The Unlikely Grad Student recently asked this question over at her blog:
Who do you want to be when you grow up?
I have wasted a lot of time in my life asking myself what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I never really spent any time asking myself who. Her post gave me pause and I found myself thinking about it for days afterward.
Who do I want to be when I grow up? Who did I want to be when I grew up? Am I that person? Has my time been spent pursuing that person or did I get distracted?
When I was younger and particularly when I was a child, I knew I wanted to create things. I've always had artistic inclinations, in large part due to my artist/painter grandmother with whom I spent many a school vacation while growing up. She taught me to draw, paint, and sew when I was very small. I made my own doll clothes and put on impromptu fashion shows at her house using scraps of fabric from clothing she had made. I had the Fashion Plates set and spent hours and hours pretending I was a designer. When I was 8 or 9 I created a portfolio of original clothing designs complete with fabric samples for each outfit. I still have it in the attic somewhere.
When I was 11 or 12 I thought maybe I wanted to be an architect. Using huge sheets of drafting paper, I designed my "dream house." To scale. It was about 45,000 sq ft and included full suites for each one of my family members, a "rec room" with a full-size basketball court, an indoor swimming pool, and servants' quarters. I went through countless magazines and catalogs, tearing out images of furniture, bedding, and decor for every single room of the house, labeled them accordingly, and put them into a 3-ring binder with tabs.
Yes, I was that kid. And now I am that adult.
When I realized the odds of making it as a fashion designer (in the days before things like Project Runway) and the amount of boring-ass math required to be an architect, I decided to go in another direction. I found psychology.
I looked at research as a creative endeavor - creating a hypothesis, designing experiments, writing up findings, etc. I pursued it as such for a very long time. But when the reality of grad school admissions and the earning of a PhD presented themselves to me, I learned that it was not what I had thought it was AT ALL. In interviews I found myself playing a part - it was all about the professor who was interviewing me, not about me or my interests, and certainly not about the ways I thought my presence could improve the current research going on under their supervision.
No, it was about stroking egos. The psychology PhD had nothing to do with creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. They wanted newbies whose undying devotion would guarantee their citations in textbooks and journals forever. That's just not me. If you study the history of psychology you will see all sorts of alliances, dynasties, rebellions, slander, professional suicides. It's like a soap opera. Or the Roman Empire. I don't know if it's like that in other fields, but the drama in psychology is rampant and gratuitous.
So when they said "You don't really belong here," I flipped them the bird and said "You know what? You're right."
And now here I am, 2 years later, with the same job that allows me to work from home and raise my son. It requires no mindpower. There is no creativity. There is no room to really grow. But it allows me to focus on what is important for now.
When my son is grown, I want him to think of me as a creative person. Someone unique, who doesn't fit easily into a mold and who offers a different perspective on things than most. That is the Who I want to be. The What that will allow me to become that person has not yet revealed itself. Only time and the appearance of opportunity will tell.
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