What Do You Want to Be When You’re Older?

That’s one of the big questions I got asked growing up. Even when my world was a tiny terrace house on a gravel street and I thought childhood would never end. Even then, my family and teachers asked me “what’s your dream job”.

Growing up

When I was 5, I was laying on the living room floor, like a cat stretching in a sunbeam. I’m going to be an artist, I thought. So far, my world was full of art. Like any kid, I loved watching cartoons, painting blobs, and creating works comparable to Picasso. Everything I did involved art. I loved the idea of creating something new, and that’s all that mattered.

Then, around 8 I fell in love with music. A stack of NOW CDs sat by my bedside, and my dad’s walkman often hung on belt loop. My brother and I would snuggle in a cushion fort and use my karaoke set to host our own radio show. We’d mimic radio stations like Radio One, injecting polite banter between songs. I remember listening to the admiration of callers on the radio and wishing to have that love and excitement aimed at me.

From 9 to 12 I wanted to be a Vet. Growing up, the house was home to dogs, lizards, hamsters, guinea pigs, and a snake. They were family, and despite not knowing how to care for them, I cared about them. Then, in 2010, we lost our dog, Max. I realised part of being a Vet is putting animals down, and I couldn’t imagine myself doing that.

After that goal slipped away with reality, I had no idea what I wanted to do. My teen years were rough and filled with uncertainty. I didn’t think I had a future, so why would I dream about one?

At 15, a glimmer of hope broke through the mist. I started reading YA literature as a way to cope with stress and it became a haven. The stories and stresses of fictional characters like Katniss Everdeen, Marguerite Caine, June Iparis carved me into someone new. For the first time I felt like I had a foothold on the world, physical and digital. I started writing my own stories and created a book blog to review and discuss YA literature. At the time, this gave me some hope for the future and so I would tell everyone how I wanted to be an Author.

When reality kicked in, for real this time

At 18, I realised that becoming an Author was a long shot. At the time, I could only concentrate long enough to write snippets. My go to stories were tales of death and despaire that failed to make a ripple in the waves of Wattpad’s content. Although, I did go to university to study creative writing, my professional priority became copy writing. Here, I could mould facts into creative non-fiction works for marketing materials. I became obsessed with boosting my CV through volunteer and work experience gigs, rarely getting paid for my work. And at 19, my portfolio started to flourish, but I never got the guidance I needed to break into any industry.

At 21, a marketing agency saw my potential and offered me a role for an exploitative salary. In this role, I developed fundamental marketing skills like social media and brand management, google analytics, and content creation.

Now at 24, I’m even less sure what I want to be. I have skills in many marketing disciplines, but I only want to work with businesses that market with compassion. And, as we’re entering late stage capitalism, it’s has become increasingly difficult to find companies I can truly rally behind.

Growing up, everyone pushed the idea of having a specific career goal and gaining the professional qualifications needed to get there. But now, even a Master’s degree can’t guarantee an entry level job. While I have 1 foot on the corporate ladder, I’m stuck at entry level. No matter how hard I work, I can’t seem to progress into higher paying roles. Plus, the higher paying roles available involve people management, something I am not suited for.

No matter my position, I should be earning a living wage. There should be ample opportunity to learn new skills and volunteer for work outside of my remit. I should not be expected to place my job at the centre of my life. I should not be working full-time to have no energy or money to live an actual life. Building a career feels like a trap.

How will I look back at things?

When I look back at my life, I want to know that I was kind, someone people could trust and depend on. I don’t want to reflect on a life spent working for companies who replaced me in a heartbeat. I want to know that I didn’t spend my younger years stressing about a job that didn’t really matter. I want to be defined by who I am as a person and the relationships I had, rather than my role in a deteriorating capitalist hellscape. I don’t want the stress and exhaustion from my job to impact how I treat others.

The pressure from a young age to pick a job and work towards it only hindered me. I thought I had to stick to a rigid path and prioritise professional success and income over my relationships and mental health. But what would that leave me with? Plus, if I place all my worth on my job, what if I continue working myself to a mental breaking point, only to be told I’m not doing enough? What good would that contribute to my life and the world?

Of course, some of this is coming from the fact that I am autistic. The system we serve is literally not built for someone with my brain to succeed. I’m burning out faster and faster, and the support that I can access is becoming less effective. Despite my efforts to improve my work environment, adapting how I approach tasks and how I collaborate, I am still fighting against a corporate structure that’s been in place for decades. One that relies on processes that at times make no sense and thus are impossible for me to follow.

Where do I go from here?

Currently, I’m working to hone my skills so that I can work freelance. I still want help businesses, big and small, succeed, but I want to create my own schedule. I’d like the ability to say no if there is already enough on my plate. Also, I want to feel good about what I create and to do that I need more freedom than a traditional job would allow.

Growing up, I was taught that interests and hobbies had to lead to careers and money, but now I know they don’t. I still have a burning desire to write stories – there is a world inside my head begging to be set free. I love podcasts and would jump at the opportunity to do one in the future. I will always volunteer to dog sit for my friends and neighbours. All my interests growing up still live inside me, they’re just more possible now.

If I go freelance, I hope to have the time to experiment with different things. To create something that’s just ok because it’s fun and fulfilling – it doesn’t need to blow people away, it just needs to exist. And, I suppose that rule applies to myself. I don’t need to be a trailblazer in my industry, I just need to exist. When I look back at my life, I won’t need to see a list of awards to feel satisfied. I just want to know that I did enough to be happy and have a positive impact on those who knew me.

So, what is my dream job? I don’t have one. And that’s ok.

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