When I was in the first grade I wanted to be an archaeologist.
I wasn’t too big on the actual dinosaurs – I couldn’t tell you whether Brachiosauruses lived in the Triassic or not – but I thought that finding things buried in sand sounded like the most fun anyone could ever have. I became addicted to those little toy blocks of hardened sand that have plastic tyrannosaurus skeletons in them. I drew pictures of myself wearing desert gear and a wide-brimmed hat. I watched Jurassic Park. I taught my 8-year-old self how to spell archaeologist.
If you asked me in the first grade, being an archaeologist was my dream. If you told me, in the first grade, that I’d be going to college for Not Archaeology, I’d be despondent.
When I was a sophomore in college, when I was choosing a track to follow for my psych major, I initially was going to go with neuroscience because it was the most impressive-sounding. I avoided declaring an English major because I was afraid of what my family would think.
We tend to think in extremes when planning or considering the future – I sure did, especially when I was a child. I thought I would marry a movie star; then I made plans to live in the woods for the rest of my life. I imagined the perfect house to be full of pianos and books, and I decided that Heaven must be a dining room with one giant bowl of macaroni and cheese in the center.
Now, my plans are less imaginative but more concrete. Instead of impressiveness, I’m looking for stability. Instead of individuality, I’m looking for ways to fit into work environments. I want my future house to have a laundry room and my conception of Heaven is considerably different from what it was when I was growing up.
And I don’t think this is a bad thing. When I was 8, my central life goal was apparently “coolness.” While coolness is, admittedly, high on my priority list, it’s tempered by “health insurance,” “family,” and “not being homeless.” Similarly, my wish to have an impressive neuroscience major has been tempered by the fact that I wouldn’t actually enjoy working in neuroscience.
I’m enjoying my new, slightly-more-relaxed mindset about my future. I’m glad that I don’t have to achieve grandiose goals to find fulfillment in my life.
But that was what I had been told. I could be the President, or a doctor, or a lawyer! I was an individual. I was special. I could do “anything” – but all the “anythings” listed were only impressive, dramatic, or glamorous anythings.
Now, though, I’m realizing that I don’t want to be an archaeologist, or the President, or an astronaut. I’d prefer a steady job over a glamorous one and a stable home over a dramatic one.
Humans are wired to be slightly delusional, but we often wouldn’t be content with the things that seem ideal to us. Being an archaeologist, while cool-sounding, requires a lot more work that I wouldn’t enjoy than my adolescent self imagined. Neuroscience sounds impressive but the pre-therapy track is way more applicable to my career plans.
I used to imagine myself being an English professor because I liked tea and I imagined it would be a career void of troubles with bureaucracy – I then realized that (a) that second point wasn’t true at all, and (b) I didn’t want to go into academia. My plans now – going to grad school in communication, finding someone who will pay me for doing something I enjoy, and maybe having a family – are more complicated than what I had planned when I was 16, but I’m also more excited about them.
We have the capacity to be discontent wherever we are. I thought that being an archaeologist – and, later, having an impressive major – would be the ideal, and would make me happy. I’m now starting to suspect that nothing’s going to make me happy – at least, not in the way I was expecting.
While there is the possibility of regretting any decision we make, we also have the ability to find contentment and joy in a wide variety of situations. Not all career choices or income levels or house photos will be impressive at class reunions, but sometimes less immediately exciting choices are the things that are actually fulfilling.