I applied to speak at commencement not because I was sure I wanted to (I actually hate public speaking), but because I can. I can’t do physics that will send people to Mars. I know I can’t solve world hunger. I can’t even decide what I want to eat for dinner! But I can speak about succeeding, failing, and always prevailing. I can show my girls that sometimes conquering your fears simply means standing in front of a group of strangers and talking about being okay with being "just okay."
At first, I couldn’t decide what I would talk about, but then a question that I often ask my children kicked up the inspiration I needed. The question isn’t something difficult or extensive - it's honestly quite simple.
What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?
I periodically ask my children one question, because I assume the answer will keep changing. That question is: "what do you want to be when you grow up?"
Usually my oldest will say a scientist, or something that helps people or animals. Yeah, definitely animals. My 4-year-old will say doctor, or "I don’t know." When she says "I don’t know," I always say, "You don’t know? You can be anything. What is one thing you want to do?"
Sometimes she stills says, "I don’t know," and then I usually stop pestering her. Hey, I’m her Mom - it’s my job.
But guess what happened when she turned the tables and asked me the same question.
“What do you want to be when you grow up, mama?”
“Well, I'm going to school to get my degree in accounting.”
“Yeah. But what does that mean? What do you want to do?”
Well, my 4-year-old put me on the spot. And guess what. I don't know! Sure, I'm going to school for accounting. But what the heck do I want to do with my degree?
I could be an accountant.
I could run my own business.
I could work in human resources - I have a serious passion for helping people.
I could go into teaching - I firmly believe that high school students lack the necessary knowledge for budgeting, checking accounts, loans, credit cards (you know, basic life skills).
But really, I have no idea what I want to be when I grow up.
And guess what. That is okay! Yes, I am 30 years old, and I have no idea what I want to be when I grow up.
So, let me ask you, what do you want to be when you grow up?
It’s okay if you're sitting there and thinking to yourself, "I have no idea." Sure, maybe you have a job lined up, or an internship to get some experience, or maybe you are using your newfound knowledge to advance in your current company - but maybe you don’t!
Maybe you aren’t sure what you'll do with your degree. And I am here to tell you, that it's okay. You will figure it out. We will all figure it out, because we can be anything we want.
We can completely shake things up, or we can dig in deep and make positive changes and impacts where we already are. It is completely up to us. And if you decide and fail - that’s okay too.
It's okay if you are sitting here going, "I hate failing. I hate letting people down, letting myself down." I am with you.
My Online Learning Experience: Overcoming the Challenges of Being an Adult Learner
When I first started my journey here at Champlain College Online, I pushed myself to work harder than anyone. I was called an overachiever more often than not, and it isn’t something I was ashamed of - I was proud of it. Heck yes, I'm an overachiever!
And then guess what happened?
I had a baby. Not my first, or my second, but my third baby. And I was going to school full-time! Talk about reality check.
In facing this new challenge, my instructors were amazingly helpful and encouraging. Honestly, if it weren’t for professors like Michelle Worth or Eileen Schiffer, I wouldn’t have been so successful in those first few months of my daughter’s life.
And they taught me the most important part of being the best learner I could be: to give myself grace. You can’t, and won’t, be the best at everything, all the time.
Sometimes you fail at meeting deadlines. Hey, two AM feedings are rough on everyone.
Sometimes you fail at using APA formatting - my fellow graduates know what I am talking about.
And sometimes you have to choose yourself over posting four or more times in a discussion thread.
And that is okay too.
In Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes Into Stepping Stones for Success, John Maxwell says: “Recognize that you will spend much of your life making mistakes. If you can take action and keep making mistakes, you gain experience.”
I can speak from experience: life is literally all about making mistakes. You just have to be willing to make them!
Have no regrets, because what does that get you? Instead, accept the failure or the mistake, and start fresh tomorrow - because tomorrow really is a new day.
Don’t settle, don’t push yourself to have a definitive answer. Instead, challenge yourself. Ask yourself: what do you want to be when you grow up?
Because as any four-year-old will tell you, sometimes “I don’t know” is a perfectly acceptable answer.
Kristie Rouleau is a 2020 Champlain College Online graduate with a B.S. in Accounting.