A Dissection Of The American Bladder

A blog that reaches deep into the bowels of America.

06 November 2006

What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?

What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up? We are first asked the question in kindergarten and the interrogation never stops (side note:
As a five year old, I was convinced playing baseball was my path in life. I since then have realized my mediocre right arm and lack of a substantial mustache have dashed my dream). When approached with the question at an early age, we are taught we can be whatever we want and are encourged to explore and to dream! Astronaut? Awesome! 3rd Grade Teacher? Totally Great!! Police Officer!? Perfectly coooool! Venture capitalist? Absolutely!, if that's what you want!

As we become older (wiser is dabatable), we are taught the 'reality' of life. You need to become rich! You need to hold a job that is respectable! Put what you want on hold, live for something else! Otherwise, no one will love you and you will never be happy, save a few pangs of pleasure. If you don't reach a certain status (of occupation, wealth, prestige) by a certain age, then you never will.

And so the question is asked again, though in a very different lens. What Should You Be When You Grow Up? We are inundated with this form of the Question our entire, brief lives until most of us ultimately drown in it. It eventually becomes a force of its own, a statement rather than a question, a career death sentence. We let others dictate our desire. We sacrifice ourselves so that we may live by societal standards of success. We plan our college courses so that potential employers will see we have taken the prescribed amount of Calculus, Economics, Theatre, Business, History. If we are fortunate, we will squeeze in a class that actually interests us.

I cannot speak for an entire generation, only my own experience, but I think there is a lot of overlap between the two. I recently wrote an essay about the issue that I would like to share:

What Do I Want To Be When I Grow Up?

The question is ubiquitous and intimidating. And for many it is wholly left unanswered, for some even left genuinely unexamined.

Harvard psychologist Erik Erikson distinguishes the stage of most college students as one of identity and intimacy. One in which the individual attempts to reconcile the outside forces of parental and societal values with their own identity and, if done successfully find their own identity. Once this has been effectively managed, that individual can seek out another identity, with which to enlarge and combine to form, what philosopher Robert Nozick calls, a joint identity, a we. What both Erikson and Nozick propose for my generation’s stage in life is the complete understanding and embracing of Love.

Yet, young adults in the twenty-first century face many challenges in their development. Society’s distinct emphasis on one’s career has superceded all other forms of growth (spiritual, communal, etc.) Particularly in America, though present throughout the world, ambition is seen as the new “love.” Devotion, or perhaps obsession, to one’s company (in other words, career) fills the void left in many recent college graduates. Signing bonuses are flashed before graduates to inspire and reinforce this notion. Though not the case for some, many blindly adopt this.

I believe this notion of a career for its own sake is false. A career in itself should be more than an employment opportunity, more than about filling a void, and more than about business. I like to think of a career not as a noun, something stagnant and rigid, but as a verb. The original meaning of career, as a verb means to “gallop, run, or move at full speed.” It is not passive in nature. It is something that is done with unwavering intent. It possesses the power to push one to their limits, cultivates the individual, and provides a channel for one to change the world in which we will be living for the next half century.

Where does all of this place me in my careering journey? Ultimately, I intend, I aspire, I dream to change this world. Through a life of service and labor without relation to the ego, I believe I will. Through a life of unpretentious giving and risking, I believe I will. With that said, I am seriously considering graduate school and also considering the Peace Corps. I know that the choice I have is difficult and not to be left unexamined. I also know that I will choose the right path, because with whatever path I choose I can reach my goal. Whether teaching history, acting professionally, starting a business I can change the world.

Though I do not have a clear picture or prescribed path to reach my goal matters not. There are billions of paths I can take to reach my goal, and if I have to career all of them, I will.