When you’re growing up, there are lots of things you have to do that you don’t want to do. Going to school might be one of them. Homework is definitely one of them. Brushing your teeth, taking exams, PE, going to your first disco – the point is, you don’t want to do any of these things, but you have to make yourself do them, because you know they’ll benefit you in the long run, and make you a better, more well-rounded person. So it’s no surprise that you enter adulthood in the same mindset.
But the fact of the matter is that, as an adult, you have a control. And I’m not saying you should never leave your comfort zone, but I think that by your late twenties you have a pretty good idea of the things you’ll absolutely hate. So here is a list of the things I was incredibly relieved to discover I didn’t have to do. What were yours?
“Oh god, it’s going to be terrible when I have to have children,” I used to think. “It’ll be so stressful, I’ll hate the noise and the rushing about, and it’ll stop me doing so many other things.” It never crossed my mind that I didn’t have to have them.
Before we go any further, I’d just like to reassure you that I don’t hate children. I’m not a Roald Dahl villain – It’s just that I don’t have a maternal bone in my body. I work with children, and I like them in small doses (but I certainly couldn’t eat a whole one!!!) -but even if I didn’t, that shouldn’t make me a terrible person. Everybody’s different.
The fact of the matter is that the world is overpopulated as it is – there’s no urgent need to reproduce. So the people having children should be those who really want them, not those pressured into it by family, society, or the idea that it’s the “next thing to do” after meeting someone and settling down. “But isn’t that a bit selfish?” you might ask. “Having children makes you focus on something other than yourself, and turns you into a more giving and sympathetic person”. Well, my riposte to your imaginary remark is that it’s selfish to have children just to turn yourself into a better person!
Besides, if I suddenly completely change my entire personality and decide I do want children, there’s absolutely nothing stopping me from doing so. But saying I don’t want them takes a huge weight off my mind, and prevents family and potential partners from expecting something that isn’t delivered (pun intended).
Going “Out Out”
God, I hate fun. And by “fun”, I mean society’s conventional definition of “fun” – namely, suffering dreadful music in a club full of drunk strangers. “But you’ll enjoy it when you’re there” – no, I won’t. I’ll want to be in bed reading a book about Victorians and eating biscuits. The moment I realised I didn’t have to be cool, and that no-one was watching anyway, was a great moment indeed.
Becoming a Teacher
“If you can’t do, teach” – I was having trouble getting a job relevant to my degree, so teaching was the natural route to take. You wouldn’t believe the amount of time I wasted feeling guilty for not taking it. Teaching is a worthy occupation, and gives you the power to do a great deal of good in children’s lives, but if you don’t want to do it, you don’t have to. “But you’d be such a good teacher!” That doesn’t mean I have to do it. I’d probably be quite a good assassin, but if you’re not temperamentally suited to it, you’re just making yourself miserable. The scales fell from my eyes when I couldn’t even cope as a part-time science technician in a secondary school, because it brought back too many bad memories of all the bullying I’d endured in that environment in my formative years. Nobody has to put up with that if they don’t want to.
“Travel Yourself Interesting” is the tagline of travel agents Expedia. Well, believe me, if you’re not already interesting, going travelling is not going to make you so. In fact, it’s far more likely to have the opposite effect, as people flee from your endless “gap yah” anecdotes (the only funny one I ever heard was when my friend got trench foot). I haven’t yet thought of anything 10,000 miles away that’s more fun than anything I could do here, and that would outweigh the expense, stress, faff, disease, jetlag and language barrier of going, but when I do, I’ll be on the first plane there.
(Sorry, that sounded a bit Scrooge-like. Of course I’m open to travelling if something really special takes me there, but I won’t devalue the experience by doing it just because I feel I have to).
I hate faff, and organizing a wedding is the worst faff I can possibly think of. It was hard enough getting my three closest relations to come to my graduation (which culminated in my dad panic-buying a shirt and tie in Next clearance and getting changed in a photo booth minutes before the ceremony) – let alone spending thousands organizing a large-scale event I have absolutely no interest in taking part in. Of course I’d do it if it meant a lot to my (hypothetical) significant other. But as for any other reason I should get married – I hate to break it to you, but it’s not the Victorian era any more! (As much as my style might fool you otherwise…)
Having a “Real Person” Job
Short of not being a burden on others, there’s absolutely nothing to dictate what kind of job I have. Yet feeling I’ve wasted my degree, or that I’m a disappointment, or that I’m not “giving anything back”, is the main thing that’s plagued me since graduating. I still intend to get a real person job, in which I can hopefully to some good. But I’m past feeling guilty about the years in which I didn’t have one. I realised yesterday that if I’d gone straight from university into a full-time office job, rather than fannying about in a series of part-time lackey jobs like I did, I probably wouldn’t have had the time or head-space to write a novel, or bring out four albums, or countless other bizarre schemes that may, for all I know, have entertained and inspired up to tens of people. And I probably would have felt creatively unfulfilled.
And that’s the thing: I didn’t know what my dad’s job was til I was 12. I still don’t know what my uncle Mick does (none of us can remember, and it’s gone far beyond the point where we can reasonably ask). I can’t remember what half my friends’ degrees were (sorry!). And most people remember me for my octokittens far more than my museum guiding. The point is, when you think about someone you know, your first thought isn’t what they do as a job, it’s what they’re like as a person – cheerful, miserable, nice, annoying – and so I’ve decided that, if at all possible, I’m not going to have a job that turns me into an unpleasant person.
Some of this might sound a bit selfish and close-minded – in fact, the absence children, marriage, travel, and all these conventional rights of passage might make my life sound joyless and empty. But I’ve had some amazing experiences some people might never dream of. I’ve written a novel in a month; another month I performed a space opera every night. I’ve jumped off ruined castles into lagoons. I’ve been in loving and happy relationships. I’ve written a children’s book that’s been reprinted in Welsh. I just don’t believe in making things difficult for myself for no reason – there are enough ways for our lives to be difficult as it is. And as long as I’m not hurting anyone else, I don’t see any harm in that.