How old were you the first time someone asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Five? Six? Younger? Do you remember what your answer was?
I don’t. At least I remember being asked the question but I don’t remember whether I had an answer. Rethinking that question today, some fifty-something years later, it occurred to me that nothing much has changed. I still don’t know what my answer would be.
We often hear people state, with absolute conviction, “I knew when I was 5 years old I wanted to be a fireman / doctor / pilot / soldier / actor / writer (insert preferred career path here)” and that is what they went on to become. They never wavered in their conviction. These people are (rightly) admired for their dedication and passion towards their chosen careers—but where does that leave the rest of us? What about those of us who never really wanted to ‘be’ anything in particular?
I never had any clear picture of what I wanted to be when I grew up. I am sure when I was younger I entertained the possibility of a number of potential careers. Perhaps I would work with animals . . . or do something with my art . . . or go into journalism . . . but no. There were too many choices and I never seemed able to pick ‘just one’ and stick with it. Which was a problem, because we were always being encouraged to do just that. What are you going to do? What are you going to be? What was once a simple little fun question full of exciting possibilities became a more serious anxiety-inducing question requiring a practical answer.
But I couldn’t do it. And it bothered me—for a long time. I was always so sure (because I was always being told) that flitting from job to job, place to place, interest to interest, was not the way I was supposed to be. I never felt like I quite measured up.
But you know time passes and I eventually came to accept that I was never going to be able to choose just one thing. I’m just not built that way. And that’s okay. Over the last 40 year (yikes—40 years—how did that happen?) I have served in the armed forces and worked in retail, the media, health care, finance, business and education. I may not have specialised in any one thing in particular, but I learned a lot of skills and gained a lot of experience. No regrets.
I also came to realise that, in spite of the pressure to be otherwise, there are millions of people out there just like me—unable—or unwilling—to commit to one single choice, and instead choosing to try many different things. And guess what? There is even a name for people like us (and not a rude one either)—‘Multipotentialites‘. Multi-potential-ite—a person who has many different interests and creative pursuits in life. How cool is that?
If any of what I have said here has struck a chord and you’d like to know more, check out a fabulous Ted Talk by Emilie Wapnick where she outlines the merits . . . and the need . . . for people like us.
My choices and I feel totally vindicated . . .