What do you want to be when you grow up?
Along with "what's your favorite color?" and "what food do you like best?" this must be one of the most frequently asked questions of young children. I happen to still enjoy discussing all of these questions (color is fun, and the only thing I like more than talking about food is eating it, so...), but the one I consider most regularly—along with 7-year-olds everywhere—is what I want to be when I grow up.
Unlike our nation's elementary school aged population, I am gainfully employed in work that is meaningful and engaging, but I still find this question—or phrased differently as "what's your dream job?"—useful in orienting my short-term priorities and long-term goals. It helps me add zest to my work through tapping into my passions and dreams and it helps me determine how to most meaningfully spend my free time. It also helps me make "big picture" decisions.
Let me give you an example. One of my dream jobs (I have quite a few) is to be the advice columnist for a magazine or website. From Dear Sugar to Modern Manners to Dear Prudence, I absolutely love reading the questions submitted to the authors of these columns, and in addition to enjoying reading the responses I like to imagine the advice I would give if asked the question. While I’d be thrilled to be offered one of these columns, I don’t expect or need it to happen; as I said, I find my current career path meaningful and engaging, and I don’t see it leading me to the advice writing place. But this dream of mine orients me in a few different ways.
First, it reminds me to look for opportunities to write within my career. I work as a Director of Faith Formation at a church, and my time could easily be filled with the major tasks on my job description: prepping and teaching classes, leading retreats, and coordinating service projects. However, my title provides me with ample opportunities to write for religious education blogs and curriculum resources, so it’s important for me to make time for these opportunities which allow me to fulfill a passion of mine.
Secondly, it helps me choose how to spend my volunteer hours; there are so many great causes and organizations that benefit from the service of community members, so why not pick one that helps me lean into a role that I’ve always dreamt of? Currently, I volunteer as a hotline counselor for the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, and while I wouldn’t describe the work as “giving advice” (using the empowerment model, we are there to provide a listening ear and affirming presence much more than suggestions on how to handle particular situations), counseling involves listening and responding to the concerns of others in a tactful, compassionate manner. The work has a lot of similarities to responding to letters seeking guidance.
Finally, my advice columnist dream job helps me make “big picture” decisions. We’re regularly faced with choices that impact our future as well as our present—do I take on this new commitment? Do I say yes or no to a particular request for my time? Do I join this group or that one?—and a dream job can serve as a compass when making these sorts of decisions. What answer points me towards the north of my dream job?
No matter how you feel about the job that occupies many of your current waking hours, it’s worth spending some time considering your childhood dream job—and your current dream job. If you could be anything or do anything, what would it be? Then, let your answer impact your current choices.
Teresa lives in Providence, Rhode Island, where she works as a Director of Faith Formation at a Catholic Church and dabbles in hospital chaplaincy. She has a BA in English, a Master’s in Divinity, and a passion for thinking about the intersection of spirituality, self-improvement, and well-being. Her perfect day includes slowly savoring a morning cup of coffee, reading for work and for fun, and receiving snail mail.