Between the ages of 5 and 15 I wanted to be 101 different things ‘when I grow up’. I started out my childhood wanting to be a nurse before my dad told me to aim as high as possible and set my sights on becoming a surgeon. This was, of course, humorously stereotypical of a Nigerian father but, unbeknownst to him, it prompted obsessions with high flying, slightly impossible careers. For a large portion of time, I wanted to be an actress, but like, a multi-millionaire-Beverley-hills-living-I-only-drink-water-from-the-mountains Hollywood actress. I also convinced myself to take up a sport so that I could, eventually, compete in the Olympics (obviously). I tried everything from Field Hockey to Cycling, from Netball to Running, only to realise that my body was not made for such things. At one time I thought I should pursue a career in science and be the one to discover indisputable evidence that there actually is life on Mars. But there came a point where my grades in science didn’t really reflect this ambition so I thought it best to be realistic for once and let that dream go. Then, I shifted my attention to music and took up piano lessons for a summer and came to the conclusion that the age of 15 was too late to play a musical instrument and become the next Beethoven. It was all or nothing for me and I didn’t want to settle for anything less. I thought about architecture, about modelling, about owning my own store a la Bloomingdales or Harrods, about pursuing a career in design and even about teaching at Oxford. Name a career and I would have spent weeks, months, or even years, researching and convincing myself that I could pursue that.
One thing I will always be grateful about is that, despite whatever hare-brained idea I had to pursue a certain activity or vocation, both of my parents were supportive. Probably because they knew I’d get bored and move on eventually – but, nevertheless, there was no ‘you can’t do that’ or ‘I’m not sure it’s the best thing for you to do’. In fact, out of everyone, my parents encouraged me to think about these things and to ask ‘why not?’ This was, of course, until I got to college and all of a sudden I was making what seemed to be the irreversible decision as to what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. At which point my dad pretty much pulled me in the direction of Law.
Nevertheless, I wanted to do and be everything I possibly could in one lifetime. It seems a shame that, as we get older, we are directed into one single minded way of thinking – to believe that we can and should only have one career path. To become one thing and stick with that for ever, which will define who you are seems a bit daunting.
However, I’m now willing myself to take some inspiration from my teenage self and realise that I still can and should do everything and anything (within reason, of course), despite having a full time job that uses up 70% of my energy (the other 30% is used up by navigating my way around London and trying not to get lost… again). I have started to meet people who, despite also working full time, are really into fitness and work out five times a week (!), or who freelance as graphic/web designers after work, who teach a language or musical instrument, who go to free talks to learn more, have a mini business on the side, who blog, take part in their community or volunteer their time for great causes. They are bad ass women and men who are refusing to be defined by their job title alone or how much money they make. Being on a certain career path and progressing in your chosen field is a vital part of your life, but it doesn’t have to be the be all and end all and as human beings we are so much more complex than that. It doesn’t, and it shouldn’t, be the defining fact about you. When someone asks you what you do, feel free to let them know your career, but also all the other wonderful things that you spend your spare time doing.