The 2nd most popular question I'd get while behind the bar (the 1st being, "How do I get a bartending job) was, "So what do you really want to do?" I hated that question. It implied that I was somehow unhappy, unfulfilled, or wasting my life away by working as a bartender. I loved the job.
There were definitely those moments, don't get me wrong. Like the time that guy vomited on the bar or the homeless woman threw a glass at my head. But for the most part, it was a truly fabulous job (did I ever tell you what Bradley Cooper said to me?). So when someone asked what I really wanted to do with my life I said, "Be a bartender." The more they pressed me the more convincing I was.
Of course it was a lie. But telling people in Los Angeles that you want to be a writer while you're shaking their martini is a sad, sad cliche that I was not willing to put a face on. Sharing what you really want to do...that's too personal. Would you share your ambitions and dreams with the first stranger who asked? Is it a question you'd feel comfortable just casually throwing out at your bank teller or grocery checker?
I did open up a few times over the course of my career and usually got an earful in return or a snide remark that would ruin my night.
"You can't make a living at it."
"If you were really serious about writing you'd find a way not to work this job."
"What'll it be- the next great American novel? Good luck!"
It took me a while to realize that these people weren't actually speaking to me at all. They were speaking to themselves. Pulling out and dusting off the excuse they'd become so accustomed to hearing in their own head and perhaps wishing I'd free them from it by taking it on as my own toxic self-doubt loaded baggage.
What would I say to those people now? I'd open up but not until they did first. I'd turn the questions right back at them and ask, "Are you doing what you really want to do?" And then I'd listen. Without judgement or jealously or fear. I'd find the opportunity to be supportive, to say, "Hey, maybe you're not doing it today, but you can certainly start towards that goal tomorrow. Because then maybe one day down the road, when someone asks if you're happy, fulfilled, and embracing every moment of life, you can say, yes. Yes!" Then I'd refill their drink and ask more questions.
So...what do you really want to do?