When you were too young to enunciate words, you knew what you wanted to be as an adult and in all probability you are not that person today – unless you are an exception to the rule and in that case beyond the dilemmas presented in this article.

Most of us unquestioningly meander through our formative years while our dreams – the careers we fancy – grow distant from our reality. Whether you want to become Superman or a Doctor, chances are you’ll rapidly evolve through puberty and early adult life to become something entirely different.

The assumption that our ‘parents know best’ often determines the course of our life path and growing up we are simply too young, too inexperienced and too immature to challenge them. Not all parents are cognizant of the inherent ability their children possess. Similarly, a school that offers only mainstream subjects and activities will find it difficult to identify talent for a relatively obscure profession like mountaineering or motor sport. Ultimately, the inability to identify individual strength means abandoned potential and no one person can be held accountable for it.

As we progress from one grade to the next, every decent school offers a series of choices, and these choices shape us as individuals. How appropriate these choices are in guiding us towards an optimal profession, however, is debatable.

In my own case, a great many subjects, like Chemistry for example, had no bearing on my career as a communications professional but it still helped me understand the world better, so I can’t discount it as a subject. Had I decided to work in the field of communications in school though, perhaps my education could have been less general and more specialized.

So when should one stop experimenting with different subjects and switch to a specialized field or area of study? For the commonly found average student who is lukewarm about studying in the first place, an over-generalized education can open a Pandora’s box of endless possibilities which has its pros and cons.

On the upside, you can be anyone at anytime because you didn’t choose an absolute line of education like engineering, medicine or law. On the downside, and as life goes on, you are often aimless at sea, hosting a large array of keen interests but unable to master any one. None of this really hits you until you’re out of school; and until the associated comfort of knowing exactly what the year ahead of you promises is suddenly gone.

School is generally devoid of life-changing complications and from kindergarten to high school, the path is rather clearly laid out, so much so that it is almost preordained. Life, on the other hand, is a completely different ball game. There are no certainties as such, regardless of where you work, how much money you earn or what your position entails in an organization. Stock markets can crash overnight, companies can be sold, bought, merged or dissolved. New technologies and machines can replace human labor. War and natural disasters can drastically alter our way of life. In sum, the opportunities and challenges of the real world are exponentially greater than anything we experienced in the protection of our school or college system and even after a complete education not everyone is ready for the world at large.

At the advent of ‘practical life’ then, some of us are eager to establish ourselves at the outset while others are biding time until a better opportunity strikes (read ‘marriage’ for some). Regardless of the line we pursue though, uncertainty looms for all alike, even for those on well defined career paths like medicine or engineering because every field today offers a plethora of specializations and sub-specializations that we can endlessly contrast and compare.

Considering that a majority of us were not child prodigies hatching new inventions in our sleep, it’s only appropriate if we continued discovering ourselves beyond our adolescent predispositions, especially as we begin to navigate our professional lives in the space between our 20’s and 30’s – what I’d like to think of as the decade of uncertainty and self discovery. And if you are indeed more uncertain than you are self aware in this period, Tolkien offers solace with his words when he says, ‘not all those who wander are lost.’

While time ticks and inquisitive minds scrutinize your every move, it’s important you don’t buckle under pressure and rush into the first organization or vocational choice that opens its doors to you. Look around and you’ll realize there are plenty of late bloomers in every field. Aspiring writers should look towards J.K. Rowling for inspiration; a single mother on welfare until she published her work at the age of 31. Similarly, for those pursuing drama or film, I would tell them about Harrison Ford and how he barely made ends meet as a carpenter until he got his first lucky break in Hollywood, and he too was in his early 30s.

In the end, as you weigh your many options, you need to ask yourself one key question: what’s worse, blooming late or not blooming at all?

 The writer is a communications consultant based in Lahore.