When I grow up?

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What do you want to be when you grow up? I remember answering this question many times as a child, and spending hours before sleep pondering my exciting grown-up life. I wanted to be an artist. A ballerina. A doctor.

As life, and my uncoordinated limbs would have it, dancing never became my thing. And my incredible distaste for hospitals, needles, and vomit prevented my doctor dreams. Even though indeed I am an artist now (and have been adult-ing for a time), my childhood dream was a little more involved than I’ve ever lived out. You see, I wanted to live in a tree house in the woods for 5 years by myself, and once I emerged, I would be a famous painter.

Alas, my little heart didn’t yet know how extroverted I would become, or my love of hot showers. As I became a teen, I found that I loved writing, and working with people. Gearing up towards college, I decided I wanted to be a screenwriter (in Hollywood!), and change the world with my words.

Once in college, the question changed to, “What’s your major?”, and then every college-goer’s favorite, “What are you going to do after you graduate?” Also, insert here a new dose of reality (i.e. money, student loans, relationships…), and a heaping serving of cultural anxiety and panic.

There’s this expectation that once you get to a certain age, you should know what you want to do. When we ask the innocent “What do you want to be when you grow up?” to children, we begin to dangle the carrot of “arrival” in their growing minds. Inherent in our question is the idea that some day (if you work hard enough, love God enough, are white enough…) that you will indeed “arrive”. That all will be clear.

There are some expected milestones along this journey, that are weirdly tangled up with patriarchy, capitalism, and white supremacy (to name a few, although the list could go on and on). Along this journey to arrival, you might graduate college, meet “the one” (another post for another time), get married, start a career (THE career that you will build over the next 30+ years), have kids, buy a house, travel the world, make lots of money, have everything you want – you know, the big neon sign flashing AMERICAN DREAM.

Now, while I’m not decades into this whole grown-up thing, I’m starting to believe something pretty strongly – “arriving” doesn’t happen. Along with that, the expected milestones aren’t required. Or fair. Or necessarily just or desired.

Adulthood is actually this weird, confusing, exciting system of paths and options that have many outcomes. And with each new milestone that you make for yourself, there’s another path. Another choice. Another concern. Another adventure.

I think what I’m learning is that you don’t have to decide that THIS is my path, my one path that I will be on for the rest of my life. And that THIS (whatever “this” is) is what it looks like to arrive. Because arrival is a myth.

In college, I worked in a costume shop, and changed my major back and forth from theatre to film. In my last year of college I decided I wanted to be a pastor. So I went to 4 years of Seminary, interned, did church leadership work, became a pastor, learned a lot. Then I changed (again). Somewhere in there I started a business with my dad, and became an entrepreneur, business person, and artist. Now I work for Quaker Voluntary Service, where I get to use many of my passions and gifts in one job. And next…

If arrival is a myth, then all the anxiety and pressure that come with it can just calm (the fuck) down. We’re ok doing the work that we’re doing, and dreaming about tomorrow. And growing up? That happens along the way.


1 Comment

  1. Sarah, I am 56 and still wondering what I want to do when I grow up. I’ve learned that God is probably more concerned with who I’m becoming as I’m on this journey, rather than what I’m doing. We have lots of good choices, passions, growth edges before us, and the decisions we make inform the next choice, passion, areas of growth. Your post resonated with me–from the “other side” of “adulting.” Thanks for sharing!

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