Were any of those careers on your list of what you wanted to be when you grew up? As children, every adult from your mom to your dentist asks you what you want to be when you grow up. Just like the question “what do you do,” “what do you want to be when you grow up” refers inescapably to a career. While both questions could refer to a greater life mission about being a good person or a positive impact on the world, their cultural connotation is always about your career, day job or means of making a living.
Is your current career the same as what you said you wanted to do when you were eight years old? It’s a great story when a kid who always wanted to be a doctor graduates from medical school, or when the star of every school play goes on to make it on Broadway. But a lot of us are doing something different, maybe something we hadn’t even heard of when we were eight.
A person obviously learns a lot about herself between the time she writes a grade school report about how she wants to be an actress and when she actually starts her career. She might learn she’s more passionate about the sound or lighting side of the theatre industry. Maybe she discovers she doesn’t have quite the vocal range it takes to be cast in musicals. That woman might discover a later passion for being a nurse, or find that she really enjoys being a mom. It’s okay for your business card to say something other than the one you drew for yourself in pink marker as a kid.
The reason we ask kids these questions is so they have goals and a vision for their future success. But these simplistic questions don’t account for all that goes in to really becoming a singer, astronaut or marine biologist. The relatives you see once a year might always ask whatever happened to your dreams of being an Olympic athlete. That doesn’t mean that you are a failure because you grew up and realized other things were important to you.
In other generations, a person who said she wanted to be a nurse might really have been a nurse for her entire career. Today, just as many nurses came to the job as second careers, or have interests and pursuits outside of their day jobs. While your parents might think that your day job and your career have to be the same thing, in our generation, it’s okay if your passion isn’t your day job. It’s entirely possible to be successful in something other than what we do all day. It’s not just John Grisham who can have a day job as a lawyer and a successful career as a writer. If your passion isn’t how you pay your rent, that doesn’t make either it any less real or important.
It’s entirely possible that when you were in third grade and told everyone you wanted to be a rodeo cowboy, you were just wrong. Don’t feel at all bad about changing your goals at any point in your life. But if you still have those passions, your dream isn’t dead because you aren’t currently paying your bills by doing it. Enroll in a singing class. Help a local youth theatre. Visit the planetarium. Your inner eight-year-old will thank you for it. And hey, John Grisham had been practicing law for over a decade when he wrote his first book. There’s still plenty of time for you to be whatever you want when you grow up.
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