What Did You Want To Be When You Grew Up?

I was having a very serious discussion with my ten-year-old great nephew the other day. This kid is older than his age; so serious, thoughtful, and sensitive.

He asked me, “what did you want to be when you grew up?” That was easy, but what followed was difficult: “is what you are doing now the same? (as what you thought you wanted to be doing when you grew up?)

I was like most boys his age…

… that is, when I was 10 years old, I had fantasies about being a “policeman or fireman.” Lots of kids aspire to positions of authority and perceived strength and power. But I knew rather quickly that I would not pursue those vocations. I never liked anything about guns or weapons, and being a tiny runt of an awkward kid, I never thought I could or would develop the physical strength required for either profession.

Some boys want to follow in their father’s footsteps. So true for my twin brother, who actually did that. I was inspired but also daunted by what my Dad did for a living. I wasn’t so sure I wanted to do that.

Back to the topic, I answered my GN’s question about “what did I want to be when I grew up?” as follows: I wasn’t sure. My Mom and Dad encouraged me to try different things, but not to lock myself in. That is, they wanted me to do well in school and to try all sorts of things. They also helped me learn from failure. I might try to do something and couldn’t do it. Instead of making fun of me, my parents helped me learn what happened and why, and encouraged me to feel better about “at least trying.” My parents were very much about “it is better to try and to fail then never try at all.”

Here I am today in a profession that I had no inkling in my teen years — or even in my 20s — that I would be doing. I evolved. I had different jobs — first in doing what I studied in school, but then in doing work related to activities about which I developed a passion. I found ways to create or adapt jobs along the lines of my avocation, personal interests, and combination of my formal education with the passion of pursuits. I learned not to “accept,” but adapt. Sometimes I said, “this is it; let’s move on” and resigned from a job that wasn’t going anywhere.

It takes courage to say to yourself, “I’m stuck; I need to move on.” It is darn hard to leave a job that pays the bills but does not nourish the soul (and therefore is a discouraging drudge.) I have done that three times in my career — but I am happy to say that each time I did better in my “next life” — that is, my next job.

I state once again how incredibly important it is to have two things: 1) a “reserve fund” so that if you decide to resign from a job, you have funds available to pay the bills and continue with life. 2) a support network of family, friends, and a “better half”, who supports you without question. So if you decide to quit a nowhere job, their comments will be, “great — what do you want to do next?”

I *love* what I do and my current job that challenges me to heights of achievement. Going to work and doing what I do is FUN. Dad always said, “have a job you love and you won’t feel like it’s work.” He was so right.

Returning to my ten-year-old GN, I summarized by saying, “I did not know what I wanted to be when I grew up. Perhaps I’m not a grownup even today. I still love to try new things, to learn from failure, and to explore and take risks. I love what I am — a caring, thoughtful man who is part of a greater community and contributes to it. Work shouldn’t define who you are — it is only a means to pay the bills so you can be what you want to be and contribute positively to society. I am very fortunate that my work and my life are fun and productive. I made that happen — and you can do it too. You’ve got a great Mom and Dad, family, and loving uncles like me who will help you become the man you want to be. We love you.”

That was it… his next question was, “what’s for dinner?” But I could tell that the wheels were turning in his mind. I don’t think this conversation is over by a long-shot.

Life is short: demonstrate your passion and be a role model.