When I was 10-years-old, I roamed the middle of the pee wee football field with force and passion. You stepped foot into the middle of the field with the ball in your hands at your own peril. I was small for my age, but when I got going, I hit the other bigger players with the force of three players. (Okay, okay, maybe my memory is getting in the way of reality, but I was still pretty good for my size.)
My coach originally played me at receiver. When he caught me goofing off one practice early in the year, he placed me on a whim in the linebacker role. After getting over the shock of the coach calling me out, the position became my home away from home.
When the coach made that move, everything started clicking. I threw myself into the role. I stopped worrying about getting hurt or run over by the other players. As a middle linebacker, it didn’t matter that I was one of the smallest kids on the field. Instead, I could roam from side to side, clogging up the middle of the field, hitting everyone who came into my path.
I loved the linebacker position and once established I didn’t let go of it. I made it my own. I couldn’t wait for practice and our games. We won and kept winning, earning a spot in the league championship game. We would end up losing that game, but my play throughout the year won me a spot on the League All-Star Team
Whenever anyone asked me what my goals were at that age, I used tell them that I wanted to earn a scholarship to Penn State University and to play in the National Football League. Natural for a kid, right?
A crazy thing happened though: The rest of that year and into the next, everyone else seemed to get bigger and bigger. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t and over time my size became a bigger and bigger issue.
I couldn’t count anymore on my speed to make up for my lack of size and I lacked the force that I once had in bringing down the other players. I kept playing for another year or two when I ended up giving up football for good.
Oh I’m sure I could have kept up with it, but I lost the desire to keep playing football. I would still play pick-up games, but I never enjoyed it quite like I did when I was a 10-year-old kid.
I thought about that story recently when my 11-year-old came home and asked me how he should respond to a homework question asking him what he wanted to do when he grew up. I told him that he should write: be a kid forever.
Unfortunately, he didn’t like my answer, but I still think it’s the best answer to the question. I’m 47-years-old and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.
I find that my answer to the “grown-up question” has changed with the sands of time. My responses have varied from veterinarian to forest ranger; priest to photographer; novelist to psychiatrist; journalist to political science wonk; IT project manager to business consultant; school teacher to lifeguard; bookstore owner to corporate attorney, Disney crew member (monorail driver) to fund manager and a few others I’ve forgotten along the way.
The search for a dream career has been ongoing since those early days as a kid, searching for something that brings as much fulfilment as playing middle linebacker. And yes, I find that I’m still adding to the list. I stopped by a coffee shop the other day and was convinced that the people-friendly barista behind the counter had the right idea. He talked about making his customers happy and what a joy it was to see their smiles. Of course, later in the day, I spoke with a friend who works as the CEO of his own business and that sounded pretty good too.
No, no, I don’t see a career change coming — as much as I complain, I love the corporate communications and change management fields — but I also enjoy adding to the career list. Maybe one day I’ll even figure it out.
When that day comes, I suspect my ultimate job will be one that lets me sleep in late, write a little, play a few games and be a kid again.
Until then, I’ll keep searching.