What do a teacher, fashion designer & astronomer have in common?
Nothing. Everything. Answers to our deepest questions.
When we are children we are asked by our elders, our peers and even ourselves what we would like to “Be” when we grew up.
Some lucky young children just KNOW from a very early age what they would like to do with the rest of their lives. The majority do not, but provide an answer anyhow. I was in the latter category.
When we innocently ask our youngsters this question, I think it’s important to be aware of how our reaction might affect them. And more importantly, how it may affect their life choices.
As a child, the messages I received and then, later on as an adult proceeded to provide, seemed quite contrasting:
- You can be anything you set your mind to be
- It’s important to choose a job where you can make a lot of money and not have so much competition that it’s difficult break into the field.
I cringe to think about the advice I gave my own children.
I couldn’t tell you how many times during my elementary and secondary school years I needed to write an essay or composition about what I wanted to be when I grew up.
Not knowing – and needing to answer – I always chose to write about being a teacher and helping others learn. But did I really want to be a teacher?
Not in the way that I knew what a teacher was. I distinctly remember the first day of school in my senior year. I was sitting in first period math class and thinking about how next year there would be no first day of school for me. It seemed liberating to break out of these walls. Then, in a brief moment of panic I thought – well, you want to be a teacher, so you will be back. That was the first time I actually thought through what it would be like to really be a teacher… school supplies, the smell of the buildings, bells, kids…. Ummmm I didn’t really want that. At all. Why did I ever write that?
Rewind back to second grade. I received my first Cabbage Patch Doll. The name she came with was Marni Elisabeth. She was a preemie, but she had the Xavier Roberts name scribbled across her bottom; so she was the real thing and not the ‘fake’ my parents tried to pass off for Christmas. I was SO excited. I sat in the on the top step of the third floor in the hallway of our Brooklyn apartment on Coney Island Avenue. It was mid-day and the sun was shining through the skylight above. I went through the contents of Marni’s package, reading what I could and filling out her “adoption” paperwork. Questions were asked of me. My name. Did I want to keep her name? And there was even a question that said, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I still have that little piece of paper. For some very strange reason I wrote Fashion Designer.
A few years later we had the standard, run of the mill elementary school science fair. I chose to create a physical model of the solar system. We hadn’t yet learned about the solar system in school so I turned to the trusty, dusty, half collection of encyclopedias we had in the closet of our apartment. I learned enough to manifest a creation in my mind of what I wanted to build and how/which planets circled the sun in which order. While building the solar system, something about it just touched my soul for some reason. It resonated with me in the way no other information really had in my learning experience to date. Maybe it was because I chose to learn it on my own, or maybe it meant something more.
I recall sitting around the dinner table around that time and making the announcement that I would like to be an astronomer when I grow up. My well-meaning parents scoffed at the idea and said I didn’t and didn’t know what I wanted. There aren’t many astronomers in the world and I would have to be at the super upper end of the best of the best to be able to find a job. They said if I wanted to be happy and make money I should set my sights on becoming a lawyer or a doctor.
Common story huh? Just the thought of either job made me not want to be in the workforce. I’ll worry about it when I get older, I thought.
Well, I grew up pretty fast. At 18 I still didn’t know what I wanted to do. I went into the Coast Guard and became a cook simply because the start time for cook training coincided with my ex-husbands training as an aviation mechanic. I ended up enjoying cooking far more than I could ever have imagined.
After active duty at 22 I still didn’t know what I wanted to do long term. While I loved to cook, I now had a child and didn’t want to work the night/weekend/holiday hours. I bought the suggested “What Color is Your Parachute” book the military’s separation seminar suggested. It was truly no help.
At the time I had obtained an Associates Degree in general studies and enrolled for my Bachelors with a concentration in accounting since an 8th grade career test said I would make a good accountant. Once I started school I was required to take a variety of basic business majors. I enjoyed the business topics so much and while reading through the course catalog I felt more excited and connected to the general business studies, so I changed my major to business administration. I loved school and learning in a way I had not in high school or would notif I had gone to college at 18.
After my daughter was born; I was only 23, mostly a stay at home mom, full-time college student and in the Coast Guard Reserves. I strongly desired to leave the house a bit more so I started a part-time job as a cashier on the front end of the local A&P while my ex-husband was not working his full time job. I enjoyed doing the mindless work of standing at a register and talking with the customers. I wasn’t working there for more than a few months before I was a head cashier and was offered a position to teach new employee orientation as well as train others in customer service. I was the customer service guru of the store. I enjoyed that job too – immensely!
Pressing money matters required me to find full-time work when my two children were five and three years old. I began working at the VA Hospital where I still work today. At last I was able to put some of my degree to use and after a few pay raises I decided to go back to school for an MBA in healthcare administration.
Again, I loved school and learning! I almost didn’t want it to end. And again I was promoted to another job where I was able to put my degree skills to use. I was mandated to go to a handful of trainings and advanced trainings on “Facilitation” and it was something else that really seemed to touch my soul and resonated with me at a deep level. Again I wasn’t doing it for very long at all before I was in a position where I was teaching it to others at all levels of the organization. Somehow it tied into team work and I would go to different departments to help team build or help them figure out ways to do things better in their own workflow processes. I was having so much fun!
A few years into that job and a full marriage later, I still very much enjoyed what I was doing, but I missed feeling like I was learning and growing. I was becoming a robot in every way. The commute, the standard meetings, the rush at night to get dinner on the table, get kids to where they needed to be, and falling asleep in complete heap of utter exhaustion at the end of the day.
I became very adept at what I was doing, but longed for something more. I just wasn’t sure what it was. For some odd reason I started to Google and become interested in what seemed like a variety of topics. It started out with the planets, then energy, then gravity. As I kept exploring, my searches became deeper and somehow more spiritual at the same time. Astrophysics, metaphysics, the universe, universal laws of spirituality… Who are we anyway and why am I here?
Looking back I now know I was missing an existence where creativity and self-expression were part of it. I tried to engage the audiences I was teaching with interesting and funny clipart and quotes or puns. In every single spreadsheet or report I created, I tried to match colors in various tables and charts, and make it interesting and easy for the reader to interpret the information. In one famously funny instance, my then-boss asked me for some data and analysis on the diarrhea ICD-9 code. I pulled up the data and analyzed it very quickly. But then to make things interesting I topped the tables and highlighted the key information in muted shades of browns, greens and yellows. I didn’t realize how the need for creativity was just bursting out of me and I was using it in the very few ways I knew how.
I didn’t quite understand it at the time, but I was getting bored. With a capital B. I still didn’t really know what I wanted to do when I grew up, but I did know that I didn’t want to commute and sit behind a desk, teach in a classroom and look like the model of a young professional for the rest of my life.
A Teacher, Fashion Designer, and Astronomer.
Writing this a few years after I literally just could not take one more second of the standard run of the mill modern day job, commute and dress-up; it now makes a lot more sense.
I’ve since had a run of mini breakdowns which helped me to slow the heck down, think about myself and think about my work in the world. I currently work part-time at the VA, teach yoga and manage a rental home on the water. For now I’ve never been happier and feel like I’m slowly finding my life’s purpose.
When I think about myself and who I am, and what I love, those three careers make sense. I am one of the rare people in the world who loves to clean. For me personally, cleaning ties into making things look nice and welcoming. It ties into being organized, to re-organizing as needed, decorating, and creating a space wherever it may be, at home, in the office, in my car or in other areas people allow to me touch. I enjoy making things feel welcoming, appealing and spacious.
I like making things pretty… myself included of course! Fashion Designing has many of those core things – the idea of dressing something up in different ways to create an experience for others to see. It’s probably why I liked playing with colors and patterns on spreadsheets. And why I still until today enjoy cooking and being creative with flavors. Why I enjoy sharing my home on the water with renters and creating a getaway space and experience they can enjoy. Why I love creating a yogic atmosphere for my students. Why I like to paint, whether it’s on a wall or a canvas, update furniture, remodel, etc.
A teacher? Yes but not in the way I understood that a teacher existed at the time. The parts of A&P and the VA that I enjoyed so much were teaching others how to do something I myself enjoyed and someone else also deemed that I was good enough at to teach. I like the experience of doing what I’m teaching as I’m doing it and demonstrating it in real time. I fell into teaching while doing customer service, facilitation and yoga. I’m sure there are myriads of other things out there which are similar. But these were in my lap somehow. Coincidence? Maybe. Or did what something in me really wanted manifest itself through what someone else may have seen as me being good at and the opportunity to teach it presented itself.
The astronomer is a toughie to explain. But at the height of my life boredom, it still appealed to me. In what may seem like a very strange way to others, it led me to yoga and spirituality. Energy, vibration, the gravitational pull of the planets and then gravity itself led me to explore space-time, quantum mechanics, how thoughts have energetic qualities… and it gets crazier as it goes on. But I feel a total tie-in between science and consciousness, which really is a manifestation of how we are all one. It’s not easy to explain and I could talk for hours about it with anyone who has a similar interest. The point is that something deep inside my soul detected this during my 4th grade astronomy science project. Only in the past few years has it unveiled itself and opened my world to all types of exploration.
I like how life turned out. I like being on a journey. I know that everything in the universe unravels as it should. I know that one day I very well may be looking back to now, seeing these days as a stepping stone to where I ended up.
However, I can’t help but wonder if my life would have been different if anyone had helped me explore what my early so-called ‘passions’ were.
I can’t help but wonder if kids in their more unfiltered and not yet too muddied up version of the world, kind of know deep down what inspires them without even knowing it does. I did.
Just because I said I wanted to be a teacher, fashion designer and astronomer; it didn’t necessarily mean I wanted to pursue those careers on a literal level. But it meant something about who I am.
When my now almost 22-year old son, who doesn’t have an idea of what he wants to be when he “grows up,” was younger – he wanted to be an artist, a comedian and a cook. I don’t want to “What if?” anything (because gosh it’s unhealthy). But I do wonder what would have happened if earlier he had been able to explore what particularly touches his heart, and if I and his father had not told him those are really difficult fields to break into, or that cooks have horrible hours and don’t get paid well.
We can only learn from our past. What I’ve come to conclude today while meditating and then consequently writing, is that the answers really are all within. If we can only quiet the external noise of the physical world around house, our own internal monkey mind, and then ask, they are there. Like an undiscovered treasure.