What Should You Be When You Grow Up? Yourself

And other answers to unsolicited questions.

You could try a career fair. Image: German Embassy London

“I still can’t decide what I want to be when I grow up. How will I know?” — Restless Roy

First off, don’t worry about it, man. We’re not defined by our jobs the way people used to be. How do you think people got last names like Miller, Taylor and Hooper? That’s all they got to be in the old days. Someone who made barrels or drapes or flour. But we get to be way more than just a profession in the twenty-first century. No matter what your line of work will ever be, you will still be you. With lots of pals online. A fearsome avatar on Warcraft. And a secret sexual balloon-popping fetish. Or whatever. Your job is just a part of your life. Not your entire life.

I’ve more or less worked at bookstores since I was fourteen. It’s been a pretty good profession, except for the pay. And the closings of bookstores. I dubbed myself the Jim Reaper at one point. Because like fifteen of the stores that I’ve worked at are now closed. I can really only be blamed for a few of those. I’ve worked in grand bookstores and crappy ones. I wanted to live up to the great quote from the philosopher Lloyd Dobler. But if I had to sell anything, it might as well have been books.

I wouldn’t suggest that anyone make a living selling books. At least anyone who wanted to make a living. A while back I opened my own bookstore. It was a cart full of paperbacks Ben didn’t really care about anymore. I would push them out to in front of the Diner on Broadway in Williamsburg and hang out on Saturday mornings. No one ever bought a book from me. It was the most rewarding bookselling experience of my life. I can always now say, at least I tried to run my own bookstore.

My mother was joking about opening a bookstore with me in my hometown. I could live in her basement and ride my bike to work. She could knit in the corner while I shelved and shelved. We scoped out a storefront. That’s as far as we ever got. It’s probably better that way, because I’d probably be bad at making it profitable. But I could make it fun. Selling Moxie soda on the side. Having weird sales on books with unreliable narrators. Are there any reliable narrators? No.

There are some jobs that might be more plentiful in the future you might want to consider. Fracking. With rising sea levels, possibly someone who knows how to create vast drainage systems. An aqueduct builder? We will always need more rappers and sports stars. I asked a kid what he wanted to be when he grew up. He said a viral YouTube star. That seems like a pretty good gig.

At one of my stops in the bookselling world I shelved the self-help section. There was a book called Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow. I am still waiting for the money to follow me on my adventure of sitting in my underwear writing poems. But be who you want to be. And if you have to sell, produce or manufacture things to do that, then OK.

It doesn’t really matter what you do. It doesn’t really matter if you do it well. Just do it until you want to do something else. And then do that other thing. Money’s funny. We need it, it’s great to spend it when you have it. Looking back I don’t wish I’d made more of it. It’s really nicer to think about how I turned some people on to some cool books over the years. So whether you grow up to be a cop or a firefighter, I hope you will look back and remember not the choices you made, but the clean, clear moments you made a difference. And a little money to boot.

I don’t know that anyone truly gets to be happy in this life. But you can definitely make sure that you’re not unhappy. And hopefully the money will follow. Or whatever replaces money. Books!

Jim Behrle lives in Jersey City, NJ and works at a bookstore.