Who and What am I?
(4 min read)
The ‘Adult’ bends down and says to the small child…“AND, who do you want to be when you grow up?”
The child who is full of wonder replies, “A police officer, fireman. superhero, astronaut, doctor, vet…”
The list goes on and on. At this age, the possibilities are endless. The opportunities the world has to offer are limitless. And anything is possible. As we grow older, society defines our possibilities and tells us what our normal roles are. Men work in construction; women take on caregiver roles as nursery aids and so forth.
I have witnessed in primary schools how children are segregated into different ability groups and these “labels” often define them throughout their education. There is such a focus on the academic subjects: Math, English, Science. tests and the grading system appear to be the only reinforcement. Where am I going with this? From a very early age, many of us lose our own dreams and become judged and defined by our performance.
From the moment we are asked about our professional dreams, we are then funneled into ability groups and education lanes which seem to align. Those who meet the grade easily are pushed to the top. Having good memory skills is rewarded. I’m not criticizing the education system. There are good and bad points. It does seem like there are gaps for those with curious minds and those needing more guidance, but maybe that’s a discussion for another day. Boy, have I gone off track. Back to who am I?
When I was very little, I remember the first thing I wanted to be. I would be a ballet dangler (as i called it) or ballet dancer. Hey, I was only four. Lol. As I got older, I was fascinated by Ancient Egypt, the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Queens, the theory of the afterlife, mummies and more. I went from wanting to do pirouettes to being an archaeologist – a real life Indiana Jones. I was sure to find a tomb with treasure and secrets.
I then switched to having a desire to fly in space – yes, an Astronaut. I wanted to experience complete weightlessness and to explore the planets and stars. Then I fell in love with the idea of animal care. I am not talking about grooming. I would go to the top. I would become a Veterinarian. But I also loved art, drawing, carving wood and sculpture. Perhaps someday I would be the next Michelangelo.
I could have achieved any of these professions, but whether the adults around me started to dampen my fiery passion or I started to settle into reality, my “fantasy” professions became a thing of the past. Throughout my school years, however, the question, “Who do you want to be”” was repeated over and over. By the time we get to a working age, it becomes ingrained that our job defines us, maybe not on a conscious level but certainly subconsciously.
When I look back, I don’t regret not becoming a lead in Swan Lake. After all, I have flat feet and wow my coordination is not my strongest suit. I have no problem getting dirty, digging and using a metal detector. I am a strong proponent of animal rescue. I may have several cats to prove it. My desire to seek new places and explore remains on high. Though a spaceship may not be my means of transportation. My artistry comes in many forms from writing, drawing and refurbishments. Will my work be in the Sistine Chapel? Doubt it.
The things we are passionate about evolve, yet none of these passions have yet to become my profession. The answers I gave as a child to the incessant “Who do you want to be” question, never produced a paycheck.
As an adult, I still have a few questions to answer: “What is my passion and purpose?” and “Who am I?”
My working roles started in banking and business debt recovery. I then went on to work in Human Resources. And eventually spent nearly 11 years in Quality Control and Compliance. Very rigid, regulated, focused, and high-paced jobs.
But if you asked my four-year old self if I wanted to be a Quality Support person, I would have screamed, “OMG. No. How boring!” Yet that is where I found myself.
This past month has been a little unsettling as I found out I was being made redundant (laid off). I have always believed everything happens for a reason and that something good comes from every change. Yet this hit me really hard. Maybe it is because I had been there for so long. Maybe deep down I knew things were going to change, but none of us are ever really prepared for the reality of this. Either way, I have been grieving what was and what will no longer be. This event made me realize how much we allow our professions to become our identity.
When our roles complete their cycle whether it’s finishing school, a change in a job, children leaving home, or relationship changing, it’s like we have lost part of ourselves. We find ourselves wandering aimlessly.
If we rolled back the clock, and I became my little girl again, wouldn’t it be amazing if I was asked what would you like to feel when you are older? Wouldn’t the world be in a better place if we shifted away from the pressure and expectation where “growing up” meant you were becoming a job or label. Let’s have discussions about what characteristics we would like to emulate.
I’m sure my little girl would answer: “Happy and free like a dancer. Be as inquisitive as an investigator. Guide and help others. Uncover exciting treasures. Help defenseless animals. Be a compassionate advocate and speaker for those who cannot speak for themselves. Feel weightless and see the beauty of the world and stars. I want to explore everything!”
If we could align our feelings and passions with our identity at a young age, we would be better equipped when life shifts. When we lose our jobs, it won’t feel like a part of us died in the process. The change won’t leave us struggling to redefine our whole being. We won’t be left asking ourselves “Who am I” every time we experience a role change because we would already know who we are. Regardless of our profession, we would recognize the qualities we possess do not leave us, even if the office desk is no longer ours.