What do you want to be when you grow up?
We ask children this question and marvel at their answers as their interests and personalities change and develop. My little brother used to respond instantaneously with pilot or firefighter and now he carefully mulls over the question and talks about becoming a police officer or a marine biologist. He’s only eight and I can’t tell you what career he will end up pursuing, but what I can tell you is that I like that he doesn’t feel that his options are limited. My sister and I have made it our personal mission to ensure that our sweet, inquisitive sibling gets introduced to the diversity of the world around him in whatever ways we can make that happen, i.e. books, museums, documentaries, and adventures of all sorts.
Why is this so important to us? Well, to make a long story short, my sister and I felt limited by the lack of opportunity in the small town that we grew up in. Throughout my youth, never once did I think that the sky was the limit. I didn’t dare to dream of something outside of the box. I graduated high school and immediately began college with my future completely planned out. I would become an elementary school teacher, just like I’d always said I would be.
Spoiler alert: I’m not an elementary school teacher.
Thankfully, about 2 1/2 years into my schooling to become a teacher, a professor asked everyone in the classroom the same question: Why do you want to become a teacher? Easy question for someone who’d always wanted to be a teacher, right? Wrong. I stumbled over my answer and cannot even begin to tell you all of the incoherent thoughts that I tried to string together into words. Hadn’t anyone ever asked me that before? No, never. Since kindergarten (and probably before then), I had been answering the old what do you want to be when you grow up question with the same answer, a teacher. Yet, in 15+ years, no one ever took the time to ask me why.
Amidst all of the mumbo-jumbo that I spat out, I clearly articulated a few things: 1) I wanted to give a voice to those who did not feel they had one, 2) I wanted to ensure that everyone had a fair shot and level the playing field, and 3) I was willing to fight for those who needed me…While teachers can do all of the things listed above, I didn’t describe a passion for teaching and my answer seemed completely left field compared to that of my peers. I wasn’t passionate about teaching, but, unbeknownst to me at the time, I was fired up about social work. Luckily, my professor recognized that spark and linked me to the more appropriate field. The rest, as they say, is history. I transferred majors and universities, graduated with honors, went on to complete my Masters, and am now chasing a PhD in social work. My work is so much more than just what I do, it is who I am.
Becoming a teacher was a comfortable dream. My mom was a teacher, all of her friends were teachers, a lot of my friends were becoming teachers. I knew the steps it took to become a teacher. Becoming a teacher was safe. But, as 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, says, “If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.” Now, I’ve got dreams that terrify me, but also inspire and motivate me. They challenge me to step up to the plate and to become a change agent so that I am able to provide a voice to the voiceless, fight for social justice, and advocate on behalf of marginalized populations.
Earlier this week, I had the unique opportunity to speak with a number of high school students who are interested in the health care field through a program called Camp Med Academy. None of them knew what social workers do or the ways that they can use their perspective and skill sets in medical settings. It was empowering to stand before them and to advocate for the profession.
According to their website, “Camp Med Academy is an annual summer day camp for high school students interested in discovering the health care field. Students will explore the different health professions, visit health institutions, learn how to prepare for college, gain hands-on experience and much more.” For additional information, visit Health Careers Promotion & Preparation.
I wish I had been given opportunities like this when I was in high school. It would have been informative and eye-opening. There’s nothing wrong with being a teacher or a ______(fill in the blank). However, there is something to be said for expanding your horizons and for pushing yourself so that you are able to step out of your comfort zone and to dream. In doing so, you will either solidify your original plan or discover your life’s true calling .
I am honored to have played a small part in the lives of these young people. I hope that when people ask them, What do you want to be when you grow up, they don’t feel limited. And, when I ask my little brother the same question, I want to continue to hear his answers evolve. The possibilities are endless if you are willing to trade in the safe plan and chase those dreams that make life worth living.
“There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” —Nelson Mandela
You are capable of so much more than you give yourself credit for. I believe in you. Believe in yourself.
Be the change,