At my old job, newly-hired employees would have to participate in a game that involved asking colleagues weird questions in exchange for company-branded swag. The last two times I was cornered, it was with the same question, “When you were a little kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?”
I wanted to be a writer back then and I am a writer today. I suppose my kindergarten self probably lacked a nuanced understanding of the labor market and forgot to specify that she wanted to be a paid writer, but, nonetheless, that’s what I am. Writing has always been a skill set I’ve leveraged to land jobs, but since the beginning of 2013, I’ve made my living exclusively via the written word, whether that’s through my own business or working in-house. Living the five year-old’s dream currently involves me taking a break from penning a piece about post-season baseball in order to rummage in my closet for socks because I can’t write another paragraph with cold feet.
Sometimes, when I can’t sleep at night, I Google former colleagues and classmates from middle through to grad school. I don’t care who got married or had kids, but I do like to check out their LinkedIn profiles to see if they ended up where they (and I) thought they would way back when. Why LinkedIn and not Facebook? While I don’t belong to either platform, LinkedIn is harder to game. You can curate a seemingly picture-perfect life on Facebook or Instagram, but inventing a fanciful career from whole cloth is a much more dangerous proposition. Google tells me I came up with some successful people – lawyers, consultants, a mid-sized city mayor, lots and lots of bureaucrats, a couple of writers. I wonder if they’re happy with where they ended up, if they made strategic moves to shape their careers or just let them evolve organically? These are the kind of questions that stoke my curiosity and that LinkedIn isn’t powerful enough to answer.
Lately, I’ve been a bit down on myself because I’m not doing more of the writing that I want to be doing, that I would do even without a paycheck. I need to revisit my book proposal, I need to refine those pieces on startup culture from an outsider’s perspective, what about that essay on feminism and 90s New Country? When that fretful feeling strikes, I try to remind myself that I’m actually in a remarkably privileged place. I’m exactly — cold feet notwithstanding— where I wanted to be when I was five, 15, 25. The little girl who was annoyed with herself for starting two consecutive paragraphs with the word “suddenly” in a Halloween-themed short story she wrote in first grade grew up to be a woman who gets paid handsomely not to make that same mistake today. That’s something worth hanging onto. As to whether it’s a surprising outcome, I’ll leave it to anyone from my bygone days who looks me up late at night to draw their own conclusions.