The Big Picture
If there is a phrase I hear all too often from people its “I don’t know what I want out of life.” It seems like a strange thing for a person that has lived nearly half of their expected life to say. You would think that by the time we reach our thirties we would have the important issues figured out. Sadly, there are few people I know that will admit to having the answers. I include myself in that group. However, I am beginning to think that people know what they want out of life a lot more than they are willing to admit. The problem is we are thinking too much about the details of life and not on the big picture.
The three most common things I hear people in their thirties struggling to figure out are career, love, and family. It’s easy to see how they can be lumped in with our definition of “life.” For most people, they are defining traits. Inevitably when I meet someone new or see someone I haven’t seen in a long time I am asked these three things. I have become so annoyed by these questions that I purposely do not ask them to others when I first meet them. Just this past weekend I was asked “what do you do?” within minutes of meeting someone for the first time. I could see the visible annoyance on this person’s face when I didn’t ask it back. It’s too bad actually considering what that person does for a living was probably the most interesting thing about her.
There are many reasons why people don’t know what they want out of their careers. I have heard everything from not making a real difference to this is the only job I feel I am qualified for. I’m not satisfied with my job for several reasons. I’m overeducated, underutilized, and on a career track with limited possibilities for advancement. I think that I am like a lot of people in that my job is just a way to make a decent amount of money. While there are some enjoyable aspects of my job, I can’t say that I have a passion for it. I don’t wake up each workday with enthusiasm for my work. I think my experience is pretty typical. Not many people have jobs they truly love and that feeds into not knowing what you actually want to do.
As far as relationships go, I think the confusion lies in knowing what the end game is. Is the relationship going to be long-term? Are you willing to commit to someone? Do you want to get married? The marriage question is what gets a lot of people I know. Especially if you are like me and have already tried it and it didn’t work the first time. In fact, I haven’t dated very much since my divorce because I was scared that I would get in too deep and get hurt again. It felt safer to keep my distance even if it meant opportunities to be with someone were lost. For some, a fear of commitment can stop perfectly good relationships. For others, uneasiness with trust can feel like a security blanket. Being perpetually single and looking can be a comfort.
Even if you get past the commitment or marriage issue, the thought of starting a family can be daunting. I love my friend’s kids and I enjoy the time I get to spend with them. However, I don’t have to take care of them. At the end of the day I get to go home while my friends have to worry about baths, bedtime, dirty diapers, Dora/Thomas, and tantrums. As far as taking care of a child, I have never been comfortable or confident. I didn’t grow up with a younger sibling or around my niece and nephews. When I have held my friend’s babies the only thought that is going through my mind is “don’t break it!” I never babysat or been wholly responsible for the well being of a child. I can’t say definitively if I want kids in the future or if I would even be a good parent. Being a parent is a scary thought. Also, I like the freedom I currently have to do whatever whenever. My friends that are uncertain about having kids feel the same way. Once you have a child, you are no longer living for yourself.
Deep down, I feel that those of us that claim to not know what they want out of life actually do know on a larger scale. Maybe the way to view these big life questions is to recognize that they are only details. I have started to concentrate on the big picture and I have determined the following things. I want companionship. I want to be with someone where everything feels natural. I want to laugh and enjoy life. Above all, I want to be happy. I have recently gone through a whole stack of old pictures of myself at my parent’s house. In those pictures was a smiling and happy little boy. I want to have that feeling again. If I do, then all the other things will fall into place.
Thought-provoking stuff… we do tend to focus on the minutiae while losing sight of the bigger picture. The problem is that when we decide that we want to be happy, the challenge lies in figuring out what that actually means for us, and how we go about getting from here to there.
The thirties brings such a wide range of experiences, emotions and expectations. It can be too easy to expect to be at a particular place emotional or professionally, but the truth is that it all comes in due time and at the right time. The toughest challenge can be learning to accept that and just take everything as it comes.
I will admit I am in the camp that asks someone's profession as a way of initiating small talk. But I really DO enjoy hearing what people do. Granted, the guy who answered he's a photographer for greeting cards prompted a much more interesting conversation than anyone who's ever told me they were an accountant. But if someone answers the latter, I'm interested in WHY. Did you always like numbers? Is it easy for you? If you're all-numbers at work, what do you do on the side to relax? Are you playing Sudoku or going to yoga?
But I like your post because it points out how often I ask that question. And being that type of person, I can't read your post and NOT think, what the hell do you do?! It's hard reading your thoughts and feelings about your job and not wonder what job is it that prompts you to think and feel that way. …Not that I expect your response after reading your post. 😉
I think a much more interesting question to ask is "if you didn't have to work, what would you do with your time?" It's the lucky few who spend the working day living their dreams.
"…those of us that claim to not know what they want out of life actually do know on a larger scale." I agree. But I think the problem is a little bit more dire. Often, the reason we "don't know what we want" is simply because we don't want what we're supposed to want. For me, the question to ask is: Who are you now, and who do you want to be?
Well said. It makesa one reevaluate their priorites.