Our culture is so tied up in what you do. We start asking our children ‘what they want to be when they grow up’ when they are only four or five. Seriously? How many career options does a pre-schooler even know about? No wonder they reply “A bull dozer.”
I hated that question. If you wanted to make me feel small, you just had to ask me that. I had no idea. The emphasis on knowing your career direction made me feel inadequate and stupid because I didn’t know. I could be anything except I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to be.
I’m now in my forties. I have been a biologist, window installer, retail sales manager, kitchen installer, event planner, organizer, business consultant, and writer. I have also been a giver, daughter, volunteer, poet, problem solver, baker, lover, wife, advocate, mother, hiker, mentor, canoeist, dreamer, painter, traveller, sister, renovator, gardener, connector, knitter, aunt, investor, reader, bicyclist, grand-daughter, speaker, friend, leader, and believer. The trouble with defining myself as my current work situation was that too much of me was left undefined. I am so much more than my work.
My work life was the stuff I did for money. Sometimes it fed my soul and I was passionate about it and other times I worked and made money. The pressure to be defined by my work felt so limiting. I was more than a round peg trying to fit into a square hole. I was an ocean trying to live in a thimble. I could not be contained. I needed to stretch to the horizon and splash this and wash over that. My life could not be reduced to a single role. I was that single role and a whole lot more.
There are many reasons why we immediately ask someone what they do for a living or what they want to be when they grow up. It helps us define them. It helps us measure their aspirations and status. It helps us find points we can to relate to. But we must remember that it is a tiny slice of who they are and that with the wave of a pen they could change careers and redefine themselves.
I have yet to find a work title that I completely align with. I’ve tried on ‘Opportunity Cultivator’ lately but it is not a standard title people can pigeon hole. It leaves people with too many questions. It does however give me the space to evolve and change, to dabble and experiment, and to shift and add more joy.
People still jokingly ask me 'what I want to be when I grow up.' Now I think I will answer ‘I want to be me.’ Yes, the majority of my waking hours are spent doing a particular job but I spend every hour of the day being me.