When I Grow Up

I’ve always had a deep admiration for people in my life that knew at an early age  what they wanted to do for a living, pursued the appropriate steps, and realized their goal.  I’ve also had a deep envy for them.

I have never known what I wanted to be when I grew up.  Well, other than a mother, which is so socially unacceptable to say that I cringe at myself and then blush a little with embarrassment.  But I yearned for motherhood so consistently and with such fervor for so long that I think until I became a mother I wasn’t able to think clearly about the other things I wanted to accomplish in life.  Not that I didn’t have other interests– because I did— but I simply couldn’t focus on them with my undivided attention.

Well, but now I AM a mother, and as my babies grow a little more each year, the other possibilities come into clearer focus.

I think it’s a common phenomena that many of us experience- this inability to say with any conviction what I want to be when I grow up.  It’s expected that we have, at a young age, a direction, that we declare a major, and carry on from there.  I was not able to say at 18, or 21, or 25, or even 30 what I wanted to do, FOR SURE.  I mean, how many 18 year olds really do know themselves well enough to make that kind of decision?  I think most of us flounder and then take a stab in the dark, and only some of us end up with a career path that we both love and is well suited for our personalities.

Learning the meaning of the word “doula” was the first time in my life that I thought “I want to do THAT.”  I began teaching childbirth classes and my doula training when Kate and Joan were a year old.  It’s been a wonderful path and a great job for me.  I don’t think I’d be who I am today without the experiences I’ve had.  While I still love being a doula, lately I felt restless with my doula role… like there’s more I could offer society.

But what else do I want to do?  (Besides have 1 more baby, of course.)  Photography?  Birth photography?  Social work?  Psychology?  Midwifery?  Writing/editing/publishing?  Teaching?  These are all things that have interested me at some point in my adult life.    Lately I’m most drawn to photography and midwifery, each with their own set of pros and cons that I wrestle daily.

So, how about you?  Did you know from a young age what you wanted to be?  Were you right?  How did you find your current career path, if you have one?  If you haven’t, how are you dealing with that?  I feel like, at age 35 I shouldn’t still be stumbling around.  I do have a better idea of what I would love and what would be a good fit for me than I did when I was 20, but still.  Stumbling.


15 thoughts on “When I Grow Up

  1. I have no idea. I wish I did, but I don’t. I’ve never felt like I had a “calling” or a even a “career”. I’ve only had jobs that though I did well, they just were not “me”. I used to work with a woman my mother’s age that I greatly admired. She swore that on her death bed it would come to her and she would sit straight up and say “OH! I should have been a _____!” and I often think that as well.

  2. I’ve envied that sense of direction, too, but when I’ve KNOWN people who have it, I’ve noticed they seem to sacrifice a lot of other things I find valuable.

    • I’ve experienced this too. I have friends that are doctors and dentists, and I am so jealous that they just KNEW what they wanted to do and then DID IT. However, I got to stay home with my babies, which really isn’t a feasible option when you have a practice to consider. In that case, I’m grateful to have not found my “calling” until my kids are out of infancy. No matter how much I loved my career, I would have always mourned that lost time with my babies.

  3. When I was younger I said I wanted to be a writer. My senior year of high school I had a moment of clarity when reading the acknowledgments of a novel where the author thanked her editor. I thought, THAT is what I want to do–editing! I went to college and didn’t major in English or anything relevant. It didn’t occur to me that my major could affect my career goals so I picked sociology because it was the most interesting subject available. Then I started thinking about wanting to be an editor and decided to do what I could to gain experience through summer internships. Then I had a crisis realizing that while I loved editing, I also wanted to do something that felt like a meaningful contribution. And then when I was looking for jobs as a senior in college I stumbled across a listing for an editorial position with a public health nonprofit. And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since. It’s worked out fantastically and I definitely want to keep going in this direction. But I am also trying to figure out exactly what that means, what my next career steps might be, and how that fits with having a family. I do have faith that I can work that out, and the nonprofit culture provides extra flexibility, but also the fact that I have a career-motivated husband who is likely to earn much more than the nonprofit world would ever pay opens up my options significantly.

  4. I changed what I thought I wanted to do my entire school career. I sort of backed into being a lawyer and got lucky to get the job that I have because it pays well but allows me to work 8-5 rather than all kinds of crazy hours. That said, it’s not my life’s work or anything. I’m 41 and I still have no idea what I’d be if I won the lottery and could choose to do anything with my life. I totally changed careers at 33 and then changed back. Basically I do my job now because it’s relatively intellectually stimulating and it doesn’t require I work insane hours or bring my work home with me in my head all the time. Having two young children those two things are very important to me but also surprisingly hard to come by in my field. Still no idea what I want to do when I grow up.

    • Good to know even folks that *seem* to have found their dream job are still conflicted and don’t know what they want to be when they grow up…

      That said, your current job does sound pretty fabulous and like it suits you AND your lifestyle perfectly.

  5. I still don’t know what I want to be. I’m pretty miserable at my current job, but living in Duluth doesn’t afford one many choices of where to work and still make a living. I wish I had some idea of what I would like to do, though, because it would mean I could begin to move that direction, rather than sitting at my dead-end job.

  6. I actually think hardly ANYONE is in a career that they love and is well suited to their personality. Maybe 5%? SO MANY things have to align JUST EXACTLY RIGHT for that to happen. It’s like that old Drew Carey joke: “So, you hate your job? There’s a support group for that. It’s called EVERYONE and they meet at the bar.”

    My chosen career path is emphatically NOT well suited to my personality. However, I’m still happy with my choice because I’m able to lead a pretty balanced life. So…win? Ish? I often say that I don’t really like my WORK, but I like my job.

  7. I love Tessie’s comment and the Drew Carey quote. I’m going to start using that. I knew in high school and college that I wanted to be a writer/editor, and although I do think it’s suited to my personality in some ways, I don’t feel a rush of “I love what I do!”… ever. Maybe it’s just the daily grind causing that? Maybe because it keeps me away from my kids too much (work in an office)? I don’t know.

    I’m more driven by money that I’d like. Not that I make a lot of money, but more here than I might at, say, the wedding china department at Macy’s (one of my daydreams is to work there). And then I think if I could really have my druthers, a career in music/singing/drama would feel the most like playing and getting paid for it.

  8. Hi Marie,
    I linked to your site from Swistle, liked what you have to say, so I’ve been checking in more frequently. As far as careers, up until I was about 17, I wanted to be a paleontologist, but realized that involved a lot of outdoorsy type activities, which are not really my thing. Then I moved on to wanting to teach elementary school, which I spent 2 years in college for. I slowly realized that, although I love teaching, and I love children, being a teacher was not my calling. It was important to me to find something that I felt really “called” to do. From a very early age, my parents told me that if I didn’t get up most days and want to go to work, then I shouldn’t be doing that job, and it was GREAT advice that I took very seriously. I took a semester off of school to focus on myself, what I wanted to do, and who I wanted to be, and decided on social work. After nearly 10 years in the field, I’ve worked at a drug and alcohol rehab for pregnant and parenting women, a program that served homeless adults with mental illness and addiction, a homeless shelter that served both single adults and families, and now a mental health clinic. I’ve worked with wonderful people that have become like family to me, and met amazing clients that I’ve felt privileged to know. The money certainly isn’t great, and it can take an emotional toll if you let it, but it’s the most rewarding work I’ve ever done.

  9. I was promoted quickly at every job I ever had but I was always just waiting to be a Mom full time. I left my job at the Wall Street Journal at age 30 and had 4 kids in 7 years. I just turned 40 and have kids that are 9, 7, 5 and 2. I have vague ideas about being a nurse or occupational therapy assistant but feel overwhelmed even thinking about how I would go back to school. I am definitely in the minority in my area…being satisfied “just” being a Mom. I’m happy that I do really enjoy being with my children but a part of me wishes that I did have a drive/ambition to do something else too. Maybe someday?

    Lara (mom to Charlie, Patrick, Kate and Maggie)

  10. *de-lurking ever so briefly*

    I propose that maybe our “job” in life is to be constantly looking for that which “calls” us. That to find out what is really rewarding is the goal, but that it is entirely reasonable to never get to that goal because it is equally important (or maybe more important) to be regularly evaluating and critically thinking about what’s really important and has meaning to us.

    In other words, it’s not finding the answer that’s important, but asking the question.

    *slips back behind the lurking curtain*

  11. Well, I did have it all figured out, got a Ph.D in Comparative Literature and a job as an English professor, but it was non-tenure track and when my university eliminated the Writing Program, they eliminated me, too. Academic jobs being scarce, I never found another one, decided to stay home for a year or two, which has turned into five and counting. I’m doing some freelance writing and trying to figure out what on earth to do when my youngest starts kindergarten next year.

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