Every year, I secretly hope to get an invitation to speak at a graduation.
I’d love to address the graduates at my high school or my university. I’d settle for speaking at a clown college.
Here’s what I’d tell the esteemed graduates of the Class of 2018, Class of 2008, Class of 1998 and even the Class of 1968:
What do you want to do when you grow up?
It’s a question we all heard growing up. We all went through our phases of wanting to be the president, a firefighter, a policeman. For many of us, our answers changed over time.
Eventually, people stop asking you that question. You get your degree. You get into a certain kind of work. You start planning instead of dreaming.
I remember when interviewing for my first journalism job, one of the questioners asked me about my plans for the next five years. I answered him that it’s unfair to plot out your course so early, since you might arrive and learn there are other experiences you never though you’d enjoy, and you might want to stay there a while. I didn’t know enough to really answer his question with anything real.
At this point in life, I’m much older but not much wiser. My college degree is old enough to have a college degree now. I still can’t answer his question about what I want to be doing in five years.
To get back to that original question, I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up.
I’m a lot better off for it too. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve taken the path less traveled once or twice and ended up lost. I’ve also occasionally found myself precisely where I ought to be.
When I grew up, my dream was to become a beat writer for an NFL team. At one point in my life, I had that job. I did not like it nearly as much as I thought I might. I realized that dream stunk.
That’s where it came in handy that I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I grew up. I kept trying new things. I kept learning. I kept experiencing everything life had to offer, both good and bad so I could appreciate both. I’ve found the Internet, which was in its infancy at the start of my career, to be where I’m most interested in helping.
And that’s really my message for all of you, whether graduating or long-ago graduated. Don’t settle on just one path to get you where you’re going. There’s value in meandering through life. There’s a benefit to stepping back occassionally and honestly asking yourself what you want to do when you grow up.
There’s a benefit to trying something different and hearing the GPS answer back, “Recalculating.”
As a side benefit, it also acknowledges you never really grow up. You just look grown up. Frankly, most of the adults I know just wing it every day.
So there’s your inspiration. Keep dreaming. Keep plotting. And keep adjusting your plans until you’re truly happy. Keep asking yourself what you want to do when you grow up.
And if anyone’s interested, I’m booking graduation speeches for the 2019 school year now, but I could be ready for one today if you really need me.