This evening I drove home with words pressing the margins of my mind. It has been a while since I felt the need or inspiration to share words with friends and strangers, yet tonight I am pondering another debate on this life’s successes and shortcomings. What do I want to be when I grow up??
The curiosities and happiness of childhood dropped many potential interests in my way. Books, lessons, and even Saturday morning cartoons inspired my inclinations. I wanted to BE all kinds of things. For a time nothing seemed as enticing as being an astronaut. I had boxes of books, posters, pictures, and my very own telescope. It seemed insatiable…until the morning I watched the Challenger explode. Maybe I was better suited for life on Earth.
A close family friend was very kind and encouraging to me. “You’re a smart girl, and you like to talk. You should be a lawyer like me.”…..so I read about laws, law makers, and legislation….and discovered that sometimes I simply found justice more fair than law. I understood justice and law aren’t always the same thing. Lawyers follow law.
The library yielded a book about a camp for kids with cancer. I then needed to become a pediatric endocrinologist – until I babysat a lot and decided that I didn’t really enjoy kids enough, especially the ones who were too young to tell you what was making them cry. Maybe I’d be better suited for adult oncology. I began volunteering at a local hospital. Helping the patients was immensely enjoyable, but it became abundantly clear that I did not care for other people’s functions and fluids. Medicine was probably not where I needed to be.
Always encouraging, my teachers never said, ‘You should…..”, rather simply said, “You can.” As I matured, approaching college, it seemed the question “What do you want to do when you grow up?” was one of the few topics adults were comfortable addressing. Rather than listening to myself, asking myself what would make ME happy, I thought that ‘growing up’ meant using whatever skills my teachers, community members, and family friends thought I should explore. Doctor. Lawyer. Indian chief. What were all the options I never knew existed?
A number of careers have come and gone since undergrad. Naturalist. Lingerie Sales. Field biologist. Bat catcher. Aquatic entomologist. Grocer of sorts. Furniture sales. Retail management. Where was I happiest? Teaching kids. No classroom. No curriculum requirements. No common core. No standardized tests. Hiking and kayaking every single day. Living in a one room shack in the woods, never knowing if I’d have electricity when the wind blew. Why did I leave? Adulting. Insurance, benefits, and knowing that if something catastrophic happened (like when my appendix tanked a few years ago) I’d be bankrupt. I am envious of those who feel free in such a bohemian lifestyle, however, working at a job I loved every day was never going to allow me to ‘adult’. I’d never buy a house, have insurance, a reliable vehicle, or savings….so I left it for grad school. It broke my heart.
These days I am good at what I do, and today was a really good day. It was fun. We nailed it. THIS is what my job is about….but then one of my grad school professors shows up expressing his disdain for my life choices in his acidic almost Slavic accent. “Vhen vill you feenish your degree so you can get a real job?” Instead of replying, “Probably about the same time that you stop leaning so heavily on spell check to make up for your failing of the English language.”, I simply say that this job pays better than my degree would have. Although this is MY life and these are MY choices, it still stings a little.
I’m not a gambler or a thrill seeker. I don’t want to be a millionaire, famous for anything, or in the history books. So, what am I supposed to BE? Granted, my job isn’t necessarily always spiritually fulfilling, and people aren’t always kind, it allows me to meet my financial obligations and set aside a bit. I find my fulfillment in other places – learning things, building things, growing things, and teaching anyone who wants to share in the learning.
Perhaps too much personal definition is derived from a career….from what you DO. What about what I AM, because I am SO much more than my pay check. I think Eddie Vedder sums it up simply and beautifully.
“A mind full of questions and a teacher in my soul, and so it goes.”