I recall several occasions when some friendly advice giver informed me that it was alright if you did not know what you wanted to do with your life. A few of them mentioned that some of their best friends didn't know what to study in college, or what industry they wanted to work in, and that some still didn't know to this day and were no worse for it. At the time I found this comforting news.
Clearly some people know what they are going to do with their lives
from a young age. Their personality and interests and talents align so
tightly that they are rarely in doubt of there purpose or perplexed by their calling. They are the
talented, who's gifts gain them immediate recognition and support and reinforcement. They are the extraordinarily intelligent, who may not be transfixed by a
single field of interest, but who can successfully pursue whatever they
want. They are the stubborn or self interested, who may be disappointed by some failings along the way but will never be dissuaded from
their pursuits, and that is, in its own way, a valuable form of certainty. They are the indifferent, who don't need an answer becuase the question is not provocative nor pressing. Then of course there is the whole huge mess that you
might call the rest of us. Some of us are smart, most of us have some
understanding of our skills and interests, but for some reason we don't feel well defined by them, not in the way that we wish we were, that someone else we can point to is.
At the time I received the aforementioned advice, I interpreted it to mean that some day my purpose would become clear, and that in the time until then I should not fret on account of my uncertainty nor fear reproach from my peers. On some level I still believe in the sentiment they were expressing, though I now better understand that they took the time to offer this advice for the very reason that I would face these discomforts on account of my ambivalence. Because they knew that the world is a confusing place for someone whose bearings are not set from the true north of their own personality. I agree with the sentiment because, philosophically speaking, those who learn their purpose late in life, or indeed never learn it, are nevertheless equally human and equally capable of having a positive impact on the world and happiness in their lives. I know that this advice was comforting and I understand why it is tempting to offer it to young people who are lost, who haven't excelled in a subject or defined themselves by an obsession. It is understandable that the adviser would believe that this advice could encourage the restless youth to keep looking for something, but as someone who took this advice at face value, I can say that I wish I had been given slightly different advice.
In college I set my interests to roam. I studied this and that, sampled the fruits of knowledge, never finding any one so nourishing that I learned to cultivate the seed. I finished school with a BA in Neuroscience and a BA in Literature, and I headed out, still unsure of what I would do with my life. Now I work various jobs, unqualified for anything gainful, and irresolute about committing to a specialization because I have no experience committing to something, no understanding of the dynamics of commitment. I often wish I could go back to college and dig into some of the quasi-interests that I enjoyed, at least enough to find employment in those fields. I wish I'd been better informed by my counselors of the pressing need to do something in the meantime to pay the bills and the incredible opportunity that college and highschool are for learning a set of skills to make the meantime less mean.
It's not that dreamers should be shaken awake and told not to let their minds wander, on the contrary they should be encouraged, as I was, to accept their uncertainty and let it lead them among the many ways of thinking about and engaging with the world. It's just that this pro-dreamer advice should come with the caveat that finding a skilled trade, or getting practical training for paying work tangential to whatever as-yet-unprofitable calling you fancy, is a priority while in school. That in the adult world, on the far side of your education, there is more freedom to follow your dreams if you have a profession that can fund your pursuit.