As a kid I remember adults constantly asking, "what do you want to be when you grow up?" I recall many of my answers, always different depending on the day; but some of them included the professions of dentist, lawyer, doctor, Olympic swimmer, teacher, mermaid, marine biologist and a baker. If I remember correctly, my responses were always met with amusement and followed with the canned answer: "you can be anything you want to be when you grow up!" I don't remember how I felt about that exactly, but it was somewhere in the middle of 'that's what people always say' and 'of course I can!'
I sincerely wonder at which point in my life I stopped believing that I could truly "be" whatever I wanted to "be." I cannot remember. For about the first six years of your life people encourage you to be outgoing, confident, and to chase your dreams. Somewhere soon thereafter the child is encouraged not to think too highly of themselves, because that is arrogant and conceited. I am guessing it is during this transition that children become confused and begin to think that there are restrictions to what they can and cannot accomplish. How very sad.
After a decade of community college (most of which was half-assed and coerced), and many menial positions as a secretary, file clerk, and coffee brewer; something clicked with me internally. Let me quickly say that I genuinely believe that ALL jobs are important, but those positions were just not fulfilling for me. I felt like I was wasting my life. I felt like I had more to offer than that. I felt a little bit (okay, a lot) of insecurity knowing that most of my peers had their University degrees and I did not. I found myself keeping quiet during conversations when I had something to say, afraid that I lacked the license to contribute my two cents. Alas, I had already gotten married and had children so it was too late to finish college and pursue a career in something I felt passionate about; right? Wrong.
It was shortly after our daughter's third birthday when I had what some might call an epiphany. I was talking with her about what kind of job she thought she'd like to have when she grew up. She said, "I want to make coffee drinks just like you!" It was cute and it was sweet, but she is a tremendously bright girl with the potential to do anything. ANYTHING. It was then and there that I began to wonder why I failed to have enough confidence in myself to pursue my true interests. When I told her "you can be anything you want to be if you work hard for it," I truly meant it.
And that is when something phenomenal happened.
In that instant I started to believe it not only for my children, but also for myself....for the first time ever. I knew deep down in my heart that if I wanted my daughter and son to chase their dreams and interests, then I would have to do it myself. More importantly though, I believed for the first time that I deserved it. I started listening to the advice and confidences I offered to my children, and began to offer them to myself as well.
A month later I re-enrolled at the local community college. Low and behold, I was one (yes one- as in a single) unit away from receiving my Associates Degree, making me eligible for a transfer agreement to UCSC. I knew it would be difficult being a full time student while raising a newborn and a preschooler, all the while maintaining a home (aka, "re-entry student"), but I finally had the drive and determination that I had lacked for so long. More importantly, I finally had the confidence. I listened to to the words I told my children and I applied them to myself.
I graduated in a year and a half with a Bachelors degree in Literature- a subject I have always loved. The English language lacks the words to describe how amazing I felt when I graduated with three different kinds of honors. I felt even more amazing when I got my dream job two months later as a writer and editor. And now? Every single time that I tell our children that they can be anything they want to be in life, as long as they try their hardest and believe in themselves....well, now I know it is true.
I guess what I am trying to say here, is that when you bestow your children, friends or loved ones with words of encouragement, always know that you are equally deserving of those words.