Not Knowing What You Want To Be When You Grow Up - Gratitude Journal #13

posted on: March 9, 2014

I felt like the questions about what I wanted to be when I grew up started much earlier than they should have, like 5th grade when my room was still covered in stuffed animals.  I never knew how to answer that daunting question and for the longest time I would just shrug my shoulders and give an "I don't know" look.  In high school the question was being asked much more frequently, so I started testing different answers to see how people would respond.  It became blatantly clear that people didn't take me very seriously when I said I wanted to be a singer or an actress, despite the fact that I was one of the most active students in choirs, bands, and theatre productions- often singing solos, getting lead parts, or making first chair.

To my parents credit, they never discouraged me when I shared dreams of being a performer and they always told me that I can do anything I set my mind to doing.  It was all the other adults that were silently giving me that pat smile that said "oh, that's a nice dream honey, but what will you do for a career?"  Sometimes those words even made it out of their mouths and into my brain.  So, I tested telling people things like "Teacher" or "Lawyer" and found that the responses were always well-received without question or doubt, which slowly defined for me what people considered acceptable career options for me.

Some of the greats, painted by Rico Fonseca #publicart #nyc #greenwichvillage #streetart
(all images in this post are iPhone pics from my instagram feed)

Looking back now, I can see where they were coming from and the fact that they were just viewing the world through their local lens and limitations.  I lived in Michigan at the time, home of automotive manufacturing where very few full-time artists existed in any industry.  Creative pursuits were hobbies or side jobs for people, but not really professions.  In high school I dreamed of going to Julliard, but because I was pretty much living on my own and working a regular job by the time the applications were due, mine never got filled out.  With the doubts of so many "wise adults" rattling around in my head and confusing me on what I should do next, I shoved my dreams aside in favor of something more practical: time at a community college where I could figure things out while I still worked and lived on my own.

I was already working as a supervisor in a bookstore, so I enrolled in a business marketing and management program, enjoyed all the marketing psychology classes, but rolled my eyes at how common sense some of the management material was, and was utterly confused by a professor who decided to teach accounting through the division of pigs and cows into different cuts of meat without providing numbers I could apply to any other business.

I landed great jobs in the communications industry and financial services industry even before I even finished my degree and soon realized that I never wanted to be my boss or my bosses boss- so what was I doing on this marketing and management career path?!  I made great money for a 21 year old and held a position that my colleagues had gone to school and received MBA degrees for- but I knew that if I wasn't happy when everything was going just fine and I was making great money- I wasn't going to be happier in 5 years doing the same thing.

Don't think I'd try to open this door I those snakes were real #nyc #door #detail #architecture #latergram

"What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?"

This question had flashed across my computer screen.  I really don't even know how it got there or where it came from, but the question hit me hard, right in the heart.  My first thought was of the Broadway theatre dream I'd left behind, but with a little more perspective on the real world I was living in and distance from all of my creative pursuits in school, I decided I didn't want to live in a tiny NYC apartment (ironic how that one turned out) and spend all of my time worrying about my next audition or how I would pay the bills between gigs, so the next best thing I could think of in Michigan was becoming a music teacher.

It had been four years since I'd performed anything as a singer or as an instrumentalist on flute, and I was worried I might not even have the chops for an audition.  I did two voice lessons to get some feedback on my audition pieces and the private teacher had zero feedback for me saying that I was already heads above her other students, so I just went for it.  I left 4 years of business school and experience behind, and went into a 5 year music education program and started to pursue something that I really loved, but also seemed safe enough that my family wouldn't need to worry about me.  I knew I was working toward a fall-back career, but this time the degree was a necessity for the job which somehow made me feel better about paying for it and investing time in it, but I had no idea what else I was capable of at the time, so music school kept me mentally challenged and engaged in something I loved while I continued to figure it all out.

While I was doing what I loved in my second round of college education, I was still working all sorts of different jobs outside of school, trying out everything that caught my eye.  I became a professional singer and sight-reader for a choir- which was something I'd never considered before and was a doorway that opened from taking the music education journey.  I gave educational tours and helped prepare grants for a historical mansion- also something I'd never considered before.  I worked as a professional model- and I'm still not even sure how or why that one happened, but it did pay well and gave me a small taste of what life was like being an independent contractor.  I helped administer and teach a creative performing arts camp- which was probably the closest thing to teaching music before my actual student teaching assignment turned into a full-time substitute music teacher position.  Have you noticed that no where in these paragraphs have I even mentioned considering PHOTOGRAPHY as a CAREER?!?

That's right.  The career I've had for almost 10 years now as a photographer was no where on my radar at the age of 5, 10, 15, 18, or even 22 when all those people were asking me what I wanted to do for a living.  I taught myself everything about photography by reading, experimenting, and journaling my process while trying to create personal art for my own walls.  I never received formalized education in photography- and even if it had been available, it just never seemed like something that appealed to me, but I had taken many different types of art classes over the course of my life and even did a 3rd grade science fair project on optical illusions of perspective, color, negative space, and line.

Empire Framed #nyc #midtown #empirestate #architecture

The professional photographers I was aware of growing up either faced guns and violence because they were documenting scary stuff for the news, or make me feel really uncomfortable and awkward when they would take my school or church portrait.  The guy who did my modeling portfolio really creeped me out and none of the photographers I met made the job seem any more fun, interesting, or passionate than serving up food in a cafeteria (no offense to cafeteria workers who love feeding people for a living.)  All of those perceptions changed when I met a bunch of different wedding photographers while planning our wedding.  Finally, I met people who were being creative doing what they loved, and for the most part, doing it on their own terms in a variety of different ways!  However, I still had no intentions of actually becoming a photographer- I just thought it was cool that they got to do what they loved and make a career out of it.

Sharing my own photography with others started as a way for me to help my fellow students with their recital posters, audition pictures, and modeling portfolios, along with documenting major tours with our choir and turning the images into slideshows and albums.  I gave my friends photo gifts from images I'd taken at their wedding because it was basically the only thing I could afford at the time, but those images ended up in large wall collage frames or photo albums that went on coffee tables, and eventually that led to photographing my first paid wedding, which quickly turned into many weddings and a full time career as a self-employed photographer and small business owner!  It still baffles me how it all happened so quickly that I didn't even have time to reconsider any of what was going on.

A few years ago, I would have thought this was a dumb notion, and completely disregarded it. Now I understand.  It's such a fine line that we walk between going after big goals and crafting a life as we imagine it, and yet being fully embracing and accept

There were no other people in my family that served as a model of self-employment or small business ownership (except perhaps my maternal grandfather, a veterinarian who died before I was old enough to really know him.)  There were no other full-time artists in my family that served as a model for being a freelancer.  I had my background experience in everything BUT what I was now being called to do on a full time basis.  It was sink or swim and all my entrepreneurial experience and learning happened on the job, in real time, in make it or break it situations.  Yes, there were many things I was unprepared for before they happened, but I was always up front and honest about my experiences and remained willing to take a risk and try something outside of my comfort zone to see if it felt right.

I'm grateful for all the things I had to figure out on my own, for all the different jobs that taught me who I didn't want to be, for the failures that helped me realize when I didn't want something bad enough to fight for it, for the successes that taught me what came more naturally to me than others, and for a heart, mind, and soul that refuses to stick with something if I'm not completely in love with it.  I'm still not sure what I want to be when I grow up, but I've learned that by focusing on what makes me happy to show up and do the work and adapting to new opportunities by being open to change is far more valuable and important than planning ahead and expecting things to go a certain way.

So, if you find yourself at the age of 20, 35, 50, or 65 wondering what you're going to be when you grow up... just focus on what makes you happy or excited today, right now, and don't worry about where it will lead or what the outcome will be.  If you don't feel a defined direction in your life, than your task is to explore and discover more about yourself through following your passions.  Your heart knows when something feels good because it relaxes and opens up, so follow that feeling wherever it leads you and learn to enjoy the journey of self-discovery and service to the world at large.  You may not know what's around the next turn, but if you're doing things that make you happy and enjoying different ways of serving others, than you're exactly where you need to be right now.  Trust that this will all eventually lead to the wisdom you need, but don't allow the pressures of society or other people's expectations stunt your exploration process.

{If you appreciated this post, please share with those you think could benefit as well and join me in my journey to have a greater positive impact on the world by writing YOUR OWN GRATITUDE JOURNAL and sharing it or a link to it in the comments below. I would love to read your moments of gratitude and share them with others!}

2 comments, to add [click here]:

  1. Hi Anne, I'm so glad to find your blog. It's very interesting to know about Australia. And this post is great,until now I'm still not sure what I wanted in life professionally. All I know is to be with our kids and have a part-time job to pay our bills.

    1. That's an awesome place to be Gladys... and really, the time you get to spend really enjoying your kids everyday is short in comparison to your whole life... 18 years, sometimes more sometimes less... enjoy it for everything it is right now. ;-)


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