Do you want a mansion or an apartment?
How many kids do you want?
Will you get married?
What job do you want?
I remember playing M.A.S.H. in grade school, the little fortune telling game that would predict our futures and help us figure out what we would get out of life. As we got older, though, the stakes of M.A.S.H. got bigger—because suddenly, you couldn’t just pick a number and watch the choices dwindle. Suddenly, with the big, wide world in front of you, it became clear that the choices were numerous and the picking was impossible.
As children, we are often told that we can be what we want, to chase our passions, and to choose the life that will make us happy. It sounds easy. We take some surveys with our guidance counselors and look at our strengths. We listen to our family’s advice on what to do. We try to think about where we want to live. We figure we’ll just follow the well-trodden path—higher education, get a job, get married, buy a house, have kids, and presto! Our lives are fulfilled, and our self-worth is found.
However, at thirty-three, I’ve come to learn that the oversimplified game and the decisions we made after graduation really aren’t the simple answer to finding purpose in life. For so many of us, real life in the adult world is a lot harder than we could’ve ever imagined, and so many of us struggle with this idea of self-worth, self-fulfillment, and passion.
Some of us get thrown off the path due to life circumstances or even our own choices—and then we spend our adult lives comparing our failed journey to that carefully laid scheme society puts before us. You don’t have kids by thirty? What’s wrong with you? They ask.
You want to travel the world instead of settling down? How immature, they assess.
You’re still figuring out your career at forty? What have you been doing for all these decades?
All around us, society is waiting to tell us we’re doing it wrong or we haven’t figured it out correctly. For many of us, that is our worst fear coming true, and it’s debilitating in itself.
Add to that, though, another harsh truth: Many of us feel like we don’t even know what we want. What’s worse than disappointing the social constructs around you? Not even knowing whether you want them or not. Many of us in our thirties, forties, and even fifties spend our days slogging away at jobs we no longer love, living in houses that never felt like ours, and chasing dreams we don’t even really enjoy just because we don’t know what the hell else we even could do or would do if we had the chance.
It’s a hopeless sea that drowns so many of us in darkness, depression, and a lack of joy that’s enough to kill.
But here’s the thing I think they never taught us in the game of M.A.S.H. or on those career surveys—you don’t need a fancy fortune telling device or a multiple choice question to know what you want. You don’t need to listen to the voice of society or map out the path others have traveled. The thing is, I think we all do really know what we want, what fulfills us, what will lead us to our best selves.
I just think we’ve never understood how to listen to the voice inside of us. I think we were told that the voice has to come from a place of rationale, reason, and statistics. I think we’ve been told to make good choices to the point that we’ve forgotten how to make choices that come from the heart. We’ve been taught to rationalize everything to death that we stopped listening to who we are at the core and what actually makes us happy.
I’m not saying we can all live a life of bliss all the time and throw caution completely to the wind. I don’t think we should all quit our jobs tomorrow, stop paying our bills, and live in treehouses—unless that’s what you really want, then hey, who am I to stop you?
I do think, though, we need to give ourselves more credit. I think we need to close out all the noise, stop, and breathe. We need to reconnect with that voice deep inside, the one that was probably silenced when we were little girls or middle schoolers. That voice that tells us to dream and believe. The voice that doesn’t care about the carefully laid-out path, the sage wisdom of strangers, or the random assessment of our fortune from a piece of paper. We need to listen to that childlike wonder inside of us, the passion we had and curiosity for life. We need to reconnect with who we are at the core, in our bones, above all else.
That’s not easy, I know. For some of us, it comes from meditation, books, and time alone. For others, it comes from reminding ourselves of what really brings us joy (I’m looking at you, Marie Kondo) and getting rid of some of the clutter. For some of us, it’s going to take some time to disrobe of social expectations, the weight of adult life, and more importantly, self-doubt.
Nonetheless, I think it’s worth it to do the work. I think it’s important that we all stop and assess where we’re going, what we’re choosing, and why. I think change doesn’t happen overnight, either. Still, even if we can just turn the boat a little, if we can start sailing closer to the right direction by listening to our internal compass, maybe, just maybe, we can get a little closer to the stars we’ve always had our sights on.
Mansion, apartment, shack, or house.
Teacher, writer, doctor, engineer, astronaut, visionary, or whatever you might choose.
Marriage, relationship, or soulfully single.
Fifty kids or zero.
The choices have always been yours. You’ve always known the answer. Don’t let society, your best friend, your mom, or even your own brain cross out any you don’t consent to. And don’t let them choose any for you, either.
Our destinies, I’m convinced, are not written in the stars or on lined notebook paper.
Our destinies are written in our hearts and centered in our souls—if we’re brave enough to listen.