What I Want to Be When I Grow Up

When I was little (picture me at around 7 or 8, dressed like I was on Little House on the Prairie, waist length hair in braids, and sporting enormous green glasses) and people used to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up I would say, “A writer slash missionary,” because I thought it was interesting and impressive that I understood the meaning and usage of “slash.” I suppose I probably also went through periods before that when I wanted to be the typical things little kids say, Doctor or Teacher or Professional Ice Skater. I admitted in a previous post to my brief aspirations to be an olympic gymnast, Miss America, and a marine biologist. I never did go through the phase that my friend Mary Claire went through when one of her elementary school teachers asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up and she proudly said, “A daddy!” But that’s not really the point. The point is that the “writer/missionary” ambition is really the first one I clearly remember.

For most people, what they want to be when they grow up changes significantly throughout the course of their lives, especially throughout their educational careeers. According to the source of all wisdom and knowledge (Wiki Answers) 80% of college students change their major at least once during college and on average they change it three times. That’s a whole lot of people who are legally considered to be adults without having any clue what they want to do with their lives.

I sort of prided myself on my single-mindedness when it came to a major. I went in as an English Writing major. I still wanted to be a writer. I declared it freshman year and never changed my mind. I ended up with two minors (in Biblical and Theological Studies and in Anthropology) which, if you think about it, are very much in keeping with my childhood interest of “slash missionary,” but the main focus never changed. I watched somewhat pitilessley as those around me waffled through those early years, knowing they had to commit to a discipline and finding it so difficult to choose. Ha-ha, I thought. I am so clever. I have figured out the meaning of my life. I am not plagued with this absurd epidemic of indecision. I know what I like. I know what I’m good at. I have chosen a course of action and am able to stick to it. Boo-yah.

Fast forward five years. My friends and I have all been out of school for a year. The friend who switched from Math and Business/Econ to History and Bus/Econ sophomore year now works for a major financial consulting  firm and makes 50K. My friend who at one point considered a triple major with Math, Spanish, and Business/Econ is now a PHD candidate in biostatistics at a major university. My friend who was never interested enough in college to attend classes still managed to graduate early and is now a Navy Seal. And I, with my smug little English Writing degree have been working as a nanny for a year and am now applying frantically for receptionist jobs becuase A DEGREE IN ENGLISH WRITING FROM A SMALL LIBERAL ARTS COLLEGE QUALIFIES YOU TO DO ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!!!!!!! Smugness gone.

I realized that knowing what you want to major in and being aware of a skill you possess or would like to use in your work is a far cry from knowing what you want to do careerwise. Dream jobs for myself include: travel writer, anthropological researcher for non-profit who then writers stories about anthropological research,acquisitions editor for children’s books,  national geographic journalist, novelist, magazine editor, queen of world. The problem is, there just isn’t anything entry level in any of these areas. As many well-meaning but discouraging people have pointed out to me, the print media industry is failing enormously right now and there simply aren’t any jobs in the magazine industry that aren’t top-tier must-have-10-years-experience type of jobs. And I would have to go to school for many, many years to be an anthropologist, which sounds terrible to me, so I’d want to be sure there was an awesome career waiting for me on the other side before I committed to that.

In contemplating all of this I have realized that I so easily fall into the trap of thinking that who I am and my importance in life is dictated by what I do for a career. This past year whenever anyone has asked my what I do, I have mumbled, “I’m a nanny” and immediately followed it with apologetic explanations that it’s just for this year and that my husband was applying to grad schools and that it’s not what I want to do professionally. As if it reflects poorly on me as a person to not have an exciting, upwardly mobile career. But really…if I’m honest…I want the kind of job that people ask “What do you do?” and when I tell them they think, “That’s so cool!” And, I suppose more importantly, I want to think that myself.

It’s also really easy for me to feel like if it doesn’t happen now, it is just never going to happen. I sort of go into a panic mode when I start thinking like this. My husband and I were having a conversation a few days ago where I very dramatically told him I could just picture my life in 15 years, explaining to my kids that I too used to dream about doing things  and I never did (as I drive them to soccer practice and gymnastics in our minivan. Shoot me now.) I basically felt like the world was caving in on me as I started to accept this as the inevitable future.

Of course, DH spoke some words of truth to me. He reminded me that that will only happen if we allow it to by giving up on dreams. He said that we should just be committed to pursuing things we care about and not feel stuck in any situation we are in. Actually, I think his exact words were “Lily Dunn, you HAVE to snap out of this. We are not going to let that happen.” If we’d been in a Rom Com he would have slapped me. I told him that if I could just have the assurance that it would happen someday and that God did have something perfect picked out for me, even if it isn’t coming for 10 more years then I would feel at peace, even if I have to be a burger-flipper. And he reminded me that that’s not exactly the way God works.

God promised Abraham that he would have a son, and didn’t fulfill the promise until Abraham was 100 years old. God promised his people that he would deliver them from Egypt into the promise land, yet they were slaves for 400 years before God sent Moses. God promised that he would send a savior, a messiah and he did…2,000 years later. This isn’t entirely comforting to me, but it does remind me that I am not the only person who has felt this way or will feel this way. This is what faith is.

So…I still do not know what career I want to have when I grow up, but this I do know. In the meantime, I would like to learn to be a woman of faith. Someone who is able to be at peace with where I am and trust that God has a plan. I am not this woman yet, but I would like to be. When I grow up.


  1. Hey Lily,

    It’s Manda, it says I’m logged in as Joshuawray though? Hmm. Anyways, the comment you made:

    In contemplating all of this I have realized that I so easily fall into the trap of thinking that who I am and my importance in life is dictated by what I do for a career.

    Josh and myself, mainly Joshua, get stuck in this thinking too. It is so NOT true though. A career is just what has to get us by with our daily life financially. At least that’s how I feel. Of course a career is going to represent your personality is some ways, but it does not define you as a person. Everything else does. Like your desires and hopes. To me that’s all that matters. Careers are great, but who cares if you don’t know, or ever know what you career will be and if it (to you) if magnificent in the eyes of others.

    I think you are a very talented, amazing, smart, and creative person and what you’ve offered me so far is cooler than any career you could have. Thanks for sharing.

    Love you and hope this made sense?


  2. Lily,
    You write with passion and purpose! I am SO blessed for you and proud of you. Remain stedfast in HIM and enjoy the journey before you.

    Love you,
    Your Kindergarten Teacher


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