When I Grew Up

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

What an awful, awful question. I hate it when people ask this of kids. I hate the way I see the effects of this poison decades later with people who are forlorn and lost, in their 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and using the half-joke to mask the pain: “I’m 40-whatever years old and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.”

You will never know the answer to that question, because the question is nonsense.

To begin with, your adult life is not a day long (hopefully). You will “grow up” thousands of times. You will not be the same person in a year. Sometimes those changes are very sharp (like when you have a kid), and sometimes they’re more gradual, but the change always happens.

And even if you never, ever changed in any way – the world will. What you want to be is a product of your environment in many ways. A young boy in America who says he wants to be an athlete when he grows up is statistically more likely to be talking about football than fencing, because football is more popular, more admired by the people he imagines wanting to be admired by, etc. But that’s a product of a specific time and place, and those things change. His dream of being universally admired may take him to a different sport – or different thing altogether – as the world’s culture slowly but surely shifts.

So now you know that change is utterly inevitable. You know that no matter what the “thing” is, it is impossible to maintain it, because “it” is at least partially defined by its environment, and at least partially defined by the person doing it. You could have been a farmer in 14th-century Europe and you can be a farmer today, but those aren’t anything alike in any way to where they would both satisfy someone who wanted to be a “farmer.”

You know change is inevitable, but… “Hey kid, I want you to really latch onto a specific, single, static thing that you’ll spend the next 15-ish years building your identity and self-worth around. By the way, I want you to do this while you know basically nothing about yourself and also you’re only aware of like ten “things” to be in the first place, but we gotta get you in that box and afraid to come out of it early!”

Ugh.

You have to give yourself room to grow and change your mind; don’t paint yourself into corners you can’t come out of, and certainly don’t MAKE kids do that. And if someone made you do that as a kid, I’m sorry. But now it’s time to shake it.

You will never be anything. You will do things, and live things, and hopefully enjoy things. But you are not any given action, certainly not any given job. You won’t be anything “when you grow up,” because you already grew up, a thousand times, and you have a thousand more times ahead when you will grow up more. Each of those versions of you deserves to seek their happiness in their own time and place, unfettered by the astronaut-patterned shackles put upon their past selves by a well-meaning adult in overseeing their kindergarten.

Here are the only things I want my children to “be” when they grow up:

Happy. Kind. Free.

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