In my fifth grade class this week, the students started the unit which focuses on jobs and careers. Their textbook listed all of the ones that first come to mind: Scientist, Doctor, Nurse, Veterinarian, Teacher, Architect, Journalist. Among these, one in particular caught my eye: Explorer.
Last I checked, this “occupation” died around 1492 when Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Since when did this magical career make a comeback, and how was I not informed of this at UCLA’s freshman year orientation? I can see it now, the Professor welcoming these thousands upon thousands of nervous 18 year olds who haven’t got a clue what to do with their lives. Now, onto majors. You may choose one or two of the following: Pre-med, Communications, Electrical Engineering, Exploration… Ho’d up. What??
In one of the exercises in the textbook, the students had to match up the occupations with the reason they would choose that job: i.e. I want to become a Doctor because I like to help people. This one in particular was matched up as such: I want to become an Explorer because I like adventuring.
I mean, could that have been worded any more perfectly? After 25 years, I think I’ve finally found my calling. Now how do I make this happen...
We went around the room and everyone had to say what they wanted to be when they grow up. When all of the students had given their answer, one of the girls raised her hand and said, Kristine, what do you want to be when you grow up?
When I grow up? Well, I was under the impression I was sort of already grown up, but when you put it that way… I want to be an Explorer.
In the next exercise, the students had to go through a flow chart checking off yes/no questions to determine what the best job would be for them. Do you want to work outside? Yes or no. Do you want to wake up early? Yes or no. Do you want to travel? Yes or no.
Just for kicks I did the exercise. It ended up directing me to (what other than): Explorer.
Now, I’ve always thought that these tests were a waste of time in school since they always seemed to lead you to the most improbable and unfitting jobs. Your Best Fit: Telemarketer. We’ve Matched You To: Taxidermist. Suggested Occupation: Septic Tank Servicer. Like, what? No.
But Explorer (with a capital E, I like that): Yes. Just yes.
When I got home, a couple friends and I started looking at WorkAway, dreaming of working and sailing around the world on Sicilian boats, becoming caretakers on an ostrich farm, building treehouses, creating obstacle adventure courses… (If you want to lead the gypsy life and don’t know what WorkAway is, drop everything now and check it out: www.workaway.info. It’s a bit like wwoofing but instead of working on a farm, there are random jobs around the world.)
And even as my head swarmed with Grecian beaches and organic veggie farms and Southeast Asian trekking excursions, in the back of my head, a tiny little bell went off and I could hear the barely audible words of sensibility: Retirement, Benefits, Insurance, Savings… All the words of growing up.
And I’m not going to lie, the whole growing up thing is a little scary (okay a LOT scary). I mean, honestly, does anyone really, fully understand how taxes work, or what exactly a high dividend stock is, or just what exactly makes up your credit score?
Becoming an adult means starting to learn all of those things that you were never taught in school but somewhere along the way in life you pick up these tidbits of knowledge. How a mortgage works. The difference between a Roth IRA and a 401(k). How to look for a new car.
Where is the textbook, the college class, the How-to-Be-An-Adult for Dummies book?
I’ll give ourselves credit; we do a pretty damn good job 90% of the time appearing like we are functional adults. We learn that our car tires need rotating every now and then and that we may not get a gold star but paying the electricity and water bills will be good for us in the end.
But when it comes down to it, we're really just big kids who have managed to figure out how to bathe and cook and put ourselves to bed autonomously after all these years. We have needs and we usually want it now. We pout, in our own way, cloaked in the nuances of adulthood. When we're hungry or tired, we get cranky. And usually a nap helps.
The thing is, sometimes we forget to take off that cloak. We forget that we are really just little humans inside these sophisticated bodies of ours, desperate to go climb a tree or go play in the mud or have a snowball fight. Why do you think it feels so good to stay up all night in Vegas and watch the sunrise? It's because you feel that inner spark of rebellion, that hands-on-your-hips, I-do-what-I-want, sassy finger-snapping side of you rise up and take hold. It's because you feel like you're doing what you're not supposed to be doing, that feeling of breaking out of your all-business, pumps-and-a-pencil-skirt, I'm-all-grown-up mould, and it feels good for a change.
Now, hear me out, I’m not making a call for anarchy or for complete rebellion towards normal life. I’m not saying don’t grow up. The fact is, I may not know much about taxes, but I do know that if April rolls around and you haven’t paid them, bad things will happen. I know that at some point I will want to retire and a 401(k) is helpful for that. That at some point (or rather, at various points), I’m going to have to suck it up and put my big girl pants on and learn how to change my insurance plan, and maybe invest in a stock or two, or learn how to buy my first house.
But my point is to not forget where you are and where you want to be. There’s no need to fast forward ten years, to rush forward in haste, so you can get to where you want to be now. Have patience. Enjoy the moment. You will only be this age, have this moment, once in your life. Use it how you will.
Whether you’re starting a career (or making a career change), starting a family, or starting a trip around the world, be sure to not lose your current self for something on the horizon. Shoot for your goals, but remember that there is time. Everything doesn’t have to be accomplished now. Savor this moment, because one day you’ll look back on this golden period of Never-Never-Landing and think about just how good you had it.
As for me, I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. But as far as my timeline goes, there is still time to learn how to shop for the best car insurance or what keeping track of interest rates looks like or what makes one refrigerator better than the next.
So for the time being, an Explorer (capital E) sounds like a pretty good option to me.