What do you want to be when you grow up? That infamous question that I think every adult asks a child as they are growing up. Do you want to be a teacher? An astronaut? A rock star? or a NHL player? What is it you want to be when you are old enough to have a career and decide what to do for a living? The question starts being asked in kindergarten and will continue until young adulthood and beyond. What job are you going to decide to do, and then, will it be a good enough job? Will it satisfy society’s definition of a “good” job? Will your answer be acceptable?
And I will fully admit that I did this. I asked young kids the question and followed up with teenagers about what they were going to do after high school and what they were interested in. And at surface level, there is nothing wrong with asking someone what they want to do with their lives. I, as a child, wanted to be a teacher. And then I did it. But, I didn’t like it. Or rather life showed me I had skills in other ways. So, I became a social worker. A job, like teaching, that usually is met with respect and prestige. But, is that why I did it? Did I think about what it would mean for me to have that title, or the ways in which it would define me going forward? Did I realize the privilege I had to be able to not only go to school for not one, but two, careers paths but also afford to do it? Of course I didn’t.
I didn’t think about it. I didn’t think about what my job said about me or the ways in which it would impact the way in which I moved through the world. I didn’t think about how a job can define a person or what it really said about me. What does me being a social worker say? What different thing did me being a teacher say? Or rather, what would it say if I was a writer, a doctor, unemployed, a plumber, a mechanic, on income assistance, a engineer, disabled, a singer… the list goes on and on. Who am I based on the work I do? What does it tell the world?
I realized that it told them a lot. A lot of things both good and bad. But then I also realized that it shouldn’t matter. What I do, what anyone does, should not define us? But unfortunately it does. And I am kind of over it. I am over defining people by what they do or don’t do. So instead I am going to ask things differently.
Who do you want to be when you grow up?
That is the better question. Not what, but who do you want to be? Who do you want to become? What do you want people to see when they see you? How will you be defined? And then how do you get there? So, of course this got me thinking… Who do I want to be when I grow up?
Kind. I want to be kind. I want the people in my life to say that I treated them with dignity and respect. That I was compassionate, empathetic and someone they could rely on when needed. That I treated everyone, even those I do not like, in a manner that I would not be ashamed of. In a way where people enjoyed having me around.
Honest. I want to be honest. I want to live a life that is authentic and true to myself and the values I hold within it. A life that allows me to tell the people who I love the truth, even if it sometimes hurts their feelings. Transparency in a way that allows people to see me, with all its flaws, and know I am telling my own truth.
Loyal. I want to live a life that is filled with loyalty. Loyalty to the friends and family who support and care about me. Loyalty to a job that respects and values me. And loyal in my romantic relationships and whatever new experiences they lead me to. I want to be loyal without losing myself in the process.
And most important of all, I want to be HAPPY. Happy with my life and the choices that I have made in them. Happiness in a way that does not necessarily mean that everything is good all the time, but that I learn from my mistakes, face my challenges and be content with what I decide. Happiness in a way that allows me to go to bed most nights, maybe not all but most, feeling content with who I am. A happiness that I know I can only find for myself.
Did I know what I wanted to be when I grew up? Yes, but then it changed. Multiple times, for a multitude of reasons. But what hasn’t changed is who I want to be. The things I want in my life that define me, not the work that I do. So, just maybe, if you are feeling ambitious, ask yourself that question.
Who is it you want to be when you grow up? Are you that person now? And if not, what do you need to get there?
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