Lawyer. Talk Show Host. Broadcast Journalist. Elementary School Teacher. Author. Professional Football Coach. Filmmaker. Famous Person. Summer Camp Counselor. Senator. President. Supreme ruler of the new empire.
My first conversations about my future career took place before Kindergarten. At the dinner table. In preschool. On play dates with my friends. The story of my life could be retold as a series of vignettes during which I am pursuing my latest new profession. My earliest memory is that I wanted to be a lawyer. In fifth grade I wrote a letter to myself at age 30. In it, I’m the San Francisco District Attorney. I am wildly accomplished, especially for my age. I went to law school straight out of college and quickly became a northern California lawyering sensation, the youngest woman ever to be a D.A.
As a sixth grader, presiding over student government meetings as our school’s President, I envisioned my life on capitol hill. I am a young, sassy senator with an edgy image and a sophisticated wardrobe. I wear Chanel suits accented with glittery lapel pens and chair the governmental affairs committee. I travel across the country speaking to young girls, at elementary schools, about empowering themselves. Be brave, be heard, be seen, be successful.
In junior high, I have a brief desire to be the next Katie Couric, or Diane Sawyer. I feel comfortable and natural sitting in a big, leather chair in a dimly lit room, firing the tough questions at a recently fallen, pop-culture hero. It’s hard-hitting journalism and I’m the best in the business. It’s analytical, and literary, and likely to make me famous some day. I check off my list of important job attributes and decide this is the one.
High school comes and goes and I care more about keeping my 4.0 and getting a date to homecoming than considering what I want to be when I grow up.
During college it’s clear I was put on the planet to do something revolutionary. I have a passion for serving “underserved” populations and now that I’ve discovered it, the possibilities are endless. I wonder if I should be their lawyer, or their teacher or make a documentary film about them.
Maybe I bring them on my talk show and give them money for college.
My whole life I’ve wanted to be a professional football coach. I’d be like Bill Walsh, but smaller and feistier. I’d stand in the middle of the huddle before games and lead the part where the players jump up and down and yell at each other. I’d hold my clipboard over my face when I’m calling the plays, and mouth the f-word when the refs misses a call. The network camera people will show my mom pacing in a luxury box, appearing completely stressed out, even when we’re winning by ten points.
For all the things I wanted to be, I never considered how I was already being. How I treated people and what it felt like to be around me. Because I didn’t have a value for being kind and compassionate, sometimes I was and sometimes I wasn’t. Being nice to strangers, and even harder, people I knew, wasn’t going to add to my prestige or power or further my climb of the fame ladder toward permanent infamy, so it didn’t matter much, to me.
It’s weird because my mom is the nicest, most compassionate, most loving person on earth.
Three years ago, I was being a yoga teacher and being a law student and being the smart, successful person I always knew I would be. For each new endeavor, I imagined my achievement of its pinnacle as the wonder-drug that would suddenly make me happy.
If everything I already am isn’t enough, there has to be more I can be.
I decided to be different. Everywhere in my life. I dedicated energy and intention to cultivating kindness like it was going to land me my dream job. I decided to be nice first and judge later and treat everyone like they were my best friend, already. I gave more hugs and said more “I love yous” and tried to be more like my mom. It mattered to me how I left a first impression, and how people felt, when they were around me.
The mantras I’d always known: be smart, be rich, be powerful, be perfect- gave way to the only one I needed.
Be open. Show compassion. Share your lunch. Give a hug and look into people’s eyes and say hello when you see a stranger. Hold the door open and pick up something someone else dropped. On their birthday, write a long note to the people you love and tell them what they mean to you. When you feel angry and frustrated, breathe in gratitude for the experience of being alive. Remember that everyone has a story, and a reason, they act the way they do. Don’t force people to earn your affection, give freely without expectation.
Being love, for me, requires my full attention. I’m better than I used to be, but still a work in progress. I am sometimes nasty and judgmental and reactive all at once. I take people for granted and I don’t practice gratitude and I’m mean to the people around me. I talk over people, and about people, behind their back.
But I can always return to who and what and how I want to be. And remind myself why it’s important.
Today would have been my friend Heather’s 55th birthday. She was pure love, every day of her life. She wrapped everyone else in it, and helped us spread it around. She was open and honest and because she was completely human, the first to admit when she was being less than loving. When I knew I was losing her, I felt like the world needed me to fill the void of good vibes and love between strangers and pure joy, she’d be leaving. I wanted to preserve her legacy. I knew we would all be worse off without her, and I wanted to ease the suffering, somehow. Heather left her mark on this life by impacting the people in it. With her laugh and smile and energy and wholeness. With the way she made us feel when we were around her.
In every day, in every moment she loved. With kindness and generosity.
At a time in my life when I have no idea what I want to be someday, I know how I can be, until, and after, I figure it out.