When I Grow Up

I have an email here from Matt in Texas. Matt writes:

“I’m confused about my future even though I thought I had school all figured out before the virus happened.

“I missed my graduation because of the pandemic and I’m thinking of dropping out altogether now because I don’t even know what I want to do. Maybe you can help me figure it out? When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up?”

Matt. This is not an easy question. I have wanted to “be” many different things in life. When I was a boy I wished I were big. That’s pretty much what all little kids want. I just wanted to be like my grandfather. He was a big, tall man that neighborhood dogs used to always follow around.

And I wanted to do what big people did: Play fast-pitch baseball, drive cars, pay bills, outrun IRS attack dogs.

When I got a little older I wanted to have a skill. During the middle-school years everyone is figuring out who they are. Some kids show promise as artists, writers, or athletes. Others are math-wizzes and grow up to be billionaires.

Me? I never figured it out. Besides, even though I didn’t realize it, all I really wanted was to fit in. This is a basic need young people have, just like the need to laugh, or the need to rupture their own ear drums with loud music. There is no worse suffering than loneliness.

So I just wanted to blend. I wanted to wear the same Chuck Taylors everyone else wore. I wanted the team captain to choose me for touch football.

After my father died, when I was a boy, my aspirations went out the window. All I wanted to be was safe. Plain and simple. I just wanted to feel secure and not be afraid of life.

But people grow up. Over time, I quit caring about security, or fitting in, or Chuck Taylors. I just wanted to be a regular guy. I know that sounds ridiculous, and it probably is. But being average is fantastic, and filled with unspeakable pleasures. During childhood I was the son of a suicide victim. I couldn’t wait to just be a run-of-the-mill guy.

Then, something changed in the aspirations department when I was in my late 20s. I was taking community college classes, and suddenly the world became much bigger to me. I started to get the sense that Earth was a richer place than I’d thought. And I wanted to “be” a part of it.

I remember driving home after a stirring lecture in—no kidding—earth science class. We had talked about the universe, and how big it was, and how vast. I decided right there that I wanted to do more than just pay bills. I wanted my life to mean something.

It was during this exact moment, in heavy traffic, that I saw a bumper sticker that read: “The meaning of life is to give life meaning.”

That bumper sticker spoke to me. So do you know what I did? That’s right. I went home and did nothing, and forgot completely about the bumper sticker for many years.

Time marched forward, and pretty soon I was feeling crummy again. The worst part was, I didn’t know what I wanted out of life. Life always seemed to confuse me, and the more it confused me, the more I blamed myself.

Looking back, I think I was just trying too hard. Maybe you are, too.

I don’t mean to be Johnny Downer here, but life itself involves a whole lot of striving. It’s in our drinking water. From the moment we’re born our parents are showing us how to strive to be better. But one day, it sort of takes you over, and pretty soon you’ve forgotten what you were striving for.

Some people never quit striving. They strive to find a good job, or a decent house. Others strive to do something great in the world, or be the best parent they can be. But no matter how you look at it, the striving itself is downright exhausting.

If you can believe it, just recently I saw ANOTHER bumper sticker in traffic that spoke to me. This bumper sticker read: “Be nice to your kids, they’ll choose your nursing home.”

No. I’m kidding. I actually did see a bumper sticker like that once, but that’s not the one I was going to tell you about. The one I saw read: “Life got easier when I gave up.”

I loved this sticker so much that I jumped out of my car at a redlight, knocked on the guy’s window, and asked where he got it. I will never forget when he rolled his window, smiled, then pepper-sprayed me.

The truth is, I have wasted your time. I can’t answer your question because I am not you. I can’t even articulate what I want. I am middle-aged, which means I still have a lot to learn. And each day I’m realizing that I know less than I did yesterday.

But, I suppose that if I had to put into feeble words what I’d like out of my own life, it would be pretty simple.

I want to be less selfish. I want other people to feel like they matter. And in this tense world, I want to be the kind of guy who neighborhood dogs follow around.

Even after all these years, I’d still like to be a bigger man.


  1. Steve Winfield [Lifer] - June 9, 2020 8:37 am

    You’re bigger than you think. Only .00374% of all people get to touch as many lives as you have. That’s big. Most of those people love you. Your wife & dogs too.
    For someone with no specific goals you really hit it out of the park. I bet that I speak for many thousands when I say thanks. Thanks for sharing your life & your insight with us.
    We really do appreciate you.

  2. Curtis Lee Zeitelhack - June 9, 2020 10:50 am

    Sean, I think you are that “bigger man” – even if the dogs don’t follow you around yet.

  3. Jan - June 9, 2020 11:00 am

    You are much bigger than you think, Sean. You are kind and loving in a world that needs those traits badly. You have great insight into just being human. You see things and people that others don’t see and you appreciate them for what they are. Many of us walk around with blinders on, only seeing what is right in front of us. You see things and people that light up your life when we don’t even notice. It takes a big man to have that insight and ability to share that with others in such a delightful way.

  4. Beth Ann Chiles - June 9, 2020 11:23 am

    Thank you for this. You inspire so many —- we are all grateful!

  5. Elizabeth - June 9, 2020 11:52 am


  6. Kristina Nilsson - June 9, 2020 12:07 pm

    Well, you certainly bring meaning to my life, and I’m sure to many other individuals.

  7. Laurence w church - June 9, 2020 12:40 pm

    I read your message every morning. Often it becomes a part of my devotional.

  8. Marc Beaver - June 9, 2020 12:42 pm

    Oh my, Sean…this is so profound. Your insight and life perspective are spot on. This especially spoke to me today. God bless you.

  9. Berryman Mary M - June 9, 2020 1:24 pm

    Your message is like a special treat for myself to enjoy every day. Sometimes I read it first thing and sometimes, I want to hold out and read it later in the day when I might need it more. Thanks, Sean, for being the bigger man!

  10. Brenda - June 9, 2020 1:36 pm

    Nice message! Found your Joy and you will find where you belong. ♥️

  11. Shelton A. - June 9, 2020 2:26 pm

    Sean, you are a bigger man than you know. Do you realize how many people read you each day and are given words to ponder that help us face our day. That’s big.

  12. sharon lawson - June 9, 2020 2:35 pm

    Thank you for this. It spoke to me. One thing it said to me that the simple pleasures in life is whats important.

  13. Joe Patterson - June 9, 2020 3:00 pm

    Thanks for sharing We all have to figure out who we are going to be It just takes time Have to let it come to you and choose a path that your talents will allow I wanted to be a veterinarian but chemistry and calculus got in the way so I became a lawyer never worked another day in my life I got paid to help people and if I couldn’t help them I sent them on their way no charge I made a good living but I am not Alexander call me Alabama but I have retired after reaching 70 and I have had a good run Keep writing you are my new LEWIS

  14. Jess Rawls - June 9, 2020 3:29 pm

    Sean, I was right there with you on trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I loved nature and the outdoors, so I thought being a wildlife biologist would be an ideal fit for me. I wrote a letter of inquiry to the Florida Fish & Game Commission asking about the steps to becoming a wildlife biologist. I received a reply: There were only 12 wildlife biologists to cover the entire state of Florida (this was around 1959), a college degree was required, and the monthly salary was $500.00. I mentally scoffed at the pay. Long story less long: I enlisted in the Army and my first month’s pay was $96.00. LOL. That pay of a wildlife biologist was looking fairly huge to me right about then. But it turns out the Army was ideal for me, and I served for twenty-six years….oh, yeah, I surpassed that $500 per month not terribly long after being in the Army. It’s kind of funny the way our lives sometimes turn out. We think we want to be one thing, but we end up being something else….and it fits us perfectly. God is good, and I’m grateful with the way my life has turned out.

  15. Cheryl - June 9, 2020 4:00 pm

    Oh Sean, you are so much bigger than you know. Thank you for giving me hope.

  16. MAM - June 9, 2020 4:26 pm

    I laughed when I saw the title. I, too, could never figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I accomplished a lot before that, but it was never satisfying. Finally, at age 58 (yes, it took me that long!), I figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up. Really. I accepted a job as a reporter for the local newspaper. That was 19 years ago, and I’m now my own boss. I’m still reporting, albeit for MY digital news’paper,’ instead of for the print paper in town where I used to work until the then-boss fired me for unsubstantiated rumors, but that’s another story. Thanks for always reminding me of memories. I think most of us have walked in the same shoes.

  17. Linda Moon - June 9, 2020 4:57 pm

    To ‘do’ is different than to ‘be’. Maybe you can help Matt figure that out, because I think you’ve already answered his questions more than you realize, Sean. You are a wonderful ‘human being’, not a ‘human doing’. And I bet Matt is, too. Someone I know and love was called “Big Man” by his father when he was a little boy….a boy very much like you. You are both older now. You both matter to me, and neighborhood dogs probably love to mess with you! Dogs and other living creatures, me included, know the kind of guys you are!

  18. Jackie - June 9, 2020 5:29 pm

    I’m 77 years old and I refuse to grow up. Life’s more fun this way.

  19. Christina - June 10, 2020 6:56 am

    Sean, don’t know if you got all the neighborhood dogs following you yet (if they can only smell Jamie’s cooking), but it seems like you’re drawing quite a crowd from all over this earth. Thanks for being one of us, it makes us feel less alone!

  20. johnallenberry (PhDude) - June 11, 2020 2:41 pm

    You are bigger than you know. Far bigger. A man who was maybe 5 1/2 feet taught me some years ago that stature has nothing at all to do with physical height. He was a giant. You are too.


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