"What do you want to be when you grow up?"
The dreaded 10-word question. The one question we've all heard before, perhaps multiple times. The question muttered by curious friends, anxious parents, and concerned teachers. The question that no one has the answer to. I repeat: no one has the answer to. So why do they keep asking?
You see, when I was 5 years old, my answer to that question was "I want to be a ballet dancer," which was fine ... until I quit taking ballet classes. Next, 8-year-old Victoria answered, "I want to be a vet." But that was before I realized that being a vet isn't all about feeding tiger cubs or jetting off to the Bahamas to watch baby turtles hatch. Then, at 13 years old and halfway through school, they asked me again -- this time, in a more serious manner. It wasn't a curious question. This time, they actually wanted a plausible answer. They wanted me to say, "I am 100 percent sure that I want to do this [insert career here] for the rest of my life."
You see, in the U.K., we leave our primary schools at 11 years old and go to secondary school from 11 until 18. At 13, you have a choice in what extra lessons you can take, which we call "options." This is where you choose things like law, business studies, extra math classes, etc. So, before you choose what classes you'd like to take, it's probably a good idea to know roughly what career path you'd like to go down. I can see the point of it all. If you'd like to be a lawyer, then taking a law class is going to help you out. But what if you're like me? I could choose to take law and end up wanting to be a zoologist. Do you see my perspective?
Now, imagine this: A 13-year-old slightly nervous, sweating Victoria sitting in an extremely uncomfortable plastic chair (you know the ones) with my teacher sitting opposite me with a rather long list of "potential professions."
"Victoria, what do you want to be when you grow up?" he asked.
"Um, I dunno, sir," were the words that tumbled out of my mouth. My internal monologue, however, raised a glorious point: WHY ARE YOU ASKING ME AT 13 YEARS OLD? I DONT KNOW. I STILL WATCH SPONGEBOB AND EAT POP-TARTS.
I bet that you could ask every adult on earth and 99.9 percent of them would confess that their idea of their "dream job" has changed since they were a kid. It's an impossible question to answer, and too much pressure is put on us too soon to decide. There are so many possibilities and opportunities out there -- how do you expect me to run my finger down the list and pick whichever one I land on? How do you expect me to know this? I'm not thinking about my entire life plan because that stuff is crazy scary. I don't know what I want for breakfast this morning and I certainly do not know what I want to do for the rest of MY ENTIRE LIFE.
If I've learned anything from being asked "What do you want to be when you grow up?," it's this: I want to be whatever I want to be at that specific moment. If I want to be a writer at 20 and an astrophysicist at 65, then I can be! (Although, I think the whole astrophysicist thing is a long shot ... seeing as I had to use spell-check to make sure I spelled it correctly. Awks.)
Picking a career is a big commitment. It changes what kind of people you network with, the kind of relationships you have, whether you work in an office, what kind of people you meet -- the list is endless. In fact, so many people change careers multiple times throughout their life -- and that's OK, too. I can almost guarantee that if you asked your mum, dad, or even your favorite teacher what they dreamed of being when they were younger, it won't be the profession they're in now. You could be 100 percent set on being an lawyer, but then one day you walk into an art gallery and decide you want to be an artist! People change. Life happens. You grow, you learn, you will change your mind, and you are entitled to do so.
So, here's to us. All of us. The ones who will chuckle uncomfortably when your Aunt Sue asks, "What uni are you going to, love?" The ones who want to be a marine biologist one minute and a published author the next. The ones who are passionate about a lot and certain about a little. My advice to you, dear friends, is this:
Unless your name is Mystic Meg and you can predict the future, then you're as clueless as the rest of us, and that's completely fine. There's no pressure, there's no deadline, there's no due date. It takes time, and time cannot be rushed. In hindsight, 13-year-old nervous, sweating Victoria should have answered, "I'm not entirely sure at the moment, sir. But I know that one day I'll figure it out and whatever I choose to do, I will love and I will be passionate about it and I will never hate Mondays because I'll be more than happy to go back to a job I adore."
There are so many different situations, decisions, and crossroads you'll find yourself in. Don't give yourself any more stress or pressure than you already have. This is the transition stage. The point in our lives when we aren't actually adults yet, but we certainly still aren't children. The stage where we need our freedom, but not too much. We'll swat our mother's hand away when she rubs off a dirty smudge on our face, but we still need her to make us soup when we're ill. We're growing up, but we're not there yet. Relax, young grasshopper, you've got a long life ahead. Don't rush it. It'll come with time, experience, and age.
In the meantime, take a breather, grab yourself a coffee, and do whatever you want to do. Forget about the parents, the teachers, and the nosy family members you only ever see on Christmas Day. You have to take control of your own story, because if you don't, someone else will -- and guess what they'll have in mind for you? Not much.
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