What do you want to be when you grow up?
Let's spend a little time as adults exploring this question from our childhood
My first job after college was as an English and Drama teacher at a small private school in Maryland. I studied theatre (yep, of the -re variety) at Syracuse University, and I knew I’d need to come home, get a job and save money before making The Big Move to New York. For a long time, I wanted to be a writer, but I allowed a college counselor to convince me that the only way my magna-cum-laude-high-school-grades-with-several-AP-credits-and-some-very-mediocre-SAT-scores would matriculate was through performance; at that time, I’d been a professional actor for a good portion of my life and this college counselor was an authority, so I believed her.
So I auditioned and was offered acceptance into a program and my “I want to be a writer” became “I want to be an actor”, which upon graduation morphed into “I’m a teacher because I need to make a living”. With no formal education in… well.. educating, I relied on my mentor, my quick wit and the obliviousness that comes with what I didn’t know to get me through.
Since then, I’ve worked in event planning, I’ve sold books at a now defunct chain, I’ve served civilly and I’ve consulted.
All along the way, no one asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. This question is core to childhood. My nieces and nephews respond with glee with about their career plans (an astronaut librarian! an imagination expert/super hero/fireman, a ballerina!). Until very recently, I’d sit across from them and marvel at their limitless aspirations with jealousy.
No one has asked me that question in almost 20 years. The counselors and the advisors let go of that refrain when college graduation neared. The time in which I was really, truly making decisions about how I’d spend my days, earn an income and trudge towards retirement was left entirely up to me. In retrospect, perhaps my field of study answered that question on my behalf, but in reality we know only approximately 27% of college graduates actually work in a field that relates to their major.
How come this question doesn’t make its way into adulthood more deliberately? I’ve heard two reasons:
1. If you don’t know by now what you’re going to DO to contribute to society, then you’ve been wasting your time. You’re a grown up. Act like it.
<DEEP BREATH> I’m gonna call shenanigans on this one. Being Grown Up or #adulting is a state of mind, not a state of being. You get the opportunity to live like your inner child, dream bigger and take risks regardless of how old you are or how long you’ve been in the workforce. Making career changes as a “grown up” may take more planning at 36 or 43 or 55 than it did at 22. You may need to strategize an approach that balances your responsibilities to yourself and others. That strategy is so, so worthwhile because you deserve to feel fulfilled and happy in your life.
2. What you do is who you are.
Bullshit. If someone says this to you, abruptly excuse yourself from the conversation and walk away. Unless your personal philosophy is purely existential, what you do gives you the opportunities to be who you are. It provides for it in whatever tangible or intangible ways you need. You can have pride in your career and allow it to subsidize things you’re passionate about in life. Show of hands: who works a job so that they can afford to participate in second careers or hobbies or whatever, because the “I want” feels too unrealistic or too hard to achieve?
If you wanted to make that leap from what you do to what you want to do, what would it take? What would you like to be when you grow up?
Let’s start strategizing.