When You Don’t Know What You Want [and why that’s okay]

My heart beats quickly as I sit at my office cubicle, fluorescent light making everything seem more yellow than it actually is. It’s that gross sort of yellow light that takes me back to the University library. Stodgy, quiet, and severely lacking in windows.

Yellow is how I feel. The kind of pond scum yellow you turn when you receive shocking news or when you get a stomach virus. The yellow that somehow settles in your stomach and makes it flip and dance around. And in the glow of draining yellow light, I sit here listening to the unbelievably loud sound of my own insecurity.

I work with amazingly talented and strong women—the sort of women you see in movies. The sort of tall, independent women who look fabulous in both high heels and work boots. They wear lipstick and use power tools and demand excellence in all areas of their life. They’re funny and smart and volunteer in the community. And somehow, they’ve earned masters degrees and become advocates of community change and managed to look fabulous all before the age of 35.

And here I am, struggling to keep my legs shaved and forgetting to change the oil in my car.

This morning, as I put my lunch in the office refrigerator, one of them nonchalantly asked me what I wanted to do when my current, temporary Americorps position ended. And I froze. As someone who spent the majority of adolescence asking my mother what each day held, it genuinely and deeply bothers me that I do not have a life plan.

Not long after college, after my six week stint in India, I got asked to come in to interview for what I thought was my dream job. It was with a worldwide organization whose vision is to connect Christian communities to their mission of advocating for women, resettling refugees, and fighting poverty in third world countries. They also do impressive work with international refugees here in Nashville. I was on cloud nine. In fact, I don’t think I slept that entire week in anticipation of the interview. I bought a new vintage looking blouse from an absurdly expensive shop in downtown Nashville, spent hours poring over the organization’s website, and practiced mock interviews with friends.  I thought I was prepared for anything. What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was the following question:

“What do you want to be doing career wise and where do you want to be in ten years?”

I had spent the past year looking for a job. Any job. I had just returned from a third world country where my world had been permanently altered. And more than anything, God was teaching me to rely on the leading of the Holy Spirit. Which involved daily surrendering any plans I might have. And I was supposed to know where I wanted to be in ten years?

When I was very young, I had a very specific idea of what my life would look like. I envisioned myself being a very well-read travel journalist, traveling to all parts of the world on a regular basis. Being unmarried or single was out of the question, and since I was obsessed with the show 7th Heaven, I just knew I would marry a pastor. He, of course, would be ridiculously handsome, rugged even, and enjoy reciting Shakespeare by the fishing pond we would obviously have in our back yard. By my current age of 24, I would be pregnant with at least one child. Twins were also a consideration. I expected to have a cottage in the woods, an orange cat named Atticus, and be working on publishing my very first book.

Though I exaggerate a bit, I think you get my point.

It’s funny to look back at younger versions of myself and chuckle at my extreme idealism. At nearly 24 years old, I am single, childless [both of which are okay things to be], soon-to-be jobless, and live in my childhood bedroom at my parents’ home. Most nights, my mom still cooks me dinner. I go to church with almost all young married couples who have somehow or another bought houses and landed “real” jobs. And in realizing all of these things, it is very difficult for me not to feel less. It is very difficult for me not to compare myself to others.

This morning, when my coworker asked me what my career plans were after I finished my term, I froze because she was unknowingly and unintentionally reminding me that I didn’t know what came after my term ended. Not only have I not fleshed out a full-proof plan, but in the deepest caverns of my big, beating heart, I am embarrassed to tell people that I don’t know what I want. I’m embarrassed to tell them that I don’t know what I want to do. What specific niche I want to devote my life to.

They dedicate their lives to sustainability and keeping our drinking water clean. They throw huge, successful events and convince corporate organizations to donate thousands of dollars to our organization so that we can better serve the community. They are Facebook friends with news anchors and are on a first name basis with the mayor.

So, telling my strong, independent, and career driven coworker that I spend the majority of my twenty-four hour day thinking up children’s stories and praying for orphans and dreaming of making magic-looking tree-house tents in the back yard seemed less than satisfactory.

Some days I want to start nesting in a little house near downtown Nashville. I want to have game nights and throw dinner parties and invite teenage girls over to pour over the Word and watch romantic comedies and talk about the boys they have crushes on. Other days, I want to give away everything I own, get on a plane, and settle in a rural third-world community. I want to feed orphans and love on the weary and take light where there is darkness.

Not knowing exactly what I want makes me feel as if I don’t work hard enough or dream big enough or that somehow, I am less intelligent than others. It makes me feel like my desires are less than satisfactory.

I have all of these bold, bright dreams building ever so slowly inside me. And I like to believe that I think deeply and intelligently about the world around me. Each morning, however, when I consciously put on insecurity instead of boldness, I clothe myself in lies that grow into layers and more layers of covering that hide the person that I am.

And when I allow these lies to encompass and shadow the desires of my heart, I am essentially telling God that the way he made me is not good enough. I am telling my beautiful, creative maker that I would rather be someone else than be me—a perfectly created, beautifully intelligent and funny woman. When God first thought of creating me, he decided to give me a heart for injustice. He gave me eyes to see the pain of others and ears that love to listen to the stories of others. He gave me gentle hands that love to serve meals and rock sleeping babies. He decided that I should have a passion for words—for the way that they can bridge division, inspire creativity, and form beautiful breath-taking pieces of art. He made me strong and smart and sincere.

And that’s why it’s okay. It’s okay that I don’t know what I want. It’s okay that you don’t know what you want. And I tell you this because I don’t think we’re told that enough. 

I have recently been convinced that being in your twenties is, to borrow from my ole pal Dickens, the best of times and the worst of times. We’re caught between realism and idealism, risk and security, adventure and roots. Some are married, some are not. In one ear people tell me to take advantage of being single and young. Go explore. Move to a new city. Travel the world. In the other ear, I’m told that I need to build my resume and gain experience and save up money so that I can live comfortably. We are either praised for our adventurous spirit or condemned for our lack of responsibility. It’s easy to not have a clue what to do.

There isn’t one right way. And that’s why it’s okay that I don’t know what I want. It’s okay because I know WHO I want. 

And in chasing after He who made me–He who knit me together in my mother’s womb, I know I’ll get there. I know that it’ll all come together and that I’ll figure it out. I know that one day I will look back and somehow understand that all of this–the feeling of confusion and chaos and frustration–will somehow piece together to make a story.

And because I like stories so very much, I’ve decided to be patient and wait. It doesn’t mean I lack drive. It doesn’t mean I am not seeking. It doesn’t make me less. Like any good reader, I know that the author is guiding me somewhere. And in a matter of time, the story can [and probably will] have a sudden turn of events. 






11 Replies to “When You Don’t Know What You Want [and why that’s okay]”

  1. So true. I love your vulnerability. I’ve been pretty decisive through out my life but that hasn’t eliminated any ambiguity or confusion regarding HOW. And also feeling embaressed talking about it.

    I love your heart. I know God is going to guide you exactly where you’re supposed to be and I can’t wait to hear all about it when you get there.

    Also I never remember to shave my legs. And when I do I nick myself. Confounded waste of time. 😉

    ~ Meg

  2. I love you, sweet girl. Remember that comparison is the thief of joy. Don’t compare yourself to anyone. You are the YOU that God created you to be, with your own calling, your own unique desires, your own one-of-a-kind life! And He will guide you through it.

  3. I am 46 years old and while I don’t ask myself the same identical questions you do they have the same “theme.” You know what? It’s completely OK to not know what you want. Actually, it’s kind of a wonderful thing to not know. It keeps things fresh and interesting. It keeps us open to all kinds of possibilities and not confined to our version of “appropriate.” Let’s see where the journey takes us.

  4. Audrey, you have no idea how much every single word you have written here captures the beat of my heart lately. Thank you, thank you for the inspiring words and the motivation to end my pity party. I know who I am, and I know “whose” I am; and that is all I need. Dreams, careers, families, success will all come later.

  5. Thanks you all for your comments! I’ve been coming to this place where I hear so many chime in that they feel so similarly to the way that I’ve been feeling since graduating college. And I figured that since I’m not hearing it said, others probably weren’t either. It’s okay to not have it all figured out, though it’s definitely in my nature to want to do so!

  6. I love this one more than the relevant once since we get to know you more as readers!!

    Thanks for sharing and spotlighting a far too common trend for us twenty something’s.

    I love how I could relate so much from my americorps service to now in a job and still wondering where the Omniscient Author is leading me next. Wish you lived closer so we could be real life friends- appreciated your words!

    1. Danica, thanks for reading both the RELEVANT article and this blog post. Serving an AmeriCorps term has been so rewarding, but definitely hard as I seek out employment now. Consider us friends from afar! 😉

  7. Thank you so much for sharing this! I’ve been in constant struggle about my life goals after college and now that I’m actually done with college I still don’t have a concrete plan about my career path. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and ultimately for reminding me that it’s not who I want to be that’s important but it’s He who created me and gave me worth. Thank you for the reminder that God is at work and every thing is going to turn out the way He wanted it to be as we fix our eyes on Him.

    1. One of my favorite verses is in 1 Peter. “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” I think I so often get caught up in who I want to be that I forget that I should instead strive after being who he wants me to be. God ultimately just wants us to shine his light through us.

      It is something I think I’ll always struggle with–even after years of him reminding me. Thanks for reaching!

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