Grown up people are obsessed with this question.
Whether it’s a parent, teacher or career advisor trying to pop your tax-free bubble of adolescence, you’ll notice they employ the same tragic tone. It is one that screams: you’re not going to like the real world, best to start lowering your expectations now! One that laments their own long buried ambition, and pre-accepts the futility of your answer.
That’s if you have an answer. Adolescence is a time of spectacular indecisiveness. Only last week did I spend, probably the best part of an hour, trying to buy a new pair of jeans, fluctuating between fifty shades of grey and three types of ‘skinny’. (Worryingly, next week I actually have to start looking at renting my first house… Do estate agents charge by the hour?) Another problem hindering any teenager’s answering of this question is their easily influenceable nature. The young mind is a malleable thing. After binge-watching the TV show Scrubs, I managed to convince my 16 year-old self that I wanted to be a doctor. A problematic realisation halfway through my A-levels when I wasn’t studying a single science subject. Luckily, it was a phase I grew out of. But just imagine if my TV taste had favoured Dancing on Ice or WWE Wrestling.
Adult: What do you want to be when you grow up?
Me: A writer.
That wasn’t so hard. Only…what is “a writer”? Once upon a time, I tried to specify “an author”. But we all know they shoot that one down. Aspiring to be the next J. K. Rowling isn’t a feasible, concrete career plan, especially when you start sentences with “once upon a time”. I suppose my subsequent thought process wanted to take that writerly ambition and frame it in a professional, adult-like, briefcase-carrying kind of way. I envisioned that this would plant me behind a desk, in the stuffy office of journalism. That’s an acceptable career option alright…in a loose sense of the word “acceptable”. My frowning Grandad did mutter something about the sleazy press.
Until recently, this was what I thought I wanted to do. Sure, most of the time I find the news extremely trivial and depressing, but there are aspects of journalism that really appealed and still appeal to me. The creative routine, the city lifestyle, the rewarding sense of publication. I was ambitious about making an honest career in a stained sector. My role model being the late and great Christopher Hitchens, who used to say: ‘I became a journalist partly so that I wouldn’t ever have to rely on the press for my information.’
I made the plan that every aspiring hack does: to get involved with student media the moment I arrived at University. In reality, the opportunity arose before I even started. An editor at one of my University’s online publications, by sheer chance, found this blog, and invited me to write for him. Hurrah! Look at me making baby-steps towards the career ladder. Actually… A single question knocked that ladder down. ‘What do you want to write about?’
Ah. Um. I had nothing. All I could think was that I just wanted to write. A sentiment that wouldn’t fit into a neat little category like ‘sports’ or ‘current events’. I eventually answered that I fancied contributing to the ‘opinion’ section. No surprise there then. But proposing this just made me feel arrogant. Why should anyone want to read my views? What do I know about anything? This is why I blog – you can get away with it on a blog. A corner of the internet where people are too polite to criticise, or too critical to read. Safe to say, I haven’t contributed an article for student media yet. But I might well in the future. My passion for journalism might return.
That would be awkward, a future editor finding this post…
For now, I have no idea what I want to be.
Writing is a compulsion, a lifestyle.