People keep asking me, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"
Man, the pressure to find a good career starts early.
So when I'm surfing the Internet, I go to The Career Clinic web site.
I get daily career advice... and links to other career-related sites, too.
Then I go to Barney Online. 'Cause I'm not ready to grow up that fast.
There's only one problem with that little jingle, recorded by my daughter when she was 5. It wasn't true.
"That's what you do in advertising," I teased her. "You lie."
Which made her very unhappy. She's a stickler for the truth. So I changed the subject.
"What do you want to be when you grow up?" I asked.
"I don't know," she said. She fumbled around. At first it was glass blower. Then singer. No! A professional tennis player. She paused. "I know!" she said. "A clothing designer." More thought. Another pause. And then, "I'm not ready to decide. When it's time to pick a job, I'll just do whatever sounds like the most fun."
My stickler for the truth, I thought, stumbled on the only truth that's been a reliable compass for me. Have fun. That's it.
I love my work, but I really love being a mom. I thought I was setting a great example for Katie. Marshall Goldsmith knew I could do better.
Marshall's an executive coach, and Katie came with me to a conference where we shared a table with Marshall at lunch. He had a question for me about guilt. "I am one-hundred percent motivated by guilt," I blurted out, too surprised by the question to answer it more slowly.
"Is that the example you want to give Katie?" he asked. "Do you want her to feel guilty when she's doing nothing wrong? Do you want her to knock herself out, then beat herself up for not doing more?" Of course not. "Well, then..." The room got very quiet as I reached for a Kleenex. "Don't worry," Marshall said. "Everyone cries when I do this."
"Let me ask you something," he said, not letting up. "Pretend you're 95 years old. What advice would that woman have for you?"
I thought about it. "Give yourself credit for what you're pulling off," I finally said.
"So do that," he suggested. "Now. And often."
Katie and I marked this lesson when we got home. "What do you think it means?" I asked her.
"It means," she said with confidence, "when I want to play on the computer, you can go do your own thing and not worry about me. It was my idea." We grinned at each other.
Katie was old enough to appreciate what a thrill it was for me to get a literary agent. I called her at school the day it happened. "Mommy!" she practically shrieked later, when she dropped her backpack on the playground and raced toward me for a hug. Maybe she knew what a gift I'd given her by going after my own dreams. She won't have to feel guilty for growing up and leaving a giant hole in my life. She'll leave a giant hole all right, but she knows I'll go back to more of what I loved doing before "mom" got added to my resume.
In the meantime I do my best to set a good example. I tell her the truth, and we have fun.
This piece originally appeared in The Career Clinic: Eight Simple Rules for Finding Work You Love (AMACOM, 2009).