Can You Actually Be Anything You Want? Probably Not
Updated: Nov 3, 2021
I remember growing up and constantly being told that I could be and do anything, but even then when I would say with excitement that I wanted to be a ballerina, or a writer, or a pop singer, or even the President of the United States, I was laughed at and patronized for my childish ideas. And it’s true, maybe they were just pipe-dreams of a six-year-old, but what if my dreams, ambitions, for the future were treated as a possibility. It seems that throughout our adolescence we are taught to constantly be working towards the future, to create plans and actions that will have us set to live a successful and happy life.
But we’re constrained, we’re made to fit into a box by what we’re taught at school, what we see on TV, and whatever form of role models we have around us in our community. That alone is a scary thought for many who don’t have good role models, or education options, or even television.
Myself, I grew up in a low-income community, surrounded by many who didn’t go to college or even graduate high school, I saw a lot of things that I didn’t want for myself, and in that remark, I became obsessed with the future. With the idea of “getting out” of the potential life that was to be handed to me by a cycle of poverty, mental illness, and addiction. So, when I learned that my dreams were never truly an option for someone like me, I changed my internal five-year plan based on my passions and was constantly living ten years in the future for when I would graduate high school, go to college, get a job, and be happy.
Growing up, my five-year plan was always to get good grades, volunteer, do more school activities, take on another shift at work, research colleges, read more books, pick up another hobby, and center my entire existence to fit a mold that was never big enough for me anyway. If I wasn’t busy or constantly doing something, then I wasn’t working hard enough. The fear that I wouldn't follow these plans to the letter, that I would be a failure, altogether kept me from focusing on what I liked to do. I had forgotten about my dreams and ambitions early in my childhood and instead worked to be what I was told would make me successful and happy.
If I'm being real, these ideas and concepts of a successful life are created by those from immense privilege, re: 'the wealthy white man'. Even as we evolve as a society––opening up to new ideas of what a future can look like and taking into account marginalized communities and identities––we have not changed what it means to be young and to have a future, we’re still taught in school that you need a five-year plan and you need to constantly be thinking about what’s next. Which frankly, is fucking exhausting.
It will never cease to amaze me that we are asked throughout our lives, what we want to be when we grow up? What our goals and plans are all at a young age, and if you think that I’m being ridiculous that little five-year-old Alexis was just neurotic, firstly I probably was, but secondly, that’s the pressure that is put on us before we even understand the concepts of success for ourselves.
This goes doubly for children of immigrants, Black people, first-generation college students, those who have had to work numerous jobs since they were teenagers, and many more marginalized groups that there are depressingly too many to count. The five-year plan was not made for us. It never accounts for the traumas of life, the uncertainties of "what's next", or the option that we can change our minds. There's little to no room for error, let alone dreams.
I don’t know what I want to do in five years, let alone next month, or next week, or even tomorrow. But what I do know is, in the next five years I want to take more moments for myself, try and fail at a bunch of stuff, read more books, start over again...and again...and again, because there's really nothing wrong with that. Ultimately, the timeline of my life is not going to be affected through big actions, yes they’re great, but from what I've seen there are endless paths and choices, and it can't all be structured neatly into a template that a wildly underpaid teacher found online.
It's one thing to tell someone they can be whatever they want, and another thing entirely to help them achieve that.
I have always wanted to be a writer, I remember being filled with joy when I was 10 and my Great Aunt gave me an old typewriter that was used at the law office she worked at. I would write literally anything, and my mom always encouraged me to. I was given books to help me with my writing, encouraged to enter competitions, and offered the space to dream.
When we set each other up with the tools to succeed in our own right, to dream and work towards these goals, then we are curating a society of growth that allows space and time for failure, because what is success without it. It's one thing to tell someone they can be whatever they want, and another thing entirely to help them achieve that. We change our minds and that's okay, the five-year plans guidance counselors structure us to create may change constantly and that's okay too. But we need to keep dreaming and support each other.
With that being said, no, I’m not going to be a ballerina, but I could take ballet classes, and I know for a fact I look great in a tutu. I’m probably not going to be a pop singer, but I do have a whole repertoire of Britney Spears queued up for Karaoke night. And I have not a single desire to be the President of the United States, but I will always stand by and fight alongside those who are constantly failed by our government. As for that dream of being a writer, even when I gave up working on others' ideas of success, I still worked to make it a reality, and well I am one now. I always was one.