I have been rehearsing and revising this essay all my life.
Even before grade school I remember pestering my parents, grandparents, cousins and essentially anyone's attention I could capture was fair game. I would then proudly present my drawings, or sing some new little song I had learned or made up.
My grandma would coo and murmur noises about how someday I would be a great artist. My mom said artistic talent ran in the family. Nobody, if I recall correctly, commented on the singing.
Grade school had only two essays: What I Am Going to Be When I Grow Up and What I Did Last Summer. The summer essays were easier, although many of mine wavered greatly from the facts, as fiction was more interesting.
It is not entirely clear to me as to whether those unfortunate kids who repeated a grade did so because they did not write the first essay.
Along with the essays came the constant lecture that all good parents and teachers issue out like cod liver oil to an ailing youngster. The variable subject would change, but the flavor was always the same. "Study that math, you are going to need it in college." "If you are planning on making it in the real world you will have to learn to stay on track."
By the time junior high came along, I had decided that math probably wouldn't count in the equation if you will excuse the bad pun. I still wondered what this "real world" was and I was sure I did not want to be a racehorse on a track. I'm not entirely sorry to say, well kind of, that the lectures have not changed much over the years.
Still, the burning question remained, what will I be when I grow up? My parents, grandparents, teachers, cousins and friends all asked. People I did not even know well asked. I began to ask it of myself in a more serious contemplating sort of way, but there was broomball (a mixture of curling and girls hockey) and bigger, better-looking things to worry about.
The high school guidance counselor asked. The school helped by administering a computer based scientific test that would measure my aptitude in general, my proclivity towards certain professions and my personality profile. Based on my results who I could become (and like it) was summarized on a nice neat alphabetized list of possibilities. Thank goodness, the essay was "history." All that remained was the list. The list was good because the experts had determined for me the few careers that would fit me intellectually and satisfy my personality profile, thus ensuring close closure to the debate. I could just play a simple short game of life career lottery, spin the dial, and wherever it landed, voila, lifetime contentment and perpetual bliss.
For about five days I was ecstatic and realized only six choices remained. Unfortunately, I was curious and read the other items on the list that were supposedly incorrect for me. Some of them sounded quite interesting. Was I off the list for good? A funny thing happened and to my astonishment classes that had previously been boring lit up my mind and I became a good student. I began to take college classes at night and graduated early. On the way out I stopped into my counselors office to run the idea of being (fill in a respectable title) He argued against the idea, citing my math scores as his evidence. I did what any good student will do with good advice.
I headed straight for college and math accounted for 3 of my twelve credits. Many of my friends were there. They really bugged me because they knew their majors and could elegantly recite what their job titles would be once they graduated. Although I got passing scores, in math, I failed miserably.
For quite a spell I joined the "real world." I ran my own business, and then I became a commercial fisherman. I ran through an assortment of underpaid/ovewrworked jobs. My reward? After a few years I had a desk. Not long after that I was promoted to a three-part title, a nameplate, my own corner office with a view and unquestioned use of the company vehicle. Who-wee!
Then, the birth of my youngest child changed my life. I had been a mother all along, but that sweet 3-pound preemie baby leveled any of my lofty notions of achievement I may have had. When I ran into new acquaintances or old friends, it was intriguing to note how often I was asked, "What are you up to these days?' Translated, what do you do? One evening I accompanied my husband to a stuffy business party. I was amazed to note how quickly I seemed to be politely, but definitely, excluded from conversations once the discovery was made that I was a mother who stayed at home with her infant. It was as if my current status as a lactating individual somehow signaled that all my brain cells were, at least temporarily, out of commission.
I thoroughly enjoyed my baby. I enjoyed the freedom to be who I was, no more, no less. Ironically, it was during my son's early babyhood I finally had time to really think. And think I did. I thought a lot. I slowed down and thought. I thought about all experiences I had so far. I thought about who I really was and what was important to me. All the deep philosophical thoughts humankind has pondered since the inception of time, and possibly just a few more, turned cartwheels in my mind.
Maybe it was all hormones or midlife crisis or perhaps it was that I was a late bloomer and had finally decided on what type of specific degree I would seek. Then again maybe I was willing to do just about anything to speak with someone over eighteen months of age. Or, just possibly, and I think closest to the truth, was that maybe the timing had been just right and I was ready to face myself and my career choices in a fresh way.
Wouldn't you just know it; I had a gaping hole in my transcript. That gaping hole was math. Special thanks to my esteemed and most patient math professors for enduring my presence and urging me on. I survived algebra, and received my first starter degree. Someday before my child shaves (Or before AARP offers me a membership) I may have reached my goal. In what, I don't know. Maybe I won't. I guess having kids helped me become more aware of the growing process. As my son journeys through discovering all of who he is, and wonders what the world is all about, I hope to encourage him all I can. Much, much later I will inquire regarding what it is he would like to do for a living.
As for myself, I will (eventually) have a profession to which I will bring all the experiences and passions that are a part of who I already am. For some of my life activity I will get paid. Compensation or not, I choose to fill my life as full as I can and seek to touch the lives of those around me. I will not wait for a title to be bestowed upon me to prove I exist or have value.
All this time I had the essay wording all wrong. You see it would have made more sense to say, "When you grow up, what are you going to do for a living?" Three reasons for the rewording: 1) when you grow up enough to do the hard things to accomplish your goals. 2) For a living- what can you actually do, get paid and at least tolerate it? For when you grow up you realize no job is perfect, and some joys can never be reduced to merely economic gain. 3) The word "be" should have been eliminated. A human being is not suddenly transformed into being by simply arriving at a destination; they are all along the journey. In fact, I rather coddle the idea that is the journey that makes an individual. The dictionary and my biology book agree that the definition of a living thing is growth. The resting place is death.
Is there a conclusion to my rambling? Yes and no. The question is really never fully answered because as we grow we change. A special note to the moms out there who might be reading this. If you work and mother, great! If you are perfectly settled in your profession, super for you. If mothering is your full time career, never say that you don't work! Whoever you are, whatever you do or do not do, remember, do not fear the opinions of others, do not fear the hard work, and do not fear the journey.
Here are some closing thoughts. If all the rules for high school reunions, business parties and epitaphs were changed and thoroughly excluded any mentioning of job titles, or the specific alphabet soup following an individual's surname, What would you say? What could be said about you?
Jacki Michels is a wife, a mom, a freelance writer, among other things.
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