When you reach that point in your life where you seem to be going nowhere and you don’t know what to do, some people tell you to go back to your childhood. Because even if you say you don’t know what to do with your life, you in fact deep down do know. These people say that you should think back to what you enjoyed doing as a kid – what you would do for fun when you had a free afternoon without the worries of adult life. Those things that you did back then will tell you what you genuinely love.
When I was a kid I used to love playing imaginary games where I’d dream up fantasy worlds inhabited by unicorns, horses and other fantastical animals and play with them. I’d run around outside. I’d concoct potions and soups from plant leaves and flowers in my backyard. I would build imaginary houses out of grass clippings. I’d write stories about alien worlds, animals that spoke and faraway kingdoms. And I’d climb trees.
I started with small trees, afraid (and not allowed) to climb any higher. I’d sit on the lowest branch and swing my legs back and forward, while my mother eyed me warily from inside the house. Eventually, when she wasn’t looking, I plucked up the courage to climb higher, dared to reach further.
And up in the tree branches, surrounded by spindly little insects, sap, bits of bark and leaves, I felt at home. Up above the rest of the world, I was happy and content.
I’m currently having what I would describe as a “quarter-life crisis.” I recently realised that what I was doing wasn’t cutting it for me, that I wasn’t enjoying my life and that I wanted to do something else. I just wasn’t sure what. My grandmother in New Zealand told me that she remembered a little girl who ran and jumped around everywhere with a smile on her face. “I wonder where she’s gone”, she wrote in an email a few weeks ago. I only have a vague memory of that little girl. Over the years, the stress of life, family tragedies and a developing cynical worldview has led me to become more serious, more careful, more cautious.
But I want to rediscover that little girl who was so curious, active and in love with the outdoors. I’ll never be as carefree as she was, because I know too much now. I know that bad things happen to good people, that the older you get the more responsibility you have, and that life doesn’t always go the way you want it to. But I think back to what that little girl loved to do. She loved to be outside, always exploring what was around her. She loved to imagine and create things in her mind and then put those thoughts to paper.
I drew a common strand between these things and what I’ve done since. I’m an avid traveller – I’ve been to a multitude of different places and I never seem to slow down. I have always written, for different reasons and audiences, but always in some shape or form. I’ve always loved learning; I loved school and would go to extra effort in homework assignments, watch documentaries and read books. I’m interested in anything and everything.
While this was all very well and good during high school, for much of the nine years since I graduated, I’ve considered my diverse and eclectic array of interests as a problem. While others studied medicine, law or education and graduated to become doctors, lawyers or teachers, I studied History and International Relations, but had no intention of becoming a historian or working with politics. I travelled constantly, while others were beginning to settle down. I just wanted to keep learning – maybe study a Masters in Linguistics or ancient languages. Go live in Russia. Hike the Camino de Santiago.
I thought that the fact I couldn’t pick one single thing to stick to was a sign that I was too impatient, lacked motivation or commitment. There was something wrong with me.
But when I think back to that little girl who absorbed documentaries about everything from volcanoes to Vikings, who loved to build things, to craft new worlds and bring characters to life, I realise that she wouldn’t be the sort of person content with sticking to one thing in life. She was too curious, too excited by life.
I am gradually realising that perhaps it’s okay to be this way, because I think I always have been. Even when I was told that I had to pick something, to focus on one thing, to think about my career, and make a decision, I was yearning to create, to explore, to see and do.
So I’ve stopped trying to put myself in a box, and instead I’m thinking outside it. Instead of staying on the ground, I’ve started to climb trees again. Travel writing is something that enables me to pursue two of my passions and to constantly learn new things without feeling bored. There’s always new challenges, new things to see and do, and it keeps me inspired and interested in what’s around me. I’ve decided to embrace the fact that I am curious about so many different things and am focusing on how to turn that into a positive and a career path.
I could fail completely of course, and fall headfirst from the tree onto the ground below. But I don’t think so. Because the girl I used to be – and still am – is too determined to let a few challenges stand in her way. She might lose her footing momentarily or need to look for an alternative route up to the top of the tree, but she’ll get there eventually.
If you’ve also been going through a bit of a stagnant period in your life and are struggling to find your calling, go back to your childhood. Think about what you did for fun. What sorts of activities did you do when no one was forcing you to do them for school, or to fit in? Did you love helping other people? Did you try to fix things? Did you like to do tricks on your bike, take pictures of tiny details or help your parents bake? Whatever those things are, think about what they say about you and see if that leads you somewhere. For me at least, going back to my childhood has been a godsend.
What do you think about going back to your childhood to discover what it is you should be doing in life? Let me know your thoughts!