When I was young, life was about what I was going to be when I grew up. It’s the question implicit to the American Dream. For most of us, the question starts being asked in elementary school when firemen, police officers, doctors, etc. parade their professions to curious young minds on career day. In high school, the pressure builds as AP classes prepare us for college degrees - degrees we chose before our brains finish cooking. In college the what and the where of our studies proves nervous fodder for smalltalk and showmanship. By the time we graduate and begin a career, we’re so intrenched in a system of value that rewards economic success that many of us have forgotten our own dreams and desires.
I’m tired of that system. It’s unfair - the haves can, the have-nots can’t. It’s also unfulfilling - remember Ebenezer Scrooge? So I’ve decided to ask a different question. I’ve decided to ask who I want to be when I grow up. Not what.
Asking who implies personhood. It allows one to think outside notions of job or role. It works against the rampant compartmentalization in our society that reduces people to what they bring to the marketplace. Asking who beckons one discover their true self; to satisfactorily answer the question “who do you want to be” one must first ask “who am I?” It is a question that calls people deeper into the particularity of their stories. It’s a question of honor, accessible to anyone willing to take a good look in the proverbial mirror.
I want to be someone who values character more than status. This will probably cost me buckets of money over the course of my life, but I’ll happily trade those buckets to be able to sit comfortably with myself as an old man.
I want to be someone who embraces paradox. A lot of things in life seem to contradict. Is light a particle or a wave? When faced with things that don’t make sense, I want to be someone who dives deep into understanding. Even if I’m only left to wonder.
I want to be someone who seeks simplicity. The same culture that asks the question what also screams “more, more, more!” Harder, better, faster, stronger, is never enough. Gadgets promise ease, yet end up outdated and forgotten. “The more you have, the more you have to have to take care of the things you have.” Contentment is not found through accumulation, but through gratitude. Less is indeed more.
I want to be someone who honors complexity. The world is full of complex problems. Take the homelessness crisis in Seattle for example. That is a multifacited issue that can't be solved by simply building more homes. People are complex and their complexity deserves attention.
I want to be someone who finds freedom through discipline. The cost of freedom is high. An athlete who wants to be able to run without gasping for air needs to put in hours of training. A trauma survivor has to put in hours of difficult emotional work to find freedom. I want to be physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually free. So I work towards that end, not expecting freedom to be projected through a screen or delivered to my doorstep with the click of a button.
I want to be someone who pursues beauty. All that is good and right and true is beautiful. Even if it is difficult to behold. Beauty doesn’t always look like wall decorations or sound like symphonies. Sometimes it’s a simple as folded laundry or homemade hummus.
I want to be someone who creates more than consumes. What culture consumes. Who culture creates. Great art flows from the very person of the artist. I believe that creation is one of the most human, and therefore fulfilling, things we can do. Creation brings forth beauty, because it is itself beautiful.
I want to be someone who values mercy over judgement. What culture ultimately pits people against each other. Being defined by our status symbols ultimately ends in violence. Mercy, however, is not ultimately concerned with equal distribution, but rather restoration of relationship - or the a establishment of who culture. Mercy isn’t self-seeking, but rather gives opportunities to others for mutual benefit.