When I was seven years old, my first-grade teacher asked everyone to draw what they wanted to be when they grew up. I remember walking around my classroom during parent-teacher night with the room plastered with drawings, learning all about my classmates' long-term aspirations. Who knew? It was a room full of aspiring astronauts and baseball players.
I have to admit, I was the odd man out. My picture portrayed a man hunched over a typewriter, working away at his book. Even recalling that image today makes me sit up straight at the keyboard.
A few years ago, at dinner with my friend Laura, I was talking about my writing and she about her impending graduation from social work school. Both of us felt on the cusp of something career-like but we had to pause and acknowledge that this year was the first time in our lives we had really revisited that old idea of "what do you want to be when you grow up." We started mapping out the trajectories for all of our mutual friends. They too had hit their late twenties and were all of a sudden scrambling to figure out what they wanted to do with the rest of their lives.
It occurred to me that given the current educational and economic situation in the United States, maybe the question of what you want to be when you grow up is outdated. This conversation steered me toward what is perhaps a better question for the thoughtful young person of today: "Who do you want to be when you grow up?"
I found that in determining who you want to be when you grow up, it is helpful to physically map some things out for yourself. And a mandala can be useful as a map. One translation of the Sanskrit word mandala is "circle." It is a diagram often used in Buddhism to depict the abode of ￼a deity or a microcosm of the universe. A mandala can be viewed in some respect as a sort of organizational chart.
The idea is that what is at the center of the mandala influences everything else in it. We can think of our lives and livelihood in those terms. Here is a fun exercise I encourage you to engage in:
When you engage in an exercise like the ten steps earlier, you are switching your focus from questions about what you ought to be doing with your career and instead embracing an idea of who you want to be. This will be helpful as you engage your career path, because you can always cultivate the qualities that are important to you, whereas you may not always be able to make a living doing exactly what you want to do.
Now, imagine for a moment a world where an entire generation took the view that it is more important that they determine who, not what, they want to be when they grow up. Some would still become baseball players and astronauts, but they would engage their work with the values that are most important to them.
Author of 'The Buddha Walks into a Bar' and 'The Buddha Walks into the Office'
Adapted and excerpted from The Buddha Walks into the Office, by Lodro Rinzler, © 2014 by Lodro Rinzler. Reprinted by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boston, MA. In bookstores September 9th, 2014. www.shambhala.com
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