Every day we are bombarded with ambition-probing questions forcing us to think about our future lives in the “real” world. These questions are usually intended to be facilitators of harmless conversation, but they often cause us to develop misconceived notions of success.
Well, these questions can come in a variety of forms.
Children are often asked what they want to be when they grow up. For a child, replying is easy because the “real world” seems so far away that anything seems possible. Some kids want to be astronauts while others want to be firefighters or Barack Obama. Yours truly, for instance, wanted to be a “worker guy.“
Okay, so I wasn’t the most specific kid.
Fast forward a decade or so to college, where these ambition-probing questions tend to take the form of, “What’s your major?” immediately followed by (especially if you are in the College of Letters & Science) “That’s interesting. What do you plan to do with that?”
Umm, well … that’s a good question.
Actually, I was planning on using my degree to pull a Henry David Thoreau, swear off all worldly possessions and go live in the woods …
Okay, so maybe camping isn’t your thing, but when asked this question, people tend to pull one of the usual canned responses to hide the fact they really have no clue what they want to do with their lives.
If people always became what they told people they “wanted” to become, then nearly all Letters & Science kids would become lawyers, College of Biological Science kids would become doctors and all College of Engineering peeps would … well most of them are going to get frustrated and switch majors to Bio Sci, anyway, so I guess it doesn’t really matter what they say.
And seriously, people (especially you, Poli Sci majors), no matter how much it may impress your grandma, you can’t go around telling people you’re majoring in Pre-Law because it doesn’t exist at UC Davis and you know it.
At any rate, it may be all fun and games to tell people what you “plan” on doing with whatever dead-end degree you are working toward, but once you get to the point where you’re about to graduate it’s not so funny anymore. Now the question is: “What do you plan to do after you graduate?” Suddenly, the “real world” starts to seem a lot more … realer.
If you aren’t going directly to grad school, you will probably find yourself in quite the awkward position. Then you will say, “I’m taking a year off.”
As if grad school was the only thing capable of advancing your life’s narrative.
But then there are those who just want to get grad school “over with.” Well, this is jolly good if you actually know what you want to do with your life, but this is likely not the case if you are the average 20ish year old.
Although you may know what you should do, you don’t know what you want to do.
This brings us back to the idea of ambition-probing questions.
When are asked these questions, why do we feel the need to sometimes stretch the truth? More importantly, why do we even think we need to have an answer to these questions to begin with?
We answer ambition-probing questions the way in which we do because we want to be perceived as successful. We want others to look up at us and go, “golly, that person is going to be somebody. Look at them being all lawyery and doctery and stuff.“
It’s easy to lose sight of what life choices can actually make us happy when we get caught up trying to appease popular notions of success, which often equate one’s pay grade with their level of success. After all, money is the root of all … what was it again? Happiness? Oh, wait. I think it was something else.
What good is success without happiness? Driven by the notion that success inevitably leads to happiness, we try so hard to succeed because we want so badly to be happy.
But perhaps somewhere along the road of dodging ambition-probing questions we got it mixed up.
Maybe happiness doesn’t always follow success, but success always follows happiness.
Take a moment and imagine the rest of the world doesn’t exist. Ask yourself the greatest ambition-probing question of them all: What is it that makes you happy?
The answer to this question is probably what you should be doing with your life.
MIKE HOWER is still determined to become a “worker guy.” If you know any “worker guys” who can hook it up, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.