When I was in second grade, our teacher helped us make these giant posters filled with drawings and facts about our little seven-year-old selves. Mine was titled "All About Aliisa" and featured topics like
'If you could have a wish, what would you wish for?' (A jungle gym in my front yard)
'What are your favorite things?' (Candy and pretzels)
'What are your least favorite things?' (Jellyfish and cavities)
In the bottom right corner was my answer to the quintessential question-you-ask-children.
I had given the question a little thought. I like babies, I enjoy teaching my younger sisters things, I love my elementary school instructors... There was really only one answer, and it looked something like this:
And there it was. Good thing I got that down, because man, the years of growing up are absolutely plagued with that question! But I had my response set tangibly on that huge slab of card paper, making it easy to whip out my answer like a pro any moment, anytime the question of my future aspirations arose.
Middle school was just about the same.
In 10th grade, I narrowed down my answer to an English teacher after finding literature and writing an exciting niche in my school subjects and after studying a year under an incredible, incredible English instructor.
Before my junior year, as I sorted through my childhood belongings in preparation for my family's move to Bahrain, I discovered my "All About Aliisa" poster again. I experienced a certain kind of pride in finding I had thus far sustained a nine-year-old dream.
Even after the move, it appeared the teacher-dream would last in my new country and high school. I was asked the question one day, and answered, as always,
But something else happened that time. Mr. Haggarty, the teacher/mentor/life-changer who happened to ask me the question, asked a follow up question.
I don't remember exactly what I did in the moments following, but I remember feeling something like
And then something like
I suddenly realized that while I had sustained that second grade dream, that dream had restrained me. I had been pretty blind to unquestioningly hold onto something I wrote in an elementary school project. Yet as the years rolled by and I told more and more people throughout my life that I was going to be a teacher, it felt so true and final.
I'm fairly certain that without his follow-up question and our ensuing talk about being open to future possibilities, I could have entered university as a prospective teacher, studied as a future teacher, and lived my career as a teacher without ever turning my head from the path set by a seven-year-old girl's red crayon.
And I really don’t know, the path to educate may still actually be the one God has in store for me! I still love English, enjoy tutoring, and believe teaching is absolutely one of the worthiest occupations in existence. I certainly haven't trashed the idea of being an English teacher, but I've shed the mindset that my future is apparent and corresponds to my expectations.
Going into Princeton with a fresh mind of freedom and openness has been incredibly valuable. Would future-teacher-Aliisa have applied for an illustration and design job? Taken Social Psychology? Joined the advertising group on campus? Possibly not! Especially when there are so many incredible doors of opportunity swinging wide on their hinges here, in some ways, the best help you can be to yourself is to not know what you want to be when you grow up.