Quotes Reflections

Ursula K. Le Guin on Inventing Our Lives

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

It’s a question we were asked countless times as children.

We dreamed of being astronomers, teachers, cooks, and mailmen. We played all of them as children with pretend stethoscopes, fake mail totes, plastic food, and a kid telescope. Our imaginations ran free. We could have been anything and anyone.

Then at a certain age, many of us stopped imagining. Invention ceased. Someone told us what to be. Doctor. Lawyer. Engineer. We went through school with that goal in mind. We stopped asking ourselves who we want to be and subconsciously marched down the path of what we were told to be.

We went to university. We made perfect grades. We got a seemingly great job. We bought the house and the car, but at the end of it all, we’re dissatisfied.


Because our lives were made up by other people. At some point, we stopped imagining all the endless opportunities, and we began living the life we thought we were expected to live.

“All of us have to learn how to invent our lives, make them up, imagine them. We need to be taught these skills; we need guides to show us how. Without them, our lives get made up for us by other people.” –Ursula K. Le Guin

Unless we had someone – a parent, older sibling, or a mentor – who taught us the many ways we can invent our lives and told us it was okay to pursue them, the only path we know is the path we were told to be on.

But it’s never too late to imagine the life you want to live. In fact, it’s something that you knew how to do very well as a child, you only forgot how.

. . .

The quote by Ursula K. Le Guin is from a speech, “The Operating Instructions,” which she gave at a meeting of the Oregon Literary Arts in 2002. You can find it in her collection, Words Are My Matter.

Cover Photo by Sergey Zolkin on Unsplash

You Might Also Like