When we ask our four-year-old daughter what she’s going to be when she grows up, without fail her immediate and assured reply is: “I’m going to be a mum, a doctor and a hairdresser.”
I have to admit that when she first said this my instant reaction was a sense of pride that my daughter was making good career choices at a young age AND that she was determined to juggle such reputable vocations with being a mother as well.
Yes – my pre-schooler was already paving her path to greatness, and I was already planning what I’d wear to her graduation from medical school.
But then I really thought about it. I thought about what, as her mother, I hoped for my daughter’s future and I soon realised that I didn’t actually care whether she was going to be a doctor, or a mum, or a trapeze artist for that matter. All I did care about was that she continued to be healthy and happy, and that we remained connected for the rest of our lives.
So why is it that from a young age we are loaded with this pressure of what we are going to “become” when we are older? Not only is it unnecessary, it’s dangerous. For a start, it makes us stop living in and enjoying the present moment and start thinking (and worrying) about what happiness will look like in 10, 20 or 30 years’ time. Isn’t the best part about being a kid that all you care about is literally the moment you’re in? Without realising it we’re teaching our kids that the future is where happiness lives, not right now.
What’s just as concerning to me is that we’re teaching our kids that becoming something – as in a teacher, a doctor, a singer, an All Black – whatever it is – is going to be the key to our happiness. We attach a job to our joy, rather than finding joy from within.
Which brings me to my current predicament. In 14 months’ time, I’m going to be 40. And while I am fortunate enough to be working right now, it still feels like I’ve yet to ascertain what exactly it is that I’m going to be when I grow up – that is, one occupation I can hang my hat on and proudly proclaim myself to be. The problem is that I’ve been asking myself the same question for the past 20 years, and suddenly almost half of my life is behind me, and I’m still yet to figure out the answer.
I can’t help but think that my dilemma is linked to the same question we used to ask our daughter. That I’ve taken this notion of becoming something when I grow up so seriously that somewhere along the way I became more consumed with the becoming that I forgot to just be.
One of my first memories as a young girl was telling people that I was going to marry Prince William when I was older. Believe me, I wasn’t joking. I honestly thought my life would propel me so many privileges that I would end up a princess.
Obviously, things between Wills and I didn’t work out, but looking back I think such a sentiment represented my genuine belief that I would find my knight in shining armour, and that would be it. My life’s purpose, my happiness, my fulfilment would come from the love of somebody else – someone who was going to treat me like a queen for the rest of my life.
I know, it seems ridiculous now, but this is the result of growing up thinking that becoming something – in this case, a wife/princess – will make us happy. Walt Disney has a lot to answer for.
I also think I have grown up in a generation where we were very much told, inadvertently or not – by our families, by our teachers, by the media – that happiness stems from success. This success was based on who we marry, what we study at university, what job we have, how much money we make, how many kids we have, and what kind of house we own.
Some years on and as someone who is married with children, has a job, is doing ok financially, and owns a nice house – I can unequivocally say that I don’t place myself at the top of the success chart, at all. Nor do I equate these things with happiness. Comfort, yes. Happiness, no.
So, when I say that I’m almost 40 and I still don’t know what I’m going to be when I grow up, perhaps what I’m really saying is this: I’m almost 40 and while I’ve always thought that by now I would be feeling content and satisfied, I’m not.
What am I doing about it? Well, I’ve started asking myself the same thing I now ask my daughter. Not “what are you going to be?” but “what makes you happy?” And we’re both doing more of that.
Kerri Jones grew up in Tauranga and after almost 20 years of studying and working in various cities around the country and the world, returned home to the Bay of Plenty last year with her husband and two young children. She also has two teenage step-daughters who live on the Kapiti Coast and visit whenever possible. Kerri commenced her career in journalism but veered off into advertising and PR, so is enjoying getting back into the groove of writing again.