“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Sarah asked Kelly
“I don’t know,” Kelly replied
“That is a very good answer.”
“It is?” Kelly’s mother was always pushing her to get a part-time job, to decide what she wanted to do with her life.
“Yes,” Sarah said. “Nobody smart knows what they want to do until they get into their twenties or thirties.”
The above conversation took place in Michael Crichton’s 1995 novel, The Lost World between Kelly Curtis, an extremely intelligent 13-year old, seventh-grader and her heroine, Sarah Harding, a brilliant animal behaviourist.
When I got to this conversation in the novel, it struck me so much that I had to pause for half an hour, turning it over and over in my mind before I continued. What it did for me was that it helped put in words a belief I have always had:
Sometimes, it is good to have no future ambition.
It might strike you as being odd, especially as being without an ambition is equal as being of no value to oneself and society. But at the same time, I have come to relate with the statement in my own personal experience.
We are from a young age always asked what we want to study and be in future. I started hearing that question in my own life from Primary 4, and along the way, my future ambition changed: it went from being a pilot at age 7 to a biochemist at age 10, then an economist in the latter years of junior secondary school.
The crunch moment then comes in one’s JSS 3 when one is asked to choose between Arts (Pure and Commercial) and Sciences (Pure and Technical), which would give one a combination of subjects that locks one into a range of courses. In my case, I chose Technical Sciences because I had this hare-brained idea that I was going to be an Electrical Engineer. After struggling with that for years in university, I finally switched to Environmental Management. Yet, none of these courses comes close to what I really love doing: thinking and solving problems or proposing solutions, especially as it relates to business opportunities, entrepreneurship, public policy and governance.
It was along the way, in my early 20s, after experimenting with a number of things, that I found myself being pulled in a certain direction in which my passions, skills and interests all came to the convergence point of what I could do with it. In other words, I discovered myself. It was then that I started my business consulting firm, and also started writing.
This story is not peculiar to me, as I know many other people who study one discipline of their own choosing but are truly in love with something else. This is, because a lot of times, smart people do not what they want to do until they get into their twenties or thirties.
When one is asked what his/her future ambition is, the conscious mind then begins to go through options that are right before us, which a lot of times, are a result of societal pressures which elevate some disciplines above others, even tagging them ‘professional’, whatever that means. A lot of times, the truth of the matter is that we then start loving those chosen ambitions after we have chosen them, and not before.
However, true love for a thing, including a future ambition, starts in the subconscious mind. It is not a matter of choice, but of discovery. Despite early exposure to business, I also did try my hands at many other things such as web coding, music (don’t expect the one track I recorded to ever come out. EVER!), and a couple of business start-ups that never really got off the ground. With each of these trials, I continually discovered what I loved and did not love, before finding the point of application of passions, skills and interest.
It is high time we quit forcing children to study for the sole purpose of having a future ambition, which we define narrowly as only those jobs that have prestige and high earning potential. Rather, we should focus on education as the embrace of acquiring knowledge for the purpose of discovering oneself, trying one’s hands and mind at many things and finding a way to apply oneself to adding value to society and solving its problems, while attaining personal fulfilment.
Moreso, the education system of school kids choosing either Arts or Sciences paths where it forces them to restrict their learning to a range of courses, and doesn’t give them a more rounded education needs to be overhauled. I have met medical doctors who are excellent fiction writers or poets, talents their school paths definitely did not encourage them to discover.
We should borrow a leaf from the American high school system, for instance, that allows students to pick and drop courses over the course of their high schooling, allowing them to along the way discover what they really love and can do, and then being graded on a grade point average system.
In the end, not having a future ambition is not as bad as having an ambition you are not crazy over.
It is best you hold off having one until you really discover those things you can be crazy over.