Mum, what shallI I be when I'm older was the question this week, prompted by careers week at school. Suddenly, for the first time, I thought the use of 'be' was odd, wrong even. By its very syntax this casual parlance insinuates that our work or our 'job' defines us to such a level that we become it, that we are it.
But being and doing are two totally different things. I like to think of career choices and how we fill our time as something that should be viewed through a softer lens rather than carved from a rigid wooden box with finite measurements and stark boundaries; 'I do this so that means I am that.' Rather, career is something that is more organic and evolving and growing with each work 'experience,' and ultimately percolating into our 'being.'
I've had many phases of career, and I am still discovering new ones even now. I expect this malleable metamorphosis to continue - to continue to mould, reform and pause and change again perhaps. Without getting too hung up on what my job is. Truth is, I have multiple jobs and I thrive on the opportunity for whichever one is throwing the most work at me or the one I feel more instinctively drawn to pursue.
Should we be instructing the same attitude at schools? Should we move on from the 80's vibe of must knowing what job we will get amidst the chaos of Year 9 and 10 when really the most alarming concern here is keeping hormones at bay? To encourage an easing of pressure across the board of needing to have a career in mind early on, in order to be successful or be dutifully defined to our peers and society in general. Are we all a little guilty of being a bit obsessed about what people 'do' when we first meet them as though that solo lens reveals who they are what values they must hold. I am sure many stay at home mothers will tell you it is one of their most dreaded questions (I used to be one of them).
Once I hit pause on a career path of being a celebrity publicist for what was probably a much more demanding job of motherhood, the excited conversations about my career dried up and once I'd dropped the 'stay at home mum bomb' I'd sometimes be met with awkward silences and slightly embarrassed faces because who wants to ask after that what the best aspect of that particular job is (nappies? laundry? listening to the drone of kids tv? hissy fits?). Unless of course the enquirer was one as well in which case it was license to vent all the mega dumbing down complaints and the long list of domestic frustrations loose on someone who totally got it.
If we are strongly steered by really wanting to do something or a feeling that we must instinctively pursue a certain path (and that might happen in early age or very late on or not at all) - to be a chef, a fashion designer, a writer, a scientist etc, isn't it true to say we are all a blank canvas and none of us can actually 'do' any of these careers without studying them or learning them first. With the exception of motherhood which is lavished upon us instantly after your body has gone through mega trauma. All the others we need to work at them to be good and succeed. Which at its most basic form renders us all on the whole, fairly equal?
Take for example those of us that drive. We sit through hours of driving lessons trying to join up the physicality and mentality of a task that does not look that difficult until you are in the driving seat. The component parts feel disparate, alien, almost too big to handle (how can these people driving past me be actually making conversation I remember thinking so often, there was so much to remember with pedals and mirrors and roundabouts and other cars there was no way I could even contemplate TALKING as well!).
And then we pass our test and the real learning begins, because well, we are on our own. We repeat the motions, the neural pathways build and the task becomes second nature and we drive and chat without thinking about it. Like the times before iPhone's dominated the world and you'd switch between various brands of handsets. The first day you tried to use your new Motorola flip phone after your Nokia was like watching Bambi trying to steady on ice with little knowledge of where anything was or how to execute the most basic of tasks. You felt like you had to learn everything again and muttered to yourself it was so much easier when I knew how. But then you remember you'd been there before with the handset before this one and all you needed to do persist to get your rhythm going and then you never looked back.
There's a phrase, 'fake it til you make it.' But is it actual fakery or perceived fakery? Isn't it actually in truth, the earliest form of authenticity? The internal dialogue might go, 'I am on my journey to discover if this is going to work for me. I can't say I can do it or I'm good at it (yet), because I am just starting. But I have to start to discover.' Perhaps a more accurate way of putting it is, 'decide, then do.' A slogan that could work for the many appealing apprenticeships that are out there now for young people, serving those less academic but by no means less capable that would choose not to sit for more years in a dusty lecture hall with old books and even older lecturers, racking up debt and often still not having a clue after all that time and money, what they’ll do.
Could it be that this inherent broad capability and the myriad of choices is why it is so hard to choose what to actually do as job/profession. As in the world is our oyster if we could only find and make a ‘right’ decision. Maybe we should just take a step back and pause.
Truth is that we don’t have to constantly be productive and be working towards something all of the time. And we don’t always have to get it ‘right.’ If it’s right for us at the time but not in hindsight then it is still valid and enough, no? Maybe we still don't know what we want career wise even at a ripe old age but we will enjoy the journey more with a softer, relaxed ‘lens,’ or state of mind. If we shed this idea that we need a ‘proper’ job or career regardless of age for societal or self worth, it will find us when we are ready. Faith more in it finding us rather than us searching relentlessly and fruitlessly trying to hunt it down. For those being asked to choose a path at 14, start back with the baby step basics of focussing on subjects enjoyed rather than end game high falutin career. Frantically fretting and trying to find an answer can be counter productive and false.
Invariably too when you do find a path it might not always feel like right one. You'll be on it and some days you'll lose faith because it's a fact that thoughts beliefs and self confidence change like the wind. One day you think 'I've got this I'm great!' But the next it's all, 'I can't do this' and rate yourself as awful. The best way to eradicate this whirring is simply to take action and keep going even if it feels like a total mass of blob - believe me if it’s right and meant, with persistence it begins to streamline and become clear. And if it’s persistently not right too, like a boyfriend you can’t stand any more, then you’ll know deep down you’ll have to let go. And move on to the next, when you’re ready.
Sometimes its empowering to let go of always having to justify our value with our sense of purpose.
And take time instead to live in this present before rushing onto the next thing.