What Do You Want to Be...
Yesterday, as we were headed to the museum, I asked Delton what he wanted to be when he grew up. It’s such a loaded question, isn’t it?
When I was in second grade, I had already been asked that question countless times. My answers varied based on my mood and what I had paid attention to at the moment.
Scientist. Paleontologist. Archeologist. Environmentalist. President.
I think it was in Kindergarten when the teachers asked us that question for a school assembly program. When I told the teacher that I wanted to find dinosaur bones, she had this concerned look on her face. That wasn’t one of the predetermined options they had for us and the program. So I selected “banker” instead. That seemed like a respectable choice to a 6-year-old. Very practical. Very grown-up, I thought. If that wasn’t some crazy-ass foreshadowing of my life, I don’t know what is.
It was in first grade that I found out that there were titles for these people, these scientists, that found and studied ancient worlds and people and also found and studied dinosaur bones. My teacher quickly found the names of such careers so that I could put a label on what I wanted to be. She was amazing and encouraging. I remember going to an archeological site dig as part of my gifted and talented class with her. My little mind took it all in.
It was also around that time that I learned about the deforestation of the Amazon rainforests, about pollution, and about how the world was changing in terrible ways. Oceans were in trouble. Animals were endangered of becoming extinct and going the way of the dinosaur. And, if we didn’t do something to stop it, we were all doomed. This was over 30 years ago. I watched Captain Planet. I learned about recycling and was extremely disappointed that we had no way to recycle anything other than cans where I lived. I was deeply worried and frustrated that the grown-ups did not seem to care as much as I did. I wanted to do what I could to make people aware and to help make the planet healthy again.
Those few years were probably the most “me” I ever was. Free from the “shoulds” and “ought to’s”. I dressed how I wanted without fear of judgment. This included my favorite outfit: bright pink leggings with kitty paws all over them with a matching giant T-shirt. I spoke my mind. I confronted the kid that said hurtful things about me. I was confident.
I sometimes think of that little girl with her giant teeth, plump cheeks, and slightly round belly. She knew who she was and was completely unapologetic about it. She knew she was smart and kind. She knew she wanted to learn from the past and change the world for the better. She was me before the world told me what I was supposed to be, and, now that I’m almost 40, I miss her.
Going forward, I really don’t recall how I would answer the question of what I wanted to be. Sometimes I would say a teacher just to answer the question and change the topic. People don’t question you if you want to be a teacher. It’s a respectable profession.
What I do know is that toward high school graduation and during those first two college years, my degree planned jumped from psychology to pre-med to pre-law. I eventually landed on getting my degree in Business Administration. A business degree would all but guarantee me a good job after graduation and is a completely respectable degree. I’ve always been good at math but hated accounting with a passion, so majoring in Finance it was.
And there you have it. A major life decision brought to you by the process of elimination. A career by default. A respectable and practical profession, but a profession that is primarily driven by money (and usually greed to make as much money as one can) and not the need to make the world a better place. A profession for which I have little to no passion.
I wonder if that little eight-year-old would be proud, or if she would look at me, head cocked sideways, with a furrowed brow and disappointment or maybe even concern in her eyes.
So, when I asked Delton what he wanted to be, my insides cringed a bit. Then, in a way only he can do it, he shrugged his soft little shoulders and out of the corner of his mouth said, “I don’t know.”
My heart smiled. I let him know that not knowing is perfectly acceptable and that he has many, many years to figure it out.
“I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be, Buddy.”