The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

Dear Aunt T: We do not know either


I could be wrong, but I am pretty sure you get asked this question a lot: what do you want to be when you grow up/graduate?

How does it make you feel when you are asked it? Confident because you have got a plan and you know exactly the steps to achieve it? Insecure because you’ve got an idea but you’re not certain how or what’s going to happen next? Or debilitated because you seriously have no idea whatsoever and are just trying to get through the day at the moment?

Relax…Any of these responses is okay, normal even. Most elders (usually anyone over 30) that ask this question are either projecting – weighing out their own life choices and are not 100% certain so far they have made the right calls.

Or we are trying to connect with you in some way (truth: we do not know what we are doing about 80% of the time either, but boy have we fooled you!).

Many of us have changed careers a time or two (or ten) and remember the excitement leading up to each pivot.

A few of us have selected careers or majors out of obligation – our parents paid for our education and we felt tethered to their encouraging us to make a specific decision.

And maybe only a couple of us had a solid plan since high school, followed through with it, and are actually living our dream career, income, house, etc.

The point is, almost no one has it all figured out and knows what they want to do in their teens or 20s.

More often than not, we are still trying to figure it out ourselves – but are genuinely curious if generations have changed much since “our day.”

I tell my students regularly I have no idea what I want to do/be when I grow up (and I am 42). And I am telling them the absolute truth when I say it.

Over the years, I have been an executive assistant, managed an entire department, taught group fitness classes and childbirth and lactation education courses, worked as doula, and practiced massage, but I cannot say any of them were what I wanted to be my evermore.

Instead, I have made a deal with myself: I will do what needs to be done in order to be independent and/or contribute to my family’s bottom line, but I will explore as many fields and passions my heart desires in the process.

Surprisingly, it has worked out – albeit I have gone in and out of self-criticism because of the false narrative I was raised to believe: pick a career and ride it out till you can afford to retire.

But guess what else I have discovered? Few retirees are really happy doing nothing.

Almost all of them wind up doing some type of meaningful service/volunteer work or go back to work in a completely different field or explore a passion they’ve always secretly harbored. My philosophy? Why wait?

Life is short, Grasshoppers. There is nothing wrong with taste testing several flavors of anything before settling for the best one.

What is important is that you are doing what works best for YOU. You are living YOUR life; nothing more, nothing less.

Now, I get it, life is a bit more complex with inflation and the cost of college. It is justified to feel a sense of fear about picking the “right” path because you may not be able to afford to change course.

However, you can always “test” a field for a bit and change course later – taking risks is scary, but taking calculated risks, can be much less so.

What if you are a police officer in your 20s and then decide in your 30s, organic farming is where you need to be? Do it (close friend of mine did, loved both careers, and wouldn’t have done anything different)!

Just weigh your options, do your research, and make a decision you can live with.

Oh, and next time one of those older peeps asks ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’

I double dog dare you to flip the script and ask them the same question. I can just about guarantee you will get a smile, a wealth of wisdom and knowledge you never saw coming – not to mention a glimpse at a younger, more relatable version of them.

Or, if you really want to throw any of us off guard, go ahead and be the first to ask us the question.

Tera Johnson-Swartz can be reached at [email protected] or 217-581-2812.

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