What do you want to be when you grow up?

FIGHTING WORDS - Kay Malilong-Isberto - The Philippine Star

“You’ll be riding with the band,” the curator of a museum I am working on a project with texted. He had invited me to the opening of an exhibit at his museum so I would see the venue for our project. The museum was quite far from where I lived and a ride to and from it was welcome. Besides, the idea of riding with the band, who were invited to perform at the exhibit opening, seemed quaint. I laughed at the thought of myself as a middle-aged groupie following a band around.

The word “band” brings up images of long-haired and heavily-tattoed Goths in black clothes and those were the people I was expecting. I was mildly shocked when I saw very young, fresh-faced, normal-looking people lugging their musical instruments by the side of the road. They looked like high school students. Our ride was a school bus and I felt like their principal. I even dressed the part in my black blouse with ruffles and flat shoes.

During our one and a half hour drive to the museum, I would learn that I was only meeting a part of the band. The vocalist was an intern in medical school and could not make it. The guitarist was at his day job.  And those present, the percussionist, keyboardist and bassist, were not as young as they looked. Except for the bassist, who was still in school, the two were done with college and had work that did not involve music. They were all single and in their twenties and they were doing what they loved. They even have an album of their original music which they are launching this month. They produced it themselves.

I thought of the band members when my son complained that he was tired of being told that junior year in high school is a crucial year for determining his career path. In school, he is reminded that his grades this year will partly determine his chances of making it to the college of his choice. He and his batchmates were given tests like the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator assessment to help determine what courses will suit them. There are career talks to be given by persons successful in their chosen fields lined up to help them decide what course to take. Their ages range from fourteen to sixteen. My son must have felt pressured to decide what to be when he grows up now.

I assure him that it is perfectly fine for him not to know what career path to take at his age. I tell him that when I was fifteen, I had no idea how I was going to make a living as an adult. At fifteen, the most pressing decision I made every week was what to wear when I went out with friends that weekend. He looks at me incredulously when I say these things. Maybe it’s different with boys. Maybe he thinks grown-up men have to have office jobs to provide for their families. I haven’t really asked him what his expectations about adult life are.

“What’s your highest excitement?” an acquaintance once asked. We were talking about how one determines his or her purpose in life and he claimed that knowing the answer to that question should help identify one’s calling. Maybe that’s what I should tell my son. I don’t expect him to know the answer to that now. I did not know what it was when I was fifteen either. And I think that things still turned out fine.


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