Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Defining Purpose

"What do you want to be when you grow up?"

As a child, that was an easy one to answer.  I wanted to be a writer.  Or an attorney.  Or an artist.  Or a game-show host.  In my experience, though, the closer one gets to adulthood, the more elusive that answer becomes.  There are so many wonderful and fascinating opportunities in this wide world and finite life that choosing just one feels intimidating.  What if I don't choose the most interesting career?  What if, after pouring time and money into becoming something, I change my mind?

As a teen looking forward to college, I knew that I wanted to learn business management.  Law was intriguing, too; but I also knew I wasn't interested in more than four years of college, so business won out.  In my first year of college, I knew that Kent and I would be married.  I then received direct instruction from God that, even though I wasn't much interested in babies and little children, Kent and I were not to wait to have several babes of our own.  Knowing that, I finished my degree quickly and settled into motherhood.

It was the most challenging thing I've done.  I poured myself into the work of diapers and feeding a family, organizing neighborhood preschools, and frequent trips to the park.  Sometimes it was rewarding, but mostly it was hard.  I pushed through it, knowing I was on purpose and believing the sentiments expressed in the following video were true.

As a young mother looking forward to the light at the end of the pre-school tunnel, the question changed to "What do you want to do when the kids are all in school?"

I wondered why I needed to change my direction.  Yet society indicated at every turn that while motherhood was fine and noble, I would again have every opportunity before me once the youngest child moved into first grade.  When that blessed day arrived, I did cherish the quiet hours during which I could finally catch up on laundry, balance some bank statements, and enjoy lunch with a friend.  Certainly, though, there was something more meaningful I should do with my time to contribute to humanity's cooperative; and maybe I could help out our household income too.  And so I took on lots of things that felt more important than cleaning my house and preparing after-school snacks.

Kent has faced similar decisions in the past two decades.  Like me, he is interested in everything and wants to try it all.  He's been a plumber's apprentice, a real-estate investor, a small-business investor, a door-to-door salesman, a phone salesman, an entrepreneur, a business consultant, an office-furniture guy, and now an executive for hire.  In the 14 years since college he's been involved in nine start-up companies.  It's been an adventure being married to a man with so many interests.

Our children are following in our footsteps.  We teach them that college is only an option, not a requirement.  They should feel free to instead start a business, travel the world, intern or apprentice, serve others, or find a job.  My teenagers know that they are intelligent and the world is full of opportunities and crossroads.  So how does a person narrow her choices and pursue just one?

I think that question needs to change.  We now ask our children, "What do you want to do for the next five to ten years?"  None of us need commit to a lifetime in one occupation or passion.  With so many options, and with decades before us, why not pursue several?  We need to give ourselves permission to change our minds down the road.  College and knowledge are always available.  We encourage our children to first choose a destination, and then define the path.  If college is part of that path--great.  If it's not--great.

I am 2 1/2 years into my youngest's full-day school career, and I think I may have chosen a path without a destination in my hurry to be doing something to contribute to income and satisfy the question of what to do with my quiet time.  As I ask myself what I want to do with the next five to ten years, another question begs, "What am I passionate about?"

I am finding that I am no longer passionate about what I have become good at.  I am also finding that my children's ages continue to define my purpose.  With #1 only a year-and-a-half away from adulthood, I've realized that I am not done being a mother first.  I truly love volunteering at the secondary schools to work with my children and their peers.  I like driving my children around to their various activities.  Field trips and dropping in for school lunch are fun.  I like being a thoughtful wife.  I want an organized and sparkling-clean home.  I could spend all day gardening, remodeling, or building furniture.

It seems pretty clear that my defining purpose for the next decade is as a homemaker.  I want to be the mom who chaperons choir tours and coaches my kids' academic teams.  I want to dabble in writing on the side.  I want to support my kids in their business ventures, and maybe even teach the child who wants to be home schooled.  I'd like to partner with Kent in a valediction project in a couple years.  Primarily though, I want to maintain and be a refuge for my family.

My current commitments continue to pull me away from that choice, and so I am in the process of defining my path away from those and back to my family.  I have to say, their pull is strong.  I know I could be an awesome manager for the charity I work for.  I could pour hours into my Church service and never come up for air.  But giving my time primarily to those occupations takes it away from my purpose.  I need to take my own advice: family is first--and--it's okay to change course.  This doesn't mean that I'll relinquish my Church service.  It just means I'll delegate more and be satisfied with less than I know I could accomplish there.  Additionally, I will work myself out of my paying job to let someone else takes those reins.

A moment with #5 earlier this week cemented my decision.  For nearly three weeks, he's begged me to give him a haircut.  This was unusual, given the other two haircuts that went bad, and considering how much he likes the hot-towel treatment at Sports Clips.  But I was confident that I could give him a trim without a bald spot.  Still, between work and travel and holiday prep, I had to put his twice-daily requests off.  Finally, I had 17 free minutes before school on Monday.  I pulled #5 onto a kitchen stool and got to work.  Midway through the cut, my 8-yr-old said, "Mom, you know why I wanted you to cut my hair this time?  It's because I like having conversations with you.  The stylist at the haircut place always talks to me.  Last time I heard her manager tell her she did a good job on conversation.  I like talking with you.  We have good conversations."  That was a slightly painful compliment to hear.  How many of these conversations have I missed by being too busy?

Here's another piece of my own advice that I need to take:  Out of all of eternity, I have each of my children under my roof for a minuscule 18 years.  My children should not have to wait for each month's hair growth to get my undivided attention for 17 minutes.  I am tired of shushing them so I can finish an email to someone who is paying for my time.  I have covenanted to the work of wife and mother, and I will now bring my purpose back to where I first promised it.  In another five to ten years, feel free to ask me what I want to be.  For now, I'm choosing motherhood.


Carolyn said...

I like the idea of 5-10 years in each interest. My interest is definitely waning in my current pursuit. Time to move on?

VickieG said...

Great job, Mary.


Our family said...

I really really like this post. It would pretty much give me a heart attack to tell my kids they don't have to go to college, because I just can't figure out how else to get from serving milkshakes out of a drive thru to a career any other way, but I also know that's just my problem. I love the idea that it's ok to be home with your kids. I've totally felt the societal pressure of "What will I do when #4's in school" and I've recently come to the conclusion that my big kids need me home when they get home from school at least as much as they needed me to be home before they were school age. Lucky for me, I love this job.

Mary said...

Carolyn, I read a book last year called "The Geography of Bliss". The author traveled to various countries to find out why they ranked so high (or low, for Molova) on the happiness scale. In Iceland, despite the darkness, people are generally very happy. What struck me about that country is that the norm for most working people is to hold two or three careers in a lifetime. Someone might be a farmer and then become a dentist and then a writer or artist. Almost everyone there switches careers. I've come to realize that with only a few decades of life, exploring a few careers or other paths sounds a lot better than being committed to or stuck in just one.

Christy, I've been surprised how involved I am in my teenagers' school life. I'm at their schools all the time mentoring a group of students, accompanying #1's auditions, helping with fundraisers, etc. The schools receive less parental support in the older grades, and so there is plenty to do. After school, there is double the amount of chauffeuring and connecting. Good good stuff.

Paul said...

I love this post. I think it's one of the best ones written. #5 always gets to the heart of the issue. He has had those kind of comments for me to. What an extraordinary mama you are.
Love, mom

Min said...

Love your thoughts on this.
( I also love - in the comments - Paul posting as Mom and Vickie posting as Dad or maybe it was the other way around.)

My problem is when I consider what I want to do, wife and mother always come up as #1 - and #2 is hard to pin down, so the idea of trying a variety of things is appealing to me.

You may be interested in one of my favorite books called Changing your Course by Blanchards. The couple who wrote the book have done many different things. They tend to do something until they are not passionate about it anymore and then they do something else. For me, it was one of those books that forever changes your perspective on life. I also really loved their first book Live What You Love where they give you a realistic approach to going about doing something new.

See on Amazon:

Mindy S.