They Asked Me What I Wanted To Be When I Grew Up. I Said ‘Happy.’ They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”
– Unknown (often attributed to John Lennon)
I remember it distinctly. When I was in 6th grade I was sure that I would one day work for NASA. Not as an astronaut, like most children say, but as one of the men in Mission Control. (Maybe I’d be able to transmit with Major Tom? RIP David Bowie). You see, I had been studying astronomy in school and shortly thereafter the movie Apollo 13 was released. These events spoke to this impressionable 10 year old in a powerful way. These men (the astronauts) had literally been to the moon and back, having almost lost their lives in pursuit of the impossible. Not only that, they had hundreds of other men (Mission Control) working around the clock trying to find a way to get them back safely and avoid catastrophe. Compelling to say the least…
Fast forward a year or two and I began playing the guitar. Needless to say the dreams of working for NASA took a backseat to dreams of being a rock-star. Still a big dream but not of the same magnitude. The trouble with that was, however, that the older I got, the more my dreams became “earth-bound.” What I mean is, I stopped thinking BIG and started thinking “realistically.” I started living day to day without a sense of purpose and without envisioning my greatest potential as a person who had unique skills and perspectives.
You graduate high school after having spent 4 years trying to be something your peers wanted and expected you to be. You go off to college and try to be a successful student because that is who your parents want you to be. And once adulthood sets in, you realize you never figured it out. But what happened to the little boy or girl who wanted to be president? or an astronaut? or a baseball player? or __Fill__In__The__Blank__?
Sadly, we start to think we are being irrational or irresponsible to aim higher than those around us. We feel that our dreams have to conform to society and be “respectable” professions. But where has that gotten us? I don’t quite remember when it happened for me, but there came a point when I stopped thinking about what I wanted to be when I grew up. I stopped believing that I could do something HUGE. I began to limit my own potential.
Those of you who disagree with my thought process will be quick to point out that one cannot possibly base the trajectory of their entire life on the fleeting whims they had in their formative years. And I totally agree with you. If that were the case then my brother would be a “bartender/musician” for the rest of his life because that is what he told his teacher when he was 5. (No offense to anyone in either of those professions). My point is not “you should be what you said you’d be when you were 10,” my point is simply that when we were young we never thought things were beyond our reach. It wasn’t until LIFE got in the way that we began to rationalize away our dreams as immature, or misguided, or whatever.
I’m currently reading a book by Jon Acuff called “Start: Punch Fear in the Face | Escape Average | Do Work That Matters.” One of the chapters is about “editing” your dream. My take on it is that there are always things that come along that may seem like a “BRIDGE IS OUT” sign on the path to your dream, but in reality, it may be that your dream is not yet fully realized, and you may need to take a different path in order to get to your destination. It is not a “TURNAROUND AND NEVER COME BACK” sign. It may just be that you need more time for the bridge to be completed.
I often say to people that I am still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. They laugh, I laugh, we laugh together. They tell me I’m funny. I deflect the praise and then graciously accept it in my slyly humble way. But in reality, I am DEAD serious. I truly believe that there should be a healthy bit of Peter Pan in all of us. And no, I don’t mean the brand of peanut butter. I’m allergic to peanut butter so having a little bit of that “Peter Pan” in me would have my wife racing for my EpiPen®. I’m talking about the boy who could fly and refused to grow up. I don’t mean we should be immature, but we should be willing to look up at the moon and think that we could one day walk on the face of it.
Remember, the path to Neverland was found by flying to the “second star to the right and straight on ’til morning.” As for Jim Lovell, Fred Haise, and Jack Swigert, I’m sure they were laughed at as kids when they told people they wanted to go into outer space, but that didn’t stop them from almost losing everything in pursuit of that dream. Though they never got to achieve their goal of setting foot on the moon, they will always be heroes to a husky, insecure 10 year old who loved astronomy.
The next time someone tells you to “grow up,” take it as a compliment. You’re never too old to learn and grow and realize your dream.