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You Define Yourself

What do you want to be when you grow up?

You’ve probably lost count of how many times you were asked this as a kid. Even as you get older, the question doesn’t quite go away. It may change shape and become “So, what do you do?” but it’s still the same thing.

Perhaps you were you like me, one of those kids that couldn’t answer this question? There were too many things you wanted to be and picking one… well, that’s impossible!

As an adult, I came to realize what I wanted to be had very little to do with a job title. Yet in a society that attributes identity to occupation, this can be rather disorienting. Who you are and what you do become synonymous, leaving you in a strange place where changing careers isn’t a fluid process and losing a job is devastating for more than financial reasons.

What you are takes center stage over who you are; without that ‘what’ the ‘who’ is now in the spotlight for maybe the first time. It’s an uncomfortable and unsettling experience that’s hard to name, making it a struggle to adapt to in a society so focused on occupation.

In my mid twenties, I started seeing this question in separate pieces that were far greater and much more specific than anything I was ever asked:

How did I define myself?

What was I capable of doing?

What type of work did I enjoy or never want to do again?

What was I interested in trying and exploring?

How did I want to earn money?

How did I want to spend my life?

As a kid, this was a static question with a static answer. You decided what you wanted to be and then you became it. After that, that’s what you did pretty much for the rest of your life. If this sounds overly simplistic, consider the number of people who wander through college or get a degree and then find out they hate the profession? Even more so, consider the number of people who are nearly crippled or blissfully liberated by the idea of changing careers. There is an undercurrent of the assumption that job you wanted in high school or maybe college should always fit. Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?

Now in my thirties, I realize I have a new answer to what I want to be when I grow up. I want to be happy. I want to love abundantly and be loved in return. I want to keep a sense of wonder, curiosity, and adventure. These are things that surpass occupation, but can be fed through work nonetheless. Jobs, even careers, come and go; what you do isn’t who you are.

Money really should not be the scorecard for your life, but it is a useful resource. I’ve heard a lot of commentary suggesting poverty is a moral failing and riches are a sign of superior character… and vice versa. Being a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ person is not dependant on your bank balance – good, bad, or otherwise. You can work hard and follow all the traditional rules and… make it big or still struggle. A lucky break or tragic event can happen to anyone at anytime. This is another reason why it is important to find out who you are without the definition of work or net worth.

When it comes to money, figure it out. Learn how to make it. Learn how to use it. If it helps to take the emotion out of money, think of what’s in your bank account like a hammer or a toaster: just another tool. After all, how many people splurge and pound a few extra nails or impulsively make a couple batches of toast?

In the end, the only things that matter are the things you let matter. You decide what you want to do and what you want to be. You define yourself.

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