Guest Blog by Katharina Reider
It was a hot spring day, and our favorite ice cream shop had just opened its doors. My kids and I were full of joyful anticipation for our first ice of the year. It was exciting. On the way there I met an old friend, and we started a trivial conversation about this and that, to the frustration of my children, who had only ice cream in mind.
“Mom, when are we finally going?”
After my 4 year old son had asked for the tenth time, my friend leaned to him and asked my son, “Elijah, what do you want to become one day, when you grown up?”
“I don’t know,” Elijah replied. then he asked again with the remarkable insistency of all children: “Mom, when are we finally going to eat ice cream?”
This seemingly innocent and lovingly-intentioned question from my friend hit me like a bolt of lightning, and pierced emotionally deep into my bone marrow. I like this old friend, a nice kind man, but in this moment indignant anger welled up in me. How should a four year old know, for God’s sake, what he will become one day? In fact, what is this question at all about? Why do you have to become something? Aren’t we already?
Faster than I could think, the words came out of my mouth: “Elijah, you don’t need to become something, you are already you.”
“And someday, when you’re big and strong, you will hopefully be doing something that you love and enjoy,” I thought to myself, without expressing it. My son looked at me like I was speaking an extraterrestrial language and finally began to play with his sister. He obviously had better things to do than to find an answer to a question that couldn’t have been more absurd.
“What do you want to become one day?”
It means what are you going to do to earn a living one day in the future” When I was a child, I was frequently asked this question: What I want to become, and I felt infinitely stupid, helpless and inadequate that I could not answer that question. My friends had answers like: “When I grow up, I want to become a doctor.” Or “I want to be an astronaut.” I was in awe that my friends knew what they wanted to become one day, but for me it was sad that I couldn’t answer. I could feel an unexpressed perplexity of adults and felt every time that I disappointed in a subtle way.
Over time, the certainty must unconsciously have strengthened: that I’m just a disappointment, because I still didn’t know what I would like to become one day. And then, when years later this question passed down to one of my kids, I realized that no one ever asked me, when I was a child, what I liked to do, what was fun to do. Nobody was even interested in what gave me the greatest passion while doing it. No, maybe it was not very fashionable to ask kids what they love to do. It was obviously more important what they want to become one day – in the future. What if I would have said, “I will turn cartwheels when I am grown up,” because I loved nothing more than turning cartwheels. When we meet people, we often hear the question: “What do you do for a living?”
No one ever asks us, “Hey, what is the most exciting thing you like to do at the moment?”
Somehow this virus of “one must become something” must have slumbered for many centuries, perhaps even for millennia within us. Even in the Bible there is a verifiable translation error. It says in, I don’t know in which Gospel, “You will become like God …” In fact, the original text source was a little different: “You are like God.” So simple, so precise. It didn’t say that you must become something in the future. You are already what you are.
If we look at it this way, then children who have no answers to this question “What do you want to become one day?”, might not be stupid, but perhaps especially intelligent, because there is no clever response to a remarkably weird question.
We all know these feelings of inadequacy, failure, not being good enough. And if we are honest, then it is very often because we have not achieved what we imagined to do for our possible future. For example, I’ve still not written the book that I decided to write 24 years ago.
How is it with you? Do you have anything not yet “attained”? Maybe you still don’t have the prince charming at your side that you have so often dreamed of in your imagination, especially at the end of Cinderella. This will appeal to you more as a woman. If you’re a man, it might besomething like: “Have you still not killed the dragon, overcome the giants and conquered the kingdom and the princess?” But there is very often something in our hidden and secret agenda about our life, which promotes the idea of anticipating a “to do,” “to become” in the future, versus being in this moment and doing something with great passion.
How would your world look like, if you would do something which gives you perfect joy, something that is burning inside you with passion? Imagine a week, a month, a year, an arbitrarily long time, in which you get up every day, and you are doing the things which you love to do with juicy and irresistible enthusiasm. What would your life be like if you devotedly turned cartwheels, simply because you are already what you are?