When I grow up…

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.

I understand

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.

Shonali Burke
Founder and publisher of Waxing UnLyrical, Shonali Burke helps smart businesses make bank by taking their communications from corporate codswallop to community cool™. She is also the founder of The Social PR Virtuoso®, which provides online, on-demand training that helps you unleash your inner Social PR superhero. Shonali is mad about ABBA, bacon, cooking, dogs, and Elvis, though not necessarily in that order. Wouldn't you like to be in her kitchen?
Shonali Burke