What do you want to be when you grow up?


The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.

Joseph Campbell

When I think of my childhood, I was often asked the inevitable question of an adult to child, “What are you going to be when you grow up?”

(Aside: Why do we ask that? Is it because we are trying to hurry them up with the growing process? Why? Why not enjoy them as children?)

I never really knew the answer to that question. Nothing ever grabbed me more than anything else. But I knew silence or “I don’t know”, was not acceptable to the adults around me, so I said, “Lawyer” or “Journalist”, and they went on their way.

This question worried me actually, what if I chose my purpose and got it wrong? How would I know? Could I change it? Or would I be stuck in the wrong purpose for the rest of my life?

As it was I ended up being a clerk, a teacher, and a migration agent. Yet, I know that my job is not the answer to this question either; it is not the sum of a person.

For at the same time as I held those job titles, I was also a wife, daughter, sister and mother. I was also defined by the relationship.

At the same time as I held those job titles, I also held various unpaid volunteer positions and leadership roles.

I have been many ‘job’ titles throughout my life, both paid and unpaid. My purpose is not just who I am as outwardly defined by my job title or my relationship to others, though that is a part of it.

My purpose can also encompass questions of character and inner motivation too. Those are less tangible, harder to define, and not at all useful to answer the questioning adult in the room. They may include characteristics such as encourager, listener, or noticer.

Taking into account purpose as defined variously by role, relationship and inner motivation, I think purpose needs an extra ‘s’. Moving from a singular purpose to plural, and becoming purposes.

My purposes are a deep thinker, creative, wife, mother, leader, niece, daughter, friend, poet, aunt, blogger, sister, encourager, wordsmith, writer, prayer, speaker, listener, and much more.

They are all me, many facets of me. Defined by role, and by relationship, and by inner motivation. If you see one side of me, one of my many purposes, you see me, but you don’t get the whole impression.

As with a jewel, when you look at only one side you get one impression. But when you turn it round in your hand you get different facets, different reflections as they catch the light. You get less an impression of one side of the jewel, but more the beauty of the whole gem.

And in different times of your life, in different seasons, the light shines more brightly on one part of the jewel than another. I am less a teacher now than I used to be; I am not in a classroom daily. Yet teaching is still a part of me, and I use it in so many different ways.

There have been times in my life when a leader has been a more important purpose, and more recently mother has been my main purpose.

But they are all part of me, part of my many purposes rather than one purpose. So how would I now answer that long ago question? “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

I would say, “Not just one thing, but many, as my life and my God lead.”

About Jodie McCarthy

Jodie is a writer, speaker, poet and mother. An unashamed words girl who writes to process the myriad of experiences of life. In her writing and on her blog she investigates the journey of life: the beautiful; the painful; the everyday; and the mundane. She has a heart for encouraging women on their life journey, particularly when that journey traverses the harder places of grief and pain. On the days when she is not writing you will find her in her kitchen, usually licking the beaters from a chocolate cake. You can find her books and follow her journey at jodiemccarthy.com