What did you dream of when you were younger? Do you dream of the same things now? As much as I am a planner at heart, I was always very careful not to dream about my own future too specifically. I knew things I wanted: to travel, to enjoy my work, to write, to eventually get married and probably have kids. But I wanted feelings more than things; feelings like hope and peace and wonder.
That meant that trying to explain my future goals to people often felt difficult, and often led to me likely coming across as more indecisive than I really was. Most of the things I dreamed about when I was younger are still things I want, and some of them I’m a lot closer to. I have a job I enjoy, graduated in 4 years with a degree I deeply cared about from a place I by and large enjoyed my time at. I’ve gotten to travel, and had my eyes opened. I’ve got a ton of people who care about me, and still live within reasonable driving distance of most of my favorite places.
When I was in the process leading up to those things, I had a lot of encouragement. I also got a lot of questions, and even some doubt and opposition. I wouldn’t be where I’m at today — or who I am today — without all of those things. The challenges made me reconsider what I wanted until I was sure beyond anything, and the encouragement picked me up every time I stumbled, so that the goal was never lost.
Emerging adulthood is a time when a lot of us are trying to figure out if we can finally make happen all the things we’ve been dreaming of — and when there are more opportunities than ever to veer or get knocked off course. Maybe your dream is college or getting married or going to Thailand or being an auto mechanic. As long as you’re positively benefiting your environment and the people around you, and you enjoy it, guess what? Go for it.
There will always be someone to tell you that it isn’t a good idea. As is my usual policy with advice, listen, but do not necessarily live by it. I realize that it’s very much an upper-middle class, individualist attitude to take, and not everyone is willing or able to seek out the things that most draw them in. But it is important to figure out how to live a life you’re content with.
When it comes to big decisions, I tend to consider three main questions, and the answers usually tell me what the best decision is.
- What and who is it going to help? Is there anyone or anything it will hurt? I’m not saying I’ve never made decisions that came with hurt, but the benefits have to outweigh the drawbacks.
- If I don’t do this, will I regret it? Regret itself isn’t something I spend a lot of time focusing on because it’s rarely helpful to get mired down in the past. But considering whether I might regret a particular choice is usually a good metric of my gut instinct on a decision.
- What story do I want to be telling my grandkids one day? I make mistakes all the time, but especially with big decisions I want the stories I tell my grandkids to be ones I’m proud of, with thoughtful reasons behind them — not things I’m ashamed of or disappointed in.
It can be really difficult to commit to following a dream or goal, and sometimes it might be wiser to take it in small steps rather than one giant leap. But as emerging adults, we’re still relatively early on in life, and have the chance to do some things we’ll be really proud of. One of the challenges we face is actually making those decisions, and dealing with the risks and rewards they bring.