What do you want to be when you grow up? I have to admit I always enjoyed that question. The thing is that I was a weird kid. I just knew from a very young age what I wanted to be. Since I was 4, I would always have an adult ask me “so, what do you want to be when you grow up?” and I would say in my serious 4 going-on-forty’s voice “I want to be a painter and a writer” And they would say “You are cute. Do you mean like a teacher, or a mom, an astronaut. “No, I want to be a painter and a writer.”
I knew it in my heart, the same way I also knew that there are things I really, really wanted but they were not in my destiny. Like ballet, for example.
Today I was driving when a memory hit me like lighting. I was probably a sophomore or junior in college and as every Sunday we stayed for hours at the dining table talking about our weeks, our lives, our dreams. At that moment I was expressing my life plan: what I was going to study, where, timing to reach my goals, how I was going to make a living, what I was going to do in order to sustain my creative endeavors, etc. I had such a determined plan and I was proud of myself, I felt I was on a roll.
After listening patiently, my dad, always the altruist, blew over my sand castle with just one question.
“Ok, but what do you want to be?” he asked, his arms crossed over his belly and his head tilted back.
“I just told you….I want to….” and I would repeat my plan learned by then to perfection.
“No, I am asking you, what do you really want to be?”
I had to think for a while before answering while he patiently looked at me pushing his glasses with his index fingers the way he always did. I realized then that a big part of my very specific plan contained steps to help me grow up, but they lacked the essence of what a good life plan needs: a commitment to our dreams.
My life had done a lot of turns. For starters, I ended up living in the only place I always thought I was never going to live in. Note taking: some times the location is irrelevant to the realization of our dreams. I flirted with a lot of creative disciplines, from photography to film, from art teaching to documentarian and I don’t regret any of them. However, today I realized that the answer I ended up giving my dad after all that soul searching (as deep as you can go when you are a teenager) had become my north star. Today while driving I realized that after I removed all the noise from my plan for trying to make it feasible the answer to the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?” has always being the same that when I was four, a passionate teenager or the still-young grown woman I have become. Today I remembered that flame I felt back then and I realized what a lucky girl I am because a big part of that dream had become real. There is still a long path ahead of me with more goals but the dream is still intact.
Maybe that is the reason why I love asking kids that question. Children have a pure connection to their souls that is worth learning from. They know who they want to be. Sometimes the answers come in the form of “this is what my parents want me to be” or “This is what I would do because I am a good girl/boy” and even “this is what I want to achieve.” None of those answers come close to the truest answer. So without ever realizing it until today, I have become my dad in a way and when somebody tells me their life plans, I want to reply with the only question that can really define our paths: What do you want to be when you grow up?
If you don’t know the answer, just shut up. The soul knows and it will tell us when we are ready to hear. It does not matter all the ambitious plans we have if it take us away from a true essence. Maybe that is why sometimes I still feel like a kid, because I was given permission to hold on to my dream with the same innocence that children do.
Today, while driving and reflecting on this I swear I could feel my dad smiling from wherever he is, because I never quit the dream and I am living it. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I heard him asking me and the answer came aloud and clear: “Exactly what I am today.”
Dedicated to all the parents that give permission to their kids to hold on to their dreams…and specially to mine who were exceptionally good at supporting mine.