Saturday, October 10, 2009

On Becoming Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Carl Jung, or a Dolphin Trainer: An Exploration of "What I Want to be When I Grow Up"

When I was a little girl I used to want to be a veterinarian. But not just any veterinarian, a veterinarian for big horses (inspired from my James Harriet books.) Then, I got over horses and decided I really wanted to be a dolphin trainer. Then, I wanted to work with tide pools and my mom suggested to me that I might want to be an "oceanographer." So, I was on the oceanographer kick for a while. Then, I decidedly pronounced that my passion was to be a journalist, and that is pretty much what I thought when I was 18 years old and entered college at the University of Maryland.

At some point along the way, after dropping out of UMD and being "existential" for a while, I took an Art and Feminism class at community college and decided I had to be a museum curator. I graduated with a degree in Arts Management, and went to work at an art auction house. I was on the track...I could almost taste my curatorial glory.

Now I am grant writer. A grant writer. Not a dolphin trainer, not a museum curator --but a grant writer.

Not that there is anything wrong with grant writers (especially because I get to use my writing skills to help a whole lot of people that need it.) But, if you had asked me 5 years ago if I could picture myself as a grant writer I would have said no way.

Interesting the way the fates lead you.

Is my experience normal? I mean, my friend Janelle, for example, always said she wanted to be a Supreme Court Justice, and low and behold she is a recent UCLA law grad, and is on the path that she had always envisioned for herself. I will not be surprised years down the line when she becomes a Justice.

My friend Michael always knew he wanted to pursue something science-oriented, and then at one point decided unequivocally that psychiatry was his calling. Low and behold now he is a psychiatrist working at Stanford. Not surprising at all. He is one smart and motivated kid.

Is it that some people just know? And how is the knowing that is associated with Janelle and her Supreme-Court-Justice-track any different from the knowing of my dolphin-trainer-track? I mean, I reallllllly wanted to be a dolphin trainer. Is it a matter of follow-through? Is it a matter of personality type? Perhaps Janelle just has the personality type that when she says she is going to do something, she means it, and she does it. Or is it a deeper passion? I mean, obviously, I can't even swim, so I couldn't have been all that passionate about being a dolphin trainer. But I did feel I was pretty passionate about being a journalist (I was a journalist at the age of 11, after all), and about being a museum curator. Maybe Janelle and Michael's passions are of a passion-level I can't even comprehend, because I have never felt?

Some of my friends might say that I have always wanted to be a writer. Now I am a writer -- kinda. A technical writer of grants, which really isn't the same creative fun as just being a "writer" in general. So, maybe I did kind of follow a dream, but it certainly wasn't intentional. I chalk my grant writing job up more to luck and fate than to passion or talent. (Though now that I have been working in it for a while, I am very passionate about the population I help. Maybe that is how passions arise? You experience something -- just like my experience with James Harriet books gave me a passion for animals -- and then you become invested.)

Now, I am in graduate school for writing. Is this sealing my fate? Am I now a "writer"? I am not convinced my path won't change again. It seems to change so frequently anyway.

How is it that people can be so sure of their path? And does this assurance result in a more content life? I mean, I feel anxious most days because I never know what I am going to do with my life exactly. Maybe Janelle and Michael have a kind of bliss because they know they have made it to the path they have always wanted.

I also often wonder how my path would have changed had I made some different decisions. What if my parents had not gotten divorced and I had not dropped out of UMD? I may actually have become a journalist. I definitely would not have moved back to California and gone to community college, and then I would not have moved to San Francisco, not have found a passion in art history, not have worked in the arts, not have met Brian, not have moved to San Diego, not have become a grant writer.

But all of those experiences evolved me in a really profound way. And ultimately, what I want from this life is to learn all the lessons I can and to evolve from every experience. So, while my professional[*] path may be a bit more twisty than Janelle or Michael's for example, I am happy that it has taken me to where I am. I just wonder when I will find my niche, and I really do yearn for that niche...

[*]I say 'professional' because I want to differentiate this from an 'emotional' path. I think that regardless of if you are a lawyer or a dolphin trainer, everyone has their own equally twisty and bumpy roads to contend with on their emotional paths.

Oh yeah, and I am still open to becoming a dolphin trainer.

[photo by]


  1. Great post!
    I know exactly how you feel, I'm interested in way too many things to settle down to one solitary career. I greatly enjoy learning new things and always switching it up. Perhaps that won't lead me to great monetary success, but alas it is who I am....

  2. I'd think it depends on the field or career. I can see that routinely manning a desk and writing the same types of documents in the same area of interest would grow boring. Experience that all the time, myself.

    On the other hand my dad's been a teacher for 19 years, and I imagine the elementary school classroom provides a lot more in the way of dynamics than SEO writing, editing the same type of document, or writing a grant application you've wrote before. Then again my dad's developing massive stress-related health problems because of administrative and regulatory changes all the time... so perhaps its just his manner that makes having the same job possible.

  3. I love this post Mara! I feel like we often talk about how evolution is maybe the most important thing in life and the lessons we learn. I'm glad you incorporated that idea here.

  4. Lots of great comments here! Your guys' thoughts really got me thinking more about this topic. Thanks for the inspiration. I've got to get to work writing.