Like most kids who get asked this question, I’m pretty sure I had a different answer every time.
At one stage, it was a soccer player. Then for a few short days, it was an actor. Then another time, it was probably a scientist, or an astronaut, or something equally as fun.
Of course, one of the luxuries of being a child is that every new answer felt just as possible as the last one — and unless they were having a particularly crappy day, no decent adult was going to tell me otherwise.
The part where I had to grow up
Unfortunately, we all have to grow up eventually.
By the time I was in high school, imagination had taken a back seat to reality.
It was soon made clear that I needed to know exactly what I wanted to do once I left school — and become an astronaut was no longer an acceptable answer.
I was told I needed to study hard so I could get into the right university so I could study hard for another 3–4 years so I could finally get that job that I supposedly wanted to do for the rest of my life.
The problem? Like most teenagers, I didn’t have a single clue what that was.
The part where I had no clue what to do but chose something anyway
I was only just discovering all the fun things about being a teenager at the time, and major life decisions were the furthest thing from my mind, but that didn’t mean graduation wasn’t still hurtling towards me like a freight train.
I had to pick something, so I picked the only thing I could really think of that I didn’t think would be so bad.
For the sake of brevity, I’ll just gloss over this bit real quick.
I chose to study a degree in Web Design. I didn’t enjoy it. I wanted to quit. I didn’t quit. I graduated a year late. And in the 11 years since I graduated, I’ve never once used that degree to get a job.
Now that you’re up to speed, here’s what I really want to talk about…
The part that I’d do differently if I had my time over
I want to preface this by saying that if someone landed in my lounge room right this second with a time machine and offered me another go around, I genuinely wouldn’t take it. I firmly believe that every decision I’ve made to this point — good, bad and ugly — has made me who I am today, and I don’t want to change any of that.
Honestly, this is more about what I’d suggest to my own kids, or to a teenager now, if they told me they were sitting in class without a single clue what they wanted to do with the rest of their lives.
First, I’d get a job while I was still in school.
I believe that life experience trumps anything I ever learnt at school.
That’s why I’d go get a job and interact with the world outside of school as much as possible, while saving as much money as I can in that time.
The irony of writing this is that I actually did get a job while I was at school, but I didn’t appreciate it at the time, and I moaned about it so much that my parents eventually let me quit.
I wish I didn’t quit now.
It might not have been glamourous and I might have missed a few parties, but it would’ve been worth it to help me fund the next steps.
Once I finish school, I would try as many different jobs as I could.
If I had my time over, I wouldn’t have gone to university just because everyone was telling me to.
Instead, I’d get a job in an area that I think I might like. It could be a paid position or an unpaid internship. But whatever it is, it’s going to allow me to experience what it’s like to work in that job much more than any degree ever will.
If I liked it, I’d find a way to make a career out of it. If I had to study to get a foot in the door, then I would go back to university, firm in the knowledge that this is something I genuinely want to do.
If I didn’t enjoy it, I’d try something else — and I’d keep doing that until I find something I want to pursue further.
The reason I’m suggesting this is because in the last 10–12 years, I have tried a whole host of different jobs. I’ve worked in Retail, I’ve worked in Hospitality and Hotel Management, I’ve worked various roles in Construction, I’ve worked as a Social Media Coordinator for an Aged Care provider, I’ve worked as a Travel Agent, I’ve even freelanced as a Web Designer from time to time to see if I enjoyed it more than before (I did not).
The point is, I’ve tried a lot of different stuff, and it took me a while to land on something that I could genuinely see myself making a career out of — that being my current job as a Copywriter.
If I had just settled on what I studied at university and didn’t explore what else was out there, I guarantee I would be miserable right now, and I wouldn’t have had half of the amazing experiences that I’ve had so far in my life.
Which leads me to my final suggestion…
In between searching for a career, I’d travel at every opportunity I get.
With all that money I’d saved from my first job, and any jobs I had after that, I’d explore as much of the world as I possibly could.
This is funny for me to say, because before the first time I went travelling, I was completely uninterested in it. I had no ambition to go anywhere overseas.
The only reason I went travelling the first time was that my favourite late night talk show host, Craig Ferguson, was calling time on his tv show, and my mate and I were desperate to see it live before he did.
Since we live in Australia, we weren’t about to fly to LA just for one show, so we ended up making a six-week trip out of it, hitting several spots across the US in that time.
After that, I was hooked.
I’ve since spent a significant amount of time overseas, both travelling in between careers and while working when the opportunity presented itself (I’ve been extremely lucky to have great bosses willing to give me extended time off to travel).
Bottom line: I could not recommend travelling enough, especially to those who aren’t sure what they want out of life.
The experiences you’ll have along the way will help you to understand yourself on a much deeper level — and eventually, you’ll find what you’re looking for.
You’ll find what you want to be when you grow up.
The part I’ve been leading up to my entire life
I will never get the chance to go back and do things the way I have talked about above, but as I said, I don’t want to either.
I’ve simply written this in the hope that it might help someone else who feels like they are lacking direction too — whether they’re 18, 28 or 58.
Because the things I’ve suggested can apply to any of us when we’re feeling a bit lost.
Try new things and have new experiences.
Learn what lights you up inside and what doesn’t.
Take the time to discover yourself.
It might not happen straight away. It might even take years. But I promise you, it will be so much more worth it than settling for something that doesn’t make you truly happy.
Take me. I recently turned 32, but this is the first time in my life that I genuinely feel like I know what I want to be when I grow up.
I want to be a writer.
But more than that, I want to help people with my writing. I want to inspire them to live the life they want to live. To live an authentic life — true to themselves.
That’s why I’ve published my first article today.
I’m excited to see where this goes — and I hope you’ll join me again soon.
The part where I thank you for making it this far
If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading.
I genuinely appreciate it.