I can be anything I want to be. That is what I always believed and it seems to be true for the most part. The funny thing is that I have no recollection of a single person telling me this. I don’t recall my parents sitting me down and saying, “Honey, you can be anything you want to be.” I don’t remember a teacher telling me that. I do recall jingles from commercials, “Be all that you can be, in the Navy.” I did know that the navy was not for me.
The earliest recollection of what I wanted to be was a masseuse. This was long before we developed the politically correct term, “massage therapists.” I used to set up shop in my parents’ back room. I never really had the calling of nurse or doctor like the other girls my age did. For a while, I fiddled with the idea of a nun. I felt I had a calling, but the Flying Nun seemed more adventurous.
Then, I wanted to be the President. Not just of anything, but of the good old U.S. of A. That one stuck. I collected many votes throughout the years. Part of the caption in my high school yearbook read, “to the White House.” Eventually, I even thought I was taking my first steps by going to law school.
Even though I don’t know from where I developed this attitude that I could be anything I wanted, I am glad I did. I have been lots of things so far. I was a paperboy. (I am all for women’s rights, but believe me, I was not a papergirl!) I worked at the court house. I served KFC chicken and hamburgers at Gino’s. I have been a waitress and cook in many establishments. I designed, created, and sold Christmas wreaths and other arts and crafts items.
I took art classes when I wanted to be a cartoonist. I took drum lessons too. I ran on the cross country team, played basketball and softball. I worked as a receptionist for many years. And I cut hair for my friends. (Some of them remained friends after the hair cuts!) I took care of severely handicapped men in a home setting. And I ran an award-winning not-for-profit community garden.
My favorite job was working for a large plant nursery. I worked in the wholesale department, selling trees and shrubs to landscapers. I was good at it. And I loved that I dropped many pounds, became gorgeously tanned, and had customers who spoke Latin to me all day (ordering plants by botanical names.)
One day I became a lawyer. As you may have read in my last post, I did this for many years and really enjoyed the work. I am still a lawyer, buy now I have decided to add teacher to my repertoire.
In a recent conversation back home, a friend told me that his daughters can be anything they want, as long as they are professionals. I had to giggle to myself. To me, being a “professional” meant doctor, lawyer, or Indian Chief. Since the girls aren’t Native American, they were already down to two choices. I asked him what he thought about my switching jobs and becoming a teacher. I can’t remember his exact response, but it was something I didn’t expect from him – along the lines of it being very respectable, or a higher calling, or something like that.
I can be anything I want to be. So now I will teach. I have already been teaching. I did some work back in the States and have had quite a few volunteer positions here in Turkey. One of my favorites is a nine-year-old girl who wanted to come 5 days a week for 2 hours to work with me after school! That was a bit too much for me. But apparently, it says something about whether I will be good at this teaching thing!
Another enlightening episode was a helping some young legal assistants with their English skills. It was clear to me that some of these women wanted more out of life. As part of the lessons, I tried to instill in them the idea that they can do what they want while balancing personal happiness with the realities of what they need to survive. I know it’s easier said than done, but often people just forget that they have a right to be happy.
One of the things that saddens me here is that the people I meet really don’t seem to have that “be anything you want” attitude. Rather, they are more in line with most Americans trying to be anything that makes the almighty dollar. To me, this is not equivalent to being happy. Looking back at all of the things I have been, what I have consistently been is pretty happy.
Here, kids have to choose what they want to be before they go to college. They take a very heavy exam to enter college. The choices they have made and the grades from that test determine which university they will attend. I’m not quite sure when they choose their major, but I understand that it rarely, if ever, changes. I went from being a sociology major to a criminal justice major. Not a huge adjustment. Idid fiddle with the idea of switching schools to get into an art program. In Turkey, you don’t switch schools. You just don’t. I’m not even sure one has that option. I’m not sure this is what Ataturk envisioned when he said, “Children are a new beginning of tomorrow”.
I went to law school at night, working a full-time job and three part-time jobs my first year. In Turkey, I have yet to find an evening program. Although there are a lot of courses to learn English in the evenings and weekends.
Another thing that bothers me is the “beaten down” attitudes. Many people are unable to get things done here. It’s not that they don’t want to proceed. But they have been told over and over again what they can’t do. So the attitude is often, “I can’t do this because. . . ” “You can’t do that because . . . ” “You just don’t understand the system. It’s not going to happen.” In my life plan, things happen the way I want them to because I CAN. I remember one nun in grade school who used to always say, “Can’t means won’t.” She was right.
My husband, an instructor at a local university, once gave a very easy question as extra credit on an exam. “When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?” He told me some of the responses. There was one person who said they never wanted to be an engineer and they still don’t! Guess what they are studying ? And they wrote this to the instructor. Wow.
I had a discussion with my sister-in-law about my plans to teach. She said, “I am really proud of you.” Perhaps this is where my desire to “be anything” comes from. I know that I should do what is right for me, not to make others proud. It’s one of the agreements I made with myself. Something I learned from one of my favorite books, The Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz. But there’s much to be said for that feeling one gets when others are proud of you.
I still struggle with what I want to be when I grow up. Sometimes I feel like I have a “higher calling” – one to help others decide what they will be. Or to help others get to where they want to be. I don’t know how to explain it exactly. But I am here to tell you this:
YOU CAN BE ANYTHING YOU WANT TO BE!
And that’s a fact, Jack!
You were not a “paperboy.” You were a “newspaper delivery specialist.” As Americans, we definitely take for granted the concept of freedom of choice. It’s partly because of our wealth, but we also have a tradition of choice/self-determination. Our country was founded on it. It can be surprising and frustrating to realize how foreign it is to people in a very traditional culture. I love travel, and fantasize about living abroad like you, but it’s things like this that help me appreciate lving in America.