“What do you want to be when you grow up, Kirk?”
Lord, how I hated that question. I hated it because I was instantly regarded as a pus-covered leper for not having an immediate, definitive answer. It really seemed to get peoples’ panties in a bunch that at the age of, say, eleven I had no idea what I wanted to spend the entirety of my adult existence doing day in and day out.
“What do you mean you don’t know what you want to be? Do you want to be a doctor? A lawyer? A baseball player? A butcher? A baker? A candlestick maker? A beggar? A stripper? A pro burger-flipper?”
I wanted to be able to eat chocolate ice cream whenever the hell I felt like it.
I wanted to be able to get two giant German Shepherds without anyone else’s permission.
I wanted to walk into any movie theater, regardless of which rating was posted on the marquee.
I wanted to snag a copy of Playboy along with my Spidey comics.
I wanted to drive.
But I didn’t have the slightest clue what I wanted to do “for a living”. The notion of spending almost a third of my existence doing the same thing seemed like an impossible idea to me. The more it was asked of me, of course, the more I was forced to reconsider it. It eventually boiled down to what activity I could see myself spending that kind of time on.
Upon realizing the one thing I had enjoyed more than anything else my entire life*, I finally gave my first sincere answer to the question: “I want to draw pictures for a living.”
This perfectly honest answer was quickly countered with, “You can’t eat the fruit you paint, Kirk. You’ll need to pick a more practical career.”
I never stopped drawing, but I eventually ended up graduating from the University of Washington with a BA in English with a Writing Emphasis. Since then, I have held only a single position that was acquired as a direct result of my skills in the specific subject of my degree.
Today, I am a professional graphic designer and illustrator with a marked appreciation of irony.
It is true that I can’t eat the fruit I paint and that “artist” isn’t the most financially lucrative career choice. Indeed, I have yet to sell a piece of art for any staggering amount of moola and I’m a terribly long way from running my own illustrative graphics empire.
But here’s the thing: I draw pictures for a living.
When I answered that question sincerely so many years ago, it was such pure and perfect honesty because it never, even for a moment, took into account money or food or status. All the decision was based upon was happiness: doing what I loved… what made me happy.
Every morning when I get up, I am genuinely glad I get to go do what I do and actually make money at it. It’s not an obscene amount of money (though it is a quite livable one) but that’s really a non-issue when compared to the knowledge that I make my living doing what I have wanted to do ever since I so honestly answered that loathsome question many years ago.
And for the record, I have never in my life painted a picture containing fruit of any kind.
*This was, of course, before I had ever had sex. Good thing, too; the answer and resulting career choice could have been drastically different!