What Did You Want to Be When You Grew Up?

by Abby on March 28, 2014

me at age 7“What did you want to be when you were my age, Mom?” asked my second-grader one evening. I paused and thought a moment.

“Well, I’m not sure. I liked to read, like you do. I actually used to draw my own comics, too. Did you know that? And I liked to dance, too.”

“Really? Wow, Mom. You were a lot like me as a kid, weren’t you?”

I smiled, but inwardly I felt conflicted. Embarrassed, even. And it’s not because I not-so-secretly harbored dreams of being a backup dancer for Cyndi Lauper as a kid, either. It’s because a) I really can’t remember what I wanted to be when I grew up, and b) I didn’t want to admit to him that sometimes those childhood dreams don’t work out.

My 7yo is at an impressionable age. He’s watching, observing, remembering. I know this because I can remember age 7 pretty clearly myself. This is terrifying to me. Because it means the pressure’s on. No longer is he a passive little blob of a baby who will have no recollection of Mommy losing her sh*t in a supermarket parking lot because he won’t stop crying and she hasn’t had a full night’s sleep in months and she forgot her wallet and grocery list at home. Again. Nope — he’s watching, listening, making mental notes for his future therapist.

An article in O magazine convinced me I’m not just being paranoid. Career coach Maureen Taylor says some psychologists believe that second grade is when we become individuals, when we gravitate towards what makes us happy. Were you a bookworm, an athlete, an artist? Chances are, you’re still the same person. And Taylor says we won’t be truly happy in our careers unless they suit our essential selves – those selves that were formed in second grade.

Can you see why this freaked me out? All of a sudden, my son’s “what do I want to be when I grow up” questioning seems fraught with importance. God forbid I fail to nurture his dreams and he ends up a disgruntled adult working in middle management for a paper company. (Or did I steal that storyline from “Office Space”?)

And there’s also the fact that I feel like *I* am still figuring this stuff out. It has taken me nearly four decades of my life to get to a place where I feel like I am doing what I’m supposed to be doing. Using my talents, stimulating my curiosity, adding value, being recognized and rewarded for my contributions. I don’t want my son to struggle for that long. I don’t want him to question his path, feel like a failure, chuck it all aside for a fat paycheck and a fancy job title.

But maybe I’m projecting here. Maybe he really will realize his dream of running a comic book company (and affiliated restaurant that serves only buffalo wings). Or maybe he’ll figure out a way to channel his curiosity and creativity into a different career. Maybe he won’t be a struggling artist, or a jack of all trades. Maybe he’ll have an easier road than I did.

But the fact remains that he’s a real person now, not an unformed infant. So the pressure’s on. Don’t mess this up, mom. His future depends on it. Gulp.

Do you remember what you wanted to be when you were 7 years old?

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