A woman I used to work with told me a story in which her then four-year-old son asked her, “Mommy, what you do you want to be when you grow up?” The woman, nearing forty, burst into tears and sobbed, “I don’t know!”
Sound familiar? Chances are good you’ve had a similar conversation with yourself at some point in your adult life. I know I have, and recently. It’s astounding to me that our society expects us to make decisions that will affect the rest of our lives when we’re only 18 years old. I don’t know about you, but at that age, the fog of teenage uncertainty was just beginning to clear and I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do. I went into business because it was safe – I knew I’d always have a job. Somewhere along the way, one of my English professors recognized I had a talent for writing and encouraged me to pick up a second major (thank you, Ben Moore!). Even then I didn’t know what I was going do. I didn’t want to teach or be a journalist, and I knew that living off of creative writing (which was nothing more than an occasional hobby at that point) was going to be too risky for my scaredy-cat nature.
I ended up in public relations as a result of the last class I took in college. Since I began my career, I’ve gotten my master’s degree, won awards and gotten my professional accreditation. I love what I do, partly because it involves writing, and it’s a creative way to support myself while I pursue my dreams. (To any of my co-workers who are reading this, yes, I am happy in my job; please don’t take this post the wrong way.) While being your own publicist is about as smart as representing yourself in court, I know having a PR background will certainly come in handy once my writing career takes off. (If nothing else, maybe it will keep me from putting my foot in my mouth publicly!)
But a few years ago I came to the realization that while I love what I do, my true passion – the thing that dominates my thoughts and brings me the most joy – is fiction writing. That’s when I really got serious about my first book. In doing that, I’ve read a ton of books on Celtic history and culture and rediscovered a love for history that, for some unknown reason, I had left behind after high school. Recently, serving as our corporate historian at my day job reminded me how much I love to research.
If someone asked me today what I want to be when I grow up, my answer would be vastly different from what I ultimately answered in college, thanks to my life experience. Sometimes I wish there was a “do-over” option once you hit your early to mid-thirties and have had a chance to experience a little bit of life. But that’s where dreaming comes in. We’re never to old for that. I used to think that once you became an adult and got out into the real world, the need to dream would end because you’d have everything you’d ever want. But if anything, the importance of dreaming increases, because as you get more successful, your ability to change your circumstances increases as well.
I’m no longer afraid to chase my dreams. Of course I want to be a best-selling historical fiction/historical fantasy novelist. And while I work toward that at night and on the weekends, I’m doing everything I can to learn from my day job how to be versatile, hone my writing skills and handle stressful situations with grace and poise. Meanwhile, I’m planning for a dream trip to England next summer and beginning to seriously consider someday getting my Ph.D. in history from Oxford (I’m not worried about money or practicalities yet – those weigh dreams down in the early stages). Meanwhile, I’m trying to change my mindset to view every part of my life as a learning experience that I will take with me no matter where my career takes me.
For anyone struggling with balancing a dream and a day job (I bet that’s most of us!), I highly recommend the book Quitter by Jon Acuff. Contrary to what the title may imply, it’s not about up and quitting your day job. It’s about what I’ve just described, finding happiness in what you do while using it to help make your dreams a reality. And that’s not only good for us, it’s good for those who employ us as well. Talk about winning!
What about you? What do you want to be when you grow up? Have you ever found yourself with changing interests and dreams? How have you handled it? How do you balance the demands of a day job and a dream job? What are your dreams for your future?