When we were children, everyone told us we could do anything we set our minds to. The sky was the limit, they said. When asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, our answers could be as outlandish or impossible as the outskirts of our imagination, and we would simply receive a smile or a nod of approval. But at what age do we stop encouraging others to pursue their wildest dreams? Or, at least, when do we begin to realize that when people say, “You can be anything you want to be,” they really mean, “You can do anything you want…but only if want to be a doctor, lawyer, engineer, or any other position that receives lots of wealth and esteem. If you want to be something else, change your mind.”
When I was a young girl, I wanted to be an actress, a writer, or a WNBA player. By the time I was about nine or ten years old, I was informed that the WNBA probably wouldn’t even exist by the time I got old enough to play; and, during puberty, I realized that I was way too shy to be an actress. Not to mention I jumble my words quite frequently, which might hinder a career in performing arts. But in high school, the question changed. People started asking, “If you won the lottery tomorrow and didn’t have to work a day in your life, what would you still do with your days?”
Even then, I’d write. There was no question about it. So here I am, lottery-less but writing.
Last week, I spoke with a writer friend about this. We met over coffee and she confessed the hardest thing she ever did in her profession was tell people that’s what she did for a living. And I can certainly understand what she was saying–we have passed that age of childhood dreams, it seems, and very few people have tolerance for “risky” professions. Somehow people just can’t believe that you would choose a lifelong dream over the stability of cold, hard cash. Usually when I tell people that I’m a writer, they look as though I just admitted to having a dead body stashed in the trunk of my car.
“What’s that? You want to write?” they ask confused or appalled. “You realize that every Tom, Dick, and Harry are doing the same thing as you…that you’ll never have any money…that you’ll probably end up homeless and starving and your life will end in pitiful doom. You know that, right?”
Well, before I started admitting my passion for writing, I had only heard those words in my head. It’s strange–but very common nowadays–to hear them in a voice other than my own. So in response, yes, I guess I do technically “know” those things.
Later, on the same day, I visited my fiance for lunch. One of his coworkers approached our table and we all started having a friendly chat. Then he asked the dreaded question.
“I’m a writer,” I told him.
A guffaw rose from the depths of his belly and filled each corner of the room before he turned to my fiance and cried hysterically, “You better get a much better paying job!”
But where would the world be if not for those who courageously pursued “risky” endeavors? This man, who claims to be a Christian, would not know the Bible if someone hadn’t put ink on paper. Actors, filmmakers, artists–where would we be without these people? And yet, they get scoffed and scolded. Their worth just a little less, based on secular evaluation, than someone of a more “noble” pursuit.
So, when others ask what I want to be when I grow up, I channel the little girl inside and proudly tell them who I am. Who I’ve always been. And who I will continue to be.