Growing up, it always bothered me when adults asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” They usually asked out of playful curiosity (though I’d later find out that sometimes they’d ask in order to judge a kid’s character, by which they could judge his or her parents’). It’s an almost recklessly carefree question. After all, it’s a kid they’re asking; kids can say whatever they want. Their ignorance empowers them. Adults coax answers out of them by shrouding the truth. They say things like “You can be whatever you want to be” and “If you work hard, it’ll be yours” even though they know very well that life isn’t that simple.
It’s a loaded question.
As kids get older, many begin to feel the burden of that question. They may even feel the weight of guilt. Guilt for giving answers that might not be true, that might be forced. More than likely, they might not even know what they want.
I thought this was a writing blog, Aidan. Not an Aidan-Doesn’t-Have-Enough-Money-For-Therapy-So-He’ll-Self-Medicate-With-A-Blog-blog.
Look, there’s a purpose to this, alright?
On my first day of school the teacher had all of us write what our dreams were—what we wanted to do with our “limitless futures.”
“I want to be the president.”
That’s what I said with a big smile, convincing confidence, and a loud applause from my classmates. I could say that because I was a kid.
Reality began to slowly creep in when we immigrated to the USA. I remember standing by the train station at night with my mother waiting for my father who never came. We had about 70 dollars in our pocket and though I don’t remember how my mother’s face was at the time, I can imagine very well now what it probably was like. It was around this time I think my mother began to seed a dream in me of becoming a lawyer (and eventually becoming the president of USA or at least the Vice President if the laws didn’t change). Part of the reason was practical—she believed that a licensed job would allow me to be a good provider as a kid without any roots in the new country. Part of the reason was from observation—I had talent for public speech, performance, and debate. I loved all that stuff. Finally another part of the reason was motherly—if something were to happen to her, she wanted to know that I’d be alright. She wanted her son to at least be able to provide himself with a home and food on the table. I think during the decades of tough years that came after that night it gave her hope to picture her son as a lawyer.
So when people asked what I wanted to be I had a new answer.
“I want to be a lawyer.”
And for a while I truly did. I had a dream that I recognized to be a little naïve of wanting to help people. Growing up both as both poor and a minority, I experienced hardships that go unnoticed by the majority. People tear apart on the weak and the helpless. Even the hungry feed on those in the same circumstances as they are to fill their own stomachs. I thought it’d be great to become someone who could be the helping hand to those people in need.
But in hindsight, I could say that and think that because, again, I was a kid. I didn’t know better. I didn’t know the world, and I didn’t know who I was yet. Most of all, there was still the bigger problem of me not having a clue what the world wanted from me or what I wanted from it.
Don’t get me wrong. I still want to do those things. I worked hard and I was only an application away from entering law school. I still think it’s a noble profession in the right hands and still is a profession capable of being a financially reliable. I probably would have even loved it. And if everything went well the money from the job would have given my family a chance to turn things around and given my mom some break to enjoy her life a bit.
So why did I decide to take a chunk of my life to try and change the course to become a writer?