Do you remember being asked: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
I remember spouting off answers as a child: a veterinarian! An astronaut! A librarian! It never dawned on me to really think about this question: what it meant, and how it was always related to career.
What if I just wanted to be happy? Could I get paid for that?
Despite my better judgment, I found myself asking my 3-½-year-old this very question the other night.
It went something like this: “Sophie, what do you want to be when you grow up?”
She looked at me and shrugged. “I don’t know. A window.”
“You want to be a window? When you grow up?”
Shrug. Sweet smile. Head nod. Stabbing of fork into food.
“Okay, well, what do you want to be right now? Like, in this very moment?”
She stopped playing with her science experiment of a dinner and smiled. “Just Sophie,” she said.
I could feel goosebumps prick my flesh.
“Well,” I said, sitting up straighter, my heart beating wildly. “I couldn’t think of anything better to be.”
She grinned and stuffed a forkful of quinoa into her mouth. The moment gone. The next question, conversation and memory in her life ready to take hold and then vanish like steam.
But for me?
Light. Bulb. Moment.
Of course she wants to be just Sophie. Why wouldn’t she? Sophie is all she knows how to be. Why would she want to be anything or anyone else? Ever? And why would she want to construct a career or a life around being anyone or anything other than herself?
In school. Out of school. On the playground. At home. In relationships.
She should just be, always be, only be herself.
I let these thoughts sink in, the wheels beginning their familiar spin.
Why would we want to be anyone or anything else other than who we are? Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because EVERY AD, SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNT OR TV SHOW/COMMERCIAL/MOVIE tells us to be something else or someone bigger, better, thinner or more beautiful than we already are? Work harder. Give more. Stand up straighter. Hold on just a little bit longer. Work your way up. Stick with it. Try, try again. Do more. Be more. Be kinder. Be stronger. Be softer. Be quiet.
Look the other way. Don’t look so hard. Don’t look at all. Be selfless.
How about this?
Take a good, long look at yourself.
Who do you see?
Because we all offer amazing skills. We are all different. What if the point of comparison didn’t even exist? What if all of our careers were constructed around being exactly who we are?
What if our professions and our lives only made us go hell yes, let’s do this, I can’t wait to do this, let me do this!!! Because isn’t that the point? To be exactly who we are? To carve our lives out of our own interests and passions and not someone else’s? To have our own set of faults and flaws and peccadillos and strengths, and to place those on a tenuous, interesting landscape we call life instead of checking off our skills in boxes on a social network?
I was scrolling through LinkedIn the other night, floored at all the titles and accolades. I’m a content manager, a content strategist. I can edit, blog, write, train and perform circus acts while doing the dishes. Do these “skills” make me better than anyone else? Do these “skills” make me a more desirable candidate for life?
Is who I am as a trainer and as a writer different from who I am on my own?
I’m a writer, sure. But while I went to school to make stories up, what I really like to do is try and figure things out.
I write to process. This digital paper is my very best friend. I like it. No, I love it. I love it more than most things. Which brings me to a glorious sentence I stumbled upon while reading recently:
Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
What do I do that I’m good at but don’t necessarily feel that fire-in-the-belly pit that tells me to go, go, go?
Um, how about a lot? More than I probably should?
Since my hubby and I are mid-life and boring as fuck, we read every night, rubbing elbows in bed and taking turns interrupting each other to one-up our “inspirational” self-help mojo dejour we’re into. I read him this quote. We talked about it; about all the things we do that are really time fillers. The things that detract from the other, shining lights in our lives.
And then he read me this:
“If it’s important you, you’ll find a way. If it’s not, you’ll find an excuse.”
“Say that again,” I said, immediately taking stock of everything in my life I’ve ever come up with an excuse for, even if I was good at it. (Try this exercise: It’s beyond enlightening.)
Important versus not important. Going versus bailing. Obstacles versus excuses.
With all of this self-reflection, it’s hard to even find the time to stay the course. But, as Byron Katie wrote: It’s not your job to like me; it’s mine.
It starts here. With you. You as an infant, a wobbly toddler, a gangly child, a teen, a twenty-something, an adult, a senior. Are you there for yourself? Do you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, tell yourself it’s okay? Or do you need friends, family or partners to do the dirty work for you?
Are you ever any closer to figuring it all out?
At some point, you have to do what you want to do. You have to decide that what you think about yourself matters more than what anyone else thinks. Strip the job away, the physical appearance, the materials, the family and the outside influences.
What’s left? Who is staring back at you?
You have to decide what you want to be when you grow up. You have to do what’s important to you. For you. You have to say no. A lot. You have to change your reactions to stress or darkness or worry.
You have to shut out the voices and do what’s easy. (Yes, really.) Do what comes natural to you.
Find a way. Find your way.
And then lean all the way in.