“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy.’ They told me I didn’t understand the assignment. I told them they didn’t understand life.” — John Lennon
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
I am sure that, for most of you, this is a painfully familiar question. Your teachers, your friends, your family – everybody seems to have a strange curiosity when it comes to your future, don’t they?
The younger you are, the easier it is to answer such a question. An astronaut; a princess; a lion-tamer. Realism can be thrown out the window as you are encouraged to reach for the stars. But as the years pass, there comes an expectation to seriously consider where you see your life heading.
My first ‘official’ declaration for my future was that I wanted to be a teacher. A noble enough career, certainly. I stuck with this ambition for all the years of primary school until, at the age of eleven, I realised how trying it was to make children do what they are told.
Yes. I was a child when I realised that children are little bastards.
Clearly, this is not a good frame of mind for any teacher, and so I farewelled those frivolous desires and searched for my true calling.
“Vet!” I announced proudly the next year. It was perfect—I adored animals; what better career could there be for me than to ensure their health? Oh, what a fool I was. Fate stepped in swiftly with this one; a mere three weeks after I made this decision, a trip to our local vet reminded me exactly how weak my stomach is. The scent of a hospital makes me shudder; the sight of blood makes my hands turn clammy; the measly mention of medical unpleasantness of any kind is enough to make me light-headed to the point of fainting. Vet? What the hell was I thinking?
And thus I reached that terrible, yawning period of uncertainty that many people reach somewhere in their life. It is that point where people ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, “What do you want to study in future?”, “Where are you heading?”, and when you reply, quite honestly, that you haven’t the foggiest, you get the Look. Lips form that awkward, pinched smile; eyes blink into a sympathetic furrow.
I hate that Look.
Because I didn’t need their sympathy. Eventually, I came to understand that the Look was a knee-jerk reaction; people hear the words “I don’t know” and immediately assume that this poor bastard doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in Hell of making anything of themselves – how could they? They don’t have a game-plan.
But I persisted, game-planless and proud, as I waited for that grand discovery of what, and who, I wanted to be.
The answer came in the nonchalant words of a high school friend. Having read my assignment for English class – a short piece of fiction writing – she turned to me and said, “That was amazing. You should be a writer!”
… I should?
I adore writing. I’d known this for years. Finished a particularly stressful day at school? Write. Home alone and feeling isolated? Write. Suffering from Writer’s Block? Read until you get your mojo back, and then write. In my head it was a simple equation, a relaxing habit, but more significantly, it was a hobby. Could I really turn what I love into a career?
This friend’s name is Aly, and she became something like my mascot. She would read my work with enthusiasm each time that I tentatively offered it, and responded with endless praise.
Sure, I knew what I was giving her wasn’t perfect, but sometimes it is nice to have that one person who says nothing but kind words. After all, there are many other people in this world who are willing to stamp down on the tiniest imperfection; why shouldn’t we be allowed to have that one special person who can, and will always gladly, say otherwise?
Over time, Aly told others of my ‘God-like talent’ (Hyperbole? Of course, but appreciated nonetheless), and suddenly I had a group of friends rallying around me, all crossing their fingers for my future success, and assuring me when I, myself, doubted it that I had a great career ahead of me.
Of one thing I am certain: if I ever manage to pluck that novel from my head and place it on the shelves, the Dedications page will be the most difficult to write. But in pride of place will be Aly’s name – she told me what I should be when I couldn’t reach that same conclusion. And while I am only at the point of studying a Bachelors Degree, and still treat writing as a game and not a job, I finally know what it is that I want to be when I grow up.
Because I have found no greater joy in this life than when Aly introduces me to new people:
“This is my friend, Jess. She’s a writer.”