I don’t have a single memory of my parents ever asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up. Not one.
It’s a common question, one that most parents ask their children, and one that they ask often. A chance to get a glimpse through their lens. To see how their answers change over time. And to course correct when they say “I dunno, a found-materials performance artist?”
But my parents never asked me that question. Never.
I remember them telling others – in my presence – what I would be. “She’s going to be a pianist.” A ballerina. A piano teacher.
That’s how I was parented. Told what I could do, would do. But never asked what I wanted to do. And it felt – frankly, still does – that they never attempted to get to know me.
They tried to mold me. In their image. To their ends. So that they could be a parent of a [fill-in-the-blank profession]. So they could tell their friends, their community how proud they were of what I’d become, so long as what I became was what they had designed.
As a result, it has been a lifelong struggle for me to find, establish, & claim my own identity. Who I want to be, who I am, what I’m interested in. I sometimes feel robbed of 30 some-odd years of not knowing me. Not knowing what I like to do for hobbies, what I like to do for fun, what kinds of work I would enjoy.
I spent decades navigating between a predetermined version of who I was supposed to be, assigned by my parents, two of the most influential people one ever has – and who I am. And. for decades, who I am was defined only in relation to my parents’ pre-programmed version of me. In other words – my identity was, for most of my life: “not that.” Not clear on who or what I was, but instead only: well, that’s not what I want for myself.
It sets one up for a lifetime of insecurity, I find. I’m not a performance pianist, and absolutely detest classical music to this day….but I’m also not clear on what I really am. It leads to a lifetime of self-doubt. I hated classical music; but could /should I have been successful as a rock musician? What about acting? I have a lifetime of experience playing someone else’s written role, but never pursued it because it wasn’t one of my prescribed paths. And now, at a middle-aged crossroads, I’m utterly stuck. I can’t get ahead in my current career but also absolutely clueless on any other direction to head.
When I’ve tried (in vain) to talk through this problem with my mom, I just know she doesn’t get it. She offers tone-deaf advice like: you could take up piano again! Uh, hello? I can’t even read music anymore? Not interested? Not in the least? Or she tries to “there, there” me, which is hurtfully dismissive. As in: “It’ll all sort itself out.” Oh really? Things just gonna magically resolve themselves? Do I just sit in my current job while I stew another 2-5 years, underpaid, underutilized?
Rather than help guide me back to my path, as I think parents do, as sounding boards, I have no one to turn to. I suppose that part’s not that uncommon at all. But what does strike me about my situation being uncommon is I also was never equipped with the navigational tools to find my anchoring values, or interests, and leverage those. I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grow up when I was a kid – other than museums. (And let me tell you, getting laid off during the Great Recession worked out great! LOL)
Robbed of the opportunity to explore me as a child, I don’t know how to wayfind back to myself as an adult either.
It’s a problem that does not serve one well when one is solidly middle-class and must work full-time, but also increasingly disillusioned & broken-hearted at one’s career options and path.