PARTING SHOT: When I grow up

Never forget that your life path is far from set in stone


Sean Rumage was a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily

Christina Anton | Cavalier Daily

It was at 9:08 p.m. on April 24 when it first happened. After a tragic loss ended our storied intramural careers, my teammates and I parted ways, and I realized that I may never see some of those friends again. After spending all of college dreading the day, my first goodbye occurred without me even recognizing it for what it was.

Since that moment, finality has become a palpable part of daily life. Every time I say goodbye to someone, I pause for a moment to make sure that I will see him or her again before we skip town. Even now, I can’t decide whether it’s better or worse to know when your interaction with a person will be your last. 

Soon, all of these people will become “college friends” and the memories will become “the good old days.” You know, the ones your parents wistfully mention as they reminisce on better times. Boy, does that make me feel old. We are all set to embark into the grown-up world, start grown-up jobs, make grown-up life decisions and do grown-up things like chuckle about times with our “college friends.”

But let’s pause for a moment. Are we really grown-up? Is that guy who set your first-year dorm’s dumpster on fire really done growing? Is that girl who stood you up on your third date really a full-fledged adult? Am I? Are you?

My best friend’s mom certainly isn’t. Don’t misunderstand me — she pays bills, she has kids and she is a mature, professional individual. But she isn’t grown-up. After stints as a lawyer, elementary educator and high school teacher, she still uses the phrase “When I grow up … ” today, despite being in the neighborhood of 50 years old. She still dreams of new life paths even after traversing many already. As we stake out into the world, we should follow in her footsteps. 

As kids, we reach for the stars. We proudly proclaim, “When I grow up, I want to be a firefighter, a soccer player and a teacher!” But now we’ve passed all our milestones. We can drive, vote, smoke and drink. Pretty soon birthdays will only be a cause for dread, not celebration. And in our rush to seem older, we tend to lose our optimism. We perceive doors closing left and right and often times simply sprint towards whichever one is nearest to us. 

If today we heard a kid tell us that they planned on being a firefighter, a soccer player and a teacher, we would probably pat them on the head and think it’s cute. But why can’t they? Why can’t we? Perhaps these goals aren’t all attainable at the same time, but throughout the entirety of a lifetime they can certainly be accomplished. If you need further proof, just think of all the lives you’ve led up to this point. In approximately only 20 years on this Earth — a quarter of which you don’t remember and the vast majority of which gave you very little personal agency — you have already done so many things and been so many people. Why should we expect the decades to come to be any different?

We humans have a tendency for the dramatic. I often lament the weight of life decisions as if I were 20 going on 70. In truth, of course, we have so much time. We have so much time. Sailing east today doesn’t mean we can’t head north tomorrow; accepting a legal position this year does not preclude us from becoming a doctor in a decade.

Life is a verb, and we are about to change tenses. The future is now the present, and those things we said we might do, want to do, could possibly do now demand a decision. But nothing about these decisions is permanent. Inking a two-year contract or committing to a four-year graduate program is not equivalent to signing your life away. We are so young. We have so much time.

Near the end of my first semester in this place, I found myself lying down on the Lawn, staring up at the stars. The thought that millions of other eyes might be gazing at the same constellations gave me comfort. Despite living in such a big world, I felt far from alone. 

Now, I look up at the night sky and find warmth in the knowledge that those stars have been there so long, have seen so much. For though we may not stand guard over this world as long as those distant sources of light, they serve as a constant reminder of how much time we still have to do everything we want to throughout our lives.

When I grow up, I want to be a lot of things. A traveler. A friend. A husband. An expert. A learner. As I continue on through life, I’m sure that the list will only grow longer. 

So what do you want to be when you grow up? Just remember, your answer has no word or time limit.

Sean Rumage was a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily.

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