What Do You Want to [Inspire] When You "Grow Up"?
Fun fact: In the fifth grade I planned on being a teacher when I grew up. I was captivated by the Harry Potter book series throughout my elementary school years, and thought there was no profession more enthralling than that of a Hogwarts professor. And yet, it wasn’t their magic and mystery that captivated me so much as the apparent impact they had on their students. From the likes of Severus Snape to Minerva McGonagall, the educators of Hogwarts played a larger-than-life role in the stories of their students; their influence was not restricted to the confines of the classroom. Admittedly, working at a live-away institution affords such an advantage over your standard public school set up; however, the monumental part these figures grew to play in the life stories of their pupils must be attributed to more than ‘round the clock proximity.
What made the professors of Hogwarts such fulfilling characters and impactful teachers was their connection to their students. You rarely heard them fretting about O.W.L. standardized test scores or other curriculum woes; individuals like Hagrid and McGonagall took an active interest in developing and shaping the personalities and interests of their pupils, rather than just narrowing in on their academic records. They weren’t the indistinguishable drones that seemed to hover invisibly in the background of Peanuts comics, or the hard-nosed authoritarians customary in other Saturday morning cartoons. They were ordinary human beings capable of something wonderfully extraordinary, the ability to change the lives of those around them for the better.
As the years went on, my career ambitions changed slightly. By the time college applications began circulating, my focus had become set on a pre-law course. And yet, the underlying desires determining “fulfillment” in my intended career path remained largely the same, I wanted to help people. More importantly, I had grown tired of feeling like some nameless, secondary character. My shyness had gotten the best of me throughout high school, leaving behind a faltering self-image and a weak reputation in its wake. As graduation approached, I began to view college as my shot at a clean slate. I set out to tackling my fears and take charge of the way people perceived me.
"More importantly, I had grown tired of feeling like some nameless, secondary character. My shyness had gotten the best of me throughout high school, leaving behind a faltering self-image and a weak reputation in its wake."
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was just beginning the process of designing my own brand. I had begun making a personal inventory of my habits and traits, my likes and dislikes, and forming a picture as to how these all played out in a larger social setting. More importantly, I began to clarify my mind’s image of an ideal personal. I imagined all the ways I wanted to be viewed and accepted by my peers around me. I saw our student government as the best path to achieving these goals.
In defining my new position, I wanted to fill a space in our community akin to those Hogwarts professors. I didn’t have to be the hero of the story, but a helpful figure who came to fill an invaluable role. The pre-law student in me wanted to be the learned friend, the stalwart counselor who could always be turned to in a time of dire need. These fantasies further shaped my first steps into the world of student government. Flipping through our By-Laws and governing documents, I set out of learn all that I could about the policies and procedures of our campus. I saw my role as that of a mentor and guide, someone who could watch the adventures of others silently from afar and drop in on occasion to skillfully point them in the right direction.
"It’s o.k. to have your heart set on a specific job title or office, so long as you know that the road to your goals doesn’t end if that opportunity falls through. Rather than asking ourselves what we want to be, stopping to consider what we wish to leave behind may be far more prudent."
My daydreams became the foundation for a much larger undertaking. While silently plotting out the fairytale ending to my collegiate career, I was unwittingly tying together the elements of a personal mission. These common threads highlighted the cornerstone of my professional ambitions—the opportunity to positively impact the lives of others. At a most basic level, this revelation helped me to decide between the public and private sectors in piecing together job applications years later. From yet another perspective, it also served as an ideological anchor throughout the process of dissecting and reshaping my own concept of personal identity. Representing the core concepts that I hoped to embody, these seemingly frivolous fantasies rooted me to those central concepts and ambitions that represented my ultimately life goal.
They were cheerful reminders that came to play a vital role in my career search after college. After devoting so much time earlier on in my career to filing through specific titles and career paths, I had finally come to recognize that the what is far more important than the how. Our interests and abilities are always variable, some to a degree well within our control more so than others. That’s why we tend to put the cart before the horse, stressing over the details of the journey rather than looking up to make sure our destination is still in focus. It’s o.k. to have your heart set on a specific job title or office, so long as you know that the road to your goals doesn’t end if that opportunity falls through. Rather than asking ourselves what we want to be, stopping to consider what we wish to leave behind may be far more prudent. After all, there may be a thousand roads leading to a single point, why limit ourselves to only one of them? Sometimes our imagination can be our most vital doorway to reality, helping us look past our immediate expectations to glimpse the deeper desires that make them so appealing to us in the first place.
I could not have imagined then that those same fantasies might, one day, lead me to embark on a journey like this. These Memoirs of a Student Leader are just one of the many branches to take form from a single, visionary seed. Though we may never truly reach a point of absolute certainty when it comes to declaring our intended career path, our missions in life remain largely unchanged. We each have inside of us a core desire to do something, to make something, or to inspire something. These primal yearnings represent the mark that we hope to leave behind on this world, and tend to be a little more ambiguous than picturing ourselves as a fireman, a doctor, a pilot, a movie star, etc. Rather than preoccupy ourselves with buying in to a certain occupation or reality, perhaps there’s a greater utility in indulging in fantasy. Ask not what you hope to be in five to ten years, but what it is you hope to inspire. Recognize your mission in life, and open yourself to a new realm of possibilities beyond the limited scope of singular ambition. The story is yours to write.
-Michael D. Johnson
Read more from Michael Johnson under the “Mike’s Campaign” category