On a recent Saturday morning, enjoying a cup of tea in a neighborhood café, I overheard a conversation among two baristas and a young boy, probably around the age of nine, who I surmised to be the son of one of the baristas. It was early – around 8:00 AM. The café was quiet. Sitting near the counter, it was easy for me to overhear what they were saying.
Barista One, not the father of the young boy: “My niece was talking to me about what she wanted to be when she grew up. I said, ‘How about employed? You can think you want to be a nuclear physicist, but if there’s no demand for nuclear physicists, then you’ve just got to get a job.’” He says this with triumph, as if he is one of the wise few who accepts life does not always work out like we planned.
Barista Two, the father, speaking to his son: “You can always go into construction or security.”
Maybe I shouldn’t have intervened but when the young boy then sat at the table next to me, facing me, I asked, “What do you want to do when you grow up?”
“I want to be a cop.”
“That sounds like a good choice.”
“Well, you know, if I get chosen.”
“Oh, I bet you’d probably have a good chance. It can be challenging to get where we want to be. But stick with it.”
And then he asked me if I spoke from experience. How astute. I smiled.
“Yes, I am, actually… Why do you want to be a cop?”
“I like to enforce the law. I’m the monitor on the school bus.”
“That’s great. It sounds like you’re already on your way.”
I wanted to re-message possibility. He was so young. Sure, like many of us, at some point in his career journey he’ll probably have to take a job just for the paycheck. Maybe it will be after graduating. He’ll hate that job. He’ll be bored. He’ll feel like his life has stagnated. So then what? Should he give up? Should we tell him to give up before he starts? To erase the idea that finding something you’re interested in is a possibility? If we were children, what would we want someone to tell us? What do we want someone to say to us now?
I would want someone to tell me, “Expect to work hard for what you want. Expect to have a few jobs you don’t like. Expect setbacks. But don’t let the challenges stop you from pursuing what you want.” From figuring out your fulfillment.