I am forty-one-and-a-half years old, and I still do not know the answer to this question.
The generation before mine, characterized in many ways by their strict cultural rules and limited choices, had this sorted out by age twenty. The children of that generation (read: me) may have noticed this, and felt an intense sense of urgency about not knowing (here I go with the not-knowing again!). Add to these feelings an explosion of opportunities and some lurking awareness about not wanting what went before, couple that with being an outlier in some way, and ta-dah! You’ve got a foolproof formula for never getting an answer!
I want to tease that out a bit… it seems there are several pieces to pick up, examine, turn over in the mind here. One piece requires laying to rest the expectations of the previous generation. For some, this means burning bridges with those who suppressed or outright oppressed them, those who overtly and willfully hurt them for failing to conform. This may be the right action for some, may be the wrong action for others, and in either case, is only the beginning. Whether we maintain relationships or not, the real work lies inside our minds, where all those expectations became our expectations for ourselves, the yardsticks by which we see if we measure up. Frequently figuring out whose yardstick it was in the first place falls in that “journey of a thousand miles” category– we’ve internalized the message so deeply it can be difficult to discern that it doesn’t even belong to us.
But here’s my favorite way to turn my brain upside down: what if I’m not even supposed to know? What if all my attempts to answer the question at all are misguided, another remnant of that old yardstick I thought I discarded?
Now my eleven-year-old is waiting to use the computer, as I have taken all morning to write this much, between unloading and reloading the dishwasher, getting everyone through breakfast, attempted homeschooling, cleaning the kitchen, starting the laundry… so rather than striving for some perfect wrap-up, I’ll embrace my perfectionism and self-consciousness and just. Stop.