On Pastry Chefs and Bag Boys

My nephew just announced a major career change. Well, a major career goal change. Yes, he has abandoned the dream of being a zoo keeper, and, now, his sights are set on being a pastry chef. At nine years old, it’s unclear if this new professional interest will hold, but, honestly, the entire family is keeping fingers crossed. Hey, we like dessert.

My nephew’s recent announcement reminded me of my first career aspiration: grocery store bag boy. Sure, it’s a sexy job, with the the high drama of paper versus plastic and the feel-good moments of helping little ol’ ladies to their cars, but I wasn’t drawn to the bag boy business because of the glitz and the glamour. No, at the time I made my first career announcement, my uncle worked at the local grocery store, and, if it was good enough for him, it was good enough for me.

I guess I quickly moved on from my bag boy dreams. There was the doctor period, and I think I threw out marine biologist a time or two just for kicks. It sounded cool. By the time high school and college rolled around, though, I knew I wanted to be an attorney. I can’t recall even considering another option during my college days. It just seemed like a foregone conclusion, really.

Everyone has their “What do you want to be when you grow up?” story. Lots are littered with fireman, policeman, teacher, and astronaut. Fewer include drug dealer, hooker, sanitation worker, and dental hygienist. The point remains, though, that we really like to ask young people who they want to become. The question invites young people to share with us their view of the world, their sense of the possible, and their interests. It’s also a challenge, asking a young child to articulate a dream, to announce what they will make of themselves.

Why aren’t we asking adults these questions?

For those of us in middle age, the questions may focus less on the professional and more on the personal. What kind of person do you want to be? What adventures do you want to have? What about you can you change for the better? Beyond gimmicky self-help videos pitched on late night television, maybe we don’t spend enough time acknowledging that the process of becoming someone should never truly end. The final answer is not the title on the office door nameplate.

I recently came across a quote from self-help guru Robin Sharma: “Don’t live the same year 75 times and call it a life.” Now, we don’t all have the luxury to drop everything, backpack across the planet, and blog about nature, tree frogs, and the meaning of life, reaching heretofore unknown levels of zen. Still, he’s on to something, and it scares the lover of routine and predictability heavily anchored deep in my soul. Still, I know life is about growing, learning, getting uncomfortable, and having new experiences. The times I’ve stepped way out of my comfort zone, like traveling to Central and South America, or moving to Washington, DC, for a personal and professional change, have easily been the most rewarding.

It’s not easy. We all like comfort, and I’ll fight any man that denies the perfection of a quiet winter night, tucked warmly away in one’s favorite reading chair, sheltered from the slings and arrows of the world. Still, as wonderful as that is, it’s not as awesome as the bravery of the nine year old declaring his intention to be a pastry chef. And, sure, my nephew may not know much about becoming a pastry chef, but the most important part is becoming someone. We could all spend less time being someone and more time becoming someone.



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