Tuesday, 31 May 2011

What Should I Be When I Grow Up?

What to be when I grow up?  It's the age-old question.

A few people are born knowing the answer and sail effortlessly through life.  My sister, for example, decided to become a mechanical engineer at the age of five, and never looked back.  Now, at age 26, she is halfway through her PhD.     

Sometimes, I envy these people.  But mostly I'm glad to be myself.  I've taken a circuitous path through life, inventing and reinventing myself dozens of times.  But in the process, I've learned hundreds of life lessons and acquired hundreds of life experiences.  I believe, now, that these life lessons and life experiences were worth the angst of not knowing what I wanted to be when I grew up.

I started to (seriously) consider the answer to this age-old question when I was 18-years-old.  Over the next decade, I entertained dozens of alternatives.  Depending on when you met me between the ages of 18 and 28, I may have been a wannabe:  psychotherapist, allopathic physician, naturopathic physician, nurse practitioner, physician's assistant, public health practitioner, exercise physiologist, biologist, social worker, or writer.  (Note, that this is an abbreviated list.)   

At long last, at age 28, I've finally figured it out.  I want to be a writer.  It's been staring me in the face my entire life.  I know it's not an easy path.  I know I'll have to be creative, adaptive, and take a second job to supplement my income.  But I feel a great load taken off my shoulders.  I listened to my heart and I know I made the right decision.

Here is some comfort for all of you who still don't know:  the people born knowing what they want to be when they grow up are in the minority.  For the majority of us, it's a struggle...but it's a struggle with great potential for spiritual growth.

Here are seven realizations I made during my decade-long struggle to answer the age-old question of What Should I Be When I Grow Up?

Finding Your Path:  What should I be when I "grow up"??

1.  You're path is likely something you've been doing for a long time.  You may have been doing it as a "hobby" or for "fun."  You may have done it "instinctively" when you were a child at play.  (I wrote my first "book" when I was five years old.)

2.  It makes you feel authentic, real.  You like the person you are when you're doing this.  You are your true self.  Even some of your natural "faults" may lend themselves to this path.  (I never feel more like my real self than when I'm writing.  I'm also cluttered, weird, and don't mind spending time alone.  All of these characteristics have, at some point in my life been labeled as a "fault."  Yet, I see that they make me a better writer.)

3.  You lose track of time when you're doing it.  It almost doesn't feel like work.  Oftentimes, the time just slips away like it does when you're playing.  (When I write, I'll consult my watch when I take a break and oftentimes I'll be amazed to discover that two hours have passed in the "blink of an eye.")

4.  Overall it doesn't drain you of energy; it energizes you.  I admit it, when I was in my last job I'd often come home from work and be so mentally, emotionally and physically drained that it was all I could do to just make myself dinner before falling into bed.  Yet, when I write I often feel my energy return.  Even when I've been writing all day long.

5.  It often involves a risk or is riskier than an alternate path.  Getting out of the Army and forging my own path as a writer/"other odd job I have to supplement my writing income" was riskier (for me) than staying in the Army and on a familiar path.

6.  It empowers other people.  You may do it because it feels like play or it energizes you, but something about this path empowers other people.  The most successful people are the ones who realize (and act upon the fact) that the execution of their path is a valuable service to others.  For example, the best athletes and entertainers never forget their fan base.

7.  You can start it at any time in your life; there are no age limits.  My favorite quote from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button:

"For what it's worth: it's never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There's no time limit, start whenever you want.  You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing.  We can make the best or the worst of it.  I hope you make the best of it.  I hope you see things that startle you.  I hope you feel things you never felt before.  I hope you meet people who have a different point of view.  I hope you live a life you're proud of, and if you find that you're not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again." 

Pictures are from Dubrovnik, Croatia.

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