During my childhood, every adult seemed to ask little children the very same question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The earliest answer I can remember providing the inquiring big people was “I want to be a fireman!” I loved playing with the toy firetrucks. However, it wasn’t very long before I started doubting my answer. It all started with a fashion crisis. I didn’t like the way the fireman’s hat sat on my head.
It was big and it was clunky and as far as I was concerned, it was pointed in the wrong direction. This simply was not going to work for me in the long run. Plus, it kept falling off my head whenever I jumped out of a burning building (our living room couch) and had to do a tuck and roll after landing hard from a daring rescue.
So I had to come up with another answer to the question of my “being.” It is a slippery slope once you’ve changed your initial answer. I was going to “be” a baseball player, an astronaut, a police office, a store owner, a cowboy, a doctor, a lion trainer, and an ice cream man to name only just a few. I could sense from the old folks that some of my declared occupational goals were held in higher esteem than others.
Now looking back, I realize two things: 1) For much of my life I have wrestled with that occupation question – even today, when I think about someday moving on from my present wonderful job. How might I spend my time in the future? Would I like to do something completely different? 2) I think to ask a child, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is really not the right approach. Doing and Being are not the same thing. My sense of “being” should not be dependent upon my “doing.” My “being” is certainly much bigger than any job or occupational classification code, or so I dearly hope.
I think many artists confuse what they are doing with their being. They assume the role of the highly sensitive, misunderstood (or simply too damn enlightened for the rest of humanity to understand) artist, musician, or singer/songwriter. They are “being” an artist when they are acting out. This mix up can lead to a case of full blown celebrity-disease where neither being or doing is all that important. Not just artists struggle with occupational identity issues. When I graduated with a Master’s degree in accountancy, I had a mini-crisis thinking I didn’t want to “be” an accountant. I had an image in my mind of an accountant. The truth was I didn’t want to do accounting work all day long. I had mixed the two things up though, being and doing.
What I do, is not what I be. Thankfully, that is so or I would be in big trouble. Here is a partial list of jobs I have done and I have been paid for since I was 17 years old and out of high school:
- Working at a Dairy Queen serving ice cream treats
- Cleaning tables at a restaurant
- Installing burglar alarms
- Installing carpet and linoleum
- Loading and unloading furniture
- House painting
- “harvesting” (picking) worms on a worm farm for a fishing bait business
- Selling shoes
- Janitor and custodial services (several different times)
- Working at a rock yard and cement yard
- Working at a paint store
- Selling life insurance
- Selling vacuum cleaners
- Building houses in the deserts of Arizona
- Working at a convenience store
- Working at a group home for autistic adults
- Working at a radio station (including giving those most important weather updates)
- Working at a television station where I accidentally made Bing Crosby’s wife cry – no, closer to sob, just before she was about to go on live television. The producer was not happy with me.
- Freelance videographer (no, not that kind – get your mind out of the gutter!)
- Produce Stand Owner (and nursery plants too!)
- Social Worker in Child Protective Services
- Training specialist at a high tech company
- Substitute high school teacher
- College instructor (accounting)
- Director of a college program
- Singer/Songwriter (thanks to my friend Mark’s recent purchase of my album on bandcamp.com !)
Wouldn’t it be great if I could go back in time and when asked that occupation question again, I could answer with that list above? I am sure someone would respond with, “Son, you are so screwed. You can’t be all those things.” Well, I wasn’t. I just did them
Today I read a wonderful article on Yahoo about the late George Martin, the so-called 5th Beatle and, perhaps, the most talented one too or at least tied with Paul. (Yahoo article) He was quoted as saying:
“I tend to look at people and think, ‘Are you a good human being?’ That’s what impresses me most rather than what they’ve achieved.”
I think he was saying, “It is not what you do, it is what you be.” Maybe that is why his musical productions transcended all the individual parts of a composition. He brought his everlasting “being” into what he was doing and this produced such an authenticity in the sound that it compelled so many of us to listen again and again and again. His “being” was not limited by the boundaries of his “doing.” I can imagine he is in a rehearsal for the heavenly angel choir, suggesting, perhaps, a string quartet might sound really good right now with a particular section of music just as he suggested for Paul’s incredible song, Yesterday.
I guess “doing”with your whole “being” is what I really should be considering. I think I will go and ponder that for a bit. Maybe I will put on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band too!