Why Some of Us Don’t Have A One True Calling – And Why That’s Okay

by on May 23, 2016

What do you want to be when you grow up?

For most of us, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ is a question often thrown around when we’re growing up. At first, both the question and the answer seem innocuous. But as we grow up, the answer begins to take on more complicated undertones. Inevitably, they are both tinted by the lens of societal ideals of what is prestigious, the expectations of our parents, our families, teachers, friends, and ourselves. We go through our teenage and young adulthood years trying to answer this question of who we want to be when we are actually figuring out who we are.

What a truly raw, vulnerable time in one’s life.

I remember the day before my board exams – supposedly the ‘most important exam’ that I would ever take in my life, the collective sum of a few hours over five days that would determine the outcome of the rest of my life, as was repeatedly drilled into me by teachers, parents, and well-meaning but overzealous relatives. On this day I sat with an A4 page torn out of a notebook and a blue ball point pen.

With the typical naivety and rosy optimism of a 15 year old, I thought I could do all the things I loved in the course of my one, short, grand, precious life.

On this page, fifteen year-old me scribbled everything I was interested in. I wrote down everything I loved doing: things that brought me joy and things that I would want to do over the course of my life. Some of these were: writing, programming, science, languages, history, teaching, art, design, film-making, photography, publishing, politics, activism. With the typical naivety and rosy optimism of a 15 year old, I thought I could do them all in the course of my one, short, grand, precious life.

Looking back, I realize how lucky I was: I was (and am) genuinely interested in passionate about the things I loved. I was fortunate to have somehow – through books, through the internet, through sheer blind luck – stumbled upon these pursuits in my childhood and teenage years. Even when I was fifteen, for all my naïveté, I knew one thing: I looked at these interests not as passing hobbies or worse, ‘vocations’ for monetary sustenance – but as things that brought me inner sustenance, happiness, purpose. I liked doing them because I was good at them. I was good at them because they were fun. They were fun because I was interested, and wanted to be interested, in them.

And, of course, I’m not the only one. When I watched Emilie Wapnick’s TED Talk, I couldn’t believe how much it resonated with me. Emilie voiced exactly what and how felt about this big, scary, all-important question. What do you want to be when you grow up?

Having never been someone who subscribed to notion of letting one single thing define who I would be as a person, that question always made me uncomfortable. Especially when, as I got older, I learned that having multiple interests was something that was derided. ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ is a phrase I’m not unfamiliar with. I always found it strange that as a culture we celebrate masters, experts, and gurus, yet mock the beginners, the amateurs, the dilettantes. No one got to be a master without first being a Jack. You can’t become great without first being good, and you can’t be good at something without by first being bad at it.

With warmth, humour, and some pretty persuasive arguments – Emilie explains why some of us don’t have a true calling, and why that’s okay. For everyone confused about what they should do with their life and what one thing they should pick (at the age of eighteen!) that would define who they would be for the rest of their lives: this is a TED talk worth watching.

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