Monday Mama Muse: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” ~ Joseph Campbell

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

It’s a question that we were asked as children and it’s a question I’ve certainly asked my children. 

Their answers often amuse me.  When I asked Eva a few years ago what she wanted to be when she grew up, her response – without a moment’s hesitation – was:

“Doctor, teacher, rock star and painter.”  All in one work day, apparently.   As the adult, I smiled at her naivety.

I’ve decided that the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?” is a question I’m never going to ask again.

The problem with the question – for me – is that it makes a few assumptions that I don’t like very much. 

The question really asks “what do you want to do – as in a job – when you grow up?”  It implies on some level that we are our jobs.  That our jobs define us.  The assumption is that, when we grow up and someone asks us “so what do you do?”, we should have a one-word answer.  A label that we can give and the person asking will be able to sum us up.  Deem us worthy.  Or not.  Depending on my mood and the person asking, I either dread or relish the question as there’s no Twitter-worthy, elevator speech that describes what I “do”. 

The question also implies that, as we grow up, we will work toward becoming some thing, some label, rather than simply being who we are and finding a life’s work that allows us to be ourselves. 

Instead of asking “what do you want to be when you grow up?”, I’m going to ask my children: “what would you like to do when you grow up that would allow you to be who you are?”

I asked myself the same question and the things that I want to do that allow me to be me are:

  • write
  • perform
  • coach others to write and perform

Has your work (pre/post motherhood) allowed you to be yourself?  Or have you been trying to figure out what you want to be when you grow up?  Without realizing that you already are you.  Perfectly so.  You will continue to grow but the foundation is already in place for you to simply be you.  To choose a life’s work that allows you to just bring yourself.  Because you have everything you need.

It actually wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if Eva becomes Dr Burgos and teaches while being in a band and painting.  I see every piece of that in her.  Right now.  At the grand old age of 11.  I’m thinking that I was one smug, naive mama when I smirked at her response.  Shame on me.

I read a post I love on the blog recently.  Patti Digh is collecting advice for her daughter, Emma, who will head to college in September.  I loved this post from Amy McCracken – “Consider this – you are already who you are going to be”.

That is something I want to teach my children.  That they already are who they are going to be – and there’s no-one that does them better!

“As life goes on it becomes tiring to keep up the character you invented for yourself,  and so you relapse into individuality and become more like yourself every day.  This is sometimes disconcerting for those around you, but a great relief to the person concerned.”   ~Agatha Christie

PS:  Just as I finished writing this, I saw a link to another great post on Patti’s blog.  Next time someone asks me “so what do you do?”, I’m going to remember this essay and take it’s advice.  “Consider this: tell them what you really do.”


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