When you don’t know what you want to do (a letter to my 6th grade pen pal)

Girls of Sudan The Quilted Conscience Project
Girls of Sudan The Quilted Conscience Project

Hello (new friend)!

My name is Allie. I heard that you don’t know (yet) what you want to become when you are finished with your schooling and working to support yourself.  That can be a hard thing to know – even for adults who have studied successfully in college and have had really cool career experiences.

Good news: you are going to be okay.

You have time to explore and discover what makes your heart happy and what problems you want to solve. Not knowing can be hard, but it also can be the jet fuel you need to launch your best adventure!

When I was younger, I lived in another country and far away from other Americans so my thoughts may sound new. Many kids said they knew what they wanted to be doctors, teachers, bosses, moms and dads; athletes, librarians, soldiers, writers and inventors. I wanted to be a librarian who wrote books and newspaper articles, was an artist, archeologist, athlete, astronaut and president of the United States in my spare time. And a lawyer. It was all so interesting!

Some of those kids did study and work hard to become the best teachers, veterinarians, parents and scientists as they planned, but many of us have to keep trying new things just to learn what we like and who we want to become. Some of us have jobs that were not even around when I was a kid (like digital scientists, social media managers, environmental stewards and computer graphics designers.)

Trust me, (new friend). Most successful happy people are still testing and learning and trying to figure out who we want to be.

I still find people and how they work to take care of themselves and the people they love so very interesting. And, I still want to be an astronaut though now I work as a marketing manager and a writer for a cause I care deeply about (helping people afford their college education.) I hope I’m a good mom and friend to the people I love — my most precious job.

Sometimes I feel anxious about what “I am supposed to do.” I know that being a kind person who is honest and works to encourage people and community is who I want to be in my heart. What I want to do as a career is still in process like a quilt that looks like a bunch of knots and jumbled string on one side and the other side reveals something beautiful coming into focus. Life takes work, planning and time to step away from all that work to rest. Often, a good life means we ask for help from people we admire and trust.

And you do not have to know everything that you will do or become today.

You can ask yourself a few questions like:

  • What am I good at that I enjoy doing?
  • What makes my heart sing when I think about it?
  • What am I willing to work hard at learning (even when it is not fun) so I can become who I want to be?
  • Who can I ask for help to think about these things?
  • BONUS QUESTIONS: What would a day in the life of a successful person look like to me? To be happy, I must find a way to ________________________________ .

Thank you, (new friend), for asking these questions. Thank you for being brave and honest about not knowing who you want to be and what you want to do in your work life. Not knowing and being honest have helped more people think of new and better ways to live, solve problems, sort mail and live a happy life as long as they keep learning, asking honest questions and exploring answers.

One day, you’ll look back at your life so far and see the paths you’ve tried and taken – like seeing footprints in the snow behind you. You will see your decisions pointing to ideas and interests and places where you discovered joy. You may not know what you will absolutely do at that time, but you will know you have tried and learned and failed and tried again and enjoyed successes in your good life.

Just keep being curious, (new friend). Keep discovering and trying new things. Don’t be afraid to fail sometimes, because that is how we learn and often how we discover what we really want to do with our best years and our best selves.

Remember: Life is not about impressing other people with money, stuff or WOW! skills. Life is about living each day as best as you can and with your whole heart.

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