What to Answer When They Ask What You Want to Be

When I was five years old, my parents asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I told them I wanted to be a butterfly. It did not seem to be the answer they were looking for.

But I quickly caught on. The next time they asked me that question, in junior high, I knew what I wanted to be– a crusading investigative reporter ala Woodward and Bernstein, or a humor columnist like Art Buchwald, or a theater critic such as John Simon. They told me those jobs were already taken and that journalism was a dead end.

When they asked what I wanted to be when I was in college, I told them what I knew they yearned to hear— that I wanted to be a lawyer. But then I decided I would rather kill myself than go to law school, which resulted in a clinical depression, followed by a one month’s stay in a comforting place that taught life reassessment skills. My parents were so frightened by the experience that they dropped the whole J.D. thing for the time being.

My newfound shrink thought it would be nice for me to be a risk taker. So, after college, on an adventurous whim, I lit out for Los Angeles to study screenwriting. I was fortunate enough to sell a script to the hit sitcom, “Family Ties,” starring Michael J. Fox, while out there. I made a lot of money and met some super-rich people doing it, so everyone told me that it would be cool to be a wealthy television writer. After all, who could live in L.A. and not want to be one?

But then, I didn’t sell anymore television scripts and had another severe attack of the blues. My parents whisked me back to New York and were soon at their wits end about what I was going to be now that I was a directionless semi-adult. So, they sent me to a new mental health professional that gave me a battery of psychological tests and told me I should be a gym teacher. That nightmare didn’t last much longer than student teaching.

Left to my on devices for a moment, I went out and got a job as a trade magazine reporter (turned out, there were openings in the journalism field) and started to freelance for a number of print publications. When print began to dry up, I slowly adapted to the digital realm, a process that continues to this day.

My dad passed away many years ago, still concerned about what I was going to be, and my mom has since convinced herself that not only did I go back to school and get that law degree, but that I am now a member of the Supreme Court and finally have that sense of job security that only comes with being “a true professional.” I don’t have the heart to tell her otherwise.

But today, when people ask me what I really want to be, I tell them: “All I ever really wanted to be was who I am.” And I leave it at that.

Wendy Aron is the author of Hide & Seek: How I Laughed at Depression, Conquered My Fears and Found Happiness and the founder of WendyAron.com

Photo credit: ‘Fairy Tale Forest‘ by Big Stock