The Definition of You

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Kids get asked this question frequently.  When I was little, my answer was an astronaut.  That was me being “practical.”  If you wanted to know my real answer, the thing I wanted deep in my heart of hearts to be, it was Luke Skywalker.  I also would have accepted Jedi.

As I got older and learned more about the world, my answer changed.  In Junior High, I had decided that I wanted to be a writer and a college professor (Heart of hearts answer: Starfleet Officer.).  That pretty much held true right through graduate school (As did my heart of hearts answer).  And then, after two decades of formal education leading me to a life of academia, I abruptly changed course and entered the world of IT, where I’ve happily been ever since.  Although, I’d still take being a Starfleet Officer (You hear that, Jean-Luc?  I’m still waiting.  It’s been almost 30 years!  I’m starting to get impatient!)

Now that I am ostensibly an mature and responsible adult (I’ll just leave THIS here), that old question I heard over and over again as a child bothers me.  What do you want TO BE when you grow up?  While I know it is not what’s intended, that phrasing has a certain implication - that your job is who you are.  It’s an idea that I touched on a previous POST.  Somehow your occupation dictates your worth to society and, in effect, defines who you are as a human being.

But really our jobs are such a small facet of who we are.  Yes, I’m a cubicle-dwelling IT worker, but I’m also a father, a writer, an amateur fencer, movie and buff, walking storehouse of useless information, and general geek. 

A short time ago, Corinne announced the launching of Palette on this site to showcase her work as a make-up artist, which is something she does outside of her regular job and along with several dozen other projects, including running and writing for this site.  I’ve heard her schedule.  It’s a wonder she has time to breathe.  Jack Bauer would be hard-pressed to do as much as she does in 24 hours.

My son is starting high school at the end of this month.  While I’m having a bit of trouble wrapping my head around that fact (I’m too young to have a kid that old!), I’m also having to fight the near-overpowering urge to focus solely on his answer to the question from the beginning of this post.  What does he want to be when he grows up?  What is he going to do?  How does he plan to support himself?  Does that plan involve moving back in with me?  (If so, RETHINK THE PLAN!)

I know all of this is really missing the big picture.  My son is still a child in many ways.  There’s so much he doesn’t know about the world, and he certainly hasn’t finished growing into the man he will eventually become.  How the hell should he know what career he wants?  And even if he has an idea, he’ll probably be wrong.  I certainly was.  As I said above, I like my job.  I work with great people in an environment I enjoy.  I’ve been there for almost 15 years.  But it’s not a position that would have crossed my mind when I was asked about my future career prospects at the age of eight or even when I was in high school.  My entire area of specialization didn’t even exist back then.

Instead of worrying about his job prospects, I need to enjoy watching him as he matures and discovers the various interests that will become facets of who he is as an adult.  Like most teen boys, he loves video games, but he’s also a voracious reader, a news junkie, and a fan of history.  Will all of that be true ten years from now?  What will all of the facets of his personality and interests include then?  Who knows?  To steal a line from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, he’s not done baking yet.  

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter