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You Can Be Anything You Want to Be When You Grow Up and Other Fairy Tales

Karen is from Connecticut. She has a degree in education. She loves game shows, animals, the beach, and her family.

You Can Be Anything You Want to Be When You Grow Up, and Other Fairy Tales

I consider what I’m about to say a valuable public service announcement. Some adults are still knowingly instilling false hope in the minds of today’s youth, and I want to set the record straight. You hear it time and time again from well-meaning educators or parents. “You can be anything you want to be when you grow.” What are we really telling kids when we tell them this? Your job is who you are? With hard work alone someone will hand you your dream job and then your life will matter?

For starters, there are a lot of servers in Los Angeles that aren’t getting what they felt entitled to. Hollywood equity cards aren’t available by wishing on a star. Wanting to be an actor when you grow up isn’t really possible for everyone who wishes for it. I had a friend who tried to find fame as a screenwriter, working at a Best Buy, drinking Kentucky Bourbon like water, eating only frozen pizza, and trying to figure out Final Draft. Just no. It wasn’t working. Wasn’t ever going to.

Hundreds of interns/future Presidents bustle around the Capital each year. Who’s going to break it to them? There’s like two last names and two ivy league universities that could possibly give them a shot in hell, but largely the answer is no. And the little boys and girls who are going to the Olympics or the NBA/WNBA? There’s just not enough room on the field, even for many extremely talented folks.

As for me, I am in the unfortunate position of being nearly forty years old, and I am not what I wanted to be when I grew up. Furthermore, I’m not even sure I know what I want to be now. And why is my job who I am? Same thing for anyone else. If my job is teaching middle school, is that who I am? Can’t we be more than a job? That’s a lot of pressure. What if you get up tomorrow and you get fired, or the business you worked so hard to start goes under? Does that mean you’re nothing?

No, it doesn’t. A job is one thing. It’s probably a pain in the ass sometimes, boring sometimes, and mildly rewarding at other times. Even if you’re a celebrity and superior athlete, you have to be more than your current vocation. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket, right?

When I was fourteen I had it all figured out. That was probably the first red flag. I was taking highschool biology, and I declared to anyone who would listen that I was going to be a genetic counselor when I grew up. Then they were forced to endure a mini-lecture from an awkwardly pretentious teenager about what genetic counseling is. It's a pretty niche career. I can’t remember why I was so dead set on it. Maybe keep your options open, kid?

Flash forward, I had graduated with a Bachelors in Psychology with a minor in Biology. Tons of volunteer work. High GPA I applied for a Masters program in genetic counseling. There were very few. I didn’t get in. Funny thing. They didn’t get the memo about being whatever you want to be when you grow up. Troublesome things can get in the way. Strict admissions requirements, competitive application processes, tuition bills, geography, legacy candidates. One or any combination of these factors can get in the way.

Of course I had the opportunity to take some time to get more experience and broaden my coursework, make myself a stronger candidate, but what is a new college graduate to do for money right then? Long story short, I pursued a Masters in Education. It was hard work and expensive, but I made it. Portfolio assignments. GRE testing. Praxis testing. Licensing requirements. I’m paying for that degree long after I decided teaching wasn’t working for me. Unkind reviews from adolescents, administrators, and parents really dug in on that message, and this when I was trying my damndest. Other people’s kids can be scary. I’d be weeks ahead in my lesson planning, writing the agenda on the board with an unjustified sense of purpose when one, or several, little scholars would declare “No” or “Shut up.”

I faced tense classrooms where sexist comments, racist comments, threats of physical abuse were thrown around. I cleaned many penis drawings off desks. I could present it as a mutual decision, but really I was shown the door out of a teaching career. I will always be afraid of teenagers. And teaching was my second choice. You can be anything you want to be when you grow up definitely didn’t apply to me. I went through the motions, trying hard, but I wasn’t a teacher.

Not exactly knowing what to do, I buckled down to re-pursue the genetic counseling version of me. I took extra community college classes and volunteered with a crisis hotline. I met with genetic counselors and observed them at their workplace. When I thought I was good and ready I applied again to several programs in genetic counseling. I even got an interview with one of the six programs I applied to. Each program only accepts about five students each year, so getting to the interview stage was an honor in and of itself. But I didn’t get in. I guess I just can’t catch a break.

Try and try again though. There’s always another option. I applied for jobs as a genetic counseling assistant. After dozens of applications and a dozen interviews I got a job. Out of state. What an adventure. I considered this the dream job. Doing the work I was so dead set on as a nerdy highschool kid. I got my own desk, my own phone and email address. I had the hospital badge. The oncologists knew me by name. I was an essential employee. No more mouthy pre-teens. I was almost immediately bored and restless though. No one else worked onsite at the clinic in the hospital. No patients came in. What we did was ship saliva kits to patients. Sometimes they didn’t even send them back. Many would skip phone consultations. This was supposed to be the “me” I wanted to be when I was younger. Adulthood fail number five.

Flash forward again about two years, the job that I wanted to define me didn’t fit. It wore me out. Took me away from my family. I was sick, stressed. So I left the job. Now I’m basically circling around the drain, spinning, trying to find my center. I don’t want it to be a job either. When I was stressing about resigning my position, I described to a friend that I was done trying to find myself through a job. I’d do anything that would pay the bills, no matter how it looked to others, however lowbrow or blue-collar it seemed. All I felt capable and confident enough to do was read books and try not to cry. Maybe I could handle dog snuggling as well, on a good day.

I’m surviving though. Part of me still feels like I need a job that will complete me and appear sophisticated to outsiders. But really I can feel a surprising sense of purpose from cleaning a dirty house and adding order to its chaos, or providing companionship to a senior citizen who needs support. So maybe we can give young adults the message that they should be good people, find hobbies, enjoy friends and family, and seek rewarding work. Don’t be afraid to walk away if it’s not working out. It doesn’t define you. It pays bills. You can be much more than whatever you get a paycheck for.

When I Grow Up

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2022 Karen Michelle C