We all have people that we turn to for life advice.
If you’re married, it’s your spouse.
If you’re on a gold health insurance plan, it’s your therapist.
If you’re Pocahontas, it’s Mother Willow.
Ever since I passed through the angst-ridden years of high school and realized that my parents were not, in fact demons sent by an underlord to ruin my life, I looked to them for guidance.
Important topics ranging from my career choices (“Is this a worthwhile opportunity?”), to relationship partners (“Ditch him or stick it out?”), to money (“WHAT ON EARTH IS A ROTH IRA?!?!”) got filtered through them. This isn’t to say that I was incapable of making decisions on my own, but it bolstered my confidence once they gave an idea the green light.
Sometimes we've agreed, sometimes we haven’t, but my parents have always respected me enough to take a step back after we've talked.
I am the one piloting the ship, after all. But, it’s still taken me a long time to learn to trust myself as captain.
Through this process, I have made some great and poor decisions––that were ultimately up to me.
That said, having my parents to guide me through many decisions in my young adult life helped me tremendously––I wouldn’t have grown into the person I am now without all four of them (stepparents, not Big Love––just to be clear).
But in the past few years, something interesting has started to happen. Conversations with my parents about my dreams have become less productive and more an exercise in cross-generational frustration.
In these talks, I’ve share my hopes of traveling the world, learning languages, and writing, or my fears of settling down, normalcy, and becoming chained to a desk.
My parents have cautioned me with perfectly legitimate concerns about safety, financial security, family planning, and retirement. Their “We trust you to make the right decisions” were tainted with furrowed brows and overtones of concern.
They've never told me not to do what I wanted to do, but it was clear they would like me to do something different.
At times I’ve felt foolish, reckless, a disappointment. How could it be that my dreams were so frowned upon? Was I doing something monumentally stupid? Was I a failure? Was I singlehandedly causing the destruction of my nuclear family?
My mind is a runaway train, if you haven’t noticed.
By the time I leaned into my mid-20’s, these thoughts crept in every time I talked with my parents. I sometimes hung up feeling deflated, like a bouncy house after a kids’ birthday party. Once full of jubilant possibilities, now heavy and limp.
I fully admit that this wasn’t really my parents’ fault. They were doing their job by asking pointed questions and raising concerns.
But my insecurity about my new, uncertain dreams punctured the life vest I was wearing. As a person who has always loved plans and concrete tangibles, considering a life of constant motion, adventure, and challenge was at once completely exhilarating and totally terrifying.
I was following something I couldn’t always back up with hard evidence, and this ran directly against my personality.
So naturally, when my strong, solid, smart parents questioned it, these ideas wanted to crumble quickly. More than once after these conversations, I Googled flights, searched job listings, and looked for apartments near home.
Their advice pointed me towards seemingly stable, secure, and safe choices.
For a few days, I’d let this notion sink in. Maybe they were right.
They are, after all, successful, respected professionals in their field with financial security and general happiness. They created a fulfilling life living in one place, working in their field, and raising a family.
But why doesn’t that feel right for me?
Here’s the part where I’m supposed to tell you that my parents don’t know what I know, that clearly my youthful spirit is so much more full of life and promise than their negativity pegged as realism. Now is the point were I tell you that I proved them wrong.
Trouble is, I can’t do that just yet. There are too many questions I haven't answered or discovered to know for sure.
But here’s what I do know:
I’m running full steam towards huge and crazy dreams.
I’m living a lifestyle driven by a fire I don’t totally understand.
If you gauge how I’m doing in life by wealth or material possessions, I’m not a success story.
By societal standards, I should really be focusing on getting my professional life in order, finding a life partner, and thinking about starting a family in the next few years.
I should be beginning to move away from the nomadic lifestyle I’ve sustained over the past several years and consider settling down somewhere permanently.
I should be prioritizing my family time, and seeing them much more frequently than I currently do.
And you know, I do want some of those things.
But right now, other things feel more important to me:
I want to write.
I want to travel to places I’ve never been before.
I want to keep working on building a business.
I want to live a weird, unconventional, odd, remarkable life…one that quite possibly, my parents, friends, relatives, and strangers do not (and may never) understand and support.
I have to learn to be ok with that.
Because at the end of the day, I know that my life and legacy will not be something that any of those aforementioned people will have to live with.
But I will.
No matter what, I plan on sharing my life and my dreams with those around me, including my parents and anyone else who may not get it. Just because they don’t agree doesn’t mean they should get shut out. (In fact, I credit many critics for bringing up considerations that I wouldn’t have given thought to before. Say what you will about pessimists and realists, but they know how to spot a potential problem.)
However, it does mean that I might need to widen the scope of mentors in my life. Opinions of former professors, trusted coworkers, and online communities of people with dreams that look like mine might need to start carrying more clout.
I’ve found that as your life moves forward, and your career evolves, the ones more closely rooted to your interests might have even better advice than the ones rooted in your family.
But even with a sea of cheerleaders, there is one person I know I need to cultivate the most understanding, trust, and forgiveness with: Mother Willow.
Just kidding, it’s me.
At the end of the day, I am the one who needs to calm myself down, positively self-talk, and do my due diligence in figuring out the path towards the life and dreams that I want.
I know that ultimately, my internal compass will ultimately lead me where I need to go. Along the way, it might get lost, take wrong turns, and land me in quicksand, but in the end I trust myself to get me there.
Life presents you with many willing counselors. At different points in your life, these people may be the exact guidance you need to move to the next chapter.
But don't forget –– you’re the captain of your ship, and you make the calls. You’re it, baby.
Make sure to listen to the crew.
Then, close the door and steer away.
Let's change the world.
Who wrote this?
Gina Edwards, Impact Explorer founder and lover of all pun jokes, making a positive change in the world, Stephen Colbert, Jif Peanut Butter, and staying inside on rainy days. Order may vary.