What do you want to be when you grow up? That's a powerful question, isn't it? What do you want to "BE", not what do you want to DO. Describe the nature/purpose of your existence-God, that's huge. And we ask this to 2 nd graders? It's an important question-possibly THE question of your life. So, how would you answer it? (No, not "rich". That doesn't count. YOU wouldn't be rich, you'd just have money. Those are very different things.)
Answering that question is the work of a lifetime. I'm sure it's a topic I'll return to over and over and over again. There are many ways to get to the answer, but the same method doesn't work for everyone. Some people need to approach it through their emotions. They need to search for a purpose/vocation that resonates with them, that makes them feel. Others can approach using logic and reason. They are able to objectively analyze their strengths and weaknesses, and use analytical techniques to reduce the endless world of possibilities to that single, perfect one. There are those who wait for a spiritual awakening-these are the people who talk about feeling called to a certain path. Some lucky few just seem to know from birth what they want to do (like some people can eat whatever they want and not gain weight-annoying).
For the purposes of this article, we're going to assume that you know the answer. But the thing is, you don't know how to get from where you are to where you want to be. That's what we need to figure out. Let's say you want to be an astronaut-I had to reach for the stars, right? Couldn't make it too easy!-but you're currently working as a McDonald's cashier. Looking at the distance from where you are to where you want to be, it seems absolutely impossible… or is it? How would you even know where to begin?
I'll tell you. You'd start by doing research. You'd read the biographies of all 300+ astronauts selected by NASA so far. You'd probably learn that most of them hold PhDs in fields like physics or engineering, most were in the military, and most were experienced pilots. (You'd also learn that a few were just regular, average school teachers who entered through the Teacher in Space program, but will stick with the norm for now.) OK. Now you know what you need to do-it's just a matter of doing it. You could begin by enrolling in college to get your bachelor's (maybe in an ROTC program so that you could get that coveted military training) and taking classes toward your pilot's license. You could apply for internships at NASA while you worked toward your PhD.
I know, I know-there are only a handful of American astronauts so why should you, a lowly McDonald's cashier, be one of them? I say, why shouldn't you? How do you think those astronauts got where they are? By doing exactly what we discussed.
OK, you say, but did I mention that I'm 57 and have a physical disability? There's no way that NASA would ever choose me. That's probably true. So let's look at this from a different angle: why do you want to be an astronaut? Do you have a special passion for the moon, the sun, the planets, and the stars? You could live that love by being an astronomer (amateur or professional) or a tour guide at your local observatory or museum. Do you adore all things physics-dark matter, wormholes, and strange quarks? You could become a theoretical physicist. Are you fascinated with rockets and spaceships? Why not build them as an aerospace engineer? Maybe you just love the idea of being a pioneer, one of the few humans to ever escape this blue dot and blast off into the great unknown. You might find yourself fulfilled by deep-sea diving, cutting-edge research, or cultural anthropology.
What I'm trying to say is that, no matter what your dream is, there is a way for YOU to live it.