Me, Job Interviewers, Cousins, Close relatives, Distant relatives, Friends, Mom, someone I met 5 minutes ago, Dad. That’s the order of people, by frequency, that have asked me the “so, what plans (for the future)?” question.
I lead the list because there’s no one else there that has so much as a clue about how deeply clueless I am. The mere act of asking myself that question, repeatedly, makes me feel less clueless. It’s like playing a game of hide-and-seek where this one dumb kid just stands in the middle of the room and closes his eyes, thinking no one can find him now. I am that kid.
The rest of the people ask me my plans because it’s a general making-conversation question. And, conversation, I have made. It’s impressive how many plans I have had over the last few years; everything from MBA to sales to marketing to MBA to politics to movies to MBA to entrepreneurship to consulting to branding to sales to something creative to anything-as-long-as-it’s-in-US to most recently: marrying a rich girl. It’s that last one everyone has been most encouraging of.
I always had an answer to the what plans question. It’s not that I lied. I just didn’t tell the truth. And this was/is the truth: I don’t know. But, you can’t say that. People become worried for you if you say that. So, I had to come up with an answer that is considered ambitiously appropriate and one that will spare me of that-kid-is-such-a-clueless- disgrace-to-the-family talk.
We believe having an answer to the what plans question is a real sign of confidence and clarity – Of knowing. We enjoy the that-kid-is-going-to-make-the-family-proud patina.
The true sign of confidence and clarity is saying you don’t know. Of knowing that you have no clue. But, we don’t say it because we don’t hear it from anyone else. Everyone seems to have figured things out as you float in airy aimlessness, alone.
The underlying belief is that everyone with a steady job knows what they are doing with their life. As someone with that kind of job and as someone who is surrounded by people with that kind of job, I can tell you that belief is both disturbing and false.
We get into the steady job convincing people that we not only know what to do but also know what we’ll be doing five and ten years hence. You can’t expect to get a job with: “I have no clue what I want to do, hehe.” You are expected to know, however made-up or delusional. Even the kids that wanted to become doctors from class 2 or something get to a point and become clueless, and the burden of their knowingness all along weighs so heavily on them that they can’t admit they don’t know what to do now.
Ironically, the first step to knowing is admitting that you don’t know. It’s scary and may not land you a job or the ‘family-pride’ rubber stamp from your relatives. But, it will take you closer to knowing. And if you for a long moment think “knowing” must be this magical land of wine and sunshine, I can tell you it’s more like finding yourself in the middle of a desert with a plastic spoon.
There’s a lot said about how, in the end, the greatest regret we have is not living the life of our dreams because we lived someone else’s dream. I don’t think that’s the greatest regret. A greater regret is living a dream you made up because you were too afraid to say: “I don’t know what this dream thing you are talking about is.” It’s living the prosthetic life you invented for yourself because, if you didn’t, you would look like a grand loser. All because you were afraid to say, “I don’t know.”