What Should I Be When I Grow Up?
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Your childhood aspirations and what they mean
Ask a bunch of little kids what they want to be when they grow up, and you’ll likely be confronted with a dazzling array of superheroes, mythical creatures, superstars, operators of various heavy-duty vehicles and maybe the odd hairdresser or teacher. When we are young we can see ourselves so clearly zooming through the sky, or waving to the populace from our golden carriage, and we have no doubts that we will achieve these lofty goals. From veterinarians saving endangered dolphins to doctors curing all the diseases of the world, every kid’s vision of their future self is saturated with heady idealism and incredible self-assurance.
However, year by year, a different reality creeps up on us. At some point we learn that Santa isn’t real. Capes can’t make you fly. The toothfairy was Mom. Our infant invincibility crumbles as we come to realize our own limitations: the would-be popstar is tone-deaf, the aspiring pilot needs glasses and the future Queen of England lives in a trailer in Alabama. We learn that the world is a harder place than we ever knew it could be, and that many wishes seem to never come true. Facing the stark reality of bills, our innocent idealism has to take a back seat as we work to keep a roof over our head and food on the table. We dismiss our childhood dreams as impossible fantasies, based on naïve childish whims. But is this really the case?
If we put practical considerations to the side for the moment, and think back to the hopes and dreams of our younger selves, we might be able to find something valuable. Though our dream may have changed, the reason those dreams arose in us in the first place is worth exploring. We can pick apart the reality from the fantasy if we keep this in mind:
1. What our childhood wishes spoke of were our real desires, before they were touched by the logistical concerns of the adult world.
Though being a princess may no longer have the same appeal it once did when we were children, the underlying desire to feel important and beautiful and special is just as valid now as it was then. Though being a jungle explorer might not be possible, that previous wish spoke of the desire to conquer new territory, to be a trailblazer at the frontier of human experience. A train or truck driver holds great responsibility, a hairdresser aims to help people look and feel good, and a superhero wants to save the world from evil forces. We may also remember other humanitarian and compassionate sentiments we had as children. Maybe you begged your parents to let you nurse the dying bird back to life, or adopt the cat you found in the street? Many kids have special compassion for the homeless and the plight of orphaned or neglected children. We may still feel the same urge to help as we did then, or we may have given up on the idea as we have found how hard it can be to make a significant change in the world. Either way, we cannot deny that these natural humanitarian impulses were living and breathing in us as children. That desire to make a difference in the world was empowering and helped us to dream big.
2. True compassion was the fuel for our dreams.
Let’s resurrect that compassion for the world and the passion that made us dreaming of making it a better place. Now we are in a better position than ever to make our childhood wishes come true, as we have the benefit of adult experience. We can temper our fierce idealism with careful consideration and planning. Though our dreams may seem impossible at times, the world depends on us to dream big. There are many who through disease, poverty, hunger, violence and war, do not have the opportunity to make their dreams a reality, or even to dream at all. Though our own life situations may be difficult, we can strive to tap in to the benefits and resources around us in order to make a worthwhile contribution by offering our passions and talents. The future generations of our world require us to believe in our dreams.
We can still be superheroes, if we perceive them in a metaphorical sense. Though we may not be able to spread our capes and fly, or shoot spider webs out of our hands, we all have unique talents, capabilities and resources that we can use for the good of all. Superheroes usually have an alter ego that is their public persona, and keep their superhero identity a secret. Though we appear ordinary on the outside, we have an inner power. Just like a superhero, we don’t flaunt our power or use it for mere personal gain. It remains dormant until it can be called forth to benefit and uplift us all, including ourselves. That quiet and assured power that doesn’t need to draw attention to itself can only come from us being who we truly are. We can find that power in respecting the dreams of our childhood selves, formed before the world weighed down on us. By doing so we regain that power and can put it to use here and now to make the world a better place.