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Growing Out of Airplanes and Embracing Ambiguity

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When I was very little, I wanted to be an airplane. They had told me that I could be anything, and I had taken it to heart. I don’t actually remember this phase of my life, but my parents have told me far too many times to forget. Often I have wondered, why an airplane? Why not a rock, fitting of my stubbornness? Or maybe a yoyo, with all the downs and ups of life? Surely in a world of airplane careers, a yoyo is reasonable. But perhaps my career choice had more to do with flying than anything else—a surprisingly tangible prospect for a young Peter Pan wannabe. Yet still, why not a bird? At least it’s a living animal. My adult peers were thinking the same thing. “Do you mean an airplane pilot?” But no, I wanted to be the actual plane. Through the years, people have always looked at me with that same skepticism despite my changing answers—princess, singer, coffee shop owner, poet, photojournalist, filmmaker, and the ever-faithful “I have no idea.” This usually follows the interrogation of some esteemed cousin of mine, who answers confidently that he or she wants to be a biochemist, or go to Africa to dig wells and feed starving, AIDS-ridden children, or apply for a scholarship to West Point. Then the eyes turn to me, and in the inevitable silence following my answer, there are usually a few half-hearted attempts at “follow your dreams.”

Not that I mind.

In fact it’s always rather amusing to see their uncomfortable faces, silently portending my future unemployment. I’ve gotten over the shame at this point and am just making the most out of life.

You see, the mistake is in the question, because what I want to be is completely different from what I’m going to be. I want to be wealthy and work at a job that I like and will keep me happy for thirty years. I want to be kind and sassy and generous and, of course, stunningly
gorgeous. I want to have more adventures than Harry Potter and Frodo Baggins combined. I want to have background music and the occasional Bollywood dance number, and when I’m too old to summit Mount Everest a fifth time, I want the neighborhood children to visit just to hear my stories, because everybody knows that they’re the best. As for what I will do, though, that’s a different story entirely. I will probably wreck my car at least once. I will work at jobs I don’t like and get fired from a few of them. I will waste my time and money with wasteful people and there will be no Bollywood dance numbers. The taste of bad coffee will be burnt onto my tongue. I might get married. I might get divorced. And when my grandchildren ask me for stories I will have only a thousand resentful mornings and a far-off dream of airplanes.

This is my dilemma.

My peers have given me two radically different futures. They have taught me both to dream and to beware the cruelty of life. And after years upon years of dreaming and hoping and praying, I’ve come to a crossroads. I’m far too old to be a myopic Gatsby, but too young to answer the question of my future career with any certainty. I am in between dreams, and I don’t know where to aim my footsteps anymore. I suppose that everybody goes through this stage at some point in his or her life. A point when bitter reality erodes the inevitably disappointing dreams that have nourished his or her psyche for years, which I can sympathize with. Because, in all seriousness, we would be lost without dreams. You can’t stand up to a world as harsh as this one without believing in something. And while it’s immensely harder to fight for something than against it, fighting for something is a pivotal part of what keeps us going, keeps us fulfilled, in life. But without that dream that keeps you going, where are you? Where am I? I’ve outgrown my airplanes in the face of the larger world and am decidedly lost.

Nevertheless, at this point, I think it is wise to bring into play my father’s long-taught
philosophy. For the life of me, I cannot remember anything about when or where or why he told it to me. But I can remember every moment in my life in which I have told myself, in his words, “It’s okay to be okay.” Though at first this phrase sounded to me only redundant and understated —no match for the “man’s inhumanity to fellow man,” which I had been reading of in The Lord of the Flies—it has grown on me over the years. Because not everything must be thesaurized and the answer to the meaning of life. In its own words, the motto is okay being just okay. And in a world in which a student with a thirty-six on the ACT won’t be accepted into Harvard unless he or she has also saved a third world country, I think it’s an important philosophy to adhere to. And in my present, pathless situation, I find it to be comforting advice. Because it means that, although I am caught between apathetic reality and unrealistic dreams, that’s okay. There is nothing wrong with being uncertain, being lost, taking the scenic route. There is nothing wrong with using a little time to just enjoy life as it is and figure out the rest later.

Yet I still come no closer to finding a future career. And in the meantime, the skepticism in my peers’ eyes around the dinner table seems to attach a tiny ballasts of anxiety to my neck, weighing me down until my spine is crooked with unremitting questions and doubts—am I going to be a sellout of my dreams? Am I being unrealistic? What if I choose the wrong career? What if I wake up every day regretting the life I live? And there is so much pressure to simply give in and yield to some easy answer. Because at this age, we’re not supposed to be cute anymore. We’re supposed to be serious. We’re supposed to be decided. Yet I feel that too many young adults are pressured into making a decision simply for the sake of deciding, that too many are left trying to convince themselves of their own happiness with that decision. But what we really need to learn is how to face up to the uncertainty of this in-between time. We need to accept the fact that sometimes we just don’t know where we’ll be in ten or twenty or thirty years. We don’t know if we’ll regret our decisions or find that our interests lie completely elsewhere. And though I have become disabused of my childhood misconceptions, I have also learned that sometimes it takes just as much courage to embrace the ambiguity of life as it does to believe that you can become anything—even an airplane.



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