What do I want to be when I grow up?
Ever ask yourself that question?
Are you still asking that question?
40ish years in, and I still have no clue what it is I’m meant to be doing when I grow up.
I’ve tried my hand at a lot of things…woodworking, yoga instruction, accounting, customer service, writing. I took courses in botany, html, photography, carpentry, English, editing, psychology, anatomy. All these varied subjects have become spokes in the wheel of my life, and I enjoyed many of them, but somewhere in the hub of that wheel is a girl still trying to get her shit together.
I envied my peers in high school who knew what they wanted to be when they grew up…a teacher, doctor, veterinarian, nurse. They had a course and a compass. Everything they did aligned with the vision they saw for themselves.
I, on the other hand, had an amorphous idea that I wanted to create something, and I wanted to be successful at it, but other than that, I had no idea what I wanted to do.
Originally, I wanted to be an actress, but I decided I was too self-conscious and not nearly good-looking enough for that job.
Then I decided I would become an author, but after decades of trying different things…writing articles for newspapers, magazines, ezines, and blogs, and penning self-help books and novels…I decided I sucked at writing and needed to focus on something else.
I thought maybe I could be a photographer, but my pictures were just mediocre. I couldn’t compete with the truly talented people out there taking incredible photographs.
I’ve always been a life-long learner, taking college or university courses part-time in my efforts to discover myself, but this past September, I decided to go back to college full-time and channel my energy into the pursuit of a career in public relations.
After a full year and 12 courses under my belt, with a combined grade average of 95, I panicked. What if I couldn’t pull off a second year? What if the success of the first year was a fluke?
I began to question whether I should return to finish the diploma. Was this really what I wanted? In truth, who knows. I love a lot about PR, but was this really what I wanted to be when I grew up? Maybe. But what if it wasn’t? What if I got out into the PR world and didn’t like it? What if I’d made a terrible mistake? What if I failed?
I almost didn’t sign back up to finish my studies. The fear of failure stopped me dead in my tracks. And that’s when I took a long, hard look at myself. My lack of confidence and fear of failure had stopped me in almost every endeavour I’d chosen to pursue. The irony…I’d succeeded in everything I’d set my mind to, sometimes phenomenally. So, what on earth was going on? Where was this coming from? And how the hell could I stop it?
That’s when I realized, I couldn’t. I couldn’t stop it. At least not in a cold-turkey been-there-done-that-bought-the-t-shirt don’t-need-to-worry-about-it-again kinda way. I also recognized, for me, it didn’t matter where or when I developed this crippling self-esteem issue. Knowing how it came about in my childhood wasn’t going to help me move forward. What I needed to do was recognize when I was self-sabotaging myself now and gently redirect my focus to my successes and stop focusing on my failures (perceived failures) and all the reasons why I was convinced I sucked.
Now, to know me, to talk to me, to hang out with me, you’d have no idea I lacked confidence. I seem to carry it in spades. After all, I willingly went back to school. I changed gears mid-life stream and swam in another direction. For many, throwing caution to the wind and trying something new or reinventing one’s self is terrifying, and only the foolhardy will attempt it.
But trying something new has never scared me. In fact, I live for variety, and curiosity has always pulled me in a million directions. I’m compelled to follow the path of passionate exploration. But once I’m on that path? Once I start succeeding? Doubt and uncertainty creep in, and I pull back the reins. Or worse, I hit a snag and it seems to confirm all my lousy suspicions, and I run away screaming, grabbing the life preserver and jumping overboard before the whole thing goes to hell.
In saying all that, I have managed quiet moments of victory over my demons. After all, I did sign up to finish my diploma. I have completed four books and am working on my fifth. And my confidence in general has definitely improved over the years. But you’d think I’d be further ahead than I am at this point in my life—that all the self-awareness and growth that comes with getting older would have kicked this useless limiting belief out on its ass by now.
Unfortunately, overcoming fear and negative thinking is a long, convoluted process. It involves winning little victories, getting knocked a couple steps back, then rallying and doing it all over again. I may not have all the answers yet, but I’m in a better position now than I was twenty years ago. Wisdom truly does come as you get older. But I have much more to learn.
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So, do you know what you want to be when you grow up? Have you reached your definition of ultimate success? If not, what’s holding you back?