I spent a long, long time working on finding the answer to that question. Got a college degree that I very quickly realized I wasn’t going to make use of. Didn’t go anywhere with my college minors. Nope, instead I spent almost two decades floating around, letting life drag me along the various currents I encountered.
For a long time I believed that it didn’t entirely matter what I wanted when I grew up. There were expectations, obligations, and other factors that went into how I perceived one would be an adult. A lot of it didn’t look too fun, nor very desirable. But I accepted the concept, and rolled with it.
Over the years, I always felt like there was something missing. This would develop into me bouncing between relationships, bouncing from job to job, and never settling into one place, per se, for more than a decade at a time. Even into my thirties, I still didn’t feel as if I was a grown-up, nor could I answer the question about what I wanted to be.
It is all too easy to identify yourself by your job, your relationship, your group of friends, or what-have-you. This provides a down comforter you snuggle under when you don’t really want to dig too deep into the minute details of your existence.
In doing this, while it feels like you are creating your identity, in truth, it’s another avoidance.
Mindfulness tells you who you are
Nobody else can tell you who you are. You are not your job, your relationship, your religious or national or ethnic identity, nor any other such grouping. All of these may factor into how you create your identity, but you and you alone can determine it.
A lot of us tend to look to outside groups and people for validation. We want to be praised, told we are worthy and deserving, and shown that our contributions to the world are valued. I think a lot of this comes from childhood, when we need that validation from first parents, then other family members, then teachers, then classmates and friends.
For some people, we start to need this less and less as we get older. However, for others, we still desire to have it — but often it’s completely subconscious.
Old habits die hard. What’s more, older habits that we have shunted deep into our subconscious have really deep and hard-to-excavate roots. As such, when we are not consciously seeking validation, but doing so subconsciously, this can cause all sorts of confusion and disenchantment.
This is where becoming mindful can be really useful. When you strive to be aware of what you are thinking, how and what you are feeling, and the intent of the actions you take from there, you gain influence and control over your life.
With that influence and control, you can start to find who you are. If you find you are not whom you desire to be, you can take steps to change it. From there, you can begin to find the answer to the question.
Being a grown-up is not a bad thing
I know a lot of people who lament “adulting.” Truth be told, I am quite happy to be an adult.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some pretty good aspects of childhood. However, as an adult, my destiny is wholly and entirely mine to decide.
As a kid your parents are still your caretakers, and no matter how much autonomy they give, you are still primarily directed by their choices.
No two people have the same experience. No matter how similar they can be, they are still never the same. As such, childhood takes a very different meaning for each of us. Were your parents married or divorced? Did you play outside or inside mostly? Was your summer structured or unstructured? Are your childhood memories good, bad, or otherwise? This was almost entirely at the control of your parents.
As an adult, all of this is up to you. Yes, I recognize that a lot of people take on responsibilities that will require them to care for others, whether it’s elderly relatives or children, but everything is still a choice. You get to decide what your life will look like.
No, this is not an absolute statement. There are a lot of factors that will impact how much control you can assume over your own life, even with mindfulness. Further, there is a certain amount of privilege on the part of some people (whether intentional or not) that will impact this.
Overall, though, you get to decide how to shape your life. Even if you choose to give much of it to the care of others in some way, it is a choice that you get to make.
The only traps are those you lay yourself
It is important to recognize that anyone who feels trapped, stuck, caged, or otherwise unable to get out of their situation, for the most part can make a choice. Of course there are people in the world who have no options and are imprisoned wrongfully in some form or other — but most likely if you are in the position to read this, you are not one of them.
Specifically, I am writing here about the mental and emotional traps created by thought and feeling. These traps tend to be made by you. They get created because you made no choice, or you sacrificed something, or you made a choice you later despaired of. Even making no choices at all can entrap you, in particular if your life is not as you might optimally desire it to be.
Many of these mental and emotional traps can take on a physical aspect. It may become harder over time to get out of them. However, so long as you feel that you are trapped, you will be.
There is always a way. Choices are always available. You are free to decide how you desire for your life to be.
Even if you can still not answer the question of what you want to be when you grow up — you can make choices every single day. Right here, right now, you are capable. When you are mindful of this moment, and what you think, feel, and intentionally act upon, you can create something new.
You are worthy and deserving of all the good in life you desire. What does that look like to and for you?