Think back to when you were six and someone asked you, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” What did you say? My answers were always things like, “Writer! Actress, singer, dancer!” As I moved through high school, my dream job transformed: I wanted to be a psychologist; my dad wanted me to be a doctor. By college I’d moved on to marketing and, finally, training and development.
Record scratch. What!? How did I go from actress to leadership training? Well, for me—and probably for many other people—it was fear and practicality. I’d convinced myself that only certain people could be actors. With writing, I told myself that there is no way it could ever turn into a full-time job. In both cases, I let fear of judgment—what would people say and how they would react?—sway my decisions. Even now, it takes courage to post my writings for the world to see.
As I got older, “practicality” helped me justify why I could never pursue “lofty” careers. Other responsible adults will tell you that you simply must have a full-time job, with benefits and a retirement plan. Make sure you have stability!
Now, I’m definitely not knocking that way of life—I do have a full-time job with benefits and a retirement plan—but what I want to say to those six-year-olds and high-schoolers is: There are many ways to have a career, and there’s no one right mold for everyone. The people you love may play a huge part in your career choices, and they may not always be “right”. I think my parents’ fear dictated their message to me. They wanted me to make lots of money and have stability because they never had that opportunity. I’ve always appreciated their support, but that fear may have influenced me more than I would’ve wanted.
At the end of the day, who’s living your life: you or them? What’s going to make you happy?
I had a woman contact me a few weeks ago. She’d seen my job title on our company website and wanted to hear my story. First of all: awesome! I couldn’t believe someone wanted to hear my story. I’m usually the one making that phone call. In my job, I oversaw student clubs and organizations, coordinated student activities, taught leadership development, and managed volunteer projects. Yes, it’s a real (and awesome) position!
This woman was struggling with a career move and asked how I ended up in my role. Well, six-year-old me certainly hadn’t said, “Student Activities Coordinator!” I didn’t even know that job existed until college. But as I thought more about it, I realized that many parts of this job echoed my past desires. I wanted to act because I love being in front of people, and working events means I have to be creative and entertain. Writing was great because I love to learn, teach, and express my ideas; leadership training gives me all of that.
So maybe I let doubts get in the way of being on the silver screen, but even now, all isn’t lost. I told her, go back and think about your first dream job. What was attractive about it? Break it down. Turns out, there’s been a little of everything I’ve always wanted in all of my past career experiences.
Reality can derail us. We begin to believe we can’t follow our dreams. But, maybe, in order to believe again all we have to do is honestly answer the question, “What did you want to be when you grow up?”