When my daughter, Stephanie, was 2 1/2, she started thinking about her future. One day, she told me she wanted to be an astronaut when she grew up. The next day, it was a chef. Later, a ballerina. And I always said the same thing: “You can be anything you want to be.”
Then it happened. She asked me, “Mommy, what’s your job?”
My thoughts scattered. “Well,” I said to myself, “I was a social worker, but I hated it. Then there were those years working for the nonprofit agency. Should I tell her about the day I worked at the car dealership? How about the three weeks recruiting blood donors? Nah. I know, I’ll tell her what I do now. Wait–she knows what I do now; I stay home with her. Hmmm, what is my job?”
“I really don’t have a job,” I said.
“Oh,” she smiled. “So what do you want to be when you grow up?”
“I’m not sure,” I admitted.
“You can be anything you want to be,” she reminded me. “So what do you want to be?”
Luckily, it was time for Barney and, by the time the “I Love You” song ended, Stephanie had forgotten our conversation.
But I hadn’t. Her simple question had me wondering–at the tender age of 31–what I wanted to be when I grew up. I had always thought that by the time I reached my thirties, I would not only know what I wanted to do with my life, I would be doing it. Somehow, it hadn’t worked out that way.
I started writing my feelings down, filling notebook after notebook. I wrote about how I never knew what I wanted to be. I listed what I had liked and hated about my former jobs. I wrote descriptions of my “dream” career.
When I finished writing, I started flipping through my other notebooks–the ones in which I had recorded my life since high school. I read about being confined to bed with mono at 17, and with premature labor at 28. I laughed as I read about being dumped by my first boyfriend, and cried as I read about my father’s death. I read about Stephanie’s birth and my fears of not being a good enough mother.
As I read the words I had written at 15…at 21…at 30, I realized that writing had always been the constant in my life. And I finally knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. A writer.
I studied magazines and every writing book I could find. I joined an online support group for writers. I started going through my notebooks and polishing my stories. Some of my experiences turned into essays; others provided information for articles; still others became the background for fictional stories. I devoted early mornings, late nights, and naptimes to working at my new career.
I’m so glad I finally did. My work now appears in publications I had only dreamed of before. And I have taught my daughter–and myself–that it’s never too late to figure out what you want to be when you grow up.
Two years later, Stephanie still isn’t sure what her future career will be. But she knows what my job is. “My mom is a writer,” she says. “And I can be anything I want to be.”
Carol Sjostrom Miller writes articles and essays from her home in Clermont, New Jersey. Her work has appeared in an array of publications, including Pregnancy Magazine, Skirt!, ByLine, WritersDigest.com, and The Christian Science Monitor. She also has stories slated for two upcoming books in the Chocolate for Women series. You can reach Carol via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org