In a story I wrote, Be What You Are, a girl dreams of being a dancer. But she doesn’t just want to be a dancer, she wants to be one of the most prestigious dancers in society – one that performs for the king and his family and guests. A sort of fairy godmother or guiding spirit, Mother Heron, appears to the girl and tells her that she has to choose: she can either find her own path and be a “true” dancer or be a dancer for the king. She can’t both be herself and be a court dancer.
Everyone has to decide what’s right for them and their own life. But I’ve learned that what you think you want and what you actually want are two very different things.
To use the girl from the story as an example, she loves dancing and is fulfilled by it. At her very core, she is a dancer. It’s what she’s meant to be. And so when she looks at the world, she assumes that this highest dancing position (what’s better or more important than dancing for the king?) is the one that she’s meant to take.
I did the same thing growing up.
I’ve always had a huge passion for learning and tinkering and just… discovering. I thought that “my place” in the world was academia. I felt like I was meant to be a researcher. I was certain of it, in a way. It made sense that someone who loves to learn and should be a life-long learner. I mean, they should dedicate their life to it and get paid to do it, right?
It makes sense in our heads. You should dedicate your life to what you do best. But the deeper I saw into the world of academia, the more frustrated I became. It became apparent that my values, my way of thinking and working, and my style of learning were completely incompatible with that of the successful academic. So if I had tried to force my way down that path to become a part of that world, I truly believe that it would have been damaging to my “inner self”, if you will. That is, it would have destroyed the parts of myself that really make me “me”. I would have had to conform to someone else’s values and philosophies and styles in order to be successful.
And that’s just not worth it. It never is.
So all of this is to say that, from my experience, you cannot both truly be yourself and get that initial, archetypal thing that represents who your truest self is. The most talented pianist in the world isn’t meant to be a concert pianist. The most talented artist won’t be a Pixar animator. And the girl who at her very core is a dancer won’t be a performer for the king and his court.
You can’t do all of the innovative, inspiring, or beautiful things you’re meant to do if you’re jumping through the hoops needed to acquire “the archetypal profession”. Instead of forcing your way through the ranks to that pinnacle profession, it’s better to stop, do some real soul searching, and just trust yourself. Forget about what you’re supposed to do. Forget about “what makes sense”. Forget about what other people expect you to do.
Instead, do what you want in the moment. Reevaluate in each new moment. Don’t try to plan your life out. And whatever you do, choose yourself over whatever title or profession or prestige you find yourself offered. It’s always a choice. And you can never have both.