The Childhood Dreams That Flew Away During Dusk

The Childhood Dreams That Flew Away During Dusk

Once upon a time, deciding what I wanted to do in the future was simple. When asked what I wanted to be, I always had an answer. It might not have been the same every time, but the answer was always on the tip of my tongue. It always was stated with certainty.

“What do you want to be in the future, Zoie?”

A short pause as I thought about it. I would open my mouth to speak, already knowing what the responses from the adults around me will be.

“I want to be a brain surgeon when I grow up.”

Wide eyes and a murmur of “ooohs” and “aaaahs” would greet me, followed by approving nods, the crinkle of the adults’ eyes as they smile, and sometimes a pat on the back. They tell me that I can do it, that I need to work hard for it. They think it’s impressive that I would have such big dreams as a child. It’s great that I already speak with such certainty about my future. All they want for me is to be happy, successful, and financially secure as an adult.

Of course, I didn’t know any of that as a child.

I just wanted to understand how the brain worked and why people act the way they do. I thought it was intriguing how complex this mushy gray mass of an organ was. I wanted point at a brain encased in a glass cube and tell someone, well, this is why you are the way you are. This is why you think like this, act like this, dress like this, feel like this, judge others like this. I wanted to be the best at understanding something that is so close to being the foundation of the “why” of people that I never had any doubts when I said that being a brain surgeon was what I wanted to do as an adult.

Oh, and I suppose I liked the positive feedback I got every time I said those words. It made me dream big, and in the end, I loved how so many people I looked up to for guidance in life believed in my ability to become a brain surgeon.

But time passed.

Three years of middle school now feels like three seconds in my head.

I remember first day of freshman year like it was yesterday,

and each day of high school after that has been nonstop motion.

They all blur together into a hectic stormy sky that I want to brush away and make less frenzied so that I can see the stars beyond, but I don’t know how and it’s starting to scare me.

And now… thoughts about what I am to do for my future shrouds my mind every day. I think about it when I wake up, and then feel overwhelmed. Why am I overwhelmed? I’m grateful that I even have the certainty that I’ll be able to go to college, but I don’t think that’s what’s bothering me. Here I am, doing everything I love, but what I love doing might not last my entire life and I’m so confused. I’m so excited to grow up but I’m finding that the more I grow up the more I feel lost yet exhilarated when I leap into the unknown. I’m exploring so many new things and I’ve learned more than I ever have about the world around me in these past few years of school and travel and writing, yet I feel behind in so many aspects of my life.

Emil Sinclair in Hermann Hesse’s novel, Demian, remembers his eighteen-year-old self as “precocious in a hundred ways but very far behind and helpless in a hundred other ways” (Hesse 88). That definitely is how I feel in my life right now, but that’s not all of it. I think this feeling of being overwhelmed has less to do with my present state and more with my future. The certainty when I uttered that I want to become a brain surgeon has suddenly dissipated in these past few years, and I’m left with this feeling of wandering on and off of my path in life, whatever that might be. What happened to that certainty? What happened to…



“I want to be an astronaut when I grow up.”

I love space. I love staring up at the sky and realizing how pointless everything is when you take in how big the universe really is. I’ve had this mentality since I was young, but now it’s stronger than ever. It’s a strange way of viewing the world that I still am trying to refine and fit to my own understanding of life, but I basically believe that because everything is meaningless in the sense that it’s going to end someday, then… everything, thus, should be made meaningful. Somehow, someway.

I wouldn’t know what to do with each second of my life otherwise.

One of the rare contemporary young adult novels that have really impacted my life in changing my mentality and the way I view the world and life is Kathryn Ormsbee’s novel, Tash Hearts Tolstoy. The main character, Tash, says that

People these days love to speculate on the apocalypse — whether our ultimate demise will be due to nuclear warfare or zombie epidemic or alien invasion. But I think it’s more likely that our end will come on a normal day when we all stop trying to figure out the why of anyone around us and go live in separate houses and rot away, alone.

I’ve taken this quote to heart and think about it often every day (it’s actually hard not to when I wake up with this quote on my art wall every morning) because it reminds me to make every moment of my life meaningful to me. As a child, I didn’t actively think about this, but I do believe this thought was constantly growing in the back of my mind. It was a seed, then a sprout, then something I couldn’t stop thinking about.

Even when it was a seed, though — especially when it was a seed — I was obsessed with the stars.

So distant.

So bright.

So mysterious, so enchanting.

I didn’t understand them, but I wanted to. They were always there, but the people around me didn’t seem to know more about them than the information I had already gathered about space from my elementary school textbooks and stargazing pamphlets from camping. I thought studying something that seemed infinite sounded lovely and appealing, so I decided that I wanted to be an astronaut when I grow up.

This happened before I decided to switch to being a brain surgeon. Maybe it was because I was still young enough to say it and have people believe in me, thinking I’m adorable to have such a cute dream.

What made me change my mind? What happened to…



“I want to be a scientist when I grow up.”

I love nature. I’ve loved nature my entire life. Perhaps it was my upbringing and the happiest of my childhood memories attached to nonstop camping. I had stood feet away from a wild bear before I knew what makeup was, learned how to set up a tent before I knew how to open the front door of my house, and loved solitude before I realized that making friends with people my age was a thing in this world.

To this day I know that can live alone in the middle of the woods and not feel lonely; I can go days just thinking and not talking and feel satisfied with life. The moments when I feel like the happiest person in the world have always happened when I’m in nature.


Hiking miles to a place even more isolated than where my family had parked the car.

Hearing pure silence for the first time.

I grew up with mushrooms clenched in my fingers, silt in my hair, and canyon waters soaking the hem of my pants and the fabric of my hiking boots. I lived on air crisp and clean and free of pollution, became accustomed to seeing greens of every shade imaginable take over my world, and never gagged at spiderwebs, insects, or the moths that flew into my headlamp at night.

Those things are so ingrained into the foundation of who I am that it’s impossible for my dreams to not be influenced by those experiences. That’s why I wanted to became a scientist. One who lived as much in nature as in the lab, using nets to find new species of spiders, shaking trees like I did in my backyard to see what would fall out of the branches above me…

It was all so appealing to me

until people told me I couldn’t do that because the tendency of my skin to fail at being skin, cracking when the weather is too dry or too humid, rashes forming when I touch dirt for gardening, sand at the beach, or soap to wash my hands. I was also too picky with my food. I wouldn’t survive if I would only eat five types of dishes, they say, and said enough times that I, as a child, began to get frustrated at


I’m not sure.

Me? Them? Their lack of confidence in me becoming a scientist who studies nature while being in nature? My lack of confidence or certainty? Do I really want to become a scientist when I grow up, then, or is there something else I can do? Should do?


scientist of nature and passion and my childhood


astronaut of stars and space and contemplations on the meaning of life


brain surgeon of approval and certainty and love of success.



“What do you want to be in the future, Zoie?”

It’s been a while since someone has asked me this question. It seems more like a question adults would ask young kids. I ask kids this question a lot. It’s like an ice breaker, but catered towards children. It’s not too intrusive, and kids generally love to answer this. Like me in the past, they always have an answer.

Maybe they don’t realize that their answer isn’t definite, though it might seem like it at the time they speak it.

Recently, rather than others asking me this question, I’ve found that I’ve been asking myself this question quite frequently. I have an answer to this question, but I don’t know if it counts and I don’t really understand why, exactly, it wouldn’t count. Maybe it’s my growing sense of reality in this world, maybe it’s because I realize that a passion can turn into a burden if you can’t financially support yourself, or maybe it’s the wise words the adults and elders in my life have handed to me to use that they probably expect me to put to good use.

I know, for sure, 100%, with all the certainty in the world right now that I want to be

I want to be

I  want  to  be

I   want   to    be

An Author

of the stories in my own life

of the people around me

and of those within my mind’s lovely imagination.


A Traveler of the World

because this world is utterly beautiful

and there’s so much I’ve yet to learn

from all the places and people

I’ve yet to meet.


A Photographer

to capture moments and experiences

that might never happen again,

and to help me see the world

more deeply than I would

with just my eyes.


I wouldn’t have said these things as a child. I think this response is better than the responses I had in the past, because it feels right to say this. It feels right in my mind and my heart. The words harmonize with my dreams and core values; I wake up every morning inspired to live out these dreams and passions of mine, and everything just feels right.


I’ve never been happier

and I’ve never been more confused.


I miss the certainty I had when I responded to the adults who asked me what I wanted to do in the future

yet I’m glad that those childhood dreams flew away during the dusk before the day I realized that saying




made me see the beautiful artistic potential of what could be in my life.


“What do you want to be in the future, Zoie?”


I know

and I don’t know.


How about just…


I still have some time before I need to give an answer.

Don’t worry.

I’ll make good use of it.


6 thoughts on “The Childhood Dreams That Flew Away During Dusk”

  • This is such a beautiful and inspiring post. <3 It is so hard to know what we want to do, what we want to be, decide on a career, give up on our childhood dreams and / or confront them to reality, that's for sure. I really think we have to figure things out as we go, and we can't only be one thing, we can change our minds, we can explore our full potential, artistic or not, and so on, and in the end, if it takes time, I want to believe we'll all discover this little something we are meant to do 🙂
    Marie @ Drizzle & Hurricane Books recently posted…#Throwback to how I won NaNoWriMo + tricks and tips for you to do it…. or not.My Profile

    • Thank you for such a lovely comment, Marie! 😊 The reminder that people can be great at more than one thing is so important — someone can be an amazing photographer but also love to dance and study chemistry. It would be really confining to restrict myself to only several things, because part of life is exploring everything that is out there to find out what your passions or hobbies could be. 😄 I agree that, eventually, if people really are looking for a passion to follow, they’ll eventually find it. 🌌🌠 For me, I want to stay happy in the process of achieving my dreams and not just save all that excitement for when I do achieve those dreams — because who knows when that will be? 😇

  • Hello Zoie,
    Yes, it is overwhelming to decide what we want to do for the rest of our lives. It is interesting that you mentioned that you once aspired to be a neurosurgeon. This reminds me of the memoir by Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air. In this book, the author also states that he chose to be a neurosurgeon because he wants to understand the way humans think and behave. Your post reminded me of this book 🙂
    My fiance once aspired to be a neurosurgeon. However, throughout his medical school training, it soon became apparent that neurosurgery is not just a career, it is a way of life. Neurosurgery residents often work 100 hours a week and do 36-hour shifts without a break (it’s crazy- I know!) Being a neurosurgeon means having little time for family and hobbies, which is why he decided to choose to be a different kind of doctor.
    That’s great that you are exploring your artistic potential 🙂 I absolutely love art and writing, and I don’t know where I would be without these two things! You know what they say: Do what you love and become great at it 🙂

    Sophie recently posted…6 Reasons to WriteMy Profile

    • I just looked up Paul Kalanithi online and the amount of articles that popped up about him and his memoir are overwhelming. His memoir seems like a wonderful novel about finding happiness and of insights into humanity (aka everything I love reading about), so I think I would feel really enlightened reading his novel. Thank you for introducing me to the existence of When Breath Becomes Air! 😄😋

      What you said about the commitment to being a neurosugeon is really a reality-check — if I really loved doing something, then no matter how much time I need to put into pursuing that passion, I wouldn’t mind spending my days doing that thing. I still have some time before I have to choose what I want to do for the rest of my life, though, and I’m really grateful that I even have the opportunity to choose my own path. For now, I’ll see where following my passions of reading, collecting, and seeking stories leads me 😊

      Thank you so much, Sophie, for sharing your insight and advice — I really appreciate it! 😊 I love your inspiring quote at the end ❤️, and I’ll definitely check When Breath Becomes Air out for some lovely and deep insights on life. 😉📚

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