One of the things I’ve learned about growing up is that what you think growing up is and what it actually is are two very different things. From birth, we start counting every millimeter we grow, every “chest hair” we find, and start convincing our families at the ripe age of six that we think it’s time for us to start shaving. Well…most of us.
My childhood idol was Peter Pan. He never had to grow up and I liked that. Growing up truly horrified me. It actually made me furious at times. I didn’t like change. I didn’t like the unknown. And I most certainly didn’t want to be an adult. Growing up seemed so far away and I really never thought I would be able to be an adult someday. I just liked school and recess and I didn’t want to do anything else. Even during summer, I would plead to my mom to go to summer school just because I wanted to learn more. I wanted to be a student forever, but adults didn’t really go to school forever. So, I was at a loss for what to do.
At age four in Kindergarten class, I heard the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Everyone in class replied,
“A Rock star!”
“No. No. No. Dearest, I asked you what you wanted to be, not what you wanted to do.”
Man, do I wish someone had said that to me.
Growing up sucks when you don’t know what you want to do. It sucks even more when you think you know and you find out it’s not what you wanted. Equating “what I wanted to do” with “what I wanted to be” made me feel like I was a failure when “what I wanted to do” didn’t work out.
I had been training since Kindergarten for this! How could I not get this right, right?
I began to realize that the sentence “What do you want to be when you grow up?” was never actually asked to me. People only seemed to care what I did, not who I was. What five-year-olds know that they want to be a lawyer or a teacher? There we go again– “be” a lawyer. I hate how we use the word “be” there.
You see, I find the word “do” as something universal– most people can “do” what other people can “do”. There are exceptions, but “dos” can be shared by many beings and “dos” change. One moment I can do the laundry, the next I can go on a walk– I can “do” lots of things and I change what I am “doing” all the time.
However, “to be”– that is personal and unique. You cannot “be” me and you cannot stop “being” you. You just can’t. You can’t “be” a dog, a flower, a walk on the beach. “Be” is permanent, unchangeable, current– perhaps infinite.
So, why do we ask children to focus on what they do and stress it to the point where we tell them that what they do is as permanent and infinite as who they are? Why don’t we ask kids what they want to be and get answers like,
Why don’t we? Really…. Why don’t we?