“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
That is a dreaded question for me, and the older I get, the more dreaded I become. It felt easier, as I recall, to answer the question as a kid. “A doctor,” I would have said in a heartbeat. There was no fear. There were no consequences. It was the answer that came to mind because that was what I wanted to be. It just felt right.
Then, life got complicated. It is easy to blame external factors. My parents and their belief systems, their own experiences, their tendency to be protective, or their well-intended concern that might not have been expressed in a way that supported my best interests. “That’s going to be competitive and difficult.” “You are not going to make as much money as a businessman.” “Smart kids go into accounting or engineering these days.”
Or my teachers and their assessing, evaluating minds. “You are not the top of the class. You need to be smarter to get into a medical program.” “Your math and physics are not good enough for medical schools.” “Are you sure you don’t want to be a scientist, instead? We need more basic research scientists.” “What about becoming an economist? We need more economists to help the country.”
Or my friends, my parents’ friends, acquaintances, or society at large. The questions might have sounded different, but most of them came down to people’s opinions, informed by their own beliefs, values, and experiences. To be fair, it was not all like that. Some did offer hope and validation. “Go and follow your dream,” they said. But for a young person with an innate pragmatic mind and a heart full of dreams, they didn’t help answer questions like, “How am I going to pay bills if I study literature?”
As I said, it is easy to blame external factors. I am not. Those were just the external factors that I faced and came to realize in retrospect. I grew, I changed. I learned more about my own preferences, not only about what I liked, but also what I didn’t like. I liked reading books and learning about literature. I worried about savings. I liked some branches of science, but was not comfortable with others. I no longer wanted to be a doctor. I wanted to be a biologist, a horticulturist, a diplomat, a chef, a yoga teacher. I knew what I wanted, and I didn’t know what I wanted. All of those ideas, hopes, and dreams happened inside as the external opinions brewed.
Then came my decision to go into the business world and business school. Then came the wisdom (I’m not sure whose) about knowing one’s career goals, one’s career paths, and one’s cohesive story about one’s career. I had one. It was well thought out, and it came from a sincere place in my heart. I didn’t make it up, and yet I knew that compromises were made, and something was missing.
But I had my goals.
Off I went chasing those goals. Things were checked off the list, lessons were learned, connections were made, and a career path was laid. As I crossed a milestone, I felt a sense of accomplishment, and it felt good. But I was not content or happy. The sense of discontent and lack of joy continued to mount, becoming unhealthy, physically and mentally. Challenges and hard-earned milestones do not equate to joy. It feels oft times like a Pyrrhic victory. Something is missing.
What is missing is my answer to the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I don’t know how to answer that question any more. Over the years, my experiences, my hopes, my fears have created a thick wall. I forget what it feels like to be inspired.
A good friend of mine recommended The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat. It is a story about a creature waiting to be called upon by a child, so that he could be the child’s friend. That calling never came, and he took action in his own hands and went off to find a friend in an unchartered world (to him, anyway). He was about to give up hope, when a girl found him. They didn’t know what to do with each other initially, but they knew that their encounter felt right. They knew that he was her imaginary friend, when the girl gave him a name, “Beekle.”
Beekle became her inspiration, and she became his. They played together, drew together, created together. He validated her, encouraged her, and empowered her, unconditionally. And she gave him a sense of purpose, that his brave journey to search for a friend, made total sense.
I would like to believe that we all have our own Beekle. Some of us may not have met him. Some of us may have met him and have lost him over time. If we look hard enough, we will find him, and we just need to call out his name.
Why am I so sure? In the last three days alone, examples of people who have found their Beekles have been coming to me, unsolicited. Some of the Beekles are large and life-changing. Some are small and momentary. Beekles can come in all forms. They could be a loved one, a fruit or even a typewriter. What they all have in common, however, is that they inspire.
Before yesterday, Jim Obergefell was not known to many. As of yesterday, his name went down into history. His devotion to his late husband kept him up as he fought for right for marriage for gay people in the US.
Yesterday, my partner, who loves baking and who is not a morning person, got up early in the morning to bake an egg-free cupcake for our beloved niece who is allergic to eggs. He didn’t want her to feel left us as everyone had their cupcakes for desserts at a family gathering later that day.
Also, yesterday, I was at a café named Agora, and it was showcasing photographs by an organization called Micah (“Help Micah Change Sign”) to raise awareness about homelessness. One was a series of three photos of a woman showing up a sign: “I was a lonely drunk housewife.” “I needed a purpose.” “I rediscovered who I am.” She smiled in the last photo. She had found her Beekle.
A few days ago, I read on BBC about Helton Josue Teodoro Muniz from Brazil. He was born with a motor neurone deficiency and only learned to walk as a teenager. Holding a seed in his hand can be difficult to him. Yet his childhood discovery of a fruit propelled him to become a collector of fruit, and he is now an internationally renowned fruit expert and author.
This morning, my partner sent me a YouTube video about Paul Smith, an elderly man from OH, who found a way to get around his disability and expresses himself by using a typewriter to create beautiful arts.
Also this morning, the Free Lance-Star newspaper, a local paper in Fredericksburg, Virginia, celebrated a local author Vincent Annunziato of Stafford, Virginia. Annunziato knew his Beekle was the love of writing, but he gave it up when he moved East to take an IT job and has a responsibility to provide to him family. Despite his life circumstances, he let his Beekle came back to him and found time on his long commute on the commuter train to write. He just published his second book.
Regardless of the time in their life, their circumstances or the time it took, these people found their Beekle. I am determined to find or reconnect with mine, whatever he is and wherever he is now. I know I will find him (or her).
Etched on a coffee table at the café yesterday, the carving read,
“It is never too late to become what you might have been”
~ Mary Ann Evans
I hope Mary Ann Evans is right.