“I’ve wanted to be a doctor since the age of 4,” an ex-girlfriend once confided. She said this with absolute certitude.
At age 4, I was whimpering for Little Debbies. Doctor? Sure, I was a precocious child, at least according to my mother, but terrorizing babysitters and sparring with brothers was my chosen profession.
I marveled at Haley’s preternatural obsession with medicine. She knew, like, in her bones knew, that medicine was her destined profession. “How do you know?” I would inquire — a touch of amazement and disbelief lining my voice.
“I don’t know; I’ve just always wanted to be a doctor,” she matter-of-factly stated. She agonized more about Sunday brunch.
Maybe it was my upbringing. Achievement, not long-winded existential conversations about career paths (crises?), were kitchen table topics. Stellar report cards — and the accompanying praise — were our household currency.
In seventh grade, I rushed home with a desultory look plastered on my face. Stomach churning, I confessed my academic sin. “Mom, I got a B+ on a paper.”
These perfectionistic tendencies served me well as long as I could focus on the here (the all-important exam) and now (satisfying my unrealistic expectations). But life plans? I needed an additional study hall.
Graduating from a selective undergraduate institution, the world teemed with possibilities. “What do you want to do?” well-meaning acquaintances would ask. Well, everything, I thought to myself before mumbling a politically correct answer. Truthfully, I wanted to dabble in policy, psychology, linguistics, and cultural anthropology. But my profession? Maybe Will Hunting and I could tend to a flock as we figured it out.
With my demanding father’s insistence (success! achievement!), I opted for the path of least resistance: law school. Law school, where smart, mildly neurotic Jews beat themselves into severely neurotic Jews. Law school was intellectually stimulating, but life-changing? Maybe for the frenzied gunners fawning over a professor’s every word. For me, law school was a means to an end, although I am still figuring out that end.
Now 34, my stomach churns like that anxious seventh grader when the inevitable career questions emerge. Is there a career in wordsmithing, mental health, and vintage finds? No? As the “What do you want to do with your life?” question ricochets around my head, uncertainty floods my overstimulated neurons.
I do know one thing, though. Use your gifts, passions, and values (GPV) to find a meaningful career. My trial and error career path has unlocked a gift/passion only tangentially related to law. Human psychology, motivation, personality traits fascinate me. My two brothers and I grew up in the nurturing confines of Des Moines, Iowa; what explains our differences in temperament? If you think you are too old to uncover your GPV, ask yourself why.
Whether you are 4, 44, or 84, you have the capacity to achieve a purposeful life. Youthfulness is measured in hopeful exuberance, not candles dotting a store-bought cake. With apologies to Haley and professional colleagues, the doctorate in life can be more enriching than any professional credential.
Zhang, L. (2016). “How to Find the Answer to ‘What Do I Want to Do With My Life.’” The Muse. Retrieved from https://www.themuse.com/advice/how-to-find-the-answer-to-what-do-i-want-to-do-with-my-life
College diploma photo available from Shutterstock