What do I want to be when I grow up?

As kids, teens, and young adults we are regularly asked –  what do you want to be when you grow up?   During this retirement transition, I’ve continued to struggle in defining (discovering?) my passion –  what do I want to do/who do I want to be?     I just finished reading the book I Could Do Anything, if I only knew what it was by Barbara Sher.   Besides having a very intriguing title, which indicated it might help with discovering what I really wanted to do (my passion!), I found that it did stimulate my thinking.   I didn’t agree with some of her core premises, but let me share some of my “aha” elements with you.

I think everyone agrees that life feels fulfilled when you’re doing things you love, or at least heading in the direction of what you love. But as I’ve discovered, if you do not have a long-held passion that you’ve just been wanting to explore, there are so many options that it becomes hard to know where to start. One of Sher’s core premises is that if it’s hard to know what your passion is, then something inside you is preventing you from discovering it.

I agree with her premises that for much of life you did what you were supposed to do! (I know I did.) I also agree with her premise that much of our beliefs and behaviors are hard-wired into place after all these years of doing them.   So if something is stopping you from trying something, there is a hidden resistance, an inner conflict that needs to be identified. This hidden conflict is defining your current behavior… you are hard-wired to resist whatever you’re thinking about.

One of her premises I disagree with is the work she focuses on discovering how and why these hard-wired, supposed-to beliefs and behaviors were created.   I am more of the mind-set that after identifying them, focus on moving forward to change them, not looking in the past for the how and why.

Another aha element – A big part of inertia (resistance to doing something) is fear. For some reason your inner consciousness senses fear in the path forward. So your “go for it” mindset cannot overcome the inner, hard-wired fear that screams “danger – stop”.

  • Perhaps it is fear of not doing what you were supposed to do?   Meeting others expectations, whether consciously or subconsciously, is all about belonging and acceptance. And belonging is a need for most people. (Bog one for me!) What if this new thing conflicts with your inner mind-set of “supposed to do”?
    • We all have an inner belief system of what retirement is “supposed to be”, even though we consciously acknowledge that this is a “new retirement” world we live in! One of the elements I know I’ve heard repeatedly is that in retirement, you are supposed to be doing things that are meaningful and giving back to the greater good. So if an activity that I think I might have passion for doesn’t match this expectation – is that the inner conflict that is preventing me from even starting it?
  • Perhaps it is fear of not aligning with your self-identity? Everyone has a self-identity and this is one I do believe has a long-term element.   Were you always the “smart one” or the “stupid one”? The risk-taking bad girl or the play-by-the-rules girl? The one with her head in the book?   The athletic one? The one who’s not good with people? The one who’s not creative?   Are these long-term identifiers (subconsciously) holding you back today?    The “I can’t start/do that activity because I’ve never been good at that type of thing” mind-set.
    • I recently had lunch with a young lady who in the breadth of 30 minutes told me twice that she has always had a hard time networking and talking with people.   And in the same 30 minutes told me about 2 instances where once when got into the meeting/conversation, everything was fine! Her belief, when I asked her, continued to be she couldn’t network well, even with 2 examples she gave me of the opposite.   Reality doesn’t overcome our belief in our identity.
  • Perhaps it is fear of success?   Yes, I too had the reactive question – why would you fear success?   One of Sher’s hypotheses: perhaps you believe that success will make you less acceptable to those around you.  Will being successful at this activity make you less lovable, because of the (internal) stereotype we hold about people who do it? Or you think you don’t deserve to be successful.
    • While I don’t think fear of success is my individual fear, this probing did make me realize I do worry about engaging in activities that might take time away (physically and emotionally) from my key relationship!
  • Perhaps it is fear of commitment?   I have always been a “finish the job” kind-a-girl   (Self-identity insight!).   If I promise to do it, I will. So fear of commitment stops me because I worry that I’ll be stuck in “it” for life.    But in retirement and in this “what should I do” discovery exploration, I need to realize that just because I “sign on” to something does not mean I cannot stop or leave.
    • Thinking about this fear, I also realized that I don’t just commit – I tend to over-commit. Work-life balance is something I am committed to in retirement and my fear of commitment on many other activities is worry that my workaholic, over-commitment tendencies will overwhelm life!

One of Sher’s exercises that I enjoyed was one I’ll call 10 Lives: List 10 lives you think you would like to have. A few of the things on my list were: gardener, gourmet cook, world traveller, yoga guru, writer, jewelry maker, food blogger, birdwatcher, photographer, dancer. (Yes, I looked at my Personal Possibilities List – they were all on there!)     Now pick one (any one) and focus on it for a month. Do something, anything that moves you in that direction. One life vision, one month.  This activity fit another of Sher’s core premises – “do something”!   Any action will move you forward.  It doesn’t need to even be the right action or the right direction to get you started. Action and movement will breed additional action and movement.

A few other of the elements that focus on moving forward:

  • Every time you do something that you were afraid to do but still dared to do it, you get a boost of self-esteem.   And the next thing you’re afraid to do becomes a little less scary, because you’ve begun to re-set the fear hard-wire… whatever the underlying cause of that hard-wiring is.
  • Do it because you decided to do it. Not because you believe it’s the thing that will be your passion. Doing is a big leap from thinking and planning – make the call. Sign up for the class.   Focus on a small movement forward.

So did reading this book help me figure out my passion? Nope. But it helped me feel less like I’m “supposed to know and live my passion” today.  And it helped me understand some of my procrastination habits.  And yes, I did sign up for a month of yoga classes.  A cheer for my small movement forward!

Picture Credit: Pixabay

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10 thoughts on “What do I want to be when I grow up?

  1. I think you need longer than 1 month to ‘try on’ a new activity. I like the notion, however. I am starting my 3rd month at OrangeTheory Fitness and am now just beginning to get the hang of it. Good for you for signing on to yoga. Time away from ‘key relationship’ is something I do fear, however not for me but for my hubby. He really relies on my presence and availability. It’s actually been my toughest challenge this first year out. What has really worked is developing a routine where he knows I will NOT be available and keeping to that routine. Tuesday mornings and Thursday nights are now in the structure of the week where he knows I will be involved elsewhere. This has been extremely successful in taking the fear away of my growing in my activities and him knowing I will be around at other times.

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    1. Thanks for the tip with hubby. You get it when you said he relies on your presence. I’m trying to put stuff on the joint calendar as well to help him know where I am planning to be. He’s encouraged me to do the yoga, so that has helped. One positive for me was he planned an activity just for him during one of my regular exercise times (Zumba). I was excited to see him doing that!

      I think the “one month” mindset gives me the freedom to try it. I am going to keep doing the yoga now… I’m nowhere yet getting the total hang of it but have done enough to say, yeah, let’s keep going. The other thing about the month was it made me focus on it – I did 2-3 classes a week! Activation energy is my block… focus for one month activates me!

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  2. I would like to offer an alternative explanation. I am a Myers-Briggs ENFP (which is informally characterized as “Everyday New Fantastic Possibilities”) which means ALMOST everything is of interest to people of this type. Well, ok, I’ll confess that bungee jumping into rocky gorges doesn’t make my top ten list, but I really feel like everything I turn my eyes and mind to is something I could be interested in. On the one hand, this is great because boredom is never a possibility. On the other hand, identifying and sticking with a single “passion” is probably not much of a possibility either. I think that’s all right, at least for me. I have identified several things that I call “strong interests” including woodworking, home coffee roasting, cooking, wine appreciation, personal fitness and reading about the impact of nutrition on health among others, but I hesitate to label any of them as passions because I will not abandon most of them to concentrate on one. I was also never one of those people who would paint their face orange and black and go shirtless to a Bengals’ game in December. I just can’t work up that much, well, passion, for any one thing. That said, I have never been happier or more fulfilled than in my first 2+ years of retirement. I go to bed every night wondering what new, fantastic possibilities might arise tomorrow.

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    1. Love the idea of multiple “strong interests” versus passion. I’m exploring various things but nothing is sticking even as a strong interest right now. But I am having fun, so I guess that’s all that matters!

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  3. Awesome. So exactly what month will you be “photographer extraordinaire”? And what will you do? A high school friend of mine took up photography and she posts her best picture of the day on Facebook about 4 times a week! Her and her husband walk almost daily in a local arboretum and that’s where she takes most of her pictures. I am amazed sometimes at the beauty she captures. She loves close-ups (bees on flowers) and sunsets. She’s also taken some classes to improve her skills. I’m not sure what my next month “life” pick will be (November was yoga guru), but it’s not in December. Too much else happening!

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    1. This month was “yoga guru”. OK, yoga beginner. I paid for a month of unlimited classes at a yoga place half mile from my house. I ended up doing 2-3 a week – different types, different instructors. I do think I will keep doing it (not 3 times a week though!) and plan to buy a 10 class pass next month. I’ve played with “food blogging” by doing restaurant reviews on Yelp (the restaurant app). I realized it’s really hard to both fully enjoy the meal (including wine and conversation) and then remember exactly what everyone ordered and how the dishes were prepared! OK, maybe it’s because of the wine. But you’ve inspired me to do more of that…maybe it will get easier. As I hope the yoga will get easier!

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  4. That sounds like an interesting book as I am also trying to discover a passion in my retirement. I agree with you about not being all that interested in the “how and why” and much more in the “what can I do to move forward.” I really like the idea of listing ten (or however many) lives I’d like to have, then pick one and focus on it for a month. Sometimes, if there are too many options (or too many/much of anything), it’s easy to get overwhelmed and not do anything. I think I’ll choose photographer.

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