The book that helps me justify my life
By Kelly Theobald
It has a scuffed, faded green hardcover, thick, yellowing pages and a crackly spine. It may be old and second hand but it’s the best and worst damn birthday present anyone has ever given me.
When I turned 21, my best friend was in the UK, living the adventurous life of an exchange student. When she sent me the first edition (yes, very first, extra-special edition!) of Peter and Wendy by J.M Barrie, she knew I’d read it immediately.
Printed in 1911, it tells the familiar tale of Peter, the boy who never grows up, and Wendy, the young girl that he takes to ‘Neverland’. I won’t go on – we all know the story, I’m sure. If you don’t, you grew up far too fast. But that’s just it – I, like Peter, can’t grow up. It’s not that I don’t want to. It’s just that I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.
At some point in my life I have wanted to be all of the following: Professional dancer, journalist, novelist, politician’s speech writer, historian, teacher, truck driver, rally driver, professional cricket player, personal trainer, travel agent, marine biologist, PR person for the United Nations and hot-shot lawyer. And these weren’t just passing phases – these were serious ‘what do I need to study to do that’ commitments.
I’m now 25 and still have no idea what I want to do when I grow up, despite having completed a uni degree. However, since first reading my magical, extra-special first edition of Peter and Wendy, I’ve been toying with the idea of never growing up – that way I don’t have to chose a career. I’d much rather have grand adventures in Neverland with Peter, fighting pirates and the like. If he can do it – why can’t I? Unfortunately, I’ve noticed a considerable lack of pirates outside the pages of Peter and Wendy.
Despite that, I think it’s perfectly OK to never grow up. I don’t need a career! Pffft, that’s just what teachers, parents and uni lecturers think everyone needs. Really, all anyone needs is some sort of cash-earning ability (as mundane, clichéd and grown-up as that is, it is rather difficult to avoid…) and a sense of adventure. A pair of hiking boots and a passport is also very handy.
However, no matter where in the world I’m waitressing, retail selling or bartending, I can’t avoid thinking that perhaps I’d be happier if I dedicated my life to a meaningful, satisfying job. I just don’t know what that ‘job’ could be. It’s certainly not what I studied at uni – not every day of every week, anyway.
While I look for it though, I’ll regularly read Peter and Wendy because it’s only while I’m immersed in the musty pages that I can ignore the fact that I’m failing at being a grown-up. While Peter’s example suggests that this is OK, I really hope that someone out there can tell me what it is I want to be when I grow up, before I’m grown up!
Kelly Theobald is currently a, um, ‘writer’? who has spent the past year-and-a-half floating around outback Australia in a Volkswagen, published a children’s picture book and is about to move to Bangladesh for a bit of a change. You can send her career suggestions via twitter @KellyTheobald.