05/09/2013 11:11 am ET Updated Jul 09, 2013

Pursuit of Happiness


"I just keep thinking, I'm 22 and what have I done?"

Shulamith Firestone, an instrumental leader in the growth of radical feminism, exclaimed this concern to a film director in the '60s, according to the New Yorker article, "Death of a Revolutionary." At the time she was rallying and organizing her fellow "sisters" into a new feminist social order -- quite a lot for a 22-year-old.

Firestone's same concern has riddled me for years. I am 14-years-old and what have I done? I am 16-years-old and what have I done? That constant personal check-in to see how I was faring in the rat race drove my high school career.

But now, as high school graduation nears, the question has changed. I have begun to incessantly plague myself with the wonder of, "What will I do next?"

As I am readying myself to venture into the unknowns of the future, I am struck by the new responsibility that graduation will soon place on me; I am now in charge of finding my own route to happiness.

I have always been told that if I worked hard in school and got good grades, satisfaction would follow. But as I finish up my high school education, this neatly maintained path to success is branching off into a million directions. Will I find success and happiness beyond this bend or do I need to wander a bit further, walk in a new direction? The path isn't so clearly marked anymore. The route is twisting, cracking and even vanishing from beneath my feet.

But finding happiness doesn't have to be so difficult. We've already constructed a sure-fire guide towards a life of success and joy: Go to college, get married, find a nice 9-to-5 job, pop out a few kids and viola! Life-long satisfaction is yours.

Today, I don't know if I want this classic white picket fence existence but perhaps that sunny little cul de sac is where this current road is taking me. My disillusionment with this pre-ordained route has made me examine how my personal definition of success compares to that of my school and country. For so long, I went to school so that I could eventually achieve this vague idea of happiness that someone once dictated to me: money, family, home. I look back at my education now and wonder if it has been preparing me for a life that I actually want to live.

This brings me back to Firestone's question, "I'm 22 and what have I done?" What will I sign my name to when I am older? What types of accomplishments will bring me happiness?

Maybe money will buy me happiness. Certainly the "Real Housewives" have tempted me with their in-home massages and shopping trips to Morocco. Wealth could bring an eternal end to worrying about my needs and my budget. Still, as annoying and cliché as it may sound, I feel as if that sort of happiness will leave me wanting more.

But while I can confidently put this declaration down on paper, a step in any direction still terrifies me. At this point, I don't know what my goal should be or where I should ultimately end up. This is where the anxiety has set in. For years, the objective was clear: GOOD GRADES! COLLEGE! Now, the final destination could be anything. As I have begun to find, constructing a path to an unknown location is a challenging task.

I have always been guilty of being a long-term plan-maker, making this newly open future even more daunting. When I was a kid, I erratically made up my mind that I would move to Italy when I was older. I drew up floor plans for my Italian villa and even decided on the carpeting that would line my children's playroom.

Since then, I've given up on this odd wish and instead conscripted myself to another childhood fantasy -- becoming a teacher and a writer. While most teenagers grow out of their childhood dream-job aspirations, these are passions that I adopted as a kid and still cannot shake.

Yet, as I near graduation, I find myself peering curiously into the mysterious void of other future possibilities. I could wander into the woods for years and try to live off the land. I could decide to become the captain of a ship and sail around the world. I could go to culinary school and overcome my kitchen ineptitude -- but this seems like the most far-fetched idea. I am at a point in my life where I am lucky enough to have few ties or commitments tugging me in any direction. The true deciding factor between these options (besides my realistic financial limits) is the amount of satisfaction that each choice will provide. But the problem is, I have no idea which path will guide me towards my version of success.

I know that I have posed more questions than I have given answers to. But right now, all I can do is wonder, speculate and just hope that my feet are pointed in the right direction.