What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

I recently joined two new “communities” that revolve around learning, developing goals and holding each other accountable. I don’t actually have a problem with any of those things…I do them quite well, actually. It’s more so that at this stage of my life, I’m finding that it’s hard to connect with people who are not in that state of mind. I’m voracious about my learning. Voracious about soaking in anything and everything about a topic that I can.

But… not everyone else geeks out about learning new things or investing in skills that may or may not pay off in the end. Sometimes, it’s hard for people to relate to that part of my personality.

In fact, up until recently, I thought there was something “wrong” with me. I would laugh off passing comments like:

“Oh, I just never know what you’re up to these days.”

“Are you still working/doing {insert job}?”

“When are you gonna settle down with your career?”

“Jade, what do you want to be when you grow up? Really?”

I would always recede into my own head after these comments and ask myself, “What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you just find something you’re good at and stick with it?” I would try (for the millionth time) to envision my life in one of the careers that most people saw me in, but the vision was fuzzy. Always off. I thought maybe it was just a phase.

But it only got worse when I entered college. (I entered college as a Spanish and Russian double major and then switched to Psych the beginning of my second year. Then I switched colleges and became an English major with Creative Writing as an emphasis.) Every other month, I would think about switching my major… not because I didn’t like the ones I chose, but more so because I wanted to do them all.

In the end, I forced myself to stick to one set of majors and a goal to be in a career that I’d gone back and forth on most of my life. It also happened to be a field that my family and friends thought “fit” me. They were happy when I settled on English and Creative Writing (though my parents were worried that I’d be a starving artist).

The trajectory of my young adulthood was pretty normal. Finished college, got an entry-level job in Corporate America as a copywriter. I started working on my first novel. But I was so deeply restless and unhappy. The structure of Corporate America was killing my soul and they were unwilling to expand my role within the company to accommodate my yearning to learn more. Yes, I was a copywriter, but I also loved to analyze the marketing campaigns. I was in charge of putting words down on paper, but I thrived when I talked to people about what our company did. I could have done so much more for the company than what I was originally hired to do… but they didn’t know what to do with someone like me. Someone who wanted to constantly switch gears.

So I got out before they completely killed my soul and the parts of me that I had grown to like and respect.

I was unemployed and facing a fresh start. I was terrified but excited. This was my second chance! I could do anything I wanted! To be truthful, I quickly learned there were things I could not do. Being a barista is one of them. Working in a college-run bookstore is another.

But as I was learning what I didn’t want to do, I was also starting to gain an immense amount of knowledge in various areas. Someone would mention self-publishing and I would talk for an hour on the merits of doing it yourself vs. finding an agent. I met a friend for coffee and we would talk for hours about marketing funnels and campaigns and tracking pixels on websites.

Instead of hiring someone to build my website, I thought I’d give it a go myself first. Not only did I do it on my own, I actually enjoyed it. I was kinda good at it, too. (Okay, back then, I was actually really bad at it. But at least I thought I was good enough to keep learning!)

Eventually, I started and ran a successful Virtual Assistant company. But after a few years, I found myself constrained by my own success. I no longer had time to learn anything new or branch out to other interests. I was too busy doing the work I’d become known for. It wasn’t a bad problem to have. But it deeply affected my mental health. I felt myself slipping into a dark depression and I was ashamed of that. How could I possibly be depressed when I had a thriving business that I started from scratch without help from anyone but my husband? How could I be upset that I was making really good money? More than what I was making at my old full-time corporate job? I couldn’t understand why I was so damn sad when I could finally tell people who asked the question, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” that I was going to be a virtual assistant.

Because the truth is that I didn’t want to be that. I didn’t want to say that I was just a virtual assistant. I wanted to say, “I’m an entrepreneur, a virtual assistant, a website designer, a formatting wizard. Oh and I also write books and geek out over data points.”

My true answer didn’t fit with that question because that question is built upon a false belief and it’s extremely limiting.

If you haven’t decided what you want to “be,” you are not considered “grown up.” Not only does it feel demoralizing to be asked that as a legitimate adult/grown up… it’s assuming that we are confined to ONE thing. That what we “are” is paramount to what we “know.” And that whatever we choose to “be” is what defines us. (Watch this incredible TedTalk on this very thing).

That may be true for some folks, but mostly, I call bullshit. As I’ve moved through the last ten or so years of my life, I’ve learned that it’s just not possible for me to be one thing. I don’t have “one true calling” or “one true passion” because it’s discovering a new calling or a new passion that lights me up the most. And you know what? When I decide I want to learn or to do something, I usually succeed. I woke up one day and wanted to learn how to do calligraphy. There was no real reason other than I thought it looked cool and I have terrible handwriting so I thought it would be a challenge. I had no expectations that it would be anything other than a hobby. Two years later and people ask me if I sell my calligraphy online. (Spoiler alert: I don’t).

I don’t mean that to be presumptuous. In my mind, my skills are far from “good” or “perfect” but the point is that I set out to do it, I did it, and when I’m satisfied with what I’ve learned, I move on to the next thing. I’m addicted to learning new things and getting my hands dirty with all of my interests. (One of my new favorite writers is Danny Forest and he talks about this topic as well).

So naturally, as another year is about to end and as I was working through my end of year review and my 2019 goals, I realized that the planner I was working with wanted me to answer that same question in a not-so-straightforward way.

What do you want to be when you grow up? What do you want to fill your 2019 with that will help you get there?

I don’t think the planner appreciated my answer (I threw it in the garbage 😂)but I started with a new planner that was less concerned with what I wanted to be when I grew up and more concerned with what I wanted to do as a grown up.

That list was easy peasy. It was basically a word vomit of all the various lists and to-dos and want-to-learns I had collected over the year. I have an endless list of things, you guys. It’s embarrassing, actually.

Yet… the question of what I want to be when I grow up still haunts me. Why do I still feel so ashamed that I can’t answer the question?

And then, today, as I was preparing a more “formal” list of my to-do’s and seeing just how many interests and hobbies I actually have, I realized that I can finally answer the question.

So, Jade, what do you want to be when you grow up?

I want to be who I already am — a multipotentialite, a modern day Renaissance woman, a jill-of-all-trades.

See, I’m already grown up. I’m already what I want to be. The missing piece has been owning it.

Embracing it.

Living it.

I started to plan out my 2019 with the question “what’s most important to me this year? Being a Director of Strategic Partnerships? Being a Trauma Recovery Coach? Learning how to design websites better? Writing novels again?”

The answer is that none of them are more important than the other. They are all important to the season of my life right now and I don’t know the answer on how to balance them all accordingly. I don’t know where I’ll be in six months or six years but I do know that it’s not something I worry about.

Because I’ve already proven to myself that whatever I set out to do, I find a way to do it. I find a way to learn something new and adapt.

And that’s exactly why I don’t believe “What do you want to be when you grow up” is a question we should be asking.

Instead, let’s encourage each other to be more than one thing by asking,

“What do you want to do in your life? What do you want to learn?”

BusinessJade Eby