A while back, a woman in her mid-50s in a local group I’m in stood up and admitted, “I still don’t know what I’m going to be when I grow up!” She was clearly frustrated that she was her age and still hadn’t figured it out. I was puzzled because I don’t understand the yearning under the worrying about what you’ll be when you grow up.

I saw looks of sympathy and understanding come from many of the other members of the group. This issue seems to be something that creatives and wanderers worry about more than other people. But who knows, perhaps when I’m older I’ll feel the same way.

What puzzles me about it is that creatives are always on a quest of one type or another. Always altering reality around them. Getting bored with “who they are” and what they do. To be a creative is to be a wellspring of change — it’s for good reason that we aren’t known for our predictability and stability.

So, the yearning to “know what you’re going to be” or what your “true calling” is seems to be a wish to be something you’re not, to know where things are going, like there’s a there somewhere in the future that we’re heading toward. But as Machado said, “wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking.”

There is no who or what we’re going to be out there in the future; we become who we are and what we are by walking.

I think there’s something deeper at play: the person who yearns to know who they’ll be is looking for meaning and acceptance. They want to know that the choices that they’ve made — the adventures and the misadventures — were all headed in a direction that made sense and meant something. They want to be able to tell their story in a coherent way that doesn’t look like it’s been aimlessly going from one thing to the next; a story that doesn’t look like a score of unfinished creative projects, half-careers, and sojourns in a yurt in a desert somewhere (real or metaphorical).

They want a simple story of a successful life well-lived rather than the complex, wandering weirdo life that looks more like a tapestry constantly being woven or like damaged goods constantly being repackaged.

Every choice we’ve made in the past becomes a part of our story, and some stories are simply more complex than others. There’s rarely a correlation between the richness and depth of a story and its simplicity. We write our stories and make meaning daily. We are conscious beings hurled moment by moment towards a void that becomes firm on impact.

Most of us couldn’t have imagined the life we live today 5 years ago, let alone 10 years ago. If we truly show up, we have no idea what our life will look like in 5 or 10 years, either. Next year, I can see. Next quarter, I can make concrete. Next week, I can plan. Tomorrow, I can live in the present AND build a better tomorrow.

But I’ll pass on the helping of worrying about what I’ll be when I grow up, thank you. I’d rather have a generous portion of the adventure du jour.

Originally published at productiveflourishing.com


  • Charlie Gilkey

    Author, Speaker, Business Strategist, Coach

    Charlie Gilkey helps people start finish the stuff that matters. He's the founder of Productive Flourishing, author of the forthcoming Start Finishing and The Small Business Lifecycle, and host of the Productive Flourishing podcast. Prior to starting Productive Flourishing, Charlie was a Joint Force Military Logistics Coordinator while simultaneously pursuing a PhD in Philosophy. He lives with his wife, Angela, in Portland, Oregon.