The “What I Am Going to Do With My Life?” Anxiety

One recurring theme in emails I get from twenty-somethings is the "what I am going to do with my life" anxiety. Often this anxiety involves a mixture of emotions: self-doubt about one’s supposed strengths, no discernible "passions" (that all-important word career counselors repeat until it’s devoid of meaning), the temptation to do what your parents want or what society will see as most prestigious as opposed to what you really want to do, etc etc. All normal issues to anyone who is lucky enough to have meaningful choices about how they spend the early years of their life.

I’m hardly the expert on how to resolve these questions — heck, I grapple with them myself! But it can be fun to brainstorm with people about their options.

My high school friend Ted Conrad, now a sophomore at UCLA, airs these emotions out loud on his blog in his traditionally funny and intelligent and honest way:

I’ve been (jokingly?) telling people my most recent five year plan for the past few days. It involves: a junior year in Scotland, an on-time graduation (you’re welcome, Mom), a trip to the 2008 World Cup in South Africa, wandering around Africa and Madagascar, a return to San Francisco, a job, an apartment in the Mission (Whats up, Natty), and general carousing and traveling. Then it gets serious. In this hypothetical life, I will apply to both UC Berkeley’s Law School and the PhD program in Geography. I will dedicate my life to whichever program accepts me, putting my future in the (capable?) hands of the State of California.

Now I seriously doubt that I will be indecisive and foolish enough to do something like this, but the point is that I have: a relatively broad range of interests, a semi-rational adoration for Cal, people urging me in many directions, poor decision making, and a perceived need to have impressive diplomas. Now, I know the correct course of action is to calm the fuck down, try my hand at a variety of things, and make decisions based on my needs and wants, rather than catering to the wishes of others. But this is easier said than done, and my dreams of San Francisco liberal domesticity (coupled with a vicious stranglehold on City Hall) are as powerful as my aspirations for youthful dalliance and exciting near death experience. As they say, "life is short" so perhaps I should fast-track my plans of a South of Market household and two kids named J.T. and Barry. And wouldn’t this require a career choice sooner rather than later? Answer… I’m not choosing anything until after World Cup…

Ted’s approach seems wise: give the post-college years serious thought but don’t let any resulting stress hijack enjoyment of the present, make some loose plans but be honest that life often gets in the way, and most of all, just be conscious of all the conflicting advice we young folk receive from people with their own agendas.

Of course my advice to Teddy — not that he’d ever ask me — would be to spend a couple years focusing on his ping-pong game. Chicks dig a strong backhand, and Lord knows he could use some improvement in that area.

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