At the high school my kids attend I am part of a volunteer team that helps students formulate their post-high school plans. I am definitely qualified to do this because I finally know what I want to do when I grow up, I mean now that I’m a grown-up, and so now I know how to help others figure it out too. The “when” I figured it out (last year) and the “what” I want to do (be a backup dancer on tour with Justin Bieber) are not pertinent (read: impediments) to my qualifications. They are not! The point you might be missing here is that I figured out how to figure this out. I think we’ve been approaching this career search archetype all wrong.
I am aware that I am a grown-up, as determined solely by my age. Well my age and something that happened to me a few years back while watching Ellen interview El Numero Uno on my bucket list. If I don’t get to one of his concerts before I die, all of my God-given breaths will have been wasted. God and I will have words when I arrive at the pearly gates, if he chooses not to bless me so. Everything else that happens to me in opposition of the way I think it should, I am trying hard to understand and come to terms with. But to not grant me my heart’s one, true desire; what would be the meaning of that? That question was rhetorical. Please do not try to answer.
Anyhoo, I got a little excited and failed to state whom I’m speaking of here. And I just realized you might very well be thinking I’m still talking about Justin Bieber. You might not have switched gears with me and understand that I’m talking about Justin Timberlake. Yes, I am swapping Justins around here like I’m dealing you a game of Three-card Monte, but no, I don’t have some weird obsession with Justins. I can prove this because I know plenty of other Justins and while perfectly nice men all, they’re just “meh” to me.
So anyhoo again, what happened was, as I was listening to Ellen and Justin (Timberlake) banter back and forth I remember thinking to myself “oh, he’s such a sweet boy.” Wait, self, stop. Wha? What is it that you’re thinking? That this grown-ass man is a sweet boy? Oh honey, you is OLD!
Until that day I did not know that I was old, and thus, a grown-up. And for the record, I am only eight years older than JT. So I don’t know why I feel this way towards him. I’m guessing it’s a protective thing. He’s a national treasure and I want him to stay safe and sound until I can make it to his show. Also there’s no denying his sweetness. Thank you Justin, for this very timely example of just how sweet you are. But in fact, until that moment I had never stopped I feeling like I was still a teenager, in spirit.
I remember commenting on this phenomenon to friends over the years, wondering if I had unknowingly encountered some sort of spiritual fountain of youth. A good number of my friends told me they felt the exact same way. One friend relayed that she had always been intrigued by this same mindset as well, and that she had asked her 71-year-old mama when she had first started to feel like a grown-up. Her mama replied, “I don’t know, but I’ll let you know when it happens!” I was buoyed by this and thought I might never feel old. And I had a good thing going there, until JT burst that bubble. Whatev. I’d rather spend two hours front row and center (or in the very last seat in the very back row of very the highest section) at his concert than a lifetime in Neverland.
I’ve always felt big angst about not knowing what I wanted to do when I grew up. Our society likes to dial this in for kids around age six. As if having just learned to write your name also means you can now write your chosen profession down next to it. I’ve been lagging behind, and once I realized I was in fact a grown-up and still not headed down a “proper” career path, my anxiety increased. But a few years ago, I latched on to a new concept, presented to me by my son. He came home from school one day and announced he wanted to be “happy” when he grows up. Full stop. I thought, yasss!!!, me too. Gosh, it’s really so simple, I wish I would have come to this realization sooner.
But as I continued to think on it, almost never a good thing for me, I realized being happy speaks more to what I want to be than what I want to do. “Do” and “be” may seem interchangeable when we ask what people want to “do/be.” Because if the “be” is a teacher, then we know the “do” is to educate. We can make inferences. But we can’t write “happy” in the previous employment field on job applications. And we still have to find the “what” that will make us happy. We can’t just “be” happy, something has to happen to make us happy. Right? And happiness never lasts, it’s fleeting because it’s dependent on things that don’t last. The angst came back.
Or could it work the same with happy after all? If we decide we want to “be” happy, the “do” can be anything that brings us joy. And it doesn’t have to be static, the “do” can change as we change. The distinction comes from learning what makes us joyful and plugging into that, and that we don’t have to answer the question of what we want to “do/be” with a realistic career goal. The way we answer the question can change. The paradigm can shift.The angst can ease.
A couple of years ago, at a TEDx event, I had the pleasure of listening to Emilie Wapnick explain what it means to be a multipotentialite. Never heard of one? She’s aware, because she made up the word. As she began to define it, she began to define me, the way I saw myself. Sans the angst. She had already sifted through her own angst and had arrived at content and empowered. Someone got me! And thought I was valuable to society, even though I lacked clear affinity for one long-term profession over another.
“A multipotentialite is a person who has many different interests and creative pursuits in life.
Multipotentialites have no “one true calling” the way specialists do. Being a multipotentialite is our destiny. We have many paths and we pursue all of them, either sequentially or simultaneously (or both).
Multipotentialites thrive on learning, exploring, and mastering new skills. We are excellent at bringing disparate ideas together in creative ways. This makes us incredible innovators and problem solvers.
When it comes to new interests that emerge, our insatiable curiosity leads us to absorb everything we can get our hands on. As a result, we pick up new skills fast and tend to be a wealth of information.”
Emilie’s TED talk remains one of my favorites of all time. It saved me from myself. From those damaging thoughts that clawed at me. The ones that told me I was not enough. That without an ongoing workplace passion, I’m underserving humanity and not living up to my full potential. Finally feeling ok about the way I approach (the multitude of) jobs I become interested in, freed me of my shackles enough to help me realize we can answer the question of we want to do when we grow up very differently than in the expected way. Not with just a career choice, or with what we can actually do, but with what we want to do. Which is indeed how the question is posed anyway. How come we never pay attention to that?
I want to be a backup dancer on tour with Justin Bieber.
Why I Can Never Actually Be a Backup Dancer On Tour With Justin Bieber:
I am a terrible dancer. I have no rhythm. No real cohesive pattern to the way I flail my arms and lurch about with my legs. I get self-conscious when I dance in full view of other people because I know I’m not doing it well. I recently became aware I’m supposed to get some solid hip action going, so I’ve been working on that. I’m thinking if I can master the Shakira thing, it will camouflage what the rest of my body parts are doing. Because hips don’t lie. Also, I can’t go on tour, I am a wife and a mom. I am still needed here at home, where my tenderhearts are. And the final nail in the coffin is that I’m well over twice the age of Justin and his dancers. It would roll like a “one of these is not like the other” segment on Sesame Street. Not sure that’s the vibe Justin is going for.
Why None of That Matters:
Because dancing brings me joy. Full-fledged, unbridled glee. Every single time I do it. I can’t stop smiling, I lose myself. All my cares melt away. Much like it does for these people.
But why on stage, in front of millions, since I stink at it? Concert atmosphere is electrifying. The adrenaline that’s generated is exchanged, and whether audience member or performer, you get an incredible rush. I want that. The combination of that rush with the joy I feel while dancing, would be heaven on earth. For me. And remember, this is all about want to, not can do.
And why dance with this Justin and not the other? It’s another protective thing I guess. The reason dates back to years ago when I watched Justin Bieber’s concert film Never Say Never with my kids. At that point, his popularity was just beginning to eclipse the sun and I found myself rooting for him. We all know how things can go for child stars. I worried about him.
As he grew older I had a premonition that his life is going to play out similar to how Princess Diana’s did, or some close approximation of it. A life cut short by the senseless need to have Google Earth zeroed in on celebrity at all times. I hope I was wrong, but nothing I’ve seen to date has given me much comfort that he’ll end up ok. I just want him to be left in peace and out of the fray, so he can find his zen. I want him to have some quiet in all the noise, so he can hear the still small voice that guides each one of us in the way we should go.
He is not his mistakes and he is redeemable, we all are. But he needs more positive influences. I’m a mama. Mothering is what I do, and so what’s one more Justin, I mean young person, to look after? And, he puts on an amazing show! Yes, I know he’s 23 years old as I write this and thus doesn’t actually qualify as a young person in need of extra mothering, but I think I’ve established I have a weird age tic. It works like this; however old you are when I first meet you or encounter you, that’s how old I think you are forever. Can’t fix it. I first noticed this with my friend Shannon. She is 25. And this is why I still see Justin Timberlake as a Mouseketeer.
So I want to be a backup dancer on tour with Justin Bieber. Yes, I realize I sound ridiculous, and what’s wrong with that? Isn’t it also ridiculous to start asking children what they want to do when they grow up before they can possibly know? Isn’t it ridiculous to burden them with the pressure they feel to figure it out before they can even drive a car, or vote? Even for us grown-ups, isn’t it a ridiculous expectation to know what we want to do and to gear our lives towards that goal when single-profession careers aren’t even the norm any longer? So what’s the difference?
The difference for me is that I’ve taken all the stress out of this question, and all of a sudden it becomes so easy to reply. Try it! What do YOU want to do, if and when you grow up? Don’t put any qualifiers on your response. Just answer from the gut, or from your heart. Who cares if you can actually ever do it. There is so much fun and peace in finally answering that question with what you want to do. There is still and will always be plenty of things we can do in life. Let’s focus on what we want to do every once in a while, even if it’s silly.
Photo credits: (Top) Billboard Magazine, (Middle) TED.com, (Bottom) Billboard Magazine