“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
That’s a question we ask kids pretty routinely. As they grow up, the phrasing changes, but it’s still that same basic question. Have you thought about where you want to go to college? What do you want to major in? What do you want to be?
Society thinks that the first question and the last question are the same, but there’s a big difference between “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And “What do you want to be?” In fact, only after basic education is taken care of does the question begin to seriously morph. Only then does it become “What sort of job do you want to do?”
Even then, it gets prettied up. One of the most popular job search guides is called What Color is Your Parachute? Another book promises to be a “Pathfinder” guide, as if the book is Hawkeye (James Fennimore Cooper’s wilderness guide, best known from Last of the Mohicans) and the would-be-jobholder is a tenderfoot facing the wilderness. In both of these choices of words, what’s implicit is that you will arrive at your destination safe and sound, content because you’ve found the job that lets you – to borrow an old Army recruiting slogan – “Be all that you can be.”
I don’t know about you, but what I wanted to be when I grew up, and what sort of job I wanted to do, had absolutely nothing in common with each other. At one point, I spent a lot of daydream time in being a starship captain along the lines of classic Star Trek. I was absolutely not interested in being an astronaut or even a pilot. I didn’t even want the Star Trek universe. What I wanted was strange new worlds, great challenges, new civilizations.
Even those people – like my husband, Jim – who know what they want to be when they grow up (in his case, be an archeologist) find that the reality of the job and the dreams aren’t at all the same. Jim spends a lot more time in an office writing reports than his nine-year-old self ever would have imaged. Mind you, this is something he’s very good at. It’s something which he’s learned to enjoy because it enables him to share his discoveries with others, as well as add to the larger body of information about his field. But writing reports was not what attracted his nine-year-old self to want to “be” an archeologist.
And me? Lately, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why I’ve always wanted to tell stories, why I wanted this so much so that I learned how to write fiction, and have spent a lot of time doing so. Maybe it’s because it’s the closest I can get to “being” all those things I dreamed about when I was a kid. (And, believe me, starship captain was only part of the mix!)
How about you? Where have your dreams taken you? Where might they still take you? I’m a firm believer that dreams aren’t just for kids. If we’re lucky, they continue to fuel the best parts of adult reality as well.