“I”m just going to be myself when I grow up.” ~ Ezra, 5.
My older kids, 5 and 7, entered into a classic “What I’ll be when I grow up” discussion yesterday. I only half listened to their exchange until the end, when Ezra simply concluded that he’d be himself. He said it with childish innocence, but I heard the importance of it and wondered, “What would the world be like if we all followed this simple mantra?”
Ella, my oldest, currently wants to be a cowgirl. I found horseback riding lessons that didn’t break the budget and visiting and old barn is the highlight of her week. When I enter the barn, I am overwhelmed by the smell and disenchanted by the dirt. For Ella, the smell diminishes at the sight of her pony friend and the dirt is simply part of a magical experience. On a horse, Ella becomes alive, focusing, giving her best, living in the moment. Will she grow up to be a cowgirl? I’m not even sure if “cowgirl” is a job description, but on a horse she discovers new things about herself, seeks a challenge, and longs to know and be more.
When we talk about the future with our kids, perhaps imagining themselves in a profession is the wrong step or, more accurately, only the first step. When a child imagines a doctor or a farmer or a father or a store manager, what do they see? How is “me” reflected in this vision? Is it because they admire someone in that profession? Do they want to be helpers, spokespeople, inventors? Is their vision meant to please someone else or fulfill an expectation?
I think of my different ambitions over the years, seeking purpose and my true self. Sometimes I’ve found authenticity, other times lost my way. When I’ve prioritized the opinion of others, money, or status, I rarely find a path to “me.” When I’ve prioritized challenging myself, discovering joy, seeking truth, and gaining new knowledge, I feel like Mindy. And, sometimes, the stars align and these priorities bring money and status; other times they don’t.
Right now, I’m in the midst of a transition, longing for authenticity and rediscovering my inner voice. I am the term “growing pains” come to life. It is exciting and scary, uplifting and discouraging, joyous and painful, all at once. The most painful part comes when being me now disappoints or confuses others, causing them hurt. And I wonder if my “me” now would be less conflicted if I’d simply made it my goal to “be myself” all along.
I know that my children will face challenges and crisis throughout life, no matter what their mantra. And this is a good thing because these things refine us and help us discover new depths within themselves. But perhaps this refining process won’t come through some of the same pitfalls if the ultimate goal is authenticity over vanity, pride, pleasing others, or achieving status.
“Nothing can dim the light that shines from within.” ~ Maya Angelou
What did you want to be when you grew up? What did that say about you? I wanted to be a writer. 🙂