What do I want to be when I grow up?

When I was little, it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t know what to do with my life.  When I was in kindergarten, I wrote in my “autobiography” that I would be a lawyer (and then drew a picture of a judge).  I also thought of becoming a primatologist in Africa or an international lawyer protecting endangered species (these were all career choices made by my pre-10-yr-old self).

In my college essays, I told admissions officers that I would personally help make the United Nations into an effective inter-governmental body (refer back to previous post on “ego”).  I entered Cornell as an international relations major, but soon was forced to accept my complete inability to speak foreign languages.  Switching to government and history, I planned to go work on The Hill in Washington DC.  The summer after sophomore year, I interned for the Last Lion (Senator Edward Kennedy) and the writer James Fallows, then, the following fall, for Micheal Martin (currently leader of the Irish political party, Fianna Fail).  By the end of senior year, I was sure I wanted to write about politics.

After I graduated, I briefly worked at US News and World Report, but life intervened, and I left the job prematurely.   I next tried education (too bureaucratic), campaigning (loved it, but hard to make a living), Wall Street sales (I couldn’t sell water in the desert), corporate communications (too constraining) and novel writing (loved it, but again, hard to make a living).

So, here I am… I’m 35.  And I STILL don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.

Are you your job?

Many people define themselves by their profession: “I’m a _____” (fill in lawyer, doctor, engineer, programmer, artist, writer, analyst, manager, salesman, etc., etc.).  I don’t know what to say about myself.  Am I a writer?  Yes, it’s what I do… but, it isn’t, really, “my job.”

There is more to life than our job, but it usually says a lot about who we are.  The lucky among us are passionate about what they do.  They never “have” to go to “work.”  They choose to do what they love.  This is ideal.  But for others, their job is just a way to pay the bills.  Nothing wrong with that… unless you want something more.

My sister once sent me a quote by the philosopher Howard Thurman, who said, ““Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”  The challenge, though, can be figuring out what makes us come alive!

What happens when you find your passion, but it doesn’t find you?

As I wrote the other day, among my favorite quotes is this, from Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist:

Before a dream is realized, the Soul of the World tests everything that was learned along the way. It does this not because it is evil, but so we can, in addition to realizing our dreams, master the lessons we’ve learned as we’ve moved toward that dream. That’s the point at which most people give up. It’s the point at which, as we say in the language of the desert, one ‘dies of thirst just when the palm trees have appeared on the horizon.’

I’ve felt this way about my book.  Is it my dream?  Will it ever be realized?  Is the fact that I haven’t yet had it published a test, or is it an indication that I ought to be doing something else with my life.  In truth, I don’t know.  Except, there’s that quiet voice deep in my being that says I should still believe in it.  There’s nothing to do but keep trying…

So what do you do when you feel unfulfilled in some aspect of your life?

1) Ask questions.  Gay Hendricks, a former professor at Stanford and the author of two books I really liked, 5 Wishes and The Great Leap, suggests thinking about the end of our lives and asking ourselves what we would wish we could say about how we lived and what we’d done.  It’s a helpful way to hone in one what’s really important and interesting to us.

2) Accept the present.  Spiritual leaders often say that one way to be peaceful and content is to accept life the way it is in any given moment.  In whatever one does, there are lessons to be learned… even if a situation is stressful or boring or disappointing.   The key is to accept whatever comes our way.  Learn from the past, plan for the future, but live in the moment.

3) “Don’t give up.  Don’t ever give up.”  Jim Valvano, the courageous basketball coach of North Carolina State University said these inspiring words before he succumbed to cancer.  He also said, “be a dreamer.”  To fulfil our own potential, we have to dream and dream big.  Once we’ve defined what we want, we can’t give up.  That’s the only way one can ever truly fail.

Long Days Journey Into Night

There are always going to be good days and bad.  There are always going to be times that try our mettle.  But if we know where we want to go and what we want to accomplish (whether it’s in a career, a hobby or with our family), then it’s easier to navigate those challenging moments.

I definitely do not have the answers yet.  I’m searching for them.  If anyone out there thoughts on “coming alive,” please leave comments or send me a message!


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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thanks for sharing this, I really need a boost today. I really love the quote: “in the language of the desert, “one dies of thirst just when palm trees have appeared on the horizon.” That’s the third year of law school.

  2. We grow too soon old and too late smart… At 70 I still don’t know what I want to do… Think I’ll just forget about it!

  3. I thought this was thought provoking for any age!

  4. This really “hits the nail.” With most things I’ve tried in this life, I always gave it my all. I became passionate about it because at specific times in my life, it was what I did. I didn’t become a Nurse until I turned 40. At that time I thought I had it all and my life was perfect. I couldn’t wait to go into work and find new challenges. And there were many. I worked in every department I could find. Peds, Neuro, Psych, Rehab, Oncology, and finally Quality. I loved my job! On weekends I quilted like a mad woman. Some days for 12 hours. I prided myself in the fact that I’d inherrited my fathers artistic abilities. Then we moved. I was 55 yrs old. Everything changed. I started writing. Now at 57, my life is perfect! I want to live and write in a quaint little English cottage. I’m looking for one and will probably find it because everything I set out to do, I find a way to make it happen.

    It’s been a journey filled with challenges. But it’s always been perfect! Thanks for bringing out my memories Meghan!

  5. Wow It is so nice to see there are other people out there that feel exactly the way I do. I’ve been struggling all my life trying to figure out what I want to do and be happy at it. I am 55 yrs old and frustrated.

    thanks for posting all this. Even this technology is challenging just to right this.


  6. […] I found through Rev. Cameron, in particular, Gay Hendricks (who I wrote about here, here and here).  In The Great Leap, Hendricks describes how most of us have a subconscious limit on the amount […]

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