That simple phrase, that answer to so many questions, has been the bane of my existence since I was a child.
“I don’t know.”
I’ve talked before about how I don’t like making decisions, but this goes beyond that. When I was a kid, I was chastised for answering a question (ANY question) with “I don’t know.” Admittedly, sometimes that phrase was used to deflect responsibility for making a decision. But there were also times when it was used to stall for time: “I don’t know… let me think about it.” Of course, without the second part, both uses sound the same.
Even as an adult I can’t escape the shame of “I don’t know.” It’s even more maddening when I use it in cases that I TRULY DO NOT KNOW the answer, usually to big questions like “What do you want to do with your life?”
What do I want to do with my life? You know what? I’m not sure! In fact, I’m not even sure that one needs to “do” ANYTHING with their life! Can’t the beauty of the unknown be enough for some people? Do we need to compartmentalize everything into nice plans and purposes? Can’t you just accept that I, like so many people of my generation, are coming to the realization that life may not have an inherent purpose or meaning?
Look, I’ve thought I knew what I wanted to do with my life. When I graduated high school, I KNEW I wanted to be an astrobiologist. I even had it all planned out: what classes I would take, where I would go to grad school, et cetera. That plan came crashing down after my overloaded first quarter. Later, I thought I wanted to be an architect. I was still skittish, of course, given my previous experience, but I stuck with it and got my Masters. Then the global economy tanked, and I ended up having to compete for entry-level internships against people with 10 years’ working experience. Is there any wonder I ended up in retail? Is there any wonder I’m even more skittish about giving up what stability I have to “chase a dream?”
In fact, I even challenge the assumption that people need to find “their purpose,” the career that’s perfect for them and fulfills all their earthly and psychological needs. At this point, I don’t know if there’s anything I’m passionate enough about to devote my life to it, and the things in the running are really hard to make a living with. No one wants to pay me to play video games and read all day, or spend my weekends dressing in medieval clothes and hitting my friends with sticks.
So what do I want to do with my life? I don’t know.
Thanks for asking. Let’s move on.