In interacting with a lot of college students throughout my life, I've found many consistencies. But one more frequent than any other.
Middle class American society guides its children through life with this notion: there are endless doors before you and all you need to do is choose one to walk through.
Don’t like it? Walk back out and choose another.
Opening every door we see, and then deciding we don’t like it doesn’t help us grow.
This is NOT using endless opportunity to our benefit, this is creating a whole bunch of dead ends. Non-committed mindsets that grow to be unsatisfied adults.
A seemingly unshakable feeling of being lost, of not knowing where your life is going.
The habit of jumping ship as soon as you don’t like something, instead of talking yourself through it and committing.
You are told your whole life you can be anything so you pursue everything, and it’s a lovely sentiment, but, more often than not, it just ends up fucking you over.
I grew up being told exactly that.
That if I could dream it, I could do it.
So I dreamed.
This dream changed from Paleontologist to Doctor to Lawyer to Teacher.
The problem is, dreams are not reality.
These things don’t sound like unrealistic dreams, I was smart and capable when I applied myself, so I was encouraged blindly towards them, unreceptive to the actual work I would be signing myself up for; always asking myself if I WANT to, but never being hones with myself about if I actually CAN. I spent all my time dreaming the big shiny outcomes without waking up to sharpen the tools needed to get there.
Call it immaturity, call it out of touch with reality, call it what it is.
Just a fucking dream.
Problem is, once you’re an adult, you don’t need a dream, you need a plan. A paycheck. When I was an education major, we learned to never give young children more than 2 or 3 options otherwise it becomes too overwhelming for their brains and they become distressed. I don’t think this is something we outgrow, only something we are conditioned to hide. Options. They are beautiful, but they are our downfall, the thief of commitment. The problem is, all these options eventually leave you confused and without direction, and you’re left with a whole pile of once-was dreams and nothing more.
That leaves us feeling drained, and useless. It’s hard to get up from those feelings, and eventually we stop knocking on the doors. This pivotal moment is one I found myself in recently. When I stopped knocking, at first I thought I was giving up, but once I settled into the silence, and stopped looking at all of those doors and wondering what was behind them, I tore myself apart, confessed my insecurities and let them go, and finally looked for the answers within. And they finally came pouring out. And all I hope is that by sharing how I saved myself, I can help someone in a similar predicament, maybe a little sooner and with less anxiety.
The cure to being out of touch with reality is realism, awareness.
We must evaluate our strengths and capabilities, but recognize the most crucial strength that one can possess is work ethic and the commitment to follow through. Not one single person WANTS to wake up at the crack of dawn and go to work, but some people commit with a smile, choosing to make the absolute best of it. This is where you can finally settle. Sometimes it takes your brain years to get to this point, the threshold is different for everyone. And maybe it isn’t always about a sudden realization, maybe not everyone has that aha moment to figure it out. Maybe it was only every really about commitment.
Some prodigies know what they want to do at age 5, some people figure it out “on time” in high school, some people figure it out after getting a completely different degree, and some people are attempting to figure it out well beyond that I’m sure. I try not to compare myself and my progress to others, but I knew that I didn’t want to be part of that last group. The thought of that scared the fuck out of me. I knew I couldn’t feel this anxious, directionless way forever. So I stopped. Sometimes you need to learn your own strength, and the universe has funny ways of allowing you to show yourself just how capable you are, but you need to make that choice.
For a long time, I was scrounging at careers, landing jobs and quitting them because I simply wasn’t feeling it. I jumped ship a lot. Still living off that unrealistic notion that had been beat into my head for my whole life. You don’t like it? Leave and open another door, there are plenty of them. And when I was younger, depending on my parents and living with minimal consequence, that worked. Later on though, older and wiser, reality smacked me in the face that if I can’t find the answers myself, they’ll never be found, and for months it gave me horrible anxiety. Until I made the choice to change it. Accepted that it was always going to be hard work, and that the ONLY person capable of giving my life direction is me. Not chance or opportunity or knocking on doors trying to find a room that’s already full. I chose an empty room and I filled it myself. My room.
It took me 20-something years to learn the true value of commitment and hard work, at least as I define those qualities. I’m sure I still have much to learn. I don’t want anyone to think I’m unappreciative of the hopes a parent has for their child; the brilliant and filled to the brim with possibility future, complete with every form of support, that mine had for me. But I also recently had a conversation with myself, about being an adult and following through. About how anxious these endless possibilities and lack of direction made me. And I began to channel my anxiety to catalyze growth, using it as motivation instead of letting it make me depressed; and out poured a realization: I know what I want to do with my life. This moment of clarity gave me stability. And it didn’t come from opening doors, it came from a dark empty room that I was in alone. A room that offered two choices: give up or get going.
This can be applied not only to your professional growth, but the growth of all of your hobbies and relationships as well. This committed mindset creates the balance and happiness you seek.
The more I choose to do for me without looking for answers, the more secure I feel in my path.
The more inspired I feel.
The positive energy and opportunity I attract.
The more signs I’m sent telling me: you are on your way.
Confronting your issues. Your self doubt. Your laziness. Shedding the ego, the excuses. Living your truth, unapologetically. That’s what will set you on your path.
Forget about the doors in front of you. There will always be a million doors.
The key is the ability to focus on the room you’re in.