So, what do you want to be when you grow up?
My children have heard me ask this before. My five-year-old's projected occupation changes frequently, and I always like to hear what she's thinking. This particular day she wanted to be a person who controls rides at Disney World. Neither she nor I ever have been to Disney World, but apparently some kid in her kindergarten class has, and based on his description she now imagines it to be the happiest place on earth. Go figure.
In the past, she's expressed interest in becoming a chef (which is impressive given my culinary practices), a teacher, a mother, a gardener, a rock star, a soccer player, a gymnast, and royalty.
My two-year-old wants to be a puppy. That's what she told me anyway. She had been looking at a book about dogs when I posed the question, so this may have skewed the results. Then again, this evening when we were at the store she did get down on her hands and knees, crawl partially down the aisle, and bark at other customers.
The truth is, I'm still not entirely sure what I want to be when I grow up, and I've been working for over a decade. I enjoy teaching, and I'm thankful to have a good position where I can engage with interesting students each semester. I love writing, and I alternate between dreaming of publishing the manuscript I'm working on and doubting that it'll ever come to pass. I love organizing, and occasionally -- even if flippantly -- I consider altering my entire career route and starting a business where people will pay me to declutter their closets.
All this got me thinking about careers and purpose and occupation and success. And it boiled down to one little verb: be.
What do you want to be when you grow up? That's how we phrase the question, but I wonder about the verb choice. I think "What do you want to do when you grow up?" is more accurate.
Being and doing are not synonymous. We can do the work of a cashier, a cook, a teacher, an accountant, a CEO, or a professional organizer, but what we are -- the being -- is much more complex than these labels.
When I grow up, I want to be a lot of things. I want to be loving. I want to be more patient. I want to be a good friend. I want to be generous, funny, personable, quick to forgive, and content even during trying circumstances. The work of these attributes is ongoing, and they can be practiced whether we are teaching, writing, mothering, organizing, cooking, calculating, waiting tables, running businesses, doctoring, or unemployed.
I'll eventually retire. Whether it stays on the same trajectory or veers into something new, my career path will eventually come to a halt. But the being, now that's something I'll always want to keep updated and growing on my resume.