Wendy Kalman
There are many ways to see and understand

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Some people are fortunate enough to know what they want to do long before they enter the working world. Others spend their lives not ever figuring it out. While my first twenty years was spent in the first camp, the decades since have decidedly been rooted in the second.

As a young child, I always envisioned growing up and becoming a teacher. At some point that transitioned to wanting to become a lawyer (…because I didn’t want to be a doctor and I thought those were pretty much the choices Jewish kids who did well in school had). As a college student, though, I felt empowered, because that choice (and a whole bunch of AP credits which covered many core requirements) actually freed me up to study whatever I damned well felt like. I knew, you can learn anything and then go on to law school. And so I majored in English, minored in art, took a fair number of courses in Judaic studies and in philosophy as well as oddball classes like Kafka and Chinese calligraphy…and generally thoroughly enjoyed learning for learning’s sake.

Afterwards, I enjoyed my parents’ graduation present to me of a summer in Israel. I stayed with family of family, worked a few weeks on a kibbutz and then a college friend and I backpacked in Greece. It really was a wonderful summer.

But I came out of that experience wanting to take a year off.

I did start law school as planned, a bit reluctantly. And so, unsurprisingly, I found myself not as devoted as I ought to have been. I really wanted time to read whatever interested me and not just torts. Studying was so time-demanding. In a very cowardly manner, I dropped out the night before first semester finals began.

Without law school, I had to figure out what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go, who I wanted to be.

Instead, I just checked want ads, and, drawn to publishing, I began at a trade magazine. My subsequent history included volunteer teaching English in Israel, as well as other jobs in publishing, marketing and communications in both Israel and America (where I am now). Eventually I found myself as a kind of proposal manager, working with brokers as they respond to RFPs (Requests for Proposals) and eventually getting myself involved with marketing. Over the course of the three decades since I dropped out of law school, my skill set has expanded but I’ve moved through it all without a clear career trajectory, let alone an end goal.

Looking back, I wish I had given more though to possible careers even before I got to college. But hindsight is 20/20 and time marches on.

When my two older sons approached college, I told them I wished for them two things – that they try their hardest and that they figure out what they want to do before graduation. (If a career advisory center existed at SUNY Albany in the mid-1980s, I was most certainly unaware.) They seem to be happy where they have landed, and my youngest, most wonderfully, knows what field wants to go into – film – and the college he will go to next year is perfect for it.

The message I tried to impart was that if you spend your life carrying out a process of elimination, you will have lost precious time and may never wind up where you want to be. And that not having a vision of where you want to be kind of sucks.

For me, I spent years pushing aside that question and just carried on. With three kids to raise, two divorces, relocating from country to country, my focus was on the continuity and stability I could give my kids. But it niggled at the back of my mind. Because I knew I could be doing something more significant, contributing more, advancing more…if only I could figure out what I want to be when I grow up.

The Academy of the Hebrew Language prefers the Hebrew phrase for career – professional lane (נְתִיבָה מִקְצוֹעִית) – to the foreign-ly derived and most commonly used word kariera (קַרְיֵירָה). I like it; in the Hebrew, I can see the imagery of a driver navigating one’s own professional development forward. Ahhh, to be the driver with a vision of his or her destination…

My fiancé planted the seed of getting back in a classroom. I really like the idea and have applied for graduate school. But it too, is without a clear picture of the end game.

I must say, the subject matter speaks to me. A Master in Public Administration is all about how things ought to be run. America clearly could use this (I read the news in dread each day). Sounds like Israel could too (though, to be honest, without knowing all the details, I do get the impression Bibi is being persecuted; I found the lawyer Dan Avi Yitzhak’s Hebrew television interview backing up my gut feeling on this.

At any rate, equipped with this degree, I believe I can find a way to make some kind of difference. The platform my lovingly written blog gives me may allow me an opportunity to offer my view of the world, but truth be told (I have to admit it to myself!), it only reaches a few and influences even fewer. (But please, do check out my earlier blogs to see the kind of justice I would like to bring to the world.)

These days, like 30 years ago, I find myself without a perfectly clear picture of which lane I am in. Hoping I can figure it out by the time I am done is my strategy for now. It’s not perfect, but I’ll have to be satisfied with knowing that even without the destination plugged into my internal GPS, I will still be moving forward, towards something new and hopefully, potentially impactful as I try to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.

When you begin to think about your childhood dreams of your adult life, did you envision you’d be where you are now? What corners did you unexpectedly turn? Are you happy – professionally – with where life has taken you? Really, are you in the lane you need to be driving in?

About the Author
Born in Brooklyn and raised on Long Island, Wendy lived in Jerusalem for over a decade submerged in Israeli culture. Since returning to the U.S. in 2003; she has been soaked in Southern life in metro Atlanta. An Ashkenazi mom to Mizrahi sons born in Israel and the US, MIL to a French Mizrahi DIL and an Israeli DIL whose parents are also an interesting mix, and a step mom to sons born in the South, she celebrates trying to see from multiple perspectives and hopes this comes out in her blogs. While working in Jewish and Zionist education and advocacy, Wendy's interests also have her digging deep into genealogy and bringing distant family together. All of this is to say, Wendy's life has brought her to the widened framework she uses for her blogs: there are many ways to see and understand.
Related Topics
Related Posts