Dayton Art Institute

When I grow up…

I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up. Years ago, when I was six, I decided that I wanted to be a scientist. I was mildly obsessed with plants, animals, ecology, and in general the outdoors and books (sometimes in combination) throughout my childhood and well into my teens. And then…

I took a detour. A big one. I can’t say I regret it, because I have four wonderful human beings I helped make, and they are all amazing people. So there’s that – possibly the most scientific thing I could have done, combining genes and then incubating them inside me until they were developed enough to make an appearance in the wide, cold world. Follow that with years of nurturing and feeding them, and finally I could spend some time again on deciding what I wanted to be when I was grown up. Only… at that point I had hostages to fate. While becoming a botanist would, as my mother told me when I was 18, never pay me much money, neither would becoming a archaeologist or a forensic pathologist (12 years of school!! at my age!!) or any of the other cool things I love to do. So I picked something that seemed to be middle-of-the-road for a. making money to support my kiddos, and b. interesting enough to keep me not-bored. For two years of college I pursued nursing, then took a left turn when it turned out the ‘acceptance’ letter I’d gotten hadn’t actually accepted me into nursing school, only to the college and their 2 year long wait list. For those who might wonder why I don’t recommend my alma mater, that’s one of several reasons why.

But I’m wandering off topic, which I do a lot, and it’s why I haven’t yet decided what comes next. I’m loving my job, it’s not going to get boring any time soon because I’m in a great lab where I can learn so many things, more than I could in a bigger lab. But I also want to push the education end of things when life stabilizes again. Which it will. I have a deep keel in my First Reader and my kids, so I can’t easily turn turtle. I was talking with a much younger co-worker the other day, and told him that while he still has time to make some digressions and explore what might turn out to be dead ends, I don’t have that leeway any longer. I need to pick something, and go there.

It’s so hard to choose. What if I choose poorly? What if I decide I’m going to do… I dunno. Bioinformatics, maybe, it’s high on my list, and I don’t like it five years down the road? If it’s all sitting in front of a computer and I’m bored out of my skull? I don’t do well when I’m bored. Furthermore, I prefer to give my employers good value for what they pay me, and bored Cedar is not the best possible worker. I’m actually pretty good at mindless monotony tasks, but I certainly wouldn’t choose to do them over and over for the rest of my career.

So I’m torn and I’m a bit paralyzed by indecision. And I’m not getting any younger, which makes it harder and harder to absorb new information. Even though I work hard at mental exercises and learning constantly to keep the brain resilient. I’m still in need of work that actually makes money (hah!) to keep the family chugging along. So pursuing something like… food bioarchaeology is right out, even if it is beyond fascinating and would use a lot of my skills. Not to mention that I have learned I do not want to work in academia. Nope! Not getting on the publish or perish train.I love the idea of being able to teach, but if and when I approach that, it’ll be from a different angle.

So what is the meaning of my life? What will I leave behind me when I’m gone? The kids, yes, hopefully grown into productive members of society making their mark on the world. But while I am a mother and it’s a big part of me, it’s not all of me. There’s still room, I think, for me to make a mark of my own. I just don’t know what passion to pursue. I’ve narrowed it down – I’ll never be a great artist, for instance, I just didn’t start early enough and put enough effort into it. I’ve chosen science, but I’m still spread out unimaginably wide. Science encompasses more than I can possibly learn in only one lifetime.

Ah, well. I’ll keep butting my head against this until I find something that makes sense. But I do feel awfully silly being my age, and still not knowing what I want to be when I grow up.


13 responses to “When I grow up…”

  1. Cedar, I’m older than you, and I can testify that for some people the world never runs out of wonder and “grass is greener over there” moments. I recall as a kid reading a poem (Kilmer, maybe? Don’t matter,) that said something like (rough paraphrase of a 50 year old memory) “The world is full of so many wonderful things, we should always be happy as kings.”

    1. Yes. There are so many amazing things to learn. And I feel like if I pick one to specialize in, I’m cutting myself off from so many others!

  2. Looked it up. Robert Louis Stevenson. “The world is so full of a number of things, I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.”

  3. I wanted to be an engineer.

    1. I couldn’t hack the math. What did you do?

  4. Waepnedmann Avatar

    Aging and The Law of Diminishing Options: now I understand what I did not grasp the full meaning of as a young man.

    1. If I walked through life again, knowing what I do know, I’d make a very different path. I’m not sure it would be a better one.

  5. Um. Yes.

    I used to say “When I grow up”, but as I grew older, I was forced to change it to “If I grow up”.

    Just sayin’ . . .

    1. I’m not quite there. The First Reader is the grown-up!

  6. D Gail Begley Avatar
    D Gail Begley

    When I worked at the University of Kentucky hospital emergency room in my twenties I met this lovely woman who was 65 and doing an internship in emergency medicine. She was also taking ballet lessons for the first time in her life. She was a Widow with grown kids. She Embraced life to its fullest. I see her in you. I’m looking forward to seeing you decide what to do next. You rock girl!

    1. Thank you! My grandmother inspires me, too, she’s over 80 and still learning and working.

  7. Barry Singer Avatar
    Barry Singer

    Regardless of what, the key to living life is to keep learning. Nothing is without power: be it correctly measuring and making cookies to writing a legible, understandable sentence

  8. Kathleen Sanderson Avatar
    Kathleen Sanderson

    This is why I look forward to eternity in Heaven/on the New Earth — eternity to explore and learn and do all the things I don’t have nearly enough time for in this life. Time even for things I can’t begin to imagine yet!