Second Star to the Right

All grown-ups were once children, but only a few of them remember it.

– Antoine de Saint-Exupery

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Take yourself back to kindergarten and remember the many times your teacher would sit on her heels to match your eye level, and ask you with a Cheshire cat grin on her face the most difficult question you would ever encounter in your entire life—“What do you want to be when you grow up?” What did you say? A doctor? An astronaut? A teacher? I distinctly remember those on-the-spot moments. I also remember that I would say a million different things; three of them being:

A witch (because I wanted to have magical powers)

A princess (because what kind of little girl doesn’t?)

A goddess (why not look like a princess and have magical powers?)

Sadly I only grew up to become a mere mortal. My friends say I make magic through my art (I’m an artist), and the farthest I can go to becoming a goddess is by maxing out my credit card to dress, look, and feel like one. As for my second ambition, I like to think that there is still hope for me in becoming a princess someday. Anyway, my point is, I didn’t like the thought of “growing up,” and frankly, I still don’t.

Now as you go through life you’ll eventually realize that you’ll need a bit of help in finding out what you want to be. Back then, I had a lot of friends, but they were just as clueless as I was. So like any curious girl who longed for something magical, I willingly hopped inside a rabbit hole and indulged myself in fiction.

What do Peter Pan, The Little Prince, and The Catcher in the Rye all have in common? Somehow through their crisp cream-colored pages, they taught me how to answer, “What do you want to be when you grow up?

Peter Pan

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Thank you to my childhood chum, Peter Pan, for teaching me how to believe in magic. I used to spend long afternoons driving a magical school bus (and at the same time riding it as a passenger). I also remember living inside a castle, jumping over burning hot lava, and flying on a magic carpet (on other days, a broomstick) from the living room to my bed and vice versa. Those were some of the best days of my life, and to think I never left my house when I had those adventures. Thanks, Peter. You taught me how to have fun.

The Little Prince

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 Meanwhile, my intergalactic pen pal, The Little Prince, told me all these ridiculous stories about “adults.” They seemed like such strange creatures to me back then. When I was much younger, he made me realize that you didn’t need to see things to know they were there. I learned that imagination was a strong weapon and that the most important things in life are in fact, invisible. So thank you, little prince, for teaching me how to believe.

The Catcher in the Rye

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As I grew to my teens, I met Holden Caulfield. I’m glad I did; right in time too. A few more years without his (uncensored) wisdom and I would have fallen over a cliff, right smack into the dark abyss of adulthood. I learned that growing up could be a monochromatic, repetitive, and very sad thing, not to mention, a dangerous process if you don’t know who you are. Luckily, Holden taught me, and continues to teach me, why it’s important to live an authentic life.

 Now it’s 2016. I’m turning 24 years old this year, and every year I tell the stars that I don’t want to grow up. They answer back and tell me how stubborn can I get, because I really don’t have a choice. But I think to myself, maybe I do, just not in the way that society can put on record.  Because, my dear reader, I learned that you can see “growing up” in a different way. Numbers, time, dates, years are all man-made. We are only as old as we feel. There is no escaping societal measure and not even a good book can make you forget that. So I learned to define “adulthood” in my own terms.

Have fun with it. Keep imagining. Believe in magical creatures and never stop searching for them. Keep creating worlds that astound you and always remember who you are. When I “grow up” I want to be fun and interesting. I want to be fascinating and genuine. I want to be extraordinary. Take my advice and you’d be surprised at how interesting of an adult you’ll end up becoming.

The problem isn’t that we’re busy or that we have obligations and responsibilities to fulfill. That’s fair. We need to survive. What we need to remember is that we have the freedom to decide how to fulfill them without ever falling off that cliff.

 Now, what do you want to be when you grow up?

Written by Mary Imbong, Director for WYA Asia Pacific