One of the questions you get asked frequently as a child is, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Image: Rolands Lakis via Flickr, Creative Commons
You remember it, right?
The answers I’ve heard, or read, include scientist, doctor, president, cowboy, singer, veterinarian…
When I was asked that question, I was stumped.
You see, I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up.
I knew what I didn’t want to be.
I didn’t want to be alone.
I didn’t want to be poor.
I didn’t want to be unsuccessful (though why a kid of seven, or eight, or 10, was even thinking of “success” is beyond me now, but whatever).
I’d cover up that agony of not knowing – how could I not know what I wanted to be when everyone else did?! – by making grand pronouncements.
“The Secretary-General of the United Nations!” was probably the most grandiose one of all. I think it may even have made it into a yearbook.
As life stomped along
and various people crossed my path, I saw qualities in them that I admired, and that made me gravitate towards them.
There was something about them that seemed so magnetic, so warm.
But I still didn’t want to be them when I grew up.
Did I admire what they had? Absolutely. Did I want to be them? Nope.
Ten years ago, I moved to the U.S.
I remember walking with my then-boss to the office holiday party, and she very kindly asked me how I was settling in.
I remember saying, “I feel like I’m growing into my own skin.”
Kind of a weird thing to say, possibly, but we all know by now I’m not exactly cookie-cutter.
But I meant it.
Over the years I have met many remarkable people who’ve made an impression on me.
Almost always, these have been women; in fact, I honestly can’t remember meeting any man and thinking, “Wow, I’d really like to be him.”
And these women haven’t all been “rich,” either; what they had, I came to realize, was confidence and conviction.
They were (are) comfortable in their own skins.
And I think I have gotten to that point where I’m comfortable in my own skin.
Good and bad, it’s my skin, and it fits me.
It’s taken some doing, and sometimes it gets wrinkled.
When those days (weeks/months) happen (as they invariably do), I get uncomfortable.
But then I find my iron, put it to work, slip my skin back on and carry on.
So when I see people say they want to be so-and-so “when they grow up,” I wonder why.
that they mean that as a compliment, usually very sincerely.
That they see qualities they would like to have, or develop.
That they admire the confidence, the conviction, the compassion that these people have.
And they would like to have those qualities.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with recognizing what one’s strengths and weaknesses are; in fact, it’s a great thing to be able to do that.
But wouldn’t it be even better to just be comfortable in one’s own skin?
When I grow up, I want to be me.
In fact, I already am.
And I quite like it.
Great post, as always, Shonali. I so enjoy just being myself. I’m still not sure what I want to be when I grow up, and I’m 32. I know I like communicating with people, and helping others do the same, which has led me to PR/Marketing. It feels so natural to me…like I’m finally in an industry I can be comfortable in my own skin. ;)
Matt, love love LOVE that you enjoy being yourself. Not to get all dewy-eyed, but at the end of the day, even when we’re surrounded by those we love, we have to like being ourselves, don’t we? Else why should anyone else like/want to be around us?
Great post Shonali! That was always a tough question for me too. I thought I wanted to be a teacher, then took a business class by a marketing professor. Poof, here I am. :)
Angela, isn’t it funny how we say/think we’re going to be something and then life takes us in a completely different direction? I never thought I’d be doing PR, much less blogging, in the US, of all places. But here I am.
Life’s interesting, isn’t it? :)
What a terrific sentiment here! I often jokingly say I want to be so-and-so “when I grow up.” For me, I’m always looking for ways to improve myself, and I find that I learn so much from people I admire that I want to adopt into my own way of living.
But you raise a great point — what does my little joke say about my own opinion of myself? Or at least, how does it sound to others? I love the idea of wanting to be “me” when I grow up. I’m going to give that a try.
Kell, I completely get the idea of wanting to incorporate the way certain people do things into one’s one life/style; I do that too. And I do recognize that when we say, “I want to be so-and-so when I grow up” is indicative both of admiration for that person, as well as recognition that we’re never really done improving ourselves.
I think you raise a really good point about how this might come across to others… assuming this is something one does frequently. Not that one should always care what others think… but it’s worth pondering. Does it somehow imply we’re not happy with ourselves and could that potentially detract from building relationships, business, etc.? I hadn’t actually thought about that aspect, so thank you for raising it.
FWIW, I think you’re pretty awesome. You’re already you. Which is pretty darn good.
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