“What do you want to be when you grow up?” is a question that begins as early as kindergarten.
The responses may range from police officer and ballerina to nurse or astronaut.
It’s a question meant to illicit a cute answer from the cherubic mouth of a small person who has no clue of the future implications.
But this month, it is a question that may send some bigger kids into a panic.
High school graduation makes that innocent question a bit more loaded.
At 18 years of age, teens are expected to launch into a college program that will determine their life path for the next 30 or so years.
Some know exactly what they want to be and do; others don’t.
It can be a terrifying thing to suddenly realize you are supposed to have it all figured out.
What if you make a mistake and chose the wrong thing? What if it doesn’t go as planned? What if you fail?
It’s a lot of pressure to make the right decision.
“What do you wanna be when you grow up?” Granny asked me once.
“A writer,” I answered.
“So, you’re going to study English,” she said. It was more of a fact than a question.
“No,” I replied. “Criminal justice.”
“That makes no sense.”
She was right; it didn’t. Being like a lot of young adults, I took the alternate route to what I wanted to be and do. I wanted to be one thing but went off on another path.
“Why can’t you study something like nursing or teaching – something that you will know you will have a job when you get out of school,” she demanded.
“I don’t want to do that,” I said. It made too much sense. You go to school to learn something and come out and with a degree and a life path all in front of you. Where was the adventure in that?
“This ain’t one of those dadblamed books like you read when you was a kid. What were they called, create your own disaster?”
“Choose your own adventure,” I corrected her.
“Same difference,” Granny said. “This is real life. You need to figure out what you’re gonna do and just do it.”
“You stole that from Nike.”
“I did no such of a thing. Nike stole it from me. What do you think you’re gonna be? Some FBI agent? That’s foolishness. Just get you an English degree and teach school.”
I did think I was going to be ‘some FBI agent,’ but never was. I worked in the criminal justice field for a few years and bounced from job to job until I decided I was going back to school at 40.
Mama never told Granny her only grandchild was in graduate school. I somehow think she would have been proud.
Granny never finished high school; she barely made it to 9th grade because she had to work cotton fields and take care of younger brothers and sisters. She wanted to go to college to be a nurse but didn’t have that choice. She was very proud when I graduated from Mercer University, even though she didn’t exactly care for the adventure I had chosen.
“What are you going to be with this degree?” Mama asked one day.
“It’s in psychology,” I answered.
“Oh, you’re finally going to be a therapist.”
“Then what?” she asked, sounding a little bit exasperated.
“I am not sure what I will do with it,” I said truthfully. “We’ll see.
I may need to go a bit longer, and I may switch to a different focus all
together. I would be perfectly happy to just be a professional student.”
“You somehow think you’re not?” was Mama’s pithy reply.
I realize even at my age, trying to figure out what I want to be is a daunting task. If you had asked Mama 20 plus years ago what she would have chosen for me, she would have said ‘lawyer’ but then said, above all, she wanted her Kitten to be happy.
I empathize with the class of 2019 as they try to figure out what their next steps may be.
For some, they know what they want to be and are starting college in the fall to pursue those dreams.
Maybe it’s not college, and that should be fine, too.
It may be technical school, joining the military, or maybe even taking a year off to get their bearings.
Whatever it is, I hope they have the courage to take those steps – a step, any step, at least.
Even if they don’t like where it takes them.
Life, much like the Choose Your Own Adventure books, allows us to sometimes go back and make some changes when things don’t work out the way we want.
And sometimes, you do get a bit of adventure along the way.