When I was in school, a common icebreaker game was to tell what we wanted to be when we grew up. From about sixth grade onward, my answer was always the same, “A millionaire’s wife.” I said it because it always got a laugh, but I also said it because I had no idea.
During my senior year of high school, I had to answer that question in front of a huge group of people–the majority of my school plus more. I said I wanted to be a doctor in the ER–to those who didn’t know me, it sounded impressive. Those who knew me hid a smile, because it was obviously a joke. Earlier that year I had passed out multiple times in biology and psychology classes because of my incredibly weak stomach .
It wasn’t that I was unambitious–I got good grades, took honors classes, was involved in lots of extracurricular activities–I was even captain and editor of various things. I always focused on the task at hand, not on the future. Although there were choices in high school, it was still the basic format of science/math/English/electives, so I focused on my grades and after school activities. I went to college and I still didn’t have a clue.
I started out in psychology (because my high school psych class had gone so well), but after a one hour intro to psychology careers, I decided it wasn’t for me because of the math involved. I changed to English Literature, because I’ve always been a bookworm, and advisors said to pick the classes you would want to take even if you didn’t have to. I jumped in with both feet, and started with a sophomore and junior level class the second semester of my freshman year.
Even though I bit off more than I could chew, I survived the classes, but it wasn’t the bliss that I envisioned. My critical analysis class read several modern books I hated, and the class with the material I enjoyed had a professor that made watching paint dry seem exciting. Someone I randomly chanced meeting asked what I was majoring in, and when I proudly announced, “English Literature”, so happy that I had finally figured out who I was and what I was supposed to do with my life, they replied, “Well, that’s a pretty worthless major, isn’t it?” I was crushed–the carefully constructed pieces came crashing down around me.
I managed to pick something and graduate, but if I making the choice over, knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t make the same decision. I dated my husband all through college, and he went through several majors like I did. Although he is extremely good at his profession, and enjoys it, I know there was a close second runner up that he would likely choose if we found ourselves to be 18 again.
Things happen for a reason, and we are happy with the life that we have, but I do want to be intentional about helping guide my boys in discovering a career path that they will excel at and enjoy. My kids are all under 10, so the conversations at our house are very casual and informal, but we regularly discuss different aspects of all kinds of jobs.
Some jobs make more money than others, and some jobs you have to go to school longer for than others. Teachers have summer vacations, while doctors, policemen and firemen have unusual schedules. Some jobs let you set your own schedule, some jobs are dangerous and other jobs are less dangerous. Right now I just want them to think about all the possibilities that are out there, and what sounds interesting.
We read books about different jobs, and when I ask what they want to be when they grow up, no matter what they say, I always tell them they can be anything they want to be. I think understanding one’s personality is so extremely helpful, and it helps me parent them to recognize the personality traits and tics that each boy has.
When they’re older, I hope to help them recognize their own strengths and weaknesses. Strengths/interests can be channeled into different vocations, and weaknesses can be overcome to create a well-rounded personal and professional life. I want them to recognize their strengths, gifts and preferences so that they can make a wise career decision when the time comes.
I have no agenda–I want them to be happy and successful at whatever they choose, but I don’t have a specific dream or plan for any of them. One is fascinated by building, so I wonder if engineering is in his future, but right now he wants to be a teacher. No matter what they do, I want them to help people, and feel like they’re making a positive contribution to society. Everyone has a different role in life, and we function best when we’re doing the role that best suits us, not trying to take on someone else’s role.
A friend gave this illustration once, and I think about it often, although when I picture it in my mind, I do so in the cartoon version, because otherwise it would just be gross. She said, “We can’t all be eyeballs–if we were, there would just be a huge pile of eyeballs sitting there, and they couldn’t get anywhere, or talk, or eat. Someone has to be the foot, someone has to be the hand, the fingers, the elbow–everyone has a different role in life, and all those roles are important. So if you’re an elbow, be the best elbow you can be.”
I gave the millionaire’s wife answer many times, and I wish that just once, someone would have taken me aside and asked, “But what do you really want to do with your life?” I know that it’s commonplace now to change careers several times, and that may or may not change by the time my children enter the workplace. I don’t necessarily think that there is one ‘right’ path and all others are ‘wrong’, they may have a variety of options that would all make suitable careers. I just want them to be thoughtful and intentional about what they do, because life’s too short to do something you hate.