“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Everyone always asks. Whether you’re eight or eighteen, you’re expected have an answer. A fireman. A soldier. A president. An astronaut. A writer.
At eight, it was easy. I was going to be a writer, astronaut, and president. I would be a writer because I enjoyed weaving words together. I would be an astronaut for the adventure. And I would be a president to set the world right.
My parents grinned at my ideas when we discussed them. If I wanted to be an astronaut, my best bet was to become a superior Air Force pilot. If I wanted to be a writer, I should practice every day and not be afraid of rejection. I could be anything I wanted to be. And they truly believed it. Eventually, my realization that motion sickness and height would be a problem as a space shuttle pilot and a lack of interest in politics eliminated president from the list, but they still believed that I could be either of those things if I had truly wanted to be.
Growing up, though, means other voices begin throwing in their two cents: Writing isn’t a practical career. The odds of being successful aren’t good. The stories aren’t good. Maybe since you’re dad’s a minister and you like traveling, you should be a missionary. You’re good with people, so you could be a receptionist.
The problem is sometimes those voices drown out what’s truly important to us. Other times, they burrow into our dreams like termites, eating our hopes away until there’s naught but a pile of sawdust.
At eighteen, I sort of knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I still wanted to be a writer. Thinking of my novel sitting on someone’s bookshelf makes my heart skip a beat, like being in love. But writing wasn’t going to work right out of college–and it still hasn’t worked yet. So I worked in an office. And I didn’t like it. I could have been a good secretary, but it wasn’t for me. I needed something else. I listened to that little voice in my own heart. And out of the blue one day, I thought about being a teacher. At first, I wasn’t sure. But the first time I substituted and found myself immersed in a deluge of hugs, I knew I was in the right place. Being with the kids feels the same as writing. I was in love. And I love it more now than I did three years ago.
Finding that place–that perfect place–isn’t easy. But it’s worth it. Shane Hipps describes it this way: you have a guitar. You’ve never seen a guitar before, so you decide that you’d like to play wiffle ball with it. A guitar can work well as a bat–it’s wide, it’s hard, and it makes hitting the ball pretty easy–but that’s not what the guitar was made for. It was made to play music. And when it’s used to make music, it’s beautiful. It goes from mundane to epic.
We don’t have to follow the little voice in our hearts. But if we do, it may take our wiffle guitar and turn it into a Francesco Molino masterpiece.