When you are a kid, becoming a grown-up feels like gaining access to a secret club; one that you are only able to glimpse through heavy metal bars that are designed to keep you out. The club has a series of unspoken rules, and members get to do all sorts of cool things like drive cars, get money (it appears magically from the ATM), stay up late, and be taken seriously.
Most importantly though, when you are an adult, you don't have to listen to your Mom and Dad, teachers, or other well-meaning adults anymore. You get to do whatever you want. That freedom is worth the price of admission, and you lie awake in bed thinking about how awesome it will be to finally be a grown-up.
What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?
It's not a question you had to think about too hard as a kid. If you wanted to be a princess, your parents bought you a tiara. If you wanted to be a super hero, they'd buy you blue tights. If you wanted to be a wizard, they'd buy you a wand. At some point, you figure out that there are "real" jobs, and then there are the "imaginary" jobs that we have to put away.
- When I was little, I thought I was destined to be either a ballerina, a model, or a teacher.
- When I was 12, I decided I wanted to be a writer.
- When I was 15, I dabbled with the idea of becoming a therapist.
- My senior year of high school, wrote a science research paper that won a scholarship. Maybe working in a lab was what I was meant to do.
So before I even got my pass to the "Grown Up" Club, I had gone through and discarded multiple career options. I should have known at that point that my journey was destined to be of the "off the beaten track" variety.
You Have to Pick Something
Things start getting pretty intense when you hit the grown-up world. Suddenly it's not fairy tales and pixie dust, and there is an increasing amount of impatience from those around you to figure things out.
And this is the point where you realize that being a grown-up kinda sucks. You can coast for a little while, but as the anxiety and pressure builds you sense the sands of the hourglass are quickly running out.
The decision must be made before all the adult responsibilties come crashing down on your head. So you choose. And with that choice, you lock yourself in for an unknown ride.
Are You Living Your Destiny?
Some people make that choice and land exactly where they always wanted to be. They couldn't imagine anything different. But I think for the vast majority, we feel like we may have settled. This grown-up world isn't at all what we envisioned when we were playing make-believe so many years ago.
We aren't prepared for this, and the structure of having our lives laid out for us that led us to this point no longer applies. We flounder. We flail. We wonder where we belong.
Destiny is Overrated
If we look at our choice as a "forever" choice, then we are setting ourselves up for a lot of angst. Because as we learn and grow, new paths come into view.
Life's a journey. There is no right and wrong, and it's pointless to beat ourselves up for making decisions when our knowledge and life experience was still in its infancy. (I feel so sorry for my 20-year old self. She just didn't know any better.)
Where we are today is not where we have to be tomorrow. So if you aren't living your "Grown-Up Dream", then here's a dead simple tip for a quick self-assessment that may help see you aren't as far off as you think you are.
Create a quick list of all of your early career aspirations (like the one I did above). Then jot a quick note about why were those careers were intriguing. Can you find those things in your life today? Here's what happened when I did this exercise:
- I enjoy sharing what I learn with other people. In that, I am a teacher.
- I'm still cranking out short stories and working on novels. I blog. I write magazine articles and marketing pieces. I am a writer.
- My friends call me when they are having trouble or need advice. We joke about it, but I happily play the part of their therapist when they need me.
- I uncovered a love of data and analysis. I apply that scientific approach to all facets of my life. My life is my own private laboratory.
After pulling apart the pieces of what attracted me to those earlier careers, I found that in many ways I am living my "Grown-Up Dream". It just doesn't look like what I thought it would, and that's okay.
And for the record, I still haven't decided what I want to be when I grow-up, which makes me very excited to see what's in my future.
(photo credit Seattle Municipal Archive)