365 Days of Courage #52: "Risk being seen in all of your glory." - life advice from Jim Carrey

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Yesterday I talked about how "suck it up" is not a career plan.  One of the questions asked by Idris Elba (who I somewhat self-indulgently included in the post) was "What do you want to be when you grow up?  What's your dream?"

How easy or difficult do you find it to answer those two questions?

It never fails to amaze me how hard it is to be yourself.  You would think it would be the most natural thing in the world and yet, for many of us, we lose connection with who we really are at a very young age.  We then make our way through life making decisions from that disconnected place which takes us further and further from who we were born to be.

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

My oldest daughter, Eva, is 19 and in her second year of college.  When she was 11 years old, I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up.  Her response – without a moment’s hesitation – was: “Doctor, teacher, rock star and painter.”  All in one work day, apparently. I remember smiling to myself..

And yet the more I thought about her answer, the more I realized that that is what we should aspire to - not the four professions at the same time, necessarily, but the idea of embracing all the facets of who we are.

Eight years later, it makes me happy that she has remained pretty true to her 11 year old self's prediction - she has just chosen her majors and has decided to do a double major in Physics and Music. She has evolved from a rock star wannabe to a jazz musician.  She has played saxophone in her schools' jazz bands since she was 10 and playing saxophone is a vital part of who she is. I would be surprised (and sad) if 30 year old Eva isn't still playing her saxophone in a jazz band even if that is a hobby rather than her profession.

My 17 year old daughter, Francesca, is a junior in high school and we are starting the college search for her. Like her big sister, she also played saxophone in her school's jazz band in middle school but it never lit her up in the way that it did Eva.   When she started high school and was choosing her first year arts electives,   I was surprised when I saw that she had chosen jazz band as one of her electives. I asked her about it and she said "I thought I would be letting people down if I didn't keep doing band."  

It is small choices like that choice which, when made for the wrong reason - to please others rather than yourself - can take you slowly but surely further and further from who you really are.

Once I reminded Francesca that she could choose the electives that most excited her, she dropped jazz band and chose dance, photography and theater design - choices that ring completely true to me for her.

As a mother and a coach, that is a big part of what I do - noticing when my children or clients are making choices or are living with choices made years ago that don't reflect who they really are - and then helping them to make new choices.  

The question “what do you want to do when you grow up?” implies on some level that we are our jobs. That our jobs define us. The assumption is that, when we grow up and someone asks us “so what do you do?”, we should have a one-word answer.  A label that we can give and the person asking will be able to sum us up. The question also implies that, as we grow up, we will work toward becoming some thing, some label, rather than simply being who we are and finding a life’s work that allows us to be ourselves.

Instead of asking “what do you want to be when you grow up?”, I’ve started to ask my children (and my clients): “what would you like to do (when you grow up) that would allow you to be who you are?”

I asked myself the same question and the things that I want to do that allow me to be me are:

  • write

  • perform

  • coach

I don't expect all 3 of those things to provide income but I consider each of them equally important aspects of who I am and who I want to be.

What would YOUR eleven year old self have answered to the question "what do you want to be when you grow up?"

Did you stay true to any part of your 11 year old self's prediction?  If not, why not? Can you see when the disconnect began? Can you see a pattern of choices that were made to please others instead of pleasing yourself?

Take a few minutes to do the following exercise:

Write down the following information ...

  • Name

  • Profession

  • Marital Status

  • Age

  • City where you live

  • City where you were born

  • Which college(s) you went to

  • What you studied

  • How many children you have and their names

  • The accomplishment of which you are most proud

Now, looking at the list you just wrote, I want you to write 3-4 sentences to introduce yourself WITHOUT USING any of the above information.

Did you find it hard to describe yourself without any of the usual labels? How did it feel to describe yourself in this way? Were you surprised by what you chose to include in your introduction once you were unable to use the conventional labels?

Please take some time this week to watch Jim Carrey's commencement address at the 2014 MUM Graduation (approximately 27 minutes) - there is so much brilliance in it.

How will you serve the world? What do they need that your talent can provide? That’s all you have to figure out. The effect you have on others is the most valuable currency there is. Risk being seen in all of your glory. You can fail at what you don’t want so you might as well take a chance at doing what you love. Relax and dream up a good life.
— Jim Carrey

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