What Do I Want to Be When I Grow Up?
by Rona Parker
What do I want to be when I grow up? If you had asked me twenty years ago, I would have said with all the naïveté and brashness of a ten year old “to rule the world”. Oh, yes. I had big plans – to become the first woman president (never mind I’m Canadian born and bred), to be a famous writer, to buy my uncle a brand new truck (make and model of his choosing, of course).
Fast forward eleven years later. Twenty years old, in university, and no less naïve in many respects. Full of grandiose dreams – an illustrious career in law or public administration, perhaps a selfless stint volunteering overseas, all while snagging a hunk of a husband and writing the Next Big Novel, perhaps in the footsteps of, oh I don’t know, Margaret Atwood.
Another ten years go by. It’s present day. … Law school? Nope. Public Admin? Nope. Overseas volunteering? Nope. Husband and novel? What do you think? (Although I do have a great boyfriend). No, instead I enrolled in a then-prestigious (which has since gone bankrupt and is struggling to get back on it’s feet) technical school, whose brilliant marketing scheme targeted recent university and college grads, promising them jobs immediately after completion of their “twelve-month, comprehensive program”. They reeled me in hook, line, and sinker – I enrolled, and of course did get a job relatively quickly upon graduating (four months, to be exact). Caught up in the rat race to climb the corporate ladder, I forged ahead, moving between three cities in six years, increasing my salary and hoarding stock options as I went along my merry way.
Deep down, I always knew I wasn’t doing what I really wanted, but hey, it paid the bills, allowed me to see some of the world, and enabled me to develop a very healthy shopping addiction. I justified what to me was a personal sellout by telling myself that my creative leanings were too vague – I had no idea what I’d like to write about, I’d never been published, being a writer was not practical – did I really want to live as a starving artist? So what if I didn’t feel fulfilled most of the time –I wasn’t worried about where my next meal was going to come from. At least my parents were proud of me, my friends looked up to me, and when I ran into high school acquaintances on visits to my hometown, I could flash my Kate Spade bag and tell them I worked for one of the largest financial firms in Boston.
Was I a sellout? (Am I?) Giving up on one’s dreams for the money and all that comes with it seems like a pretty asinine move to many, but I know more people than not in the same boat as myself. Early to mid-thirties, stuck in a career they really don’t like all that much, but grown accustomed to a lifestyle they’re not sure they want to give up. As I write this, I hear echoes of the “mid life crisis” touted in many self-help books in the eighties and nineties. Only difference is, instead of being forty-five year old executives who trade in the mini-van for a Porsche, it’s thirty-somethings quitting their day jobs to embark on a second career, this time one that’s truly of their choosing. Yes, truly of their choosing.
Society has placed a very high value on the ability of an individual to find a job that will provide for that individual and his or her family. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always include following our dreams. I can remember my high school guidance counselor thinking it was great that I wanted to write, but suggesting that teaching high school would be just as rewarding. What’s stopping us from doing what we love? It’s fear, plain and simple.
Over breakfast one day, I had one friend tell me “It takes a person with a lot of mental strength to just up and quit his day job to follow his dreams.” This comes from a guy who is miserable in his job, has about a million other things he’d like to be doing, but just hasn’t found it in himself to take the biggest leap of faith he’s ever been faced with. He’s always had a “good job” – even his first part time job in high school paid above average - and doesn’t know if he can deal with the uncertainties that come with following your dream.
I picked up several inspirational books a few months ago with the hopes that it would answer my questions about what to do with my life. The books didn’t cause me to have any great epiphanies or to suddenly quit my job for a pilgrimage to Tibet. But it did make me rethink my situation. I now treat my job as a “job”, something to pay my way in the world until my creativity starts to generate an income (please, please, please!) I’ve enrolled in an online writing course. So, here I sit at my computer on a Sunday afternoon, writing this in what I hope is a loud wake-up call to the ten year old me, bursting with enthusiasm and confidence that she could do whatever she set her mind to, qualities I think we should all try to find within ourselves, however much they have become buried over the years.
A Political Science grad, I work in IT for an Ontario government organization. I'm currently enrolled in an online Fiction Writing course through Gotham Writer's Workshop. Contact Rona.