The first time I dreamed of a job might have been in the fifth grade. After a routine appointment to the optometrist to update the prescription for my glasses, I told my mother, “I want to be an ophthalmologist!” My reasoning? I had picked up on the terminology used in the clinic and was so excited to possess knowledge that seemed out of my reach, fully in the land of Adult. Retina, cornea, optic nerve, myopia and hyperopia were the words of maturity and intelligence that made up the things a job was supposed to be in my ten-year-old mind.
The next time I told my mother I wanted to be something, it was a bit more idealistic. I wanted to be a paleontologist, after taking some paleontology classes as part of a club in middle school. I was enraptured by the sprawling concept of geologic time, the miniscule and macroscopic creatures that preceded hominids, the idea that nature created such wonderful variations of things through evolution. I had no idea what a job would be like, but I thought that if there was one thing I could study forever and never let go, it would be this.
Though not all of the instances where I considered a career made it quite as far as my mouth, they certainly puttered around in my mind like popcorn kernels. Sometimes, one of these ideas would resurface, triggering an intensely adrenaline-fueled search for every piece of information about the field and the job itself.
Throughout high school, I was faced with the plethora of peers who knew they wanted to become doctors, or social workers, or start their own business one day. Even the people who knew what they wanted to major in, if not their life’s full path, seemed like idols, ten-foot tall statues to look up to in wonder. It was a wonder, in a way – that these 16 and 17 year olds knew what their life was going to look like for decades. Of course, I was still plagued with stray ideas and late-night obsessions, unable to settle on something specific. But now, the land of Adult wasn’t quite so far away.
I began to think of deciding on a career or a field as chewing food – if it’s in your mouth for too long, anything will lose its taste. Would a job I had long lost passion for be my fate? Could I ever find something that would cater to my evolving nature? Ultimately, it wasn’t that I was fickle. I simply wasn’t looking at the right things.
All of the jobs and fields I had done mental gymnastics around had a lot of things in common, like a scientific basis and hands-on learning experiences. These factors didn’t form a perfect compass needle that pointed to my true north, but they did allow me to create a system of metrics for myself to evaluate careers by. Every passing idea that caught my fancy could be filtered through and sorted into neat piles in my brain so that they would solidly rest in “Yes”, “No”, or “Think about it”. My metric system made it easy to say no to settling for things that wouldn’t capture my attention and passion in the long term, but it was harder to find a key (or keys) that would fit in the precise lock I had welded together from so many pieces. A few things here and there had to be substituted and polished down, but I could finally come to a conclusion. I could find an island that would anchor me regardless of which sea I chose to sail.