“What do you want to be when you grow up?”, a sweet and harmless question for young girls and boys. It’s mostly for fun, but we never stop asking the question as children grow into teens, young adults and so on.
“You can be anything you want; the sky is the limit.”
I can’t tell you how many times I heard that phrase. Those words gave me a weird sense of pride and ownership into being whatever I wanted, but also gave me a sense of responsibility that I almost felt like I couldn’t handle. I could be anything that I wanted to be, yet it was up to me to decide my own potential, discern my own gifting and use my interests to catapult me into a job I love…. Because you know, loving your job is obviously a critical thing in life.
“Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
“Having a job you love is important because it’s what you’ll spend a majority of your life doing.”
Two more phrases that began to shape the way that I thought about a job. Finishing up high school and going into college were critical and vulnerable times for me as I thought through these phrases repeatedly. My interests didn’t exactly align with jobs that are very common to succeed or make a lot of money. When I started assigning my interests to a job, I was finally met with the challenge of what people really think.
I could be anything I wanted to be, until I couldn’t at the ripe age of seventeen.
It’s really hard to make it into plays.
New York City is expensive.
Your musical talent isn’t enough.
Photographers make an average of 5k a year.
You’ll want to study something more practical than art.
Doctors make a lot of money.
Study something like business – business is good.
The sense of pride from being told that I could be anything I want made me automatically vilify the people that stunted my dreams through these different phrases. It’s like they punched me in the gut – taking away this crutch of being anything I wanted to, leaving me bare and vulnerable. How could they say such things?
I went from almost no responsibility (aside from my own schooling and making some extra cash for myself to spend) in my family to being pushed into a world of making a decision about what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Since others had completely shut down my dreams of acting and being a professional traveling photographer; I threw myself desperately at my other interests and thoughts hoping for a career that would make me money and allow me to rise to be the person everyone expected of me. Maybe hospitality and tourism because I loved working in a coffee shop, maybe psychology because I was fascinated by brain anatomy and facts after my grandpa died, maybe communications because I like writing and there’s a class where you get to use a camera, or maybe marketing because I loved the premise of “What Women Want” when Mel Gibson comes up with a great marketing strategy for tennis shoes.
So many different dreams of what I wanted my life to look like, and they all revolved around a career. Along with my exciting career, my dreams also included exciting experiences; traveling, eating new food, meeting exotic people, enjoying male attention anywhere I went, having the perfect body, showing off my success to others who never believed in me or thought I was weird or shy growing up.
It’s almost funny to me to think of those dreams from where I am now in life. From the outside, my life looks chaotic; my house is never clean, I never wear makeup anymore unless I’m dressed up for a professional event or the occasional mascara for church, my body is a little flabby with some baby love still on my hips, I live in a two-bedroom apartment in a small town in the mountains that mostly is inhabited by 18-23 year olds, and I often have spit up on my shirt or am seen carrying around 45 pounds of extra people. I don’t get to travel much, and when I do, it’s often quite stressful, either for work or toting two children. Exotic food is pretty much only found in my dreams. I’ve been married to the same man since I was 23 (almost 5 years!), and I work part-time as a campus minister, own a very small business and also stay mostly home with my kids.
My life isn’t even close to the way I imagined it. I figured I’d have a nice flat in NYC by now, maybe be an advertising executive or even a traveling photographer. In some ways my 20-year-old self might think I’ve failed, but what I didn’t know at 20 is that jobs, apartments, locations, success and exotic experiences don’t bring happiness. They sure can bring temporary happiness and maybe a lot of it, but in the end, it won’t last.
As I lay in bed last night reading and watching my sleeping baby, I realized that this life is so far better than anything I ever imagined. Before, I was completely self-focused, wanting out of life only what I perceived was the best for me. I wanted the best experiences, I wanted to be great, I wanted to follow through on the dreams that I had been fed growing up.
I now dream of freedom to care for my children while investing in others. I dream of growing old with my husband; being the oldest couple on the dance floor for the anniversary dance at our grandkids weddings. I dream of watching my children come to know and understand who God is, and find joy in contentment in all circumstances. I dream of watching my boys become young men and treat others with kindness and respect. I dream of a quiet life where I don’t acquire fame or fortune, but instead have deep relationships with people who lift me up while I lift them up. I dream of watching people walk into the Kingdom of God, accepting Jesus as the cornerstone and bedrock of their lives. I dream of being a wise yet nurturing mother in the eyes of my boys.
I’m not proclaiming to have once been incredible selfish and now be selfless, because I certainly am not selfless – ask my husband. However, I’m learning. I’m learning to appreciate a quiet and simple life of submission to the Lord while loving my family and doing the best that I can to shepherd the flock that God has given me an associate campus minister.