Discover more from trains-and-planes-and-bikes-and-buses of thought
When I Grow Up...
I want to be happy?
When I was a kid, some adult asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.
“A teacher”, I replied.
That happened maybe thirty years ago.
I still have random aunties and uncles who - when I see them at the annual Deepavali party - ask me “I thought you wanted to be a teacher. What happened to that plan?”
I’m pretty sure I had also answered that question by saying I wanted to be a cupcake / butterfly / tree / astronut (I couldn’t spell astronaut) / diplodocus… yet nobody ever asked me what happened to those plans.
In their minds, my child-self fit nicely into the role of ‘teacher’ that they imagined for me. They deemed it an acceptable aspiration for a young Indian girl - a respectable, noble profession, nothing too dramatic, nothing too “out there”.
And so, thirty years on, these people still ask me about my “plan” to become a teacher.
Me as a 5 year old kid all ready to go to a Deepavali party - pretty sure I wanted to be a Disney princess at this point.
The thing is, I did become a teacher for a few years of my life. Fresh out of university, I took a job teaching English at a prestigious enrichment center in Singapore.
I told them in the job interview that I was passionate about educating young minds and molding the future generations of the nation.
Sure, that is something I care about (maybe not by being an English teacher) but honestly?
I wanted the job for the money. It had the highest starting pay of almost any other job for a fresh graduate, an oddly large amount of free time, and seemed easy enough.
They gave me the job.
I guess I checked the boxes of their idea of what an English teacher should be.
The entire time I worked there, these random aunties and uncles would tell me that they always knew I was going to become a teacher, that it suited me, that I was a perfect fit to be a teacher - it was the “right job” for a person like me.
15 months in, I quit the well-paying job as an English teacher, much to the shock, dismay, and disappointment of a lot of people around me.
“But why? You’re so good at teaching!” — people who had never seen me teach, ever.
“Teaching is such a safe job, why would you leave?” — people who work in highly unsafe sectors, like banking.
“Isn’t it what you’ve always wanted to do?” — that one auntie who asked me about what I wanted to be when I was 4.
The truth is, I never wanted to be a teacher, nor did I see it as my lifelong calling. Yet, everyone around me was thoroughly convinced that that was the best job and position for me.
What would have happened if I had listened to them?
It’s really hard to figure out who you are under all the messages you get about who you should be.
Everyone around us has expectations for who you should be, what you should do, how you should show up in the world.
Everyone has a long list of things that are okay and things that you should never touch with a ten-foot-pole.
Everyone is very intent on foisting their opinions on you…without ever asking you what you want.
You should be a teacher.
You should be a filial daughter.
You should be a wife.
You should be a mother.
You shouldn't travel, you shouldn’t travel alone.
You shouldn’t go to South America, you shouldn’t go to Mexico.
Europe is okay, but not the Baltics!
You should write a book.
You shouldn’t just do this for fun, you should think about a deeper purpose!
Should this, should that, should the other,
Shouldn’t that, shouldn’t this, shouldn’t ever.
It would be easy for me to simply say that I was so self-confident and self-trusting that I ignored everything everyone else said to me and went on my merry way and all was well.
But I wasn’t immune to all of that. I, like everyone else, want the approval of everyone I love and care about (and possibly some people I don’t give a shit about also, maybe).
I’m a (recovering) people pleaser. I want people to like me. I hate confrontations. I definitely want(ed) my parents to be proud of me. And I saw the confusion, hurt, disappointment (anger?) in their eyes when I told them I was quitting my job to go travel in South America.
I almost un-quit my job.
To constantly be told “wtf you shouldn’t be doing this, this is bad, girls like you shouldn’t do things like this” - it’s hard, and it fucking wears you down.
I wish, at that time, I had had someone who had said “Hey, if this is really what you want to do, trust yourself and go for it. Let’s find a way to make this happen in the best way possible for you. How can I help?”
I didn’t. I figured shit out on my own. And definitely fucked up along the way lol (more on that in a different newsletter).
But I did it.
Because I listened to the voice inside me that was telling me to go travel, to go see the world, to go meet people from wildly different cultures and contexts, and to learn what they had to share.
And my life now, 10 years down the road, is completely different than what it would have been if I had simply accepted that my lot in life was to be an English teacher, always and forever, because that’s what everyone around me expected of me and I could fit neatly into society’s expectations for me.
And I think it’s so sad, and a great loss to us all, but most importantly to each of us individually - that we often get sucked inside the expectations and ideas that other people have for us and we forget to listen to ourselves.
It can be really hard to listen to our inner voice, that internal compass that tells us who we are and where we’re going, especially if we are so used to suppressing or ignoring it and have done it for years.
But when we discover / uncover it again, it is so magical.
It can be really hard. But it’s worth it.
I know if fricking sucks when you feel that something about your life isn’t quite right - that something is off-kilter…
and everyone around you is telling you that “no, that’s exactly how it should be.” Because that’s their expectation for you.
It’s nice to have someone who’s on your side telling you, “hang on, your feelings are valid - let’s look at what feels weird and figure out what might feel better instead.”
I wish I had had someone do that for me (at various points in my life, not just 10 years ago).
And I’d like to be that for you if any of this resonated.
Drop a comment or shoot me an email - let’s have a conversation.
With all my love,
trains-and-planes-and-bikes-and-buses of thought is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Interested in working with me in a 1:1 capacity? Some new options are available: Check them out here.