What do you want to be when you grow up? It’s a question that’s often asked of children, and truthfully, one I asked myself for many years – long after I ‘grew up’! And though this was not my experience, these days, I often hear children (and others!) being told “You can be anything you want!”. To a point, this is true … but as so often is the case, that’s not the whole story.
Back in the 50s and 60s as I was growing up in Barbados, this question usually meant what job do you want to do? For many of us who would leave Barbados after graduating from high school, we were being asked about the kind of higher education we’d be engaging. For me, the menu of options to choose from seemed pretty limited. And it seemed to me to be a HUGE choice, because in my mind this was IT. I believed I was choosing for life. I had no sense of the journey and evolution that would be my, and most of our, experience.
So, of the options I saw (secretary, teacher, nurse, or get married) I chose nursing – for many reasons, but high on that list was the influence of reading the Cherry Ames series of books. As the Unofficial Cherry Ames Home Page says “Charity “Cherry” Ames is a peripatetic, job-hopping, mystery-solving nurse from Hilton, IL., who stars in a series of twenty-seven mystery novels with medical settings.” As a young girl who had never left my island home (21 miles long, and 14 miles wide) Cherry’s life as a nurse seemed pretty exciting!
As it turned out, though I did travel to Canada for my nursing training, I didn’t follow in Cherry’s footsteps. Right after my training was complete, I married my first husband (interestingly another wonderer, wanderer, and storyteller at heart!) and so stayed in Canada where I lived, loved, and learned for the next 40 years.
I don’t regret that choice of career, or marriage. Given how well I knew myself at that time, it’s easy to see how I made these choices. Then, my focus was almost entirely on the needs and desires of others. I had very little connection to, or intimacy with myself. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-30s, and mother of 3 children that I consciously began my journey of personal growth. And even then, though I was beginning to get clear on who I was, what enlivened me, and what I brought to the world, it would be many more years before I had the capacity to stand in and for the choices that were becoming clearer were mine.
AND have the capacity to stand in that space.
At 18, I had no idea, the journey of evolution of consciousness existed. Nor was I attuned to the call of our lives being whispered (and sometimes shouted, or even hit with a brick upside the head) into each one of us. Today, job title labels – though far more expansive in possibility, and still interesting and important in many ways – are no longer a full or satisfying enough response to the question “What do you want to be?”
My sense now is that what, or perhaps more accurately who, each of us is being in any given moment is simply the fullest expression of the ‘us’ we can be – in that moment. When we’re awake to it, we’re continually stretching and expanding the degree of KOABD-ness we can be!
As we have more life experience, our big ‘yesses’, those elements or qualities that are essential for our well-being and fulfillment, become more easy to see – the themes have been repeated more times. So we can often be clearer and wiser in our choices of who we are being as we engage in life.
But even when we’re clearer on our choices, truth is, in our complicated and interconnected world, we face another challenge in being who we want to be.
Each choice we make has consequences, and the OTHER big component essential in being free to do or be anything we truly want, is our capacity to be present to the consequences of those choices.
The courage to stand in the face of those (often unanticipated and/or unintended) consequences – including the impacts on others, and their reactions – is a journey in itself. And an essential journey for all of us in our pained and often polarized world.
This standing calls for an expansion of our capacity to be vulneragous. A word coined by Jonah Spear – a young man I met at Circlesongs this summer.
The journey I think we’re all on – women and men – is one of discovering, AND learning to stand with our hearts open in the truth of who we know ourselves to be, even in the face of external jabs – personal or societal. It’s a life-long exploration, with no fixed destination. One filled with extraordinary possibility, and calling from us vulnerageousness – a powerful combination of vulnerability and courage as we go! This is especially true in those situations where we find ourselves faced with painful or scary situations in life that are NOT of our choosing, and are experiencing that voice in us that says something like “Why does it always have to be me?!” which I wrote about a few months ago.
If you’ve been hearing those whispers, or feeling the impulse rising in you to say ‘yes’ to the call of your life (even if you’re not sure exactly what the call is), or if you’re wondering about what it means, or for whatever reason feeling the challenge of expanding your capacity to stand in your life, I’d love to hear from you. Wherever you find yourself in this journey of discovery, do be in touch.