What I (Don’t) Want to Be When I Grow Up – Part 1

What I (Don't) Want to Be When I Grow Up by Pearl Allard - Look Up Sometimes

What I (Don't) Want to Be When I Grow Up by Pearl Allard - Look Up Sometimes

I always hated the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I felt ashamed; I blushed, stammered. Choked out something I thought might pass for non-fiction. (Which made me feel worse since I knew lying was wrong.) The truth? I didn’t want to be anything; I had no ambitions. How do you tell people that? I felt unacceptably weird.

I didn’t want to be a nobody. I had interests and talents, both. But I was wary of staking my future, as if it was the meaning of life, on one college major or career. I watched friends do this. The pressure started early, maybe even elementary school, to have everything all figured out. How could I say I wanted to be something when I didn’t even know what all it entailed? And what if I got there and hated it? Nobody else seemed to be bothered by these thoughts so I just figured everyone else knew something I didn’t.

The worst part though – and mostly all this just floated around in my sub-conscious, it wasn’t something I could have told you – was that I sensed pursuing a career, no matter how fantastic, was not the right way to define my identity. If I answered the dreaded question with a career of any kind, I was really answering “What do you want to DO when you grow up?” But that still left the identity question unanswered.

I decided this in fourth grade. That I wanted to be a person of integrity, that is. A poster hung on the classroom wall with the word “integrity.” That’s all I remember. I don’t recall if there was a definition. I’m certain there were other posters hanging, but I don’t remember them. I’ve seen and forgotten a bazillion posters since. I still remember the word “integrity” on the poster in that fourth grade classroom.

Sounds noble and all, but there were hang ups. For example, that same year, I wore hot pink lipstick to school. No kid wore lipstick to school in the fourth grade. In the whole elementary school. I wasn’t out to set trends; I just liked it. For about two hours. When we were getting ready for recess, my male teacher met me near my desk.

“Are you wearing lipstick?” (It was hot pink, people.)

To be fair, he was probably being as kind as he knew how. He probably asked it quietly though I heard it like a megaphone. He really was a great teacher. I, and probably half the other girls in the class, had a crush on him. Except that day I was crushed.

My face turned the color of my lipstick as I fled, wordless, to the bathroom to scrub it all off. So much for integrity.

When I was fifteen, I courageously penned my non-dreams in my teen Bible. A colorful personalization page prompted me to answer “When I’m an adult I’d like to.” I shouldn’t lie in a Bible, right? My answer: “Get married, Be close to God, Have friends.” I carefully guarded the page which revealed how sinfully unambitious I was.

With the benefit of twenty years’ hindsight, I wish I could send my younger self a letter. This is what I’d say:

Stay tuned for Part 2 – A Letter to My Younger Self

14 thoughts on “What I (Don’t) Want to Be When I Grow Up – Part 1

  1. I loved this, Pearl! When I was young, I gave in and told people what I thought they wanted to hear when asked that question. Like you, I was ashamed to admit that all I wanted to be was a wife, mother, and writer. My parents were constantly harping on my sister and I to pursue college and careers after high school. I remember distinctively feeling crushed one day when I told my dad that I wanted to be an author and illustrator (back in middle school). He told me, you can’t make money doing that. He went on to tell me that if I made a job out of the things I loved, I wouldn’t love doing them anymore. So I gave up the dream.

    Fortunately, God intervenes in such things. Because He made me exactly what I thought I never could be. It humbles me to think on that now…because I didn’t deserve it. He gave it anyway. 🙂

    I look forward to reading part 2 of this piece. Thank you so much for sharing!

    1. Melissa, thanks for not letting me stand alone here! I knew there must be others. 🙂 Wow, you’ve had quite a journey. I’m sure that shapes your writing. May God use the delays to prepare something for you that’s even better than you imagine! Maybe it makes money, maybe it doesn’t. I think if we’re seeking God first, He’ll eventually take care of all that. I know we have to work hard, no doubt there, but it doesn’t make sense that God would make us for a certain purpose and then ask us to do something else? I’m thrilled we’re both shedding outgrown shame. Part of what makes me keep falling in love with Jesus is that He’s so surprisingly pleasant sometimes! (Either I didn’t hear that growing up or I wasn’t listening very well.) Thankful for you, Melissa!

  2. I grew up in an age where to ask a girl “what do you want to be when you grew up?” was pretty pointless because the only ‘acceptable’ answers were a) a mother/wife b) a nurse or c) a teacher. Perhaps a ‘secretary or stenographer’ would have been accepted too but other than being a mother I didn’t want to do any of those things.

    You may not have known what you wanted to do but you knew who you wanted to BE and that’s most important.

    I lost ability to continue in my career a few years ago due to illness. It was devastating and I didn’t realize until that happened how much I had unknowingly tied my identity to what I DO.

    Great post and I am excited to read the follow up 🙂

    1. Riley, your thoughts and kind words are so appreciated! Societal pressure may change outfits from time to time, but the “right” answers are not a one size fits all, are they? I’m so glad God doesn’t operate that way. May he help you feel his delight in you, and may He cause you to be successful in the ways He has defined for you. Praying for your strength and health and remembering you daily.

  3. Loved this post … and the picture too … another work of art from your Mom or you? It quickly reminded me of the times I held buttercups in my hands , pretending they were my wedding bouquet … and that is what I most remembered … wanting to be a princess and meeting my prince charming. 🙂

    1. Thank you, Hulda! My mom took this photo; I love her work too! What a sweet memory, holding buttercups…that would make a great photo too! Did your wedding bouquet have buttercups?

  4. This is awesome stuff. The writing, and the feelings they elicit, are right on. One of your best yet! You left us hanging!!!

  5. One word hung on a wall had that much impact on a fourth grader? Wow. Oh, the power of even one word fitly spoken or written.

    “Get married, Be close to God, Have friends.” These ambitions of yours are noble and valued by God. And you have achieved all four. I bet that is more than many can say of themselves.

    Love your heart, Pearl. I am sharing this and your next post with my teen daughter.

    1. Rachael, thank you so much for your thoughts! I always appreciate your encouragement and feel honored you are sharing this with your daughter! I pray she is encouraged. I think the really humbling thing is realizing that even though I get to do the trust-and-obey business, God put those desires in my heart, God realized (or is in the process of realizing) those desires, and so — God gets the credit for any achievements. By the way, totally love your song suggestion!

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