Growing up and growing into new dreams

I was no older than five when I was asked the dreaded question, “What do you want to be when you grow older?” At the time, I was missing a tooth, entirely too confident and highly naive as I told my kindergarten teacher that I would be the president. My teacher told me I was in for several more years of schooling and education, and by the time recess hit, I was no longer interested in politics. 

The next time a teacher asked that question, I was 10 years older, but not wiser. This time I insisted I would be a fashion designer. I still wear leggings as jeans, so we all know how that went. From that time until I graduated high school, I gave many different answers to that same question — an astronaut, a poet, a journalist, a contortionist, a novelist. 

Now, I’ve grown older, and at 19, I have learned more about myself and the world than ever. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that becoming an adult is hard, even harder when I find it incredibly difficult to grasp that I am not the person I thought I would be when I was nine. But at least I am not the only one who feels this way. In a study done by Perkbox Insights, ”96% of adults aren’t now doing the job that they wanted to do as a child and only 4% of adults were successful in achieving their younger selves’ dream job.” That is a terrifying statistic.

At USC, students are surrounded by an array of networking events and panels, a large selection of majors and minors and incredible industry professionals. Seeing students in tailored suits skateboarding down Trousdale Parkway is just another Tuesday afternoon. But one can’t help but wonder when trading desires for dress shoes began. 

While it is essential to pursue your passions, the pitfall lies in not allowing oneself to evolve and grow with those passions. Throughout my first year of college, I was consistently haunted by the idea that I was wasting my life and potential. I switched majors, minors and study areas enough times that I’m sure my advisor grew tired of me — but still, I found myself unsatisfied. I quickly became aware that I was wildly unprepared to dedicate my life to a goal made when I was 13. This revelation nearly sent me into a spiral as I was left wondering: What do I do now?

As time passed, I found myself straying further away from the fear of letting others down as I buried myself in the thought that I was letting myself down. If you’ve ever found yourself thinking the same thing, I’m here to stress that your dreams and aspirations will change — but that does not mean you have failed. Think of it like this, life is a series of crossroads — there will always be paths to take and decisions to make. As we grow, we will evolve — that is simply a fact. If there is anything in life that’s certain, it’s change.

At the risk of sounding like a fortune cookie, I want to emphasize that all paths lead somewhere. After realizing that I could not pursue all the directions my childhood self wanted me to take, regret was soon replaced with anger. How had I wasted all this time chasing something I’d never achieve? Who am I without my old goals and aspirations? I’m here to say nothing is ever wasted when it comes to your dreams — not energy nor time. Maybe you won’t be a congressman by 25 or dancing the Nutcracker as a prima ballerina, but everything you have done and have yet to do will create a life of fulfillment if you let yourself grow out of those childhood expectations. Taking the time to try new things while getting to know yourself is the key to developing new goals. Not every experience will lead to an epiphany, but it will surely add a bit more to your life.

It is a common misconception that giving up means weakness. This is entirely not the case. There’s courage in letting things go to move forward and grow. Following my first year spiral, learning to accept all that I could have done and respecting all of the versions of myself I would never be, led me to finally be able to abandon my childhood pressures. Acceptance and letting go are the cornerstones of change. Maybe this is not the career or life path that a younger you hoped for, but this is the life you chose, and it’s entirely up to you to continue without regrets.

So no, I’m not the president, and I’ll never be the next Anna Wintour, but I am on the path toward new aspirations, and you can be too.