Is it too late to ask what I want to do when I grow up?

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on

I was speaking with some friends recently – all of us of a certain age with children who are now adults and forging their own paths in life. We were talking about how normal it is for kids not to know exactly what they want to do when they graduate from high school or college – and even during their first years of adulthood.

“I mean, I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up,” I said jokingly. Everyone laughed like I was the best stand-up comedian they’d ever heard.

But it wasn’t entirely a joke. Is it strange to be in your fifth decade on the planet and still not know what you want to do with your life? Is it presumptuous to believe you still have important decisions to make, places to go, people to meet, impact to make, when most of your peers are edging towards retirement?

I’ve had a good career – and it’s still going. And I made a significant change last December from being self-employed for the past 25+ years to moving back to full-time employment with one company. But I don’t feel like this is the end of the road. I keep wondering when I’ll figure out exactly what I want to be, what I’m somehow meant to do. And while I certainly sense the ticking of the clock, I don’t believe it’s too late to change course or try something completely different.

Sure some of the things I mull about in my head when I can’t sleep at night are probably unrealistic. I mean, I’m not going be a professional athlete at this stage of my life. But people get in shape and run marathons in their 70s, so dipping my toes back into the fitness realm is certainly not out of the question. I taught aerobics classes off and on for twenty years and I still miss it. So maybe no one does traditional aerobics or step anymore, but there’s always Pilates, Yoga, Water Aerobics (cringe!). I always thought these were “old lady” activities but hey – I’m creeping up on that status and now I see nothing wrong with having fitness be at least part of the “what I want to do” equation.

Sports, especially hockey. Talk about passion for your subject matter! I explored blogging for a couple of sites in past years. So I’m not going to be a sports broadcaster at this age, nor am I going to take away the careers of lifelong sports journalists, or publicists who have spent their careers in sports rather than tech like me. But it’s a big wide world, especially online, and there’s plenty of room for writing, opining, podcasting, and general opinion-sharing.

Teaching. One of my favorite jobs in college was tutoring English for UCLA’s Academic Advancement Program. We helped low income and minority students, and occasionally, we were loaned out to the Athletic department to help student-athletes. I always felt such a profound sense of accomplishment when one of my students came to me after a test with a smile on their face, knowing they did well. And teaching satisfies a sense of giving back, doing something important for the world, that I have missed in my career to date.

What else? Well, I had several short stories published at one point and I wrote a novel. I always thought I’d be a writer, but the cold, hard reality of the publishing world – querying hundreds of agents, getting just far enough to taste it and then being rejected – caused me to push it aside at some point. But I still love it. Self-publishing? It has become more common, I know many people who have done it (and some lucratively), and hey – some of my favorite authors are in their later years, so it’s definitely never too late to write.

We are fortunate enough to be around during a time when we can live longer and healthier lives. Studies continually show that people are working longer and retiring at later ages. So why limit yourself to one, two, or three careers? Why push aside the thought that you might still not know what you want to be when you grow up, regardless of your chronological age?

I’m going to keep plugging away at my current job. But I’m also going to keep dreaming about what I really want to be when I grow up and maybe, just maybe, I’ll figure it out.

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