When we were kids, people would always ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” But then we grew up and found out that most of us didn’t become what we said we would be, or that many of us still don’t know. Usually, we face reality and just start working to survive.
I’m one of those who is still not sure what I want to “be”… but also who gave up a long time ago on the idea of “when I grow up”. Like many others, somewhere along the line, I stopped dreaming big. I’ve spent most of my adult life, and even teen years, keeping a distance from “unrealistic” and looking for the “practical,” setting myself up for a mediocre life.
Expecting a hard, boring life was the first step in throwing away “the dream.”
My first jobs were in retail, which I hated, but I was okay enough at to keep doing it. Later, with the help of a gracious connection, and a lot of luck, I was able to end up in a much more fulfilling job. (Working as a job coach for an employment service that helped adults with disabilities.) I felt great for awhile, but after a couple of years, learned that not only was the meager pay of working for a non-profit unsustainable long term, but also that the job was so time-consuming and stressful, that I gradually dropped my social life, my interests, and my hobbies, just because I was too exhausted to do anything other than work, eat, and sleep.
Quitting my hobbies was the second step of throwing away “the dream”.
When I became a mother, I quit working (not literally–the real work was just beginning… but I quit working for money) in order to focus solely on family. While working through some deep post-partum depression (which I won’t go into detail on here, for the sake of brevity, but you can read about in some of my older posts), I went through several phases of trying to get a job again. I realized I wasn’t qualified to make enough to afford daycare, which meant I was stuck being a mom. I feared that by the time Kj grew up enough to no longer need constant care, the gap in my employment would be too great for me ever be hire-able again. This made me feel even worse, feeling that I would now never be anything more than “mom” ever again.
Reducing my identity to “just a housewife” was the third step of throwing away “the dream”. I was so close to never getting it back…
While I was going through that rough patch, my husband Josh was still trying to reach for a totally unrealistic dream. I don’t remember what, because his aspirations have morphed a little over time. But it was a totally unrealistic dream. I knew it was a totally unrealistic dream, and being the helpful wife that I am, I told him, on a fairly regular basis, how unrealistic it was. Someone had to keep him grounded, right?
Despite my lack of encouragement, he kept working. When he was a kid, he held onto his dream a lot longer than most other kids do, and even attempted majoring in his dream field: film-making. After he learned to code (in order to get a more practical job, of course), he began to dream of making his own video games. Only recently did I discover that he’s actually holding onto both of those wishes, among several others, with his idea of starting a business that would allow him to create entertainment of several different mediums. Wow! Talk about unrealistic, amirite?
…As my mental health improved, and the days got less unpredictable, I slowly started learning about self-care, and eventually cared enough about myself again to begin taking up hobbies and activities again. I read, wrote, knitted, crocheted, beaded, painted, made candles, did a few freelance jobs, exercised, lost weight, started a blog, and even felt confident enough to seek a full-time job one more time. (That last one ended up bringing back a ton of guilt, though.)
Before, I didn’t know I was throwing away “the dream.” I didn’t know before what “the dream” was. I didn’t even know that anything I could call “the dream” was possible.
After gaining back activities I do for me, combined with seeing Josh’s example, I finally know that “the dream” is to not let the necessary get in the way of the fun. To not lose our identities to the rat race of making a paycheck, surviving, hoping our kids will move out some day, then paying debts until we die. We live in a society where work is necessary, but why shouldn’t we do something we love anyway? Even if it’s not the thing we get paid for?
Sure, Josh’s dream involves eventually turning the things he’s currently doing as side-projects into income. And I, too, tried to start entertaining the possibility of a little side-hustle by putting some of my creations on Etsy. We’ve both realized that in the age of the internet, making a living off of an activity you love is no longer the stretch it was for generations before us. (And I apologize to Josh for trying to be so discouraging before.)
But even if those interests are never income-generating, we’re never going to stop doing them for ourselves.
Because I know now that “the dream” might just be doing stuff because I want to.
Why do I have a blog? Because I want to. I like to write, so I decided to write.
Why are there pages on my site full of my arts and crafts? Because I want to paint, and make candles, and crochet, so I am.
Am I great at any of these things? Probably not. But I’m working on it, and finding joy in self-improvement.
I spent too long believing that if something couldn’t be done right the first time, it shouldn’t be done at all. What a limiting belief! Why would anyone ever express themselves, if they had to always do it the right way?
Even with something like blogging, which is now an opportunity available to everyone, “practicality”, and “Will I actually make a living off of this?” start to creep in. Every “blogging advice” article I’ve ever seen tells bloggers to pick one specific niche to write about. I guess you could say this is like the “What do you want to be when you grow up?” of the blog world. (“What do you want your blog to be when it grows up?”) Because, they say, people won’t follow a writer who keeps their topics too broad.
Well, as much of a people-pleaser as I am, chasing page stats is not what I came here to do. Wasn’t the original purpose of blogging to allow regular, non-celebrity people a platform (however small the platform may be) to express whatever they want?
So no, my blog is probably not as specific as it “should” be. I’ve written about ADHD, bipolar, post-partum, self-care, being a parent, and other personal struggles, and sometimes random topics that I take a sudden enthusiasm or curiosity in, and probably more things in the future. Why? Because all of those are things I’m interested in, and have my own unique perspective on. I know I won’t get a lot of subscribers with this style of blogging, which means I’ll definitely never end up becoming one of those “career bloggers” who makes enough to allow their whole family to retire, and that’s okay! Why should I give up my integrity, and my unique voice, just to join the pursuit of validation in the form of internet fame, or ad revenue?
Can you imagine going back in time to your childhood self, and telling him or her that you’re not doing what you love because it isn’t practical enough? Or because not enough people were seeing you do it? Or because it doesn’t make enough money? No! Your child-self was happy to be having fun without being center-stage, and without reward. So I say the “dream” doesn’t always have to be in the form of a big, fancy career, doing the thing you love. (But hey, turning your dream into income isn’t necessarily impossible, either.) Do the thing you love, whether or not you’re getting paid for it. It might just make that “daily grind” job a little more bearable.
Yes, I am a mom, but now I know I can be more than that.
When we were kids, people would always ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” But when we grew up and found out that we needed to make a living, we assumed that “what we wanted to be” had to be a job.
What if it doesn’t?
What if you can “be” whatever you want, in addition to whatever you are in the corporate world?
…I am a writer!
Am I a famous author, or wearing press credentials?
But I write.
So I am a writer.
…I am an artist!
Are any of my works hanging in a museum?
But I make art.
So I am an artist.
What a joy to be these things! I’m here to tell you right now, that whatever title you wanted for yourself when you were a creative, wide-eyed, innocent child, you may want to consider finally being it. It feels so freeing to claim the title with confidence.
In conclusion, I ask you, inner child of the reader:
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”