What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?
How can you know what you want
Till you get what you want
And you see if you like it?
— Steven Sondheim, Into the Woods
We had some good friends over for dinner the other night. While we waited for the roast to finish, Wayne and I took the air on the back porch. We talked about work. I told him that this is a slow time of year at the box factory.
“Yeah,” he said. “It's slow for us at the dealership, too. The last three weeks have been awful.” Wayne works for a local car dealership. He recently moved from sales to finance. He's the hardest worker I know, often putting in six ten-hour (or twelve-hour!) days in a single week.
We sat silent for a few moments. Wayne took a draw on his cigarette. I sipped my wine. At last he said, “You know, I don't hate my job, but I don't love it either. It's just not what I want to be doing. It's not my life, you know?”
“What do you want to be doing?” I asked.
“I don't know,” he said. “I'd really like to open a cigar shop or a wine bar or something like that.”
“Do it,” I said.
“I can't,” he said. “My family wouldn't approve.” His extended family is very religious, and they frown upon smoking and drinking. “I've also thought about starting a winery, or at least going to work for one.”
“That seems like a good fit,” I said. “You like wine. You know a lot about it. You're excellent with people. But…”
“But my family wouldn't like that, either. The thing is, I make good money at the dealership. I like my boss. It's a good job. But it's not meaningful. I feel unfulfilled.”
We shivered in the cold November air. We looked at the stars. “It's strange,” I said at last. “It seems that a lot of people reach their mid- to late-thirties and need a career change. They want to do something different. Or they wake up one day and realize that they have a certain skillset, maybe from a hobby or something, and that they could make money doing something they loved.”
“That's kind of what you're doing, right?” asked Wayne.
“Kind of,” I said. “I've always loved to write. On a whim I started to write about personal finance. I was surprised to discover I was good at it, that I could help people.”
“Do you like it?” he asked.
“I love it. I feel called to it. It's what I want to do. I'm not giving up my day job yet, though my day job is unfulfilling, too. I don't like my work at the box factory. But that job gives me unexpected benefits, like the time to spend writing. That job also pays the bills while I find my way with this.”
Wayne lit another cigarette while I told him about my friend P., who wants to start a bike-fitting business. “I think the key is to find something you love and to do it,” I said.
“But how can you know what you would love to do?” he asked. “How can you find that?”
“That's a good question,” I said. “I don't have a good answer. If you had told me a year ago that my vocation was to write a personal finance web site, I would have laughed. The idea would have seemed absurd. I think the key is to be open to new ideas. To be in a state of readiness. You want to be receptive to even the oddest thing that might come your way.”
“You want to be able to recognize an opportunity when it appears,” I said.
“Yeah,” said Wayne. Just then, Kris called us inside to dinner.
Wayne and I never did finish our conversation. In a way, it feels like the continuation of a discussion I had last week with my friend AJ. She, too, is in her mid-thirties, and at a place in her life where she's not sure which direction to go.
“I just don't know what I want to be when I grow up,” she told me.
Few people do.