None of us are so much deciding what do be or what to do with our lives as figuring out how to be or to do it.
When your small, past self was asked what it intended to do once it was a fully-fledged rational being, I’m sure it had a clear idea. It may not have had a title for it, but your child-self (and yes, I usually refer to children as ‘it’) quite probably imagined spending the day in one or several particular ways. Jen Bekman’s younger self knew she just had to have a job reading magazines—an ambition surely scoffed at, but she now makes a living doing essentially that, as well as running a gallery and selling prints online through her 20×200 project.* As a child, I usually worked myself to exhaustion at my little square table, passing out, crayon in hand. This ought to have been a clue.
Somewhere on our path to rational-beinghood, we learn to quantify occupations differently, and to the detriment of our own clear thinking. Presented with a list of jobs on a job search website, one gets all sorts of silly ideas like, ‘I think I want to edit books. That makes money,’ simply because these jobs are advertised. (I think editing is a fine career—only, for myself it would be a stepping stone and is thus a distraction since it requires further training).
What we really want to ask ourselves is this: ‘Hey, future self, how do you want to spend each day?’ Shall I get up and rush to the city by train, reading classics on the way, get coffee with a friend and then sift through reports until morning tea, eat a piece of cake at my desk, respond to some emails and spend the rest of the day compiling a team work plan? In fact, I think I would rather read blogs over cheesy toast, read some illustration books, work on some thumbnail sketches and concepts and, after a leisurely lunch on the veranda, spend the afternoon painting, thank you very much. Step away from the what and concentrate on the specifics of the how.
Truth: most of us know, even if it’s a deep dark secret, how we want to spend our time. I know your friend knew since the age of twelve that he was going to be a theoretical physicist, and that made you feel indecisive and as though you got off to a shaky start. But your friend was just lucky to have a name for what he does, rather than a vague desire to write in some capacity, and some ill-defined sense of connecting people, and an obsessive love of magazines. Think about this: Jen Beckman has built her career based around the internet, and when she was growing up there was no internet save the scary military kind completely lacking in a graphic user interface. Maybe your career doesn’t exist yet, but your interests and skills do, and you ought to invest in them with every quantum of energy in your being.
It is my sincere belief that we ought really be concerned with how to get paid for what we do. This is what we really mean when we say we are trying to figure out what to do with our lives. We already do fabulous things that other people get paid for every day. Some people get paid to read magazines. And I bet you pay to read magazines. Time to get creative and show the world why they should take our interests seriously, and why our interests should be our nine-to-five.
I’ve spent many a happy hour in a tree in the past year. The above tree is in St Kilda, Melbourne. I usually take a good book (here, Leonard Cohen), or someone to k-i-s-s.