What Do You Want to be When You Grow Up?

The chronicle of a first date that was over before it ever really began...

“It’s too late,” he said as he leaned over and shook the glass filled with ice and what was once a Manhattan. “What do you mean it’s too late?” I responded, “You’re 28 years old.” He smirked, the smile of denial. “I’ll take another, this time no cherry, thanks,” he said to the waitress.  “No, see you don’t get off that easy. You just told me that your job is ‘alright, it pays the bills’ but when I asked you what you’d rather be doing you said it’s too late,” I fired back. “Because it is too late, not everyone gets to do what they want to do, some of us just need to get by for right now,” he mumbled. “And just how long is right now?” I asked.

About then I realized it probably best I change the subject, maybe resort to the day’s weather or some box scores, barring I had any intention of carrying on conversation or at least getting my meal paid for on that date. Even if I knew the night would be ending somewhere between No Shot Circle and Neverland Avenue, I was hungry and well, I should have known better than to hit this west coast dreamboat, who drives a two-seater Mercedes on credit, with a fierce conversation on a Friday night. Rookie mistake.

Sassy, yes. Honest, definitely. But fearful? No. We’ve all got our vices but fear isn’t exactly one of my mistresses. Because of this, I often get myself into these types of dinner dialogs (or debacles), forgetting albeit for a second, that although I’m not sleeping with fear, most of my peers are. Boy, I’d hate to catch that bug.

For innovators, entrepreneurs, or in my case the occasional 20-something girl wearing heels she paid too much for and likely skipped a few meals to afford, fear might as well be Aftershave cologne—cheap, unappealing, and used only to mask whatever it is you are ashamed of. Sure, Aftershave may, momentary, seem easier than a shower and more cost effective than a new shirt, but much like fear, both are best known for suffocating and or paralyzing all who tread in their midst. Proving, once again, that easy isn’t necessarily satisfying…and that there is no truth to Axe advertisements.

I am constantly reminded, or rather reminding myself, that majority of people operate from a place of fear instead of security. I am increasingly convinced that this is not a generational epidemic although its manifestation may differ depending on age, maturity, or era. It may show up as desperation, apprehension, or in its worst costume, envy. No matter the form, when it does rear its ugly head, we can most assuredly agree it kills hope, faith, and possibility…yet another parallel to Aftershave on a Friday night.

So refresh my memory, why I was sitting across from a fellow millennial, graced with the same childhood catch phrases of,  “You can do anything you set your mind to,” and, “If you dream it you can achieve it,” having this depressing discussion? Let’s be honest, growing up in the 90’s, our lives were basically one giant fortune cookie. How then, did he choose Aftershave, when it was so easy for me to choose designer? At which point did trust become the logical colleague for me, but fear his preferred ally? We’ve got college degrees and imaginations, wasn’t that supposed to promise us the world?  Where then is our inheritance if not at the bottom of his glass?

In a generation thirsty for ownership, why do we go on spending our days building our bosses’ dreams for right now, but fall asleep dreaming of a better tomorrow. There is freedom in commitment, but if we aren’t committed to ourselves then who are we committed to and where then will we find our happiness?

This question is not meant to be misconstrued, although it almost always is. Self-commitment is not some narcissistic pledge to take care of yourself before you can take care of someone else. Instead, it is a promise to be the greatest version of yourself and find out what you (and only you) are the best in the world at so that you can contribute to the greater good of mankind, of which you are but a small yet essential fraction.  Believe it or not, this involves and often requires other people.

Fear inhibits us from ownership and frightens us away from the healthy responsibilities that lie within our dreams. Human happiness is contingent upon self-ownership; more specifically, ownership of the actions and decisions we choose that impact people in our sphere of influence—the people who ultimately make or break our fate.

True ownership demands trust in the self.  As we well know though, trust is earned and never freely granted—for good reason. That said, do you truly want to believe it’s too late to trust yourself? After all, that is what he was telling me across the table that night, right? That it’s too late to trust himself to do what he really loves, yet it is just the right time to imitate his way into someone else’s future and his own unhappiness? How exhausting.

I’m not saying everyone is called to be an entrepreneur; however, if you get the man right, you get the world right. It is our responsibility to care enough to find out who we are and what we want, then define and pay the price it takes to actually be that. Don’t kid yourself, our uniqueness is the only thing we were born with and the lone thing we will die with.

In hindsight, after he told me it was “too late,” what I really should have asked him is how long he’d been working so far. Assuming he graduated college at 22, chances are he would have replied with a number around 6 years. That said, it may have been more appropriate to follow by asking him when he planned to retire. Imagining he would have thrown out a figure near 60, a subtle reminder that his next 32 years lend him “plenty of time” to start fresh and commit to what makes him happy may have been more helpful. And maybe, if he’s lucky, and the time tested clichés floating around prove true, he may find that following his passion increases his odds of “getting it right” sooner, rather than later. So let’s then say it takes him 20 years of work instead of the suspected 32, safe to argue he’s spared himself a few grey hairs. Now he’ll not only be retired and happy, but he’ll look better to doing it.

Being that he’s only banked 6 years in the workforce so far, 14 more should seem pretty encouraging.

Sitting there staring at his cup of ice though, it just seemed harder to see the glass half-full. Never has there ever been a more appropriate time for a refill. 

Be great,