One year ago this week, I published my first post in the “When I Was 17” series. One year ago, I was in Rabat, Morocco on the fourth month of my year of travel. I was interviewing my fellow travelers in a Berber tent on the roof of our coworking space, in sidewalk cafes, and in the center of our riad. Today, I’m in Austin, Texas, sitting on my friend’s couch, watching her 7-month-old baby figure out how to crawl. It’s completely different, but somehow still delightfully unpredictable.
In the year since I started posting these interviews, I have lived in 14 different cities, 12 different countries, and on five different continents, and I’ve interviewed subjects from almost as many places. During my year of travel, I loved that this series gave me permission to reach out to people I didn’t know very well, spend some time with them one-on-one, and hear stories that I wouldn’t normally be privy to so early in a friendship.
Since I’ve returned home, “When I Was 17” has enabled me to reconnect with people from my past, and hear how the last 5, 10, 15 years of their lives have unfolded. It has given me access to parts of my friends’ and family’s lives I never knew before. And most of all, it has given me 48 new examples to point to when I hear a student worry that they don’t know what they want to do with their lives.
When I started interviewing people, I had this hypothesis that despite our cultural predilection for asking children and teenagers what they want to be when they grow up, most people don’t know what they want to do, and if they do, there’s a very high chance that it will change. That idea has been borne out over and over again as I’ve gathered people’s stories. People change majors, change careers, and change jobs numerous times over the decades that they end up working.
But I’ve also noticed that because my interviewees are the people I happen to know, they have a lot in common with me and each other. They are people I went to graduate school with who also love to read and write, people I did theater with in high school, people who work remotely and love to travel, young people at the beginnings of their careers, people who went to college and view education as a lifelong pursuit.
For the next year of this project, I’d like to broaden the conversations I’m having. That’s where you come in. I’d like to ask you to connect me with your circles, to introduce me to the people in your life whose stories would be an interesting addition to this project. Sometimes before an interview, my subject will tell me that they might not be a good fit for this series because they didn’t go to college, or because they actually knew what they wanted to be when they grew up and then did it. But there are no good and bad subjects. My intention is to learn how as many people as possible got where they are.
For the past year, people have been asking me what I’m going to do with this series. Will I turn it into a book, or a podcast, or a YouTube channel? The truth is, I don’t know. For now, I’m just enjoying having the opportunity to talk to interesting people and hear their stories. But ask me again in a year.