When you grow up.

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson


This is going to be a short one, because it's my birthday today and there is a lake calling my name. Priorities, right?

Anyway, since it's my birthday, I can't help but think back to where I've been. After all, a birthday is kind of like your own personal New Year's Day, isn't it? This is my thirty-third year, so I've got lots to pick from. And, in case you think I'm worried about aging, don't worry, I am well aware that this growing old is a privilege denied to many. It's a time to celebrate the trail left behind and marvel at the possibilities ahead.

I was looking back at some pictures of myself on various birthdays and it occurred to me that each photo showed a face that beamed from a heart full of dreams. Dreams that changed, some that stayed the same and dreams I'm still reaching.

birthday collage

It also occurred to me that we do a strange thing when children become adults. We tell them to stop dreaming. We ask little kids what they want to be when they grow up, we encourage them to follow their dreams and we let them know they can be whomever and whatever they want to be. Reach for the stars, we say. Don't be afraid to follow your dreams, we tell them. I believe in you, we assure them.

And then they somehow cross an imaginary line in their lives and we change the questions. "What do you want to be when you grow up?" becomes a little ironic joke. We chuckle when we hear it. We don't really buy it, not anymore. Dreams stop being something we smile at and become something we raise our eyebrows at, instead.

As a society, I think we build a wall of fear that makes us abandon our dreams, give up on our goals and follow the path of least resistance. We build barriers to following our hearts and become complacent. We are inspired by others who follow their hearts, but make it something external that allows them to succeed. It's their circumstances, and ours, that keep us where we are. We build those walls ourselves.

You know what? I think that's sad. Dreams don't stop growing just because you do.

As someone who is working on building an entrepreneurial business, I can say that sometimes, it's scary trying to do what you want to do. It's a lot of hard work. But you know what? It's a lot harder to convince myself I'm happy enough when I know I'm not. As if my own fears weren't enough, other people add to it, either because they genuinely love me and care about me and don't want to see me struggle, or unfortunately, because me following my dreams and heart makes them feel insecure about their choices.

[Tweet "When they grow up, why do we stop asking kids what they want to be when they grow up?"]

I think we should ask everyone what and who they want to be when they grow up, no matter how old they are. I mean, at thirty-three, I'm much more able to actually make my dreams come true than I was at six. The wherewithal is somewhat more within my grasp, since you know, I'm a legal adult with skills that accompany the age of majority. Let's face it: If you dreamed of being a race car driver, it's going to be easier if you can reach the gas peddle.

What are some of my dreams? When I grow up, I want to be, or have wanted to be:

  • a ballerina
  • an actor
  • an astronaut (until the no-air thing freaked me out)
  • a published author and all-over awesome writer
  • a successful coach
  • a veterinarian
  • a person who is happy and free

I don't think any of these are unrealistic. Heck, I could do them now, if I wanted to and was passionate enough about them to put in the time, sacrifice and effort needed to commit to making them a reality. In fact, I am doing several of these now. Right now.

Why should we tell people to be realistic? Who gets to say what realistic is for me or for anyone else? I think we should encourage people to follow their dreams whether they're six years old or eighty-six years young, because LIFE IS TOO SHORT not to. I'm serious. Life is precious. Fleeting. Miraculous.

Do you know what the odds are that you (or me, for that matter) are even here, existing as a human? Check out chapter nineteen of Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything (FYI: Bryson is my favourite writer, apart from Ralph Waldo Emerson). The odds of human life at all are staggering. The odds of you being you are bloody impressive, to say the least. If "bloody impressive" isn't enough to convince you, check out this awesome infographic:

What Are The Odds?

There. Are you aware of how amazing you are? It's pretty spectacular that you're here. Now go do something spectacular with you. Follow your dreams. Create new ones and follow those, too. Help others follow theirs. 
Maybe it's not about what you want to be; maybe it's about who you want to be. Maybe "what" isn't a vocation, but a way of being. Whatever it is you want, say it, often and to anyone who will listen, including yourself. And then go be that.
Let's hear it: What do you want to be when you grow up? What did you want to be?