From a young age, we are bombarded with the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
The older we get, the more mature and serious the question becomes. “What do you want to do with your life?” people begin to ask.
As we navigate our emergence from adolescence, we are simultaneously searching for answers to these questions — questions we are certainly not fully equipped to answer.
So we often settle on an answer based on some life experience we’ve had over the course of our limited years on this Earth. We look at someone we admire and think, “That job sounds fun.” Or maybe we see someone on a TV show, or learn something from a favorite teacher, or take pointers from a parent or role model.
Wherever it comes from, the answer to this question — at age 6, age 10, or even age 18 as this question guides us to choose the path of study in college that is meant to determine the rest of our lives — does not come from us. It comes from those around us, forcing us to pave a path when that path may simply not yet exist.
So much of life is unknown. There’s a lot of beauty in that. No matter how much we plan or organize or think ahead, life will always throw us curve balls and set-up road blocks when we least expect them. Sure, there’s something to be said about being prepared, but how prepared can you really be when the rest of our lives, let alone tomorrow, are not guaranteed?
I’ve grappled with these questions — the “What do you want to be when you grow up” ones — since I was a kid. My answer started out as they usually do… a doctor, a teacher, a pilot, a singer. Those flashy occupations we see on television and read about in books.
As I grew up and the question started to get asked more seriously, it became harder and harder to answer. You see, I was always that person that wanted to do everything. I’m not the best decision maker. I hate limiting myself, and I love to keep my options open.
Of course, I didn’t recognize this about myself at the time. But looking back at my high school repertoire of activities you can see that plain & clear (AP student, cross country and track runner, lacrosse player, synchronized swimmer, school paper editor, violinist, running shoe store employee, youth group leader… do you get the point?) I’ve always wanted to do MORE; never taking the time to decide what I really enjoyed.
So when it came time to leave the safe, comfortable world of high school and jump into the “real world” as they say, I was a bit lost. At that age it is easy to believe everyone else but you has it figured out. You see your peers dead set on their future career paths — doctor, nurse, lawyer, engineer, etc. You see these clearly defined career “goals” and think I need that, too.
So you choose something. You declare a major, develop a vision of your future career, and begin working in that direction.
But what I’ve learned over the last few years, and the message I’m trying to share today, is that you don’t have to settle. You don’t have to pick one thing and stick with that for the rest of your life. You don’t have to feel bad if the career you always dreamed of isn’t all it turned out to be, and you find yourself doing something completely different . . . or if what makes you happy is something your eager, younger self would have never imagined you doing.
People change. Circumstances change. Goals and values and passions change. And that’s all okay.
I write this because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what I am doing in my life and where I am at with my career. What I am doing today is so far from anything I ever saw myself doing, but I am so incredibly happy with where I’ve landed.
I think back to the Evan of 2012, a college freshman infatuated with the idea of serving her country and making a difference in the lives of those less fortunate across the globe. I love her passion and her commitment to her studies. I love her empathy and the care she has for the world. At times I wonder if I let her down by not fulfilling those vast goals.
But here’s the things — what I’ve always known is that I want to build a career, and a life, that makes me happy. One that impacts other people in positive ways. One that allows me to use my skills to enable change. One that challenges me, one that inspires me, and one that makes a difference.
And what I am doing right now is just that. Sure, in a very different way than I originally imagined, but the work I get to do still hits on all of those fundamental concepts.
I’ve always had an innate sense of purpose — that whatever my role is to be in this world, it is meant to be purposeful and impactful — but defining the role that will have that purpose or make that impact has been the struggle I’ve faced for the last 10 years.
It wasn’t until I let go of this idea that I need to have a clearly defined path that I realized I am fulfilling a purpose. That it doesn’t necessarily matter the scale of the impact, but as long as I am having a positive impact on those I get to serve, and as long as I show up to work each day with a clear vision & purpose, then I am, in fact, living the life I always wanted.
I’ll close this piece with one of my most favorite quotes from this past year:
Now I think it’s one of the most useless questions an adult can ask a child–what do you want to be when you grow up? As if growing up is finite. As if at some point you become something and that’s the end.”Michelle Obama, Becoming
Our girl Michelle says it best. We are always evolving and growing. We are fluid beings, and life is a fluid journey, with twists & turns & challenges we can never fully anticipate. All we can do is seek a life that brings us joy and fulfills our passions, no matter what that might look like.