Monday, November 30, 2009

What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

Have you ever played the Game of Life?  My older brother and I played constantly, both of us longing to land on one of the squares at the beginning of the game that entitled us to a career as a lawyer or a doctor (and the $50,000 annual salary that went with it - I guess lawyers and doctors weren't making the big bucks back in the 80s).  In the Game of Life - and probably in more lives in general a few decades ago - you steered your car along a predetermined course, collecting paychecks and children, all the way to retirement (at which point, if I recall correctly, you could trade in your kids for cash...but that's a topic for another post entirely). 

Yesterday I read a version of a statistic that I'd seen before, but it surprised me nonetheless: according to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average American worker will change careers 3-5 times during her lifetime.  Not jobs.  Not 9th grade social studies teacher at Franklin D. Roosevelt High, then 10th grade world history teacher at Oak Hill Regional, then 12th grade economics teacher at Shelburne Community.  Careers.  Teacher.  Then Astrophysicist.  Then City Comptroller.  (Okay, maybe not exactly, but you get the picture.)

As a kid, like my persona in the Game of Life, I often defaulted to the idea of being a lawyer.  All of my dad's siblings were lawyers.  They liked to talk.  I liked to talk.  I also liked the idea of making $50,000 a year and wearing suits to work.  I liked the show L.A. Law.  But in college I passed that torch off to many (most?) of my friends who headed off to law school after graduation while I headed instead to a different sort of classroom - one in which I'd be a teacher instead of a student.  That's where I went and that's where I stayed until Big Boy was born.  A few different jobs, but the same career.

And now I'm 32.  I've had one career so far.  I liked it.  I even loved it sometimes.  But right now I don't see myself going back to it.  And, according to the Labor Department, I need at least two more careers to qualify as average.  So I have to ask myself: What do I want to do when I grow up?

And you know what?  I have no idea.  No clue what I want to do next.

Right now I'm a mother.  And that certainly takes a lot of doing.  But what else do I want to do?  Well, I want to read the stack of books that's been sitting on my bedside table since last Christmas.  I want to wake up one morning to something other than the sound of a baby crying.  I want to go back to Paris - with Husband, but without the wee ones.  I want to get a massage.  A long massage.

Actually, most of my want-to-do's have to do with states of being - how I've been in a different place in time, how I want to be - rather than what I want to do.  And I realize that maybe the question that matters isn't, What do I want to do?, but rather, What do I want to be?

And what do I want to be?  I want to be present.  I want to be satisfied.  I want to be fulfilled.  I want to be heard.  I want to be happy.

I still don't know what career space I want to land on in my own personal game of life.  I still don't know how the doing can get me to the being.  No, I still don't know what I want to do, but I'm getting closer to knowing what I want to be.

What do you want to do when you grow up?  What do you want to be?


  1. Sniffling...I am 40 and I still have no fucking clue...

  2. Me too, 40 and no idea what to do next. I've cobbled something together that works well for now, but my Small Girl is needing me less and less and I sure would like to have a plan.

  3. What a great post -- and something I've given much thought. I, too, have been teacher and mother and frankly, those are the only careers I really want. Oh wait -- there was a time that I was in Human Resources - but that was just for a year. I hated it - so I don't consider it a career change, more of a career mis-step. I just hold onto the fact that Grandma Moses didn't paint until her seventies.

  4. I have had a similar post in the works for a while now... trying to figure out what is "next" in what I want to "do". I agree that there is a difference between what you want to do and what you want to "be". I think that what you do in a way defines what you "are". I have stayed in the same career since my MBA but with a variety of jobs within the industry. I LOVED what I "did". Wish I could go back to it but because of what I need to "be" (mother), I can't go back to what I want to "do". I resent it at times. Because what I want to do conflicts with what I want to be.

    But, hopefully I'll figure it out so that I can be happy and satisfied with both.

  5. Thanks again, Kristen, for a thought-provoking post. I worked 18 years in Insurance because I had a practical, well-paying job. That's what happens when your ex-husband picks a job for you! What I found was that I could only run from the life I was meant to live for so long, eventually I couldn't run anymore. So here I am, in my writing and editing career finally. First paycheck coming in December. Seventy-five bucks. Seriously.

  6. What a wonderful thought provoking post. I often think about what I want to do when the kids get into school.... but I have NO idea...

  7. Hi Kristen (and thanks to BigLittleWolf for making the intro). When I was a little kid I wanted to be an etymologist, but grumpy and pragmatic grown-ups were cruel enough to tell me there was no money in insects. I tried to study business in college but switched to film after one day of one marketing class. Now I'm a shrink and really love my work, but I have come to believe that our attitude matters more than our metier. I like what you say about "be" rather than "do"—and I like the community you offer here on your blog, encouragement to hear and be heard, striving to be happy with what we've got while admitting that Paris sans kids always calls...

  8. i bummed around job to job when i was younger until i settled on nursing. it's the only career i have had; i can't really see myself going to school for an entirely different subject and then doing an entirely different job. i love nursing. until i had my third kid and realized i was not going to be back at work for another year, i did not know how much of who i wanted to BE was tied up in being a nurse.

    i am, frankly, going a bit insane not working these days. my littlest is a year old now, i feel like i *should* be working a few days a week. if it were not for the prohibitive cost of daycare, i would be working.

  9. When I grow up (still a couple years til I reach the big 5-0), I will let you know what I decide to be. LOL

  10. Lynne Marie, Bruce, Stone Fox, & Nicki - Great to see you here. Thanks for joining the conversation.

    Linda - Congratulations on getting that first paycheck! It might not be enough to live on, but it's a great start!

  11. Great post Kristen! I have had a life filled with career changes. I've always been a something/something else more specific/something so specific no one does it anymore/oh my god I think I may be thinking about writing/how did I end up in web administration/get me out of being a //////////.

  12. Hi Kristen. I can totally relate to this post. I have changed careers already 3 times (adding to those DOL stats!) and can still envision at least another two. But I think that's as much a function of changing labor trends as it is of...changing concepts of what it means to "grow up." We have a more flexible, moving, expansive definition of adulthood than we did when I was younger (Thank Goodness!) And that means that it's OK to do lots of different things along the way. Though I think you hit the nail on the head-it's not what you want to do as much as who you want to be. I look forward to reading more of your blog!
    All best
    Delia Lloyd


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