This is a question that we get asked a lot when we’re young. We thought about the careers that we used to see at home, in our community, on tv, and in movies. These ideas usually changed quickly and frequently. One day the answer is doctor and the next it’s astronaut. (Side note: you rarely hear that people want to become teachers when they grow up). Sometimes the ideas we had when we were kids lead us down a certain path once we’ve reached adulthood, but that question isn’t asked the same way when we’re adults. Instead we are asked, what are studying? How is the new job? Do you have something that you can fall back on? These questions bring up a lot more anxiety compared to the excitement we felt when we were kids.
It isn’t so much dreaming about the infinite possibilities like when you did when you were a kid. It’s about what can you do to fit societal standards and how can you be financially stable while doing so?
I knew I wanted a career in education. That has always been true. But, when I was figuring out what I wanted to be when I grow up, a part of me in high school wanted to pursue art. I did study art in college as a minor, but I can’t say that I didn’t listen to other grown ups (a.k.a. my parents) who said history would be a more practical major (HA!) But seriously, now that I am where I am, I have no regrets. I truly did find an unexpected love for teaching history. I think compared to a lot of people, I’m quite lucky.
Now this isn’t the whole story. There was a moment I thought that I was going to leave that path behind completely and give up.
I probably have been experiencing anxiety for at least about 10 years, but I haven’t recognized it or accepted it until the last 2 or 3. While I was being asked “what I wanted to be when I grew up” I was also acquiring learned behavior of how to treat my feelings of anxiety, which was usually telling myself that it was just nerves. One of the first anxiety-filled moments of my life that I can remember happened the summer before my senior year of undergrad.
I went to school in Massachusetts where I was part of a teaching preparation program. Part of my senior year was to be spent student teaching. Leading up to that semester, I had to complete the state testing that would allow my teaching in the schools and eventually lead to my teacher certification. Luckily being that my subject was history, I only had to study all of history, government, and economics (sarcasm!).
Took it the first time, didn’t pass. Took it a second time, I had failed again. When I got those results a tidal wave of anxiety washed over me, which was something I had never felt before.
I went into a panic. I cried to my parents. I reached out to my advisors at school. My answers to failing for the second time included, I’m not cut out for this. I shouldn’t be a teacher. I won’t be continuing with student teaching this fall. What should I do now?
My mind was feeding me all of these negative thoughts. My panic got even worse because what I wanted to be when I grew up didn’t seem like a possibility anymore. My plan for social and financial stability (again, HA!) wasn’t something I could picture. Anxiety is funny like that. It puts these terrifying thoughts into your mind and almost paralyzes you to the point of no return. The trouble is, I still believe them.
I couldn’t tell you how I exactly coped with that experience. I don’t remember how I changed my mindset to show up on my first morning of student teaching. I look back on this moment with admiration because somehow, I got through it. But, unfortunately, a lot of it is a blur. What I can tell you is that I’m still in the classroom 7 years later. But that’s another hundred stories.
What do I want to be when I grow up? I don’t know that I have an answer for that now. If anything I feel more lost than I did that summer 7 years ago. Sometimes I panic about it. Sometimes I lay in bed dreading the future about it. But there are some days where I am able to convince myself that it’ll be okay.