If you want to be a grocer, or a general, or a politician, or a judge, you will invariably become it; that is your punishment. If you never know what you want to be, if you live what some might call the dynamic life but what I will call the artistic life, if each day you are unsure of who you are and what you know you will never become anything, and that is your reward.
–Stephen Fry quoting Oscar Wilde (in this 2010 talk at the Sydney Opera House)
There is a part of me that wants to
write, a part that wants to theorize, a
part that wants to sculpt, a part that
wants to teach . . . To force myself into
a single role, to decide to be just one
thing in life, would kill off large parts of me.
Rather, I recognize that I live now
and only now, and I will do what I want
to do this moment and not what I
decided was best for me yesterday.
–more from Hugh Prather’s Notes to Myself: My Struggle to Become a Person
A few personal thoughts prompted by these quotes:
I don’t want to be just one thing. Never have. When I was 13, my list of professional and personal ambitions filled up the front and back of something like 3-5 typed pages. I know this because some of my closest friends then compiled a list of all the things I said I wanted to be or do “when I grew up,” and used it to make a hilarious biographical skit about me set in the future for my surprise 13th birthday party. It was quite good! I’m pretty sure I still have a copy of that list and a video of that skit somewhere, too…hmm. (Some attic-hunting may be in order, soon.) Choosing which college to attend and a subsequent major was also quite the ordeal. (I ended up officially changing my major no less than 5 times before I finally settled on English Lit. and changing colleges once in there, too.) Even now, my ideas for “What’s next” or for potential career paths or other in-the-meantime work possibilities often vary wildly from one week to the next.
Part of the difficulty, I think, is that I’m aware that I am a very complex, multi-faceted, complicated being (as is just about every person, I imagine – though some have the ease of being more straightforward). I don’t want to be defined solely or even primarily by my paid job anymore than by my background, or my resume or my ethnicity or my college degree (although these are all certainly parts of my identity).
At times, my uncertainty as to “what the heck do I want to do with my life?” has been incredibly, agonizingly frustrating to me, even terrifying. Even worse, sometimes, is the thought “What should I do with my life?” (Those suspected “oughts”…*shudder*. More and more I’m becoming convinced that they are crippling more than they are helpful, but maybe I’ll think much differently in 10 years, or even less, from now.) At times, I have found the question of trying to figure out, or discern, a vocation or lifework or calling to be nightmarishly exhausting. Most recently, I’ve started to become incredibly fed up with myself and with the whole question at all, which has at times seemed to smack of arrogant pomposity more than anything else. I’ve tired myself out with it — perhaps somewhat unnecessarily.
So it is both encouraging and refreshing today to be reminded by these quotes that I don’t have to be “just one thing,” and that, in fact, more creative lives are usually (if not always) quite varied ones. And uncertain and unpredictable. And there’s a certain beauty in that. And a delicious, liberating liberty. Freedom — to be human. Freedom to just be (as cliche as it may sound) “me.”
…Even as I’m still figuring out who that is. (Again, see quotes above.) I know I’m a human being. And I want to be a whole human being, or as whole a one as I can be in this life. A real person. (Haha, Pinocchio, anyone? “I’m a REAL boy!”)