I've been answering the wrong question for a long, long time.
I thought I knew the answer. I had several answers along the way. I continued to answer the same question, again and again until it dawned on me that I’m officially too old to ask, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” because I am, by definition, a grown-up.
Crap. Double crap.
So it seems for more than 20 years I’ve asked myself a question that now appears delusional, suggesting that I’m not a grown-up until I know what I want to “be”. At six I was sure I wanted to be a fire truck. At 17 I wanted to be in international business. At 20 I wanted to be a full-time writer.
I had lots of answers, but I wasn’t a grown-up. Now I'm a grown-up without any answers.
Getting a better question
What should grown-ups ask themselves when they are trying to determine what they want to "be" in this life? I guess it’s time to pick a new question. Here are some options:
What do I want to be before I die?
And we’re off to a horrible start. This one is too glum and it still has the word “be” that drives me bonkers. It’s too vague and I still want to be a fire engine some days.
What do I want to become?
I can’t ask this without a far away crazy-look. It’s like asking, “Whatever shall become of me” – too dramatic. I shall become a bird and fly to the shores of myself. Oh boy.
What will make me happy?
How do I want to spend my time?
This feels like we’re moving in the right direction yet it doesn’t get to the heart of the matter. We probably ask ourselves this question all the time, especially on a Fridays when planning the weekend.
How do I want to be remembered?
Legacy is sometimes beyond our control. The replacement question for “What do I want to be when I grow up?” should be more about how we’re living and less about how we lived.
What is my purpose?
It’s not exactly the same question, is it?
What do I want for my life?
Like a bottomless cup of coffee the answer to this question can go on and on.
What do I want my life to mean to me?
I like this one. It's age appropriate, it focuses on the future and it still has a deadline. If you're dead you're too late. Harsh?
No matter what the right question is it's probably important just to ask any one of these along the way. What we were at 20 isn't what we are now because we learned something new that altered our course.
I was going to be an international businessman who spoke Japanese and vacationed in Bali, but had no idea what that meant or what it took at the age of 17. So I became a screenwriter for 20 minutes, became distracted by needing an income and got a degree in public relations. Now I manage large web site projects and write in my spare time.
I guess if you ask me what I want to be when I grow up I'll answer, "I am a grown-up and I'm very busy being everything."
Curious about everything, Michael plans to do it all. A ruffian by day and a lover by night he's managed to go where no one else has gone. His slight forgetfulness means he is curious about everything and plans to do it all. A ruffian by day and a lover by night he's managed...
ABOUT MICHAEL D. DRISCOLL
more about michael d. driscoll
IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
10.14.09 @ 2:04a
I always wanted to be an artist, but no one ever told me how one goes about such a thing. People even told me, "You should be an artist" but no one ever suggested what it is that artists do. I would even look in the newspaper classifieds, but the only "artist" ads were for keyline and paste-up, and I STILL don't know what that meant.
Turns out artisting means you have to make your own job. If I had known that then, I would be further along by now.
10.14.09 @ 5:04p
"I am a grown-up and I'm very busy being everything."
I'm borrowing this.
10.16.09 @ 5:19p
I guess I've taken the easy route over the year--taking the work that was offered to me and then molding it to my skill set and interests. Now that I'm going to retire, I'm going to do all of the things I set aside while I was having to earn a living. Some things on my list are: 1)Spend more time with family; 2) Take painting and drawing classes and spend a good amount of time painting and drawing; 3) continue crocheting strange and wonderful little criters for my entertainment and that of others; 4) cook from scratch like I did years ago; 5) sew my own designs; 6) make all or almost all of next year's Christmas gifts; 7) help my housemate photograph and create an electronic catalog of his extensive art collection; and finally, 8) write about things that interest me instead of those assigned by my boss.
And people at work keep asking me if I really want to retire and worry that I won't have enough to do. Of course, these are people who don't know me very well.
10.24.09 @ 11:21a
Whenever people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up my usual answer was: "I refuse to grow up, so it doesn't matter." Now that I'm not only grown up but retired, the answer I should have known all those years ago is, "I want to be retired." I am now a full-time political activist. If I'd known there was such a thing as a paid community orgqanizer I might have reached this point a lot earlier. Anyway, all I can say to you younger folks is: the best is yet to come!!!