Whadda you wanna do with your life!?
For many years I’ve never had a real answer to that question. Mostly in it’s relationship to working a job or long term goals and how i was going to achieve them. For awhile when I was young, I wanted to be a writer(if you are somehow reading this I’m sure it won’t take you long to think I mad the right choice abandoning that pursuit) but I never really could force myself to write enough to enough see if I could. Then I thought I might be a struggling writer while teaching english or but I was a pretty bad student to be considering a career in teaching.
The idea of teaching english was even bolstered a bit by my being among the top in my school in english SAT scores (while being among the bottom in math scores) but still I didn’t know if I had any real chance. I did apply to my “dream” school to be an english major. I don’t believe I ever finished the process though once it was clear my father wouldn’t help me go away to school at all but would front me for community college. But even now I remember my thoughts were to be a lonely old english teacher whose students were his family. It was almost that fantasy that pushed me more than any real drive to learn the intricacies of teaching english.
Next I had decided to follow my summer job into school. I was a greenskeeper and I was accepted to go to SUNY Cobleskill as a turfgrass management student. I liked my job as a greenskeeper as it felt free and the scenery was gorgeous every day. Again though I was faced with well earning parents who would not spend even any extra for Cobleskill as my father felt I wasn’t a good enough student and it wasn’t worth it. The idea of student loans always drove my anxiety crazy and I couldn’t see going into debt for school when I could stay home in CC and still work at the country club.
My dad didn’t fail to encourage or support on purpose really, he was just very angry and bitter at that time, well….he’s still pretty angry and bitter actually. My mom got pregnant around valentine’s day when she was 17. My parents then got married in August before I was born in November. My mom was a top of her class student bound for college before that, while my dad was smart (in math of all things) but a troublemaker in high school. He still had a future in school though with some effort, however, they both abandoned that to become young, working parents. I know my dad resented that but it’s not entirely the reason, I was a pretty crappy student. Also, loans were available and it’s incredibly possible that if I had taken a loan out myself with initiative then worked hard that my father would have paid it back to me. The truth is that is probably the only thing that would have really convinced him but I lacked faith in myself and the courage to stare that kind of investment in the face when there was an easier path.
My time in Community College was awful, and that was due to me not having any goal and making a terrible decision. You see, mostly on my own I had let kids joking about our local CC get to me and was convinced by some that the CC 40 minutes away was a much better choice. So instead of attending what was essentially extended high school 5 minutes away, I went 40. This created all sorts of problems including the ridiculous one that made me quit the first time. When I was unable to find parking due to tremendous snow storms and eventually was too shy and apprehensive to walk into my classes after missing the first couple of days so I just dropped. I would try again while I was working a few years later but again, went 40 minutes away, this time simply because I could skip the transfer process of the about 8 credits I had.
I suppose it’s also something to mention that for awhile I was in a band. We weren’t very good and we never really tried to get any better, but we played some shows and I found that I loved performing. Even in front of nightclub crowds of less people than you could fit in an SUV, I had a great time. But even then, I didn’t sit and try an become a better guitarist and songwriter. I didn’t work to find a band to sing for even when a few offers came my way. I didn’t see anything becoming of it and I had my job at the club that I knew was there for money while the band cost me money. For all my love of performing I still lacked the focus needed to get better and see where it could go. My individual shyness had a lot to do with that too, when I would meet people they wouldn’t believe I would perform in front of crowds. Oh but I did, I still remember people coming up to me after I performed one song(off the cuff I had no words I was just told to sing aggressively during the heavy part and harmony during the soft one) and them saying how it was the highlight of the set. I remember one girl after I sang another song with that band happily saying “THAT’S what I’m talking about! That’s why I wanted a band at this party!”.
It wasn’t all terrible decisions and a lack of focus though. At that point fate intervened and I became a type 1 insulin dependent diabetic after months of illness. While I was able to endure another summer of physically demands and long hours as a greenskeeper, it became really hard to continue. My fight with blood sugar would cause lows and highs all day that made me feel absolutely awful. Learning how to balance my blood sugar at night when I had a 4am wake up call every day was especially hard. Eventually I left the country club and the job I had always been considering my future, now I was completely lost for the first time as I had no ideas, I didn’t even have any more sort of ideas. I couldn’t see any path ahead besides whatever job would hire me and then trying to make enough money to not be miserable.
Now, as I try to figure out what I want to do with my life, I realize most of it is over already. That makes the anxiety and sense of being lost I had at 17 when I pondered it, much worse. Even though I’m essentially in the same place with a lot of the same options, the pressure that time is not on your side anymore combined with the nagging thoughts of mistakes past make it harder to look at my options and find the path. Trade schools, night classes with a job, a job with career potential, all of these and more could be possible. But even more anxiety and doubt rule 20 years later when there are bills to be paid and shadows of mistakes past.
While I was in retail, I found I really wanted to be in human resources. For all my hermit like nature, I enjoyed people and helping them the most. There was no real money in customer service but in human resources there could be. But I saw so many terrible things in retail and even more terrible people with every glimpse i got at the top. I have no interest at the school level anymore, I don’t read or write like I did when I was younger nor have I ever really found an interest that I see through beyond basic curiosity. The idea of walking in, say, a welding school with no knowledge of what I’m doing at 37 years old just doesn’t seem right to me. As if I’m dooming myself to fail in an atmosphere where most have some basic knowledge and interest or are hungrier to succeed in a chosen path.
I guess the hardest thing about making these decisions 20 years later is that by simply having to make them you acknowledge that you have been pretty terrible at making decisions to this point. If I hadn’t screwed up a lot of choices so far I’d be in better shape, so my confidence that this time I will make a good choice is pretty shot. The anxiety at 17 is “What if make a bad choice?” the anxiety at 37 is “What if I make a bad choice like I have for the past 20 years?”. These are the reasons I can’t answer the most basic question, because I’m not really sure what I can do with my life, let alone what I want to do.