After receiving answers like “teacher,” “nurse,” and “soldier,” Mr. Sall turned to me and asked, “What do you want to become in the future?” As I looked out at the classroom full of 13 year old students, my mind flickered to the list of college majors I’ve been poring over, diligently noting which pre-requisite and general education courses match up while also trying to narrow my focus so I don’t end up wasting time and energy and money going down roads that lead to nowhere. I thought about the note in my phone, the one entitled “life interests” that’s three screen-lengths long; the one I add to whenever I hear or read anything that peaks my attention. And I thought about my six-year-old self sitting in my room and playing with my stuffed animal dogs while dreaming of becoming a vet one day.
“I don’t know yet,” I said.
And it’s true, I don’t know yet. I don’t yet know what I want to become in the future. In fact, I haven’t the slightest idea of what I want to become. But I think that’s the wrong question to ask.
“What do you want to become in the future?” and “What do you want to be when you grow up?”— questions posed to us before we can even write our own names and asked repeatedly until we finish school and get a job, and then not asked again at all as if to suggest that the future has arrived and the growing up has been completed— are the wrong questions. They elicit insubstantial, shortsighted responses and require little thought from the answerer. They’re lame questions, and lame questions get lame answers like “I don’t know yet.”
The question I want to answer, the one that’s pushing back against college major and career path information, the one that’s fighting for space and attention in my brain, is “Who do you want to be?” “Who do you want to be today, tomorrow and everyday after that?” Because us humans, you and me, we’re not whats, we’re whos, and when we focus on the whats too much we lose track of the ever so important whos.
But I’d be lying if I told you I think the whats are irrelevant. It’s just that I think the whos should come first, and then, naturally, the whats will follow. Answering the question “What do you want to become in the future?” before answering, “Who do you want to be in the future?” is much too difficult, like trying to bake cookies without knowing the recipe. They might turn out okay, but why have okay cookies when you can have gooey on the inside, crunchy on the outside, fresh, warm, chocolate chip cookies? (If you don’t like homemade chocolate chip cookies then we’ve got other issues to discuss).
So who do I want to become? Well, I’d also be lying if I told you I knew for sure. My answer to this question, though, is infinitely more complex and meaningful than my answer to what I want to become. It’s ever changing and evolving, and as I continue to grow up and live my future, it becomes more and more refined. Here's what I've got so far:
I want to be someone who isn’t afraid to go down roads that lead to nowhere. I want to be someone who knows when to persevere and push forward, and when to turn back and call it a day. I want to consider other people before making decisions and taking action, and I want to stand up for what I need, want, and believe. I want to live with an open mind and open heart. I want to feel every emotion fully, and I want to remember to choose happiness. I want to show gratitude and compassion, and I want to be honest with others and myself. I want to be present and sincere and thoughtful and real. I want to embrace all aspects of all adventures. And I want to make a mean batch of chocolate chip cookies.