doctor to popstar to dentist.
But that wondering was quickly over when I realized that every book was written by a person, and I could be that person. And naturally, being the intense human being that I am, I dived right into novel writing, not really bothering with short stories or learning the craft or any of that junk.
While all my friends ranged between various hobbies and interests, heading into college without the faintest clue what they wanted to do with their lives, I always knew. I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to write stories.
Perhaps it was this experience of never doubting, never once having anxiety over my purpose in life, that makes the situation I’m in right now so much harder.
For the first time since age ten, I have zero clue where I want my life to go.
Reality has hit me like a truck. Unless I drop everything now and commit myself fully to being a writer (with the extreme caveat that I’ll probably be poor for the rest of my life), writing isn’t really that sustainable. Add in the extra variable that I’m majoring in psychology in college (without any clue what job I might want with that), and I’m basically full of inner confusion and doubts.
What if I can’t be a successful writer? What if I never figure out what field of psychology I’m interested in? What if I spend my whole college experience doing things that are basically useless (like becoming extremely invested in the Latin language, even though no one speaks it anymore)?
My life is currently filled with what ifs and a dash of fear for my future. Sometimes I lay in bed at night, unable to sleep, worrying that I’ll end up spending my life on something I don’t actually enjoy.
Perhaps you’re facing fears over a career choice. Or maybe the options within your career aren’t what you thought they would be. Maybe you have fears in your relationships right now. Maybe you don’t know where life is headed.
How do we cope with these anxieties?
How do we come to the realization that it’s okay not to know?
You Can’t Control Everything
The only person I can control is me. And that may be the problem.
See, I’ve come to terms with the fact that other people are outside of my control and don’t always do what I want them to do. I can’t always control my circumstances, the people around me, or the future.
But when it comes down to me – how I act, how my future will turn out, what I’m doing now to make it happen – that’s where the reins of control tighten. I like to think those things are within my sphere of control because they directly relate to me.
The problem is… they aren’t really in my control at all.
Yes. I can control how I act and how I treat others. That will always be important.
Yes, I can have ideas about how my future will go. I can have ideas about what I can do now to make it happen. But my ideas don’t necessarily translate into reality.
Often, I fall into the illusion that things related to me are inside my control. But the world is interactive – nothing directly related to me is entirely in my hands. Sometimes a combination of twenty other variables controlled by other people have to come together in a perfect cosmic explosion before something good can happen in my own life that I perceive as my own doing.
I want to get published. And on my end, that means writing something publishable and making it attractive to publishers. I can organize my schedule now to spend time on those things, but that doesn’t mean I’ll be able to somehow coerce a publisher in the future into taking me on.
I can apply for a tutoring position, but that’s the extent of my influence. I can’t force them to hire me. And if they decide they don’t have the resources to hire me, that’s not a reflection on my work ethic, but their circumstances.
Whatever worries you and I have probably aren’t within our spheres of control. All we can do is continue to pursue the next right thing with the hope that the other variables – the right people, the right time, the right economy, the right job offer – come at the time they are supposed to come.
Chances Are, You’re Worrying Prematurely
I remember filling out an All-About-Me graphic organizer when I was seven years old. One of the question was: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Can we just take a moment to appreciate how incredibly unhelpful that question is?
Asking a seven year old to think of what they want for the rest of their life is insane. It’s unrealistic and dream driven. At the time, I wanted to be a dentist. Did I know anything about dentistry? Nope. Did I want to use the super cool looking X-ray machine? Yes.
Fast forward to me as a high school senior having to choose a major (like everyone else) while still completing coursework to get my diploma, and it’s the same problem.
An eighteen year old doesn’t really know what they want. They don’t have a clear picture of everything. They don’t even have fully developed frontal lobes (the part of the brain that makes decisions), so how are they supposed to know exactly what they want?
Now, as a freshman in college, I’m being told by everyone that I don’t really have to know what I want yet. Except, just a year ago, everyone expected me to have a plan. Why so inconsistent?
I think the problem is we teach people to worry before they are ready to worry.
Realistically, I’ve got another three years before I’ve got to really know what I want. And realistically, I can change my career path seventeen times over my lifetime. Nothing is set in stone, but we make it seem like it is.
We make it seems like if we aren’t prepared ahead of time, we’re going to somehow fail.
I mean, how many people spent age eight deciding all the details about their future wedding? How many people scroll through Zillow and become sad at how expensive houses are? How about those parents that made their kids start practicing for the ACT as a freshman when they didn’t need to take it until junior year?
We looooove stressing over things that aren’t immediate priorities. Even better, we love romanticizing things without really knowing what they mean (eg. kids being so excited to grow up, only to find out that they must now pay taxes and insurance bills).
Perhaps all my life, I’ve romanticized the idea of knowing exactly what came next. But now that I don’t know… I’m panicking.
And for what? It’s not an immediate priority.
Things Always Seem to Work Out Anyways
I have a theme during finals week. I’ve had it since high school, and it plays continuously in my mind as I realize, slowly and surely, that nothing matters.
See, by the time finals week rolls around, it’s already too late. You either know the information, or you don’t. We’re all just dust in the wind at the end of the day… whatever happens, happens. There is nothing left to do.
Incidentally, I’ve never failed a final. Perhaps it has to do with my inability to stress during a final. For two weeks out of the year, I am the face of calmness, of living in the present, of not having any worries. While everyone around me is panicked, I’ve got it together.
I don’t know why I can’t incorporate this perspective into daily life. You meet me on any other day of the year, and I’ll be a tightly wound ball of anxiety. You might use the word “psychotic” to describe how seriously I take all my worries.
Yet… I’ve never failed a final. Even my final in AP physics, when I literally only knew how to calculate momentum and nothing else.
What I’ve come to realize (though fail to internalize) is the fact that everything ends up working out, regardless of whether I stress or not.
Of course, we still have to do things. If you don’t do your homework, you’ll probably fail the class. If you don’t show up to work, you’ll probably get fired eventually.
But at some point in time, worrying exceeds the amount of reasonable work you can do in a situation. You’ve done everything you could, and now it’s a matter of letting it work itself out.
No matter what happens, life always seems to work itself out in an unexpected way.
I like to play scenarios in my head of all the ways something could go wrong. I’ve never once been right. Even if a situation goes wrong in real life, it always goes wrong in a way I didn’t expect.
So what’s the point in wondering how everything will end up if we can’t accurately predict it anyway? If everything we do after a certain point is simply dust in the wind, then maybe we need to just let things be.
All I can do currently is keep being a good student and following what I’m interested in. I need to keep writing. I need to keep exploring fields in psychology. I need to keep capitalizing on opportunities – even if there isn’t a clear application yet. You never know when Latin may come in handy, after all.
Ironically, I keep repeating these pieces of advice in my head only to reject it in favor of worry.
From a logical standpoint, I don’t really understand why people can’t get outside their heads long enough to notice good advice. I don’t understand why I can’t.
But perhaps, someday, we will finally take the advice of those around us. So for now, I’m just going to leave this here, on my paper trail. In five years, I should be able to look back and see all the advice I didn’t take, all the worries that ended up not mattering, and the experiences that turned out to be turning points. That concept alone is comforting, isn’t it?