Over the past few months I have found myself in a number of scenarios talking to people either finishing school, starting university or embarking on their first jobs. The excitement and nerves about exam results, waiting on job offers and the thrill of the possibilities of what comes next – it’s an infectious optimism.
It’s been 16 years since I finished high school, over ten years since I finished university but I remember the feeling well. The sheer awe of opportunity, that anything was possible, and there was so much time it almost seemed to much to take on board. Like being handed the keys to your first car and maps to every highway on offer.
Finding your feet in the adult world isn’t that dissimilar to learning to drive. You get all the qualifications but you still don’t have a clue what you’re doing. I was smug as a Persian cat having got my license on my first attempt. I put this down to my father’s endless patience and constant presence in the passenger seat of the family Honda. I drove in circles around the local cemetery (everyone was already dead, there was very little risk of further damage) getting my head around the clutch and starting on a hill without flooding the tank.
I passed the theory easily, moved on to take a few more formal lessons and then booked my test. Which remains, to this day, the most nerve racking two hours of my life. I nailed parallel parking, and alley docking but I stalled the car twice and nearly went through an amber light. I was distracted by my driving examiner’s spectacular mullet and the tortoise-shell comb sticking out of his knee high khaki sock. Minor whiplash aside (from sudden braking at said amber light) he handed me a brand spanking new licence. A ticket to freedom. And that was that. I was released onto the mean streets of Jo’burg without any experience of driving on the highway, in wet weather, or at night. Qualified I was, prepared I was not.
But as everyone knows, you learn to drive after you get the piece of paper stamped and your picture taken. This goes for your career in being a tax paying individual, you learn on the job. The same advice applies for when you stall at a busy intersection during a thunderstorm as to when you go completely blank during a dream job interview: Don’t Panic. Breathe. Start again (and turn on your hazards).
Nothing can prepare you for how you will feel when you have to step up and speak at a funeral, when you have to take responsibility for a major cock up, or call emergency services. No one will tell you how to leave a relationship, how to support a grieving friend, the best way to negotiate a new salary, wedding venue, holiday discount. You learn as you go.
Twenty years ago, I was 13 and starting high school with dreams of being either a forensic psychologist or investigative journalist (I wanted to be a kick ass combination of Clarice Starling and Nancy Drew). Turns out I wasn’t all that keen on all the stats in Psych, and there didn’t appear to be any access to interviewing serial killers.
Ten years after that I ended up in media and advertising, working with a different brand of psychopath altogether. But the fun kind. Another ten years on from that and I am working in publishing. At least now the psychos are mainly fictional.
I switched up, changed paths and tried new things. And I’m not done yet. In fact most of the most inspirational people I know and look up to have done just that. They keep learning.
Which was why I was really surprised to find that all of the younger people I have been speaking to are still focusing on becoming a ‘something’. Trying to figure out the right subjects, take the right courses, land the one job. And I remember this fear really well, desperate to choose the right mix of courses so as not to limit my career choices. The fact is that my choice of second year electives have very little bearing on what I do today other than to make very useful at certain pub quizzes that feature Greek Mythology. Few of us have a job for life. We get to make mistakes, discover new talents and pursue unforeseen opportunities.
That said, I am now 33 years old. Officially in my Jesus Year (yes apparently this is a thing now) and I am expected to get a move on and get my shit together. Or have some spiritual awakening. So I guess my choices are to have some fantastic career breakthrough or head to Cambodia to meditate.
But I still have no idea what I want to be. I am taking this as a good thing and a sign that there are still many more adventures to be had.
Any other Clarice wannabes out there? Love to hear what you lot want to be when you grow up