What do you want to be when you grow up?
That’s a familiar question. When you are little, your answers are likely to amuse the adults doing the asking. The asking becomes a bit more serious as you graduate from school. In the former, it feels like an invitation to dream … in the latter, it can induce panic as life starts to feel that trash compactor room in Star Wars, where the walls are slowly and inexorably closing in.
How do you answer that question? Is it to be found in an aptitude test? Or is it a mysterious knowing that lights up your path like the emergency lights along the aisle in an airplane? Where do your “wants” fit in amongst the demands that you think about lifestyle, and obligations, and the thousand myriad things that life tosses in your path?
When I was little, I wanted to be a ballerina. Actually, a ballerina-astronaut. Ballerinas were incredibly strong AND got to wear really pretty costumes, so this seemed like a good deal to me. And outer space is just cool. Unfortunately, this plan failed to factor in my general clumsiness and absolute fear of heights.
Somewhere between the age of six and now, reality has set in. Rightly or wrongly. [Some days, I really think “wrongly,” but that’s probably a whole ‘nother post on how we talk ourselves out of our dreams…].
But now that I’m older, I’m re-examining the question. Mostly because I’m still trying to figure it out. And, I’m watching the people around me grapple with it too.
Thankfully, observation has led me to conclude: it is possible to figure out.
Like a lot of life lessons, I’m learning this one from my big brother. He’s smart, successful, and well-respected in his day job. So, when he told me two years ago that he would be applying to be a part-time fire-fighter, I was a little surprised. And then I thought about it.
Helping people, taking care of the people, lending his skills to solve a problem … that’s the kind of man my brother is. He’s rescued me from all sorts of majorly crappy moments; including but not limited to: the “someone just totaled my car around me” moment, the “my car battery died at a gas station, and this phantom car alarm is going off??!” moment, AND the most recent “I just locked myself out of my running car *#$!” moment. And he does it with a sort of quiet patience that makes you feel like you’re in good, capable hands. He’s steady in the face of trouble. I’ve always admired his way to stay calm and focus on the solutions, even when it’s stressful or the problem seems insurmountable.
Suddenly, his becoming a fire-fighter made a great deal of sense. I told him at the time, only half-kidding, that he’s been rescuing people for most of his life; at least he’d get paid for it now.
And it’s been an education to watch. He’s working hard. And he’s juggling an awful lot of things. Adult job. Studying for his EMT Basic certification. Husband. Father-to-be. Big Brother. Son. But he’s doing it with an innate sense of this being right.
If the answer to “what do I want to be when I grow up?” lies in a secret room deep inside of all of us, being a fire-fighter has turned the bolt in the door for him.
And I’m learning … cultivate the things that speak directly to what makes you tick. You can build a life out it.