In 2nd grade, I wanted to be a dentist. By age 24, after having my four front teeth replaced, I had a dentist call me at work to inquire about my condition because I turned pale, cried, and nearly fainted in her office during a checkup.
In 8th grade, after reading Richard Preston’s The Hot Zone, I wanted to become a virologist, wear a biohazard suit, and study viruses such as Ebola and Marburg. I’m now terrified of needles and the owner of a queasy stomach that barely tolerates the medical trauma shown on cable television.
For much of 10th and 11th grade, I studied Thoreau and returned constantly to my much-underlined copy of Walden. His discussions of simplicity, living, and sucking “the marrow from life” captivated me.
Throughout these years, I harbored the same far-fetched dreams of many youngsters, hoping a magical growth spurt might kickstart my career as a professional athlete. Unfortunately, the only growth spurt I’ve had in about 15 years is the one that sees me gaining weight around midsection faster than I can lose it.
Recently, my mom told me that while I was in high school she and my dad started forming their own opinions of my life’s future direction. In their private conversations, they settled on the assumption that I would join the Peace Corps after college and spend most of my time in the serene solitude of my mind reading, writing, and thinking. Mom and Dad understood better than I did that deep down I wanted to spend my life in service helping others, and they appreciated my slightly more compassionate outlook on the world. They recognized these traits since I was a boy, and they also saw how I worked to conceal them from others – afraid to reveal myself honestly from fear of negative judgment.
So, what actually happened after I graduated college?
Well, first I went into investment banking keen on becoming the next Gekko or perhaps a toned down version of Barry Pepper’s cowboy in the movie 25th hour.
Next, I tried my hand working in an NFL front office before returning to the life of a financial analyst manipulating numbers across spreadsheets and making data say whatever I need it to say.
For some reason, though, nothing ever seemed right. And I spent most of my twenties feeling restless, impatient, and frustrated.
Over the last three years, I’ve pursued passion projects in my evaporating spare hours. I write (this blog, for this site, and this memoir), I’ve done some public speaking and hope to do more in the future, and I have plans to start a lifestyle business that encourages people to develop stronger personal relationships through meaningful acts of giving. I’m transitioning my life to one rooted in writing, reading, thinking, and serving others.
It’s taken many years, self-denials, detours, late nights of contemplation brought about by one too many beers, and some pitiful Sunday morning soul searches for me to realize the futility in spending my days attempting to be something that I’m not. As I’ve learned, there isn’t much use in trying to be anything other than yourself.
After all these years, I’ve started to realize the very things that my parents understood about me before I could even drive a car. Ironically, as I get older I get closer to becoming the person I was when I was younger.
As it turns out, sometimes it’s OK to want to be a kid again.