When I was three or four, I approached my Mum with a plastic Easter egg carton full of my little sister’s hair and announced that I was practising to be Aunty Bev. Aunty Bev was a hairdresser. Mum had to scold me quick and hug me close so that I would be exposed only to her angry face. Above my head, she was laughing.
Then I learned to read and write; I would build new worlds with my pencil. I took up a music scholarship; I was going to make music that everyone connected with. I loved animals; I would fix them when they were sick [mind you, that dream that was dashed when I almost fainted during a rabbit-spaying at veterinary work experience]. I would be a dietician, a mechanic, an inventor of stuff, a world champion sportsperson, a news presenter, a time-travelling universe explorer, a unicorn pegasus-riding medieval empress with magical powers, an artist/musician/writer/philospher. I was young, invincible, everything!
‘The world is your oyster,’ the ubiquitous They told me, ‘but you still have to earn a crust. What are you going to do with your life?’ Coming from a household with little and seeing friends with a lot, the importance of money was impressed upon me, pressed into me.
By the age of 16, my sights were set on the TEE [now ATAR?]. With reasonable grades, the expectation grew that I would study medicine, law, or engineering. ‘There are other, better ways of helping people–and you can help more people when you have more money,’ I was told. ‘You can always make art in your own time.’
My dreams of singing jazz and writing novels subsided as I finally swallowed the line that I would never make money as a musician or a writer. So I compromised me. I would keep my passions, in the background, as distant hobbies. It was a slippery slide. A 20-year rollercoaster ride.
Now I sing jazz around the house (when my kids let me), I create food, and I write. I live with less, yet I’m happier. Maybe it’s because I am honouring me.
At some stage in the last 30 or so years, we stopped asking our kids, ‘What do you want to be?’ and started asking, ‘What do you want to do?’
On the surface, it’s a subtle difference. Two letters, one little word. Two distinct meanings.
These words have power.
By asking our kids what they want to do, we encourage them to be defined by what they deliver, not by who they are. We implant the expectation that outcomes are more important than values. And we begin a rewiring process that is essentially an induction into this world and its expectations, crushing up their tender idealism to shoot it through a machine that extrudes them into compliant students, good employees, accepting citizens. Followers.
That wasn’t enough for me, and it’s not what I want for my kids. I don’t want them to live an ‘if only I had done that’ kind of life.
I want my children to think–really think–about what matters and how their actions impact the world around them. I want them to ask earnest questions when something doesn’t make sense, to speak up when they disagree, to stand up for others. I want them to be ethical, even when it means challenging populist opinion or foregoing income. I want them to be present, tolerant, kind, compassionate, resilient, true. I want them to experience–really experience–love, happiness, and life.
That might sound like a lot, but it distills into just one hope: I want my children to have fun being the best humans they can be. Or, if they turn out to be aliens, which I sometimes suspect they are, that’s okay too–as long as they are living the best versions of themselves. I think that’s the most important thing.
I am so fortunate to have these crazy, quirky, funny little people inspiring my life. I love watching them unfurl; I hope they simply continue to be, as they are.
With this, I am reminded of one of my favourite quotes:
“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
– Howard Thurman
So…what do you want to be?
What’s stopping you?
This week, be inspired.