I'm a ___________, but I want to be a ______________.

That was the question posed on Jon Acuff’s blog about a week ago.

And I thought about emailing him my answer.
But wasn’t 100% sure what the answer was.

I clearly remember sitting on my roommate’s squishy tan couch, almost exactly ten years ago, filling out job applications with my feet propped up on the coffee table while chewing on my pen.
I was moving and getting married and needed a teaching job in my new town.
I only applied for three districts. All of which I've worked in over the last decade.

But one application ended with this question;
“If you could do anything you wanted for a living what would it be?”
Which sounds a lot like Jon’s question.
And kind of caught me off guard.
I mean I had a degree in science and education and already had a year under my belt. That is what I was applying for.
And something I really liked and was even pretty passionate about.
Why the heck are they asking me about my dreams?

And I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to write.
If the safe answer was to tell that that if I could do anything at all that I do exactly what I was applying for. To be a highschool teacher.
But that wasn’t really true.
And before I could even really talk myself out of it I jotted down in neat black ink the first thing that came to my mind.
A professional soccer player or a writer.

Maybe it was a trick question. I didn’t even get an interview.

And the soccer player part. Well, who has never wanted to be a professional athlete at least once in their life? Paid to play a game. And the best at something. And I love playing soccer. I’m not all that great at it, but that has never stopped me from playing. And keep in mind I was only 22 at the time and Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy and Kristen Lily were bringing in gold metals, world cup titles and Nike and Gatorade endorsements hand over fist. I know it was kind of a silly answer, but it did say if you could be anything... And honestly, I am still a little envious of their perfect ponytails and ability to run 90 minutes nonstop (and gold metals).

But a writer.
I’m not even sure why I wrote that.
I was a math and science girl.
Sure I liked to read. And more often than not kept some kind of journal.
But I only took one English class in college and one technical writing class.
My English grades were ok. But no professor or teacher ever pulled me aside and suggested maybe I spend less time in the anatomy lab and try writing some poetry or an article for the school paper instead. I got a solid B and moved on to organic chemistry the next semester. And never thought about it again.
Until I was filling out that damn application that dared to ask me about my dreams.

And I've thought about it alot since then.
It comes up often enough. And it always makes me a little uncomfortable.
Because I occasionally think maybe I should be doing a little more to pursue it.
Or that I’m settling or biding time or just plain afraid.

But when I read it that question last week I didn’t have quite the same response.
I didn’t want to answer his question
“I’m a _teacher_ , but I want to be a _writer_.
(yes, I’ve long abandoned my dream of being the next mia hamm)

Instead, I wanted to re-write the question.
Not make it so either/or.
Something more along the lines of
“I’m a teacher, but I am also a writer” (and a mom, and a wife and friend and a runner and an occasional soccer player for that matter).

So the first half of my answer may not be me living my dream, but it is me doing something that I do love, that pays some of my bills and is never boring. It has a healthcare plan and a retirement plan and plenty of days off. For all that other stuff.
And whose to say we have to choose.
Why do we have to have a one word answer to what we do?

I just finished Brene Brown’s book, and there is a chapter on finding meaningful work and struggling how to define who we are in an honest way. And she suggests we use a lot of slashes or commas when someone asks about our job.
That we are all teachers/writers.
Or accountants/chefs
Or engineers/builders/designers
Or stay-at-home moms/photographers.

And I like that.
And wish that more people answered with slashes or alsos or commas.
Even though it is a little bit hard sometimes to say those second parts out loud.
Your dreams and your passions and hopes instead of just where the paycheck comes from.

And maybe you are lucky enough to not need a slash or an also or a comma.
But most of us do.
And next time someone asks me what I do.
I hope they have a minute.
Because they might just get a really long answer.
One with slashes and commas.
And most importantly dreams.


Kate said...

I hate that question. I am not merely what I do today, though I love what I do, I would choose it again and again. But I love your answer.

Young Mom said...

I love Brene Browns book! Still trying to figure out who I am though. :)

Kier's Serendipity said...

What a fantastic topic! I stuggle with this as well...and I have no idea how I would answer the second part of this question. I think I know but in reality, I really don't as it would not be nearly the struggle as I make it to be.

samskat said...

See, I don't like where I am, but I'm not REALLY sure where I want to be. Argh.

Ann Kroeker said...

Oooo...I am definitely a Christ-follower/mom/writer/educator/editor (I do believe in grammar)/runner/reader/lifelong learner.

The slashes could continue, I'm sure, as I take time to consider additional roles.

As one who used to spend considerable chunks of time pondering her purpose in life, I love the idea of rejecting the either/or approach and embracing both/and.

Ann Kroeker
content editor, thehighcalling.org