“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
When I was young, the expectation was that there’d be a singular answer: doctor, lawyer, teacher, nurse, policeman or fireman. Pick one. No Career Day speaker ever told us little tykes that we might have a first career that would pay off the student loans and build the down payment for the starter home, before transitioning to work that we find ourselves more suited for as we age and change – to say nothing of a possible third gig that supplements the social security in retirement years. That would have been too much information for little kiddies at Career Day. That scenario also may not have been as common in the 1970s and 80s as it is in this new millennium. So it’s no surprise we were conditioned to believe that one is supposed to do one something with his or her life not many. But I knew before I hit middle school that such would not be the case for me.
At five, I had a role in my school’s performance of The Little Prince. So in first grade, I wanted to be an actor when I grew up. Several years later, I sat down at the plastic typewriter my mother gave me and banged out what I thought was a tortured but eloquent memoir. It was five sentences long. Suddenly I wanted to be a writer. Somewhere along the line, struggling working class parents made clear in not-so-subtle ways that the two things I wanted to be might make paying the bills harder than it had to be. So I added a licensed profession to the list of future jobs.
Flash forward several decades, and here I sit, having enjoyed a successful and fulfilling first career in journalism, a short stint in the law that made me miserable, and several soul-smiling years (and counting) teaching Kung Fu, awaiting news of whether a potential investor in my food company will become an actual one. While weighing the possibility the investment will fall by the wayside, I’ve been forced to envision a return to career number one or two. The first thing that came to mind was: “I can’t switch again; that’ll make me look crazy, like a person who never knew what she wanted to be when she grew up!” Gratefully, it took only a moment to toss that thought into the mental trash can.
My problem, for those who would call it one, has never been career confusion. It’s been sincerely wanting to do them all – and not caring that I was expected to pick just one.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Little did I know at age five, eight, 12 or 17 that the singular answer wasn’t a career at all. The answer was and is that I want to be master of a destiny as full as my interests, skills and time will allow, with a minimal fear of being broke and a maximum disregard for the scoffing of others.
On most days, for more than a decade now, I’ve been exactly what I wanted to be. That makes gratitude easy, even in tough times. It also makes me glad I never thought to stick with just one!