I still don’t know what I want to be


’Tis the season when most public schools begin a new academic year. The first order of business in almost every grade from K-12 is the required assignment asking “what do you want to be when you grow up?”

In early grades, the answers range from astronaut and ballerina to cowboy or “famous.” These are all admirable and we nod and smile and think “that’s because no one at your age ever picks ‘Middle Management’.”

Early sparks

We wonder early and often what our darlings might grow up to be? We watch for early sparks of interest in bugs and dirt (geologist? Scientist?) Argumentative with a hint of back talk? Lawyer! A fascination with Dora the Explorer Band-Aids translates to “brain surgeon,” naturally.

We were absolutely certain our daughter would grow up to be a veterinarian simply because she mentioned it at age 4 and really loves her cat.

Tough choices

In high school, reality sets in. They actually want a 16-year-old to CHOOSE what they want to be when they grow up? Like, forever man. Seriously?

I find it ironic that we continually harp on teens that they should not make permanent decisions such as tattoo design choices at their tender ages. Meanwhile, a decision about what they want to do for the majority of their days for the rest of their lives? Yeah, we need that hammered down by fourth period, thanks.

Twisted road

As someone who is frequently asked “how did you become a writer?” Let me assure you that the answer is: Accidentally. See also: on accident. I can never remember which usage is correct, which is probably why I’m not a better writer.

I was “discovered” while plunking around online on message boards on the newly minted “Internet.” An editor from House Beautiful happened across my work in an act of God that I am forever grateful for. The rest is history.

So I inherited some talent, paid attention in creative writing class (but never in math) and got incredibly, monumentally blessed and lucky. That’s how I became a writer. Your mileage may vary.

I believe in truth in advertising so the advice I give is twofold. 1) Do what you love. 2) Marry well.

I am not going to lie. I love what I do, but I am not wholly self-supporting. Life is a partnership and on this ride I chose a great partner. Mr. Wonderful is the reason I am not filing this column from a box under a bridge.

Show me the money

This leads me to my second bit of (somewhat controversial) advice. Do what you love, yes, but make sure you are going to get paid.

The halls of academia are full of people graduating with degrees that are not going to pay off student loans. This is a terrible fact and one worth noting.

We must begin in high school to point out to kids that not everyone is cut out for college. Skilled trades are nothing to sneeze at and can make you a fine living.

Or, for the college types, understand that Archeological Implications of Early Basket Weaving in Paleo Socio Terms is fascinating to you, but you may want to consider a major that translates into cold hard cash, too.

(As an aside, we have a dear friend who really made a great living as a basket weaver, so if that’s really your bag it can be done. True story.)

Not all about money

Finally, to my young, new graduates, please resist the lure of the early money.

I know this sounds backward when I just advised you to look at earning power. Many of my peers, and some folks who live at my house, took the great paying job in youth and worked their way up only to find themselves making good money at something they Do Not Love. The good ones keep doing it.

There is something admirable about getting up every day and going to work in a job you never saw yourself doing forever just to care for your family. These people are to be applauded — and often.

The truth, however, is that if, at 18 or 20, you can avoid this plight, do so. My advice to most 16-year-olds is, with a nod to Nike, just do it.

Get out. Try new things. Job shadow. Intern. Chase experience more than a paycheck for as long as you can.

Go to school, or college, or simply wring every last drop out of the free public education offered.

My wish for you is that you do what you love, love what you do, and that your days are spent pursuing your dreams as well as a paycheck.

Tattoo that on your heart — if not your arm.  

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