What Will You Be When You Grow Up?

I hated that question when I was a kid. Still do, really. I have a serious fear of commitment about some things. I mean, I can’t even commit to a favorite book or movie sometimes (discounting Groundhog Day, of course)–how was I supposed to decide on such an earth shattering decision as “What are you going to do with the rest of your life?”

Yesterday, I was asked on short notice to participate in a career fair. My assignment? Talk to high school kids about the job I do now and how I ended up getting it. I had pretty much no time to prepare, so I just winged it. (Although honestly, if I’d had six months to prepare, I likely would have just winged it anyway. I might not like making phone calls to strangers, but speaking in public to strangers is oddly not something I’m scared of at all.) So as I sat there before I had to present, I came up with a thought that I wanted to share with you all to see how true to life it is for others.

What was I going to be when I grew up?

I’ve had various answers to that over the years. For the first while, I wanted to own a pet store. Pet Palace was going to be its name. It would be your one stop shop for all pet-related needs, and it would be really big. (This was before PetSmart stole my dreams and aspirations.) There was a very long stretch that I wanted to be an animator for Disney. Other “jobs” I considered over the years were theoretical physicist, public relations, and English professor. In fact, the idea of becoming a librarian as a career didn’t occur to me until 2005. Eight years ago.

I think the problem I was having was I was jumping straight to the end. Trying to think of “CAREERS” and not of things I liked to do. As I explained it to the students yesterday, there were several things I enjoyed that I recognized I enjoyed early on. I love to read, write, talk to people, organize things, work with computers, teach, research things, make things–that sort of stuff. Things that, if left to my own devices, I would do anyway. If I had to sit down and plan out “What Will Bryce Do with All His Time?”, those are the sort of things that would naturally end up on that list, in some form or another.

The trick to deciding what I wanted to do with life wasn’t to pick a career out of a hat or from a list. It was to figure out a way to get people to pay me to do things I wanted to do anyway. Things I enjoyed doing. Sometimes that didn’t work out. As I said, I planned on being an English Professor, which touched on a lot of those things I liked to do, but when that didn’t pan out, I didn’t just shrug and give up. I looked for another avenue that let me do those same things.

When you jump straight to the career decision, you box yourself into a single category. Searching for a career area seems to make much more sense to me. Pick things you like to do, and think of ways you can monetize them. (If you want to get really capitalistic about it.) But even that isn’t quite right. Because it’s not like I ever sat down and made this list and analyzed things out ahead of time. Rather, I went through life doing lots of different things. Never afraid to try something new. I learned a lot of important things this way. Hard work ethic. The fact that I didn’t want a job just for the money. I came across jobs I liked and jobs I didn’t.

I got a job in the university library, and it turns out I liked it. I learned more about it. The fact that I ended up being a librarian is due to the fact that I liked it when I first dipped my toes into the field. If I hadn’t liked it, I’d be something else. I’ve worked as a gas meter reader, teacher, fast food worker, PR intern, church missionary, writing tutor, computer repair person, and other various smaller jobs over the years.

The more I think about it, the more I think a good job search is like the Clock Game on the Price is Right.

For you heathens who don’t immediately know the game, it’s simple: there’s a price you need to guess. A very specific price. And Bob Barker (or I suppose Drew Carey) can only tell you if each guess you make needed to be higher or lower to be correct. To do well, you need to start with wide ranging guesses and eventually narrow in on a certain range, as you discover which wide ranging guesses were too far off.

Asking me when I was in high school or grade school “What do you want to be when you grow up” was sort of like people telling me I had to play the Clock Game, but I only got one guess. Once you embrace the idea that your first few guesses are just going to be wrong–but that they’ll give you important data to make future choices–it all becomes simpler.

And that’s my deep thought for you for the day. But I’d be interested in hearing what your thoughts on the matter are. Were your experiences similar to mine, or wildly different? Please share!

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