A few of us awkwardly knelt around the coffee table at the nursing home for elderly dogs, waiting for the volunteer orientation to start. (There is a lot packed into that sentence and it is all true because I am me.)
I watched a casual exchange play out.
“Are you still in high school?” the peppy lady asked.
“No, I graduated,” responded the shy girl, probably in her early twenties.
“Oh, so where are you going to college?”
“I’m taking some time off.”
“So, are you at Montgomery College now?”
It went on like this for a little while. I cringed. She kept pushing. The young girl and I made eye contact. Though a different race and shape and size and first language, I saw my eyes in hers. I remember the discomfort when asked those questions and the embarrassment at not having a definitive answer. In the middle of the lady’s next presumptuous question, I looked to the young girl and firmly stated, “You don’t have to know what you want to do yet. Take your time to figure it out. It’s fine.” She smiled bashfully.
I don’t know if she even heard what I said because she was probably still processing Mrs. 21 Questions’ interrogation, but at least she was off the hook. I understood her unsettledness. We are supposed to be unsettled at this age. Why is it expected that once we turn 18, whether or not we decide to go to college, we have to know exactly what we want to do with the next 70 years of our lives?
Our brains aren’t even fully developed when we are that young (I think mine is still forming to this day). We are in the middle of learning how to navigate the world—what we like, what we don’t like, whether we lean toward introversion/extroversion, what environment best suits us, etc. I myself am a completely different person than I was in my early 20s, in the best way. That decade held a lot of growth and transformation for me though, mostly learning from my mistakes rather than any shining moments (of which there were very few).
When we are forced to make such an important decision before we are ready, we run the risk of settling in a job or career that we don’t love and this bleeds into other areas of our lives; we start to lose energy, curiosity, passion, soul. Eventually it becomes too scary to change because what else will we do? There is no emotion more devious than complacency.
Thus, we have to be okay with this feeling of uncertainty, not only when we are young but at every stage in life.
"There is great power in not knowing."
The unknown holds wisdom. It gives us an opportunity to be fully present. Stay in that space and allow that to be your focal point. Get comfortable in the discomfort. You may find the seemingly mundane moments to become just as magical and miraculous as those considered more stellar and extraordinary.
Have the courage to ask questions. If you are truly listening, the answers will come. To listen is to notice. To pay attention. To be aware. Your next cue might be communicated in a random moment through the mouth of a stranger, a thought in the middle of the night, or an intuitive feeling.
If you don’t know where to start, ask yourself, “What if…?”
Here are some questions I have pondered in the last ten or so years:
“What if I can get better and live a healthy life?”
“What if I don’t work at this job forever?”
“What if I move to an island?”
"What if it all works out?"
Before that, I only used to ask fear-based questions such as “What if I don’t get the job?” “What if he breaks up with me?” “What if I make a fool of myself?” Those types of “What ifs” are excuses to stay small, to not take a step forward, and they will ultimately paralyze you.
Instead, see it as a game. Keep asking “What if” about the things you want to happen, and see where it leads, see what you can get away with. If you start with the little things—"what if I took a different way to work?”—your confidence and self-efficacy will grow, and the themes will begin to expand right before your eyes.
Widen your periphery.
Relish the fact that you don’t know everything.
Always remain teachable with a beginner’s mind.
Give yourself permission to take chances and be wrong.
Believe that anything is possible and see how the world changes.