From a young age we are groomed, trained, to fit into the societies in which we are born. Societies into which we are arbitrarily born, and so, may not be the ones which we are best suited to, or would choose given the choice. Social roles and expectations we may find liberating in one society, and suffocatingly restrictive in another. We are born into a society, a world, with inherent problems that we are either expected to accept, solve, or make sense of. No matter which of these paths you end up taking, conformity is expected in a functioning society. A certain level of individualism is expected and even encouraged; for it is through an appropriate level of diversity that the society can reach its maximum potential, although after a certain point, it would result in a chaotic breakdown of the system.
I remember this from a young age. In first grade, I remember the whole class sitting down, cross-legged on the floor in a circle, and being asked by the teacher, one at a time, what we wanted to be when we grew up. Instantly I felt panic churning in my stomach. I always hated being put on the spot, especially in front of the whole class, but more than that: I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. I had never thought further into the future than what I would watch on TV when I got home from school. I don’t think it had yet occurred to me that I would have to ‘be’ something when I inevitably grew up. Putting my hands on my ankles, I asked myself: what did I want to be? And was my answer final? Or was there still the option to change it at a later date? What if I never was what I replied, would they think I’m a failure? There was no answer to the question; it just kept coming back blank. Thankfully we were going around the circle answering, and I was seated most of the way around the circle, so I had some time to think. I decided that the only solution was to copy someone else’s answer. I listened to the answers spilling out of the other five year olds mouths as it went around: a fireman, a teacher, a builder, a mum… it was clear that they had thought about this before. Why hadn’t I? Why hadn’t I prepared myself for this unforeseeable situation? Listening to their answers I knew that I didn’t want to be any of those things that they had said, but my turn was quickly approaching.
“A mum,” the freckled, pigtailed girl beside me replied without hesitation. The time had come. Everyone was looking at me. My hair around my face had fallen out of my ponytail, leaving my freckled face framed in blonde strands. Blue eyes flicked up to the teacher as I opened my mouth to mumble, “A mum,” like the girl before me. The teacher nodded and looked over to the boy to my left. The pressure was gone. It had worked, she had believed me.
The truth is that I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up. But the problem is now slightly more imminent due to the unfortunate fact that I am now grown up. I still don’t want to be a fireman: I always liked starting fires more than putting them out. I don’t want to be a teacher: learning is more interesting than teaching. I don’t want to be a builder: while I like making things, doing it all the time would be kind of brain-numbing. And I definitely don’t want to be a mum, maybe it will change, but I do not have the patience or the inclination now. And let’s face it: I have trouble looking after myself; I should not be entrusted with that responsibility. I have things of my own to do and achieve before I admit that I am good for nothing more than pushing out babies, something half the population is capable of. I do however know what I want to be: I want to be me, and I want to be happy. This seems much more important than however I choose to spend my time. The teacher didn’t seem to understand: no one, not even working adults, knows what they want to do for all of their working lives. The more important issue is to understand who you want to be, how you want to be. This everyone should know; the answer should be an easy one.