There was one phase I went through — I was 6 at the time, maybe 7 — when I would get home from school, race upstairs and close my door. I didn’t have homework yet. I was working on something far more sophisticated than coloring books or puzzles.
I was playing Office.
In order to play Office, I had to get into character. I would don one of my dad’s suit jackets — I preferred a nice gray pinstripe — and would attempt to balance a spare pair of his glasses on my small snub nose. Sometimes I would shuffle around in his wingtips. Then I would organize piles of papers on my desk, filing them away in folders once they had been properly reviewed. If the mood struck me, I pretended to read The Wall Street Journal.
My mother would sometimes come up to check on me; she would knock gently, ask if I wanted a snack. “Not now, Mom!” I’d call back through the unopened door, my voice strained with urgency. “I’m working!”
If you had asked me then what my father did for a living, I would have given you a very specific answer. He wasn’t a banker or a businessman. He was a mutual fund manager. I went to private school on the Upper East Side, so I probably wasn’t the only kid in my class who could articulate the difference between a mutual fund and a hedge fund, an investment bank and a commercial bank. But because I was an only child, and because my dad ran his own business, I probably spent more time hanging around an office than your average first grader.
The above is an excerpt from a brilliant essay by Cristina Alger in The New York Times titled “For One More Day at the Office”.
Read her short story and have a good cry.
When we see our kids playing with their pretend friend or constructing a play world like Office or, in the case of my little brother Carl and I, Rock Band- they are creating a template of the kind of people they might eventually be. Alger’s article quotes a psychologist who believes “… this is a sign that a child is confident enough to begin to understand how to organize experience into stories.”
I played in quite a few rock bands in my time, and enjoyed my first career in rock and roll.
Maybe there is something to this theory.
Just for fun, try and remember what you used to play with your pretend colleague or friend. You and I grew up in a time when you were expected to amuse yourself . Helicopter parents are a pretty recent phenomenon.
If you’re thinking about reinvention, sit on a bench, have a coffee and daydream for a bit. What did you used to play?
Then ponder- what do you want to be when you grow up?
What job do you want to love?
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