In the sixth grade, I was given an assignment to write down what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down two things:

  1. Get rich somehow.
  2. Have a different job every year of my life so I can keep learning new things and meeting new people.

Checking in now as an ostensibly grown-ass man, I can say conclusively that I’ve basically done the second half of that plan. Furthermore, I’ve realized that the first half isn’t as necessary as I thought. I’m amazed at the foresight I had as a kid.

I think what’s most important and informative about this assignment from sixth grade is that even at an early age, I knew I needed to be intellectually stimulated. I think that’s really the most relevant lesson in this.

For anyone who doesn’t know, I’m currently a professional baseball mascot. That’s what I call my “day job” right now. It’s seasonal, but it’s pretty great in a lot of ways. Other than that, I have somehow managed to make it to my thirties piecing together a living with part time jobs and random dead-end… um… let’s say “learning experiences.” Occasionally, I hit on something that I thought would be my “career” but mostly I learned a lot about what I didn’t want to do. Along the way, I met lots of great people and learned a variety of new skills.

Sounds like I’ve accidentally managed to accomplish goal number two, doesn’t it?

On the other side of the coin: My grandpa was the quiet anchor of our family– a simple, principled, dedicated man. He came home from World War Two to the same town he grew up in, got a job in a paper mill, got married, and raised a family. It doesn’t get more “American Dream” than that. He worked in that paper mill for several decades, and then retired. His joys were simple: good food, gardening, watching the horses in the pasture.

I loved him dearly and I think we have many of the same values. I admire his dedication to the relationships in his life, and the care he took for his family. He was a good man, but I always knew that I could never live the same lifestyle that he did.

Doing the same job every day for forty years sounds like my own personal hell.

I think that’s what the most important gift of hindsight is for me: realizing that you don’t have to compare yourself to other people and their careers and their families and their consistent, safe lives. There’s nothing wrong with me for craving the variety and intellectual challenge that most “careers” can’t provide. It’s okay to be different. It’s okay to pursue a lifestyle other than what your society and culture expect of you.

Let me say that again, louder.

It’s okay to pursue a lifestyle other than what your society and culture expect of you.

It’s not about how much money you have. It’s not about what kind of car you drive. It’s not about having more stamps in your passport than someone else. It’s not about your perfect, beautiful family that poses for cute Instagram photos, and it’s not about how many people like those photos.

I’m not saying that the traditional “American Dream” can’t be what you want. I admire it, in a way, and part of me hopes I end up with a family of my own one day. What I am saying is that the only measuring stick of success that you should be paying attention to is your own.

For me, that means it’s ok to change things when I feel stagnant. It’s actually a positive thing to chase new challenges, and I get excited to puzzle them out. That’s what interests me. Variety in my activities. Intellectual stimulation.

It brings me back to my mortal enemy: comfort zones. I must destroy all my personal comfort zones. I have no choice, and my only weapon against them is new experiences. It’s part of why I like traveling so much. You’re challenged everyday by unfamiliar surroundings, culture, and possibly language.

So what am I going to do for income after baseball season? I have no fucking clue. I’m working on it. My lifestyle doesn’t afford me that predictability. I’ll be able to make a living somehow. I always have.

I can, however, tell you what the deciding factors will be. Here is my revision of the plan from sixth grade. It’s been about twenty years. I’m overdue for an update:

  1. Challenge myself and learn new skills.
  2. Meet new people and strengthen relationships with people I care about.

That’s it. Those are the values that are important to me. Everything else is trim.