Hope I die before I get old.
The Who, My Generation (lyrics by Pete Townshend)
The only thing I knew about Leeds, England before coming here was that the Who recorded a live album here in 1970. I only knew that because my parents had it on vinyl and it was called "Live at Leeds." It's been called one of the best live albums of all time.
I was hoping to learn more about Leeds at the Leeds City Museum, where they have an exhibit about the history of the city. I didn't see anything about the Who concert, nor did I learn anything else about Leeds, because I have a 15-month-old daughter who thinks the world is her own personal American Ninja Warrior training gym.
I did, however, see this:
I couldn't help but laugh. Now that I've stepped out of my career for a month, it feels a bit like a game that I've packed back into it's box and put on the shelf until I decide to play it again.
As important as my work has been to me and to others, I now see clearly that my career is not me. It's just a role I've been playing for a very long time, scoring my points for Money, Fame, and Happiness (that's how you win The Game of Careers).
The uncertainty now is, if my career is not my identity, then what is? In the introspective words of The Who:
Who are you? Who who, who who?
There are so many kids' toys, games, and books that identify people by their career.
Oliver has a book called Clothesline Clues to Jobs People Do where (spoiler alert!) you guess people's jobs based on the clothes hanging on the line on the previous page. This is just one example of many kid's books that identify people by what their career is. It's innocuous, but it seems to plant this seed that your career is who you are.
It's easy to understand how this conspicuous careerism in kids' toys has come about. Kids imitate the world they see around them to try to understand it. The piercing wail of a fire truck, the tense anticipation of a doctor appointment, and the patient empathy of a teacher are memorable experiences for children. Reading about or playing as firemen, doctors, or teachers helps them to create a context in which they can understand and internalize the overwhelming stimuli of their world. A garbage man is a master of the universe in the eyes of a three-year-old.
Oliver has another book called The Bunny Book written in 1955, the same year that The Game of Careers was created. A baby bunny's family all take turns guessing what the bunny will be when he grows up. A doctor, a teacher, a firefighter, a train engineer, and so on.
But the baby bunny does not want to be any of those things. He just smiles and looks wise. He knows what he will be when he grows up. The baby bunny will be (spoiler alert!) a daddy rabbit! He will be a nice daddy who will chase the children when they want to be chased, read them stories, and tuck them into bed at night.
And that is what the baby bunny will be. A daddy rabbit.
I like that book. A lot.
"What do you want to be when you grow up?" is the third question kids get asked, after "How old are you?" and "What's your favorite color?" Oliver's is brown, followed by black.
Oliver's four-year-old cousin Mae knows exactly what she wants to be when she grows up. She wants to be a fairy.
She has it all figured out. When she turns 18, she's going to go to fairy school, get her wings, and be a fairy. My sister told her she has to wait until she turns 18 to go to fairy school.
At dinner the night after seeing The Game of Careers, I asked Oliver what he wants to be when he grows up. He stared at me blankly. He had no idea what I was asking him. So much for my theory about Clothesline Clues to Jobs People Do pressuring him into a career path.
After Erin and I elaborated on the question and asked again what he wanted to be, he responded "Mommy." I took this to mean that the familial emphasis of The Bunny Book had triumphed in his psyche over the careerist regimentation of Clotheline Clues to Jobs People Do. There may be some other issues we'll have to sort out as he gets older.
"What do you do?" is the first question grown-ups get asked. (No one seems to care what my favorite color is. It's blue.) I had an Englishman tell me that that's a very American question to ask of someone.
Does anyone ever answer, "I'm a daddy rabbit?"
I'm not suggesting that people shouldn't pursue a career if they find their calling.
In 1955, a 10-year-old kid from London was getting bullied and teased about the size of his nose. He vowed that one day he would stick that nose out at everyone from every magazine cover in the country (his words, paraphrased).
He taught himself how to play guitar, smashed that guitar on stage, wrote over 100 songs and two rock operas, and became one of the best live performers of all time, with his iconic arm windmilling guitar playing.
Who, you ask? Yes.
So it's not surprising that "Live at Leeds" is considered one of the best live albums of all time. Pete Townshend had a calling, and he made a hell of a career out of it.
So of course, there's nothing wrong with pursuing a career, especially if you're doing something you're passionate about.
But so many of us, myself included, have relied on our careers as a crutch for our own identity and self-worth.
This causes us to rationalize prioritizing our careers over our family and other interests that may actually be more meaningful and worthwhile to us.
In the The Game of Careers, let's not forget that it's not just about Money and Fame. It's about Happiness, too.
If you do find your calling, by all means pursue it with all your heart and don't let anyone tell you that you can't be what you want to be.
If you want to be a daddy rabbit, then find a way to make time to chase the children when they want to be chased, read them stories, and tuck them into bed at night. For me that meant packing my career into a box on the shelf for a year. Who am I, without my career?
On the tinderbox of careerism that is LinkedIn, I just changed my profile to "World-Traveling Dad."
That feels right.
If you want to be a rock star, then teach yourself to play guitar, destroy that guitar on stage, play your heart out at every show, and write a bunch of awesome songs. And maybe a rock opera or two.
And if you want to be a fairy, then go to fairy school, get your wings, and be a fairy.