When was the last time someone asked you “what do you want to do” rather than “what do you do”? Sure, occasionally that weird interviewer or a really quirky second date will ask you “Where do you see yourself in five years?”, but that feels more like an judgmental inquisition with no right answer. It’s uncomfortable.

When we were kids, everyone asked us what vocation we wanted to be chained to when we grew up. Not necessarily using those words – unless you knew my hippie-dippy 8th grade English teacher too – but I’m sure you were asked. Kids always have an answer because they take the time to think about those things.

There’s a comedian who said that adults ask children what they want to be when they grow up because they’re still trying to figure it out for themselves. That’s probably not true. Adults have a tendency to sulk in the self-help aisles or on the proverbial psychiatrist’s couch rather than seriously still consider astronaut or movie star.

I think everyone assumes there are a handful of people who have figured it out already and the rest of the adults are lumped into a comfortable majority. It’s also likely that the majority are too busy worrying about their own unhappiness to care whether others are happy or not. No one asks about our future plans because what often spews out instead are regrets spackled with frustration.  The answers are no longer amusing.

My son wanted to be a train conductor when he was three. When he was a year wiser he wanted to own a restaurant. I asked what happened to the train dream. He cocked his head thoughtfully and solved it immediately by saying, “I’ll drive my train to work.” Someone asked him about tracks. He said he’d have someone lay them down. Someone asked him what kind of restaurant. One with food in it, of course.

That’s the ability we need to have when we talk about our futures now. Not childlike naivety, but the ability to forge ahead when obstacles are placed and to continue to explore the possibilities as if they were facts.

That’s not to say our dreams won’t change. When I was four I wanted to be a mechanic for some inexplicable reason. I don’t like getting dirty and I’m about as mechanically inclined as that short handled tool thingy with a twisty end that mechanics sometimes use.

kid-in-corner-thSomewhere along the way we give up and forget to make new goals that are suited for our present. Part of the problem is worrying about whether what we want now will still be what we want in the future. Hence the mountain of books about parachutes colors and calendars full of counseling appointments.

What we can do right now, this minute, is stop the needless worry. The underlying emotion of worry is fear. I wrote previously about fear as being either motivating or debilitating.* Only worrying about our future instead of taking action is obviously the latter.

The antidote to valid fear is courage. The antidote to irrational fear is blindly forging ahead. The two often look similar. The subtle difference is that you feel victorious after a realistic fear is overcome. An irrational fear that has been conquered makes you feel like an idiot for having the fear in the first place and, more importantly, irrational fear doesn’t stand a chance of resurfacing.

When it comes to what you really want in the future, the challenge is to get underneath the fear – or at least shove to the side – and continue on regardless.

Start with what you wanted as a child – career or otherwise – and reassess. Is that still what you want? Think about your future self five to ten years from now. Now stop thinking about your future self. Maybe you’ll want the same things, maybe not. When you were a child you couldn’t have predicted what you want now, so why try to predict what your future self will desire? Doing so creates an irrational worry. We can only work with who we are and want we want today.

So, go on. Start taking the time to review. Go past the fear.

*Some unfounded worry or fear is necessary. Unless spiders and shows about people dating naked have been removed from the world. Please let me know if this happens so I can stop wearing socks in summer and not be afraid to flip channels again.