When I was a kid, adults always asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I knew the answer was supposed to be a paying gig, so I shrugged my shoulders noncommittally and hoped they’d just move on. The truth was, I didn’t want to be anything when I grew up, at least nothing that qualified as a valid profession. After all, no one was going to pay me to make up dances in my living room at my own pace and only when I felt like it.
As far as I could see, being an adult sucked. They got up and went to work eight or nine hours a day, got only two weeks vacation and didn’t even get summers off. They were obligated to stay at their place of business until quitting time. They paid bills and did responsible things like washing dishes, mowing the lawn and paying for car insurance. Screw that, I thought as I spent long summer days roller skating up and down our steep neighborhood driveways with friends or sprawled across my bed with a book by myself.
I liked to make up stories. I wrote down the rambling thoughts in my head in the form of poetry or barely-legible prose. Not a practical career choice, that of a writer — may as well decide I’m going to be heavyweight champion of the world. NOTHING I liked to do was marketable.
I went to high school with a lot of high-achieving teenagers, and in college, my friends found their places. They were pre-med, pre-law, civil engineering. Being a writer didn’t fit in with my family culture nor my school cohort unless of course, I could make myself a noteworthy best-selling author. No pressure. So I spent most of my college years making out with boys and figuring out where I could get my hands on some beer. I graduated from college because that’s what was expected and because I was tired of people telling me what to do.
I didn’t know there were other roads to adulthood, and indeed, there weren’t as many options as our kids thankfully have today. There are young entrepreneurship programs now that have kids developing their own marketable products while still in high school, for example. That’s awesome, but here’s another thing to think about:
What if we widened the definition of “successful?” We heap praise on the ambitious, but is being content where you are such a bad thing? Is wanting “just enough” really worse than aiming for the stars? Why did I have it in my head anything less than “best-selling” was a failure? Why wasn’t “pretty good writer who ekes out a living” a viable option if it made me happy?
I’d like to see us continue to support the kids and young adults who have ideas and goals and want to run with them to the top, make all the money and/or change the world. But let’s also remember it takes more than wild idealism to make the world go around. Some of us don’t want to be millionaires or develop the next life-altering piece of technology. Some of us don’t want to be all-star athletes or biomedical engineers. Some of us just want to be allowed to do our art, share it with people, and be left alone.