With the fits and starts in our economy, the pressures on college graduates to find jobs, and the identity makeovers of moms reentering the workplace — the question of what am I going to be when I grow up no longer just applies to dreamy children.
I myself have reinvented my wheelhouse several times, from high technology sales, to account services at an advertising and public relations firm, to management, to writing freelance and authoring seven books. I love what I do, truly. I look forward to going to work (sometimes across my house, in my pajamas) every day. I love it so much that I have changed my speech, instead of prefacing deadlines, speeches and travel with the phrase “I have to…” I retrained myself to say, “I get to…” It’s the most liberating thing in the world when work and play become indistinguishable. This happened to me in my 30s, but I only really recognized it in my 40s. I wonder if it’s possible to begin with this understanding?
As my own children enter the pipeline of high school and beyond, if I could teach them one solid lesson about the fray and frenzy of college and the quest for employment it would be this: Instead of thinking in terms of what you want to do, think about what you want to become. I call it your I AM statement.
You can have the kind of job that when someone asks you what you do, you respond with the phrase, “I work at so-and-so company…” or “I do blah blah blah…” This is okay; it’s fine. It’s a blessing to have a job at all these days. However, other people answer the question differently, and this is what I want my kids to know.
I am a teacher. I am a lawyer. I am a doctor. I am a writer. I am a veterinarian. I am a social worker. I am a speech pathologist. I am an entrepreneur. I am a nurse practitioner. I am an artist. I am a preacher. I am an inventor. I am a news anchor. I am a counselor. I am a bus driver. I am a scientist. I am an editor. I am a chef. I am a designer. I am a cartoonist. I am a police officer. I am a pharmacist. I am a dermatologist. I am a firefighter. I am a massage therapist. I am an architect. I am I am I am.
I yam what I yam, as Popeye says so eloquently. And that’s my point. When you look at your career as part of who you are, rather than something you do, it changes things. Because someone else can take away or force you to change what you do, but no one can take away who you are. I AM statements mean that you have a gift, a craft, a path, an acquired skill, a practice, an earned right to call yourself something. Regardless of the job market, there is always room for a motivated I AM. No matter how old you are, or how long you have been sidelined, you can dust off your I AM and be that again. No matter how young you are, once you become your I AM… you are. Years just add experience and confidence to that part of your identity.
I took my son Luke to the incoming freshman orientation night at his new high school, where he will start next fall. I watched him glaze over as upperclassmen talked about course selections, extracurricular activities, ACT/SAT, AP classes, essays and applications. I wanted to reach over in the auditorium and squeeze his hand, and remind him that everything was going to be okay. Better than okay. But of course I’m no longer allowed to touch him in public. This is just the beginning. I remember how overwhelming it all seemed to me, and I was in a small school in Minnesota and the world was so different before it got so big and so small all at once. I wish someone had whispered the wisdom of I AM to me. It would have opened up my mind, cleared my thinking and illuminated my path. I would have become myself much sooner, and with less striving and stressing.
Your I AM is just not that complicated. It’s simply the thing, or a form of the thing, that you have always loved. It’s the thing you think about when you don’t have to. It’s the thing that causes you to lose track of time or forget to eat. It’s the thing that you don’t care what you look like or what people think when you do it. It’s as natural to you as seeing your own reflection in the mirror, because it is that, it’s the recognition or remembrance of who you are, who you have always been. That seed was planted inside you just like the color of your eyes or the height of your body. It’s the thing that you were meant to do because when you do it, your gift and your purpose is realized.
Talk to your children. I’ll talk to mine. Of course the best way to teach our children the blessing and benefit of the I AM, is by intentionally living our own.
I am a writer. I am a mother. Yes I am.