Choosing Your Path in Life
It's hard to decide your entire future at 19
There is a Rod Stewart song called “Oh La La,” that has a refrain that goes
I wish that I knew what I know now
When I was younger.
I wish that I knew what I know now
When I was stronger.
Isn’t that the truth? At no time has this song’s lyrics been more “in my face” than right now, as I watch my college kid struggle to find a place in the world.
High-school and college-aged youth have a myriad of questions to face that I never considered. So much of life is “out of the closet” now – and I don’t just mean sexual orientation. Society has erupted in an explosion of thoughts, feelings, beliefs, questions, and ethical dilemmas.
Am I a good person?
Do I know what I want to do with my life?
Why should I follow the path of “average,” when I am clearly not?
Am I a republican, democrat, or independent? Do I even care?
What if I just want to travel and see the world?
Who says I can’t make money being a juggler?
Why can’t my parents let me make my own decisions?
What if I make a wrong decision?
Is it worth it?
We demand, in this world, that people “get a grip” and “walk the line” that seems the most likely to succeed – high school diploma, college, and work. But we raise our kids with words like “whatever you do, I just want you to be happy!” Well, I believe that, but am I doing it myself? What if your son or daughter decides, in college, to quit and join the circus? It will make them happy, they will get to travel, and it is a job. Do you support their desire, or do the “sensible” thing and explain that finishing college with a degree will help them in case the circus thing doesn’t work out? Do you just let them go?
True confession: I wanted to join the circus after high school. I even applied to Ringling Brothers’ clown college once. I totally understand the desire to want to do a job that is fun. In my case, I did jobs that were a necessity to my survival, since I didn’t have a family support system at the time. As I worked and went to college along the way, I gave up “fun” for “functional” and did jobs I was really good at, even if they were not ones I particularly enjoyed. (Okay, I was a clown one summer at an amusement park, but that was one hot and not-what-I-expected job). Most people say “Well, that’s life!” That’s an awful thing to say, though, because people really should have joy in their life whenever possible, and not in a catch-as-catch-can way.
Being a young person trying to find that balance of joy with the requirements of the world (a job, money, food, shelter, self-sufficiency, and companionship) can be tremendous – in a good way or a bad way. I envy those who knew, almost from the beginning, what they wanted to do with their life…to be a doctor or teacher or painter. To have that plan clear in their mind’s eye and making it happen. But does that really work for most people? I don’t think it does.
Most of us have to work at figuring out what really makes us happy – and that is hard when you are 19 because, at least in my case, it was nothing like what would make me happy at 29 or 39 or 49 (okay, let’s stop there…). I think the best answer is to take a leap of faith and just move forward, because no matter where the road leads, you’ll be somewhere! And if it’s not the place you dreamed of, or ever expected, well, that’s okay too, because maybe you will meet someone else who has the answers. Maybe you’ll be inspired by a song there, or a mentor, or a best friend. Maybe God will speak to you through a pastor or teacher or coffee-counter-clerk, or even a clown wanna-be like me.
Mistakes will happen, and a lot of times they make us stronger. We need to be patient with ourselves, with God, with others. We need to stop needing all the answers right this second, because when we force issues, we often make rash judgments and decisions that are momentarily right, but not necessarily right in the long run. And if the road is really crooked and bent when you thought it would be pretty straight-forward, well, lean in and follow the way ahead. Eventually, you’ll know all the things you wish you had known when you were younger. You may not have all the answers, but you can look back and be glad you made your way to that moment in time.
I’m pretty sure I’m right, but then again, I’m still walking on that crooked road, bent with worries sometimes and unexpected bombshells here and there, but mostly with joyful anticipation of what is around the corner. I wish every young person would look at life that way. Well, they will, when they are older and stronger, right?