Maybe it's because I recently turned 25 and am having a bout of quarter life crisis, but lately I have been questioning things a lot.. my life.. my ambitions.. and wondering if my problem could be that my dreams are simply too big, or that they weren't my dreams to begin with?
I cannot speak for everyone my age, however, for the vast majority of children brought up in the 80's and 90's (and even more so in the 2000's onward) we were told that we could achieve anything - be anyone we wanted to be. Astronaut? You got it! Brain surgeon? Keep those grades up like you have been and you'll be a brain surgeon in no time! It's as though the generations before us seemed to believe that because they didn't finish high school, or couldn't/didn't go to University, that finishing year twelve and going on to a higher education program would be the difference between us getting whatever it was that they didn't.
What they failed to understand though was that not everyone gets to do exactly what they want. It doesn't matter what schools you go to, how hard you study, who you know, or how good a people person you are.. more often than not, you're not going to get what you want. Furthermore, even if you do reach the point where you are able to live your dreams, what happens if you find out that the dream/life/career choice you wished for isn't really what you wanted after all? Nobody tells you what to do then do they?
Don't get me wrong, having dreams and life goals is great. They can give you motivation to get out of bed every morning, to learn, to challenge yourself, and to continue moving forward. I believe we need to be realistic though and realise that regardless of how hard we work at our goals we still may not end up getting what we want. Ever. I know it sounds harsh, but it's a reality that many of us are faced with.
It may be worthwhile to devise a contingency plan (or multiple contingency plans) - something to fall back on that will still give you pleasure even if it isn't what you always dreamed of doing. You may even want to reassess your dreams altogether - getting back to basics to work out the key things you really want in life, and then coming up with small, realistic and reachable goals to assist you in attaining those things.
For me, if I am to truly get back to basics, I can honestly say that I don't have any goals other than to own two miniature dachshunds (and eventually more!), get married, raise a family, and travel some of the world together. I'd also like a new car with air conditioning, a house of our own, laser eye surgery, and to have a 6 figure salary.. but I could happily live without those things. My dreams weren't always this simple though - they were shaky, career driven, and based on me wanting to be someone that I thought other people wanted me to be.
It took me a while to get to Uni because of some health issues that came up while I was in grade ten, which meant that I could only finish year twelve with the bare minimum subject load and no OP score, making it impossible to go Uni straight away. I took 6 months off at the end of year 12 to work part-time and figure out what I wanted to do. I still couldn't get in to Uni at this point so I decided I needed to do a Tafe course (like community college I guess) that would get me into Uni. I eventually decided on photography because I wanted to "do what I loved" but I could already sense those around me rolling their eyes at the idea. When the photography course I wanted to attend was cancelled at the last minute, as a spare of the moment decision I decided to do a Justice Administration course which could lead me into the police force or a legal secretary position.
Because some of our night classes were taught by real police officers I started getting caught up in the excitement of their stories and began to think that maybe I wanted to be a police officer too. Unfortunately nearly everyone I told this to told me that it was a stupid idea and that I could never be a cop because I'm too much of a girly girl. Rather than prove them all wrong, I continued along my path of wanting people to be proud of me and finished up the course so that I could enrol in University and study to become a teacher.
Two years into my teaching course I knew in my heart of hearts that teaching wasn't for me. I wanted to do something creative, such as interior design or graphic design, but when I voiced my concerns about teaching to those around me (people who genuinely believed they only wanted the best for me) I was told that I'd regret it if I left my teaching course and was even promised by some of my lecturers that this feeling would pass and I would make a great teacher. As usual I decided to take their advice and continued with my teaching course. I was so determined to finish the course that I even took an extra 6 months to complete it because I knew my grades wouldn't be good enough if I kept up a full time workload.
By the time I finally finished my course at 24 years old, I was entirely certain that I was not ready to walk into a classroom and be a teacher. Whenever someone brought the subject up I felt sick to my stomach. I felt so lost. All of a sudden there was a huge pressure on me to use my new degree and "follow my dreams". But they weren't my dreams anymore. They weren't really my dreams in the first place. I was racked with guilt. Torn between doing what I felt the world expected of me, and finding out what I really wanted to do for myself. I felt so selfish for even questioning my chosen career path, but at the same time I knew it would be selfish for me to become a teacher (especially a primary school teacher) when my heart just wasn't 100% in it. (Disclaimer: Whilst I don't see teaching as my life ambition, I would not turn down the opportunity to teach if given so as I am well aware of what a privilege it is).
In the end, the decision was made for me. I paid for and sent off all my teacher application paperwork and was told I would only be offered an interview for full time work if I was prepared to move out somewhere rural. Had I actually wanted to be a teacher at this point I would have been raging mad at the fact that I wasn't even being offered an interview, and that applicants who may have been less qualified to be a teacher than I was were being offered jobs based purely on their ability to move out to a rural location. Fortunately I was more relieved than I was angry to find out this news, and I no longer needed to feel guilty that I wasn't getting a job as a teacher. Of course I could have applied for relief teaching work, but even the thought of doing that one day a week sent my anxiety sky high. More than anything I just wanted to take a break from studying, do something I truly enjoyed doing, and maybe even "follow my dream" - my real dream.. whatever that might be.
It didn't take me long to figure out what my new dream would be. I'd been dreaming about it, both consciously and unconsciously, for as long as I could remember. My dream was two fold; I wanted to work for myself, and I wanted to make online spaces prettier. To be honest, wanting to work for myself wasn't all that important (as I have now discovered), I just didn't want to answer to anyone at that point in time as I had been studying/working non stop for almost the past 20 years. Making online spaces prettier, however, was something I had been doing since I very first discovered the internet. I was obsessed with photoshop, blogging and learning code, and I had spent the last 2 and a half years of my University studies creating custom blog designs for myself and fellow bloggers just for the pure fun of doing so. I knew there wasn't much money in it (at least not at first) but I thought if I threw myself into it and worked hard enough that I could make a real career for myself and finally "follow my dreams".
So did my "dreams" really end up coming true? Am I finally content and living the life I always wanted? Yes and no. Yes, I followed my dream of working for myself and making online spaces prettier. No, I'm not entirely content and living the life I always wanted. The truth is, I'm 25 years old and still wake up every morning wondering what the point of it all is.
I always thought the saying "do what you love and love what you do" meant that once I was finally working at doing something I loved each day, I wouldn't really feel like I was working at all. This is such a misguided, head-in-the-clouds, idealism though and as I have found out over the last year and a half, it doesn't always work that way. Eventually, if you do something that you love day in and day out (as you have to do when you own a small business), it's highly likely that it's going to become monotonous, routine, stressful and boring. The sad fact is that when you turn your passion into a job, you risk losing that passion altogether.
I am happy to say that I haven't entirely lost my passion behind my small business. I'm not going to lie, for a while there it was a bit of a daily struggle to find the motivation to keep going. I wasn't getting any closer to my financial goals of travelling the world, having a fancy wedding, starting a family, etc., and this stressed me out a lot. I felt that I had worked too hard and spent too much of my life studying to be earning so little at the age I am now. I realised that even if I continued to raise my prices and continued to grow my business at a steady pace, it would still only ever be a supplemental income to my partners income - not something that I could happily live off on my own.
So what do you do when following your dreams isn't really working out for you? Do you fall back on the dreams that others had for you? Do you keep working at something that you're not sure is going to pan out? Or do you take responsibility for improving your life, doing whatever you need to in order to reach your goals? I think you know the answer. (Hint: I found a second job and asked for hours that would allow me to continue working on my design business in the background!).
Start now. Don't wait for opportunities to come knocking on your door. Put yourself out there. Apply for jobs you are over-qualified for. Apply for jobs you under-qualified for. Apply for jobs you have no experience in but have always wondered about. Don't be afraid to ask for more - more responsibility, more money, more benefits. Take active steps towards changing up your life to suit the person that you are now. Not you five years ago, and not you in ten years time. And certainly not to suit anyone else!
If you're bored, lost or unsatisfied with your life, just remember one thing: you are capable and worthy of more.