“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
If you had asked me at age four, I would have instantly giggled “a cowgirl!” then swung my imaginary lasso as I rode my miniature rocking horse into the sunset. Like most kids, my answer came effortlessly.
Sixteen years later my dreams of the wild west were far behind and I was on my way to becoming an accountant. It was a busy time. On top of two jobs, two directorships, and a rigorous program; there was a constant rush of mock interviews, Meet the Firms, dinners with juniors and managers, mentor meetings, and leadership seminars.
Ask again “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and despite all the hours and mental energy I had invested in my future, I could not answer with half the enthusiasm of my 4-year-old self. Recruiting was fun and directorships were rewarding, but I was never passionate about accounting. I was so caught up doing what people told me I should that I stopped doing all of the things I really loved. Feeling miserable and defeated, I eventually switched majors when faced with the reality that accounting just wasn’t my gift.
There are so many external factors that influence our decisions; and in retrospect, I wish I had spent more time checking in with myself.
I wonder where I might be today if instead of asking myself what I wanted to be, I thought more about who I wanted to become.
Children have such a limited understanding of the world that the “what do you want to be…” question is hardly ever serious; but I wonder how their outlook on life might differ if we asked deeper questions early on like: What do you want to experience? Where do you want to go? What kinds of people do you want to surround yourself with? What unique thing can you give back to the world?
I’m sure If I had honestly answered these questions as an adult I would have looked toward career options more fitting for my personality and talents. I think I always knew this. My friends certainly did- each one met me with looks of confusion when I told them I was taking accounting. Despite feelings of cognitive dissonance, fear of change kept me from confronting reality.
Often the path to greater personal growth is also the one most uncomfortable. So even when we can be radically honest with ourselves, making change is hard. Drastic change forces us to let go of all things familiar- old ideas, dreams, and even relationships that no longer serve a new purpose. I wouldn’t say we should forget our past or take lessons learned for granted- I’m thankful for all the amazing people I met and the opportunities afforded by my experiences in the program, as they’ve helped me become a more well-rounded person; but if you want a different future, you won’t get there with the same old mindset.
Have I figured everything out yet? Not quite; but I’m closer to it and I am much happier now that I actively check in with myself often.
Life is complex. When things don’t pan out the way we want, or they do and it’s not what we expected, seeking fulfillment can feel like a relentless chase. I think the best we can do is approach life with an “all in” attitude, stay open to what lessons there are to learn, and help each other along in the process. Hopefully asking deeper questions (of ourselves and others) and answering honestly will make the journey a little easier. I know it will for me.