Within the first few years of life, we’re asked the same question over and over: What do you want to be when you grow up? Our parents, teachers, relatives, and friends have good intentions. They want us to use our talents and gifts to make an impact in the world.

The downside of this line of questioning is that it trains us, from a very young age, to continually focus on the future.

This future-focused thinking becomes so ingrained in our psyche that, if by age six we don’t have a clear answer to “What do you want to be when you grow up,” our caregivers start to worry. We then take on this worry, soon wrapping our entire sense of identity into what we do instead of who we are.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for setting goals and working toward them with dedication and determination. However, I think sometimes we get so wrapped up in our anticipation of what’s coming down the road that we fail to enjoy the journey. This is illustrated perfectly by our frequent use of one sentence:

“I’ll be happy when…”

I’m sure that at least once over the past week, you’ve filled in the blank with whatever’s going on for you right now, such as:

“I’ll be happy when

  • “…work slows down”
  • “…when I go on my next trip”
  • “…when I have X dollars in the bank”
  • “…when I finish this big project”
  • “…when I get my new car”
  • “…when the weekend arrives.”

You can also substitute the word “happy” with “satisfied,” “content,” or “relaxed”—it all boils down to the same thing:

We’ve become so obsessed with the future that the beauty of the present moment is escaping us.

Our sense of identity has become so intertwined with what we’re doing that we’ve failed to realize who we’re being.
 I’ve definitely fallen hook line and sinker into this trap. In fact, I’m fairly confident that I came out of the womb already preoccupied with what I was going to be when I grew up.

First, I decided that I wanted to be a writer. I wrote endless stories on my great grandmother’s typewriter and started submitting poetry to literary magazines when I was in high school. Then, as society got the better of me, I decided I would never make enough money as a writer, and so I entertained the idea of becoming a veterinarian.

In the eleventh grade, I watched an old black and white movie about Pavlov and his psychological research. After the class, I asked my teacher what kind of job Pavlov had that allowed him to make a living doing this type of work. My teacher told me Pavlov had his Ph.D. in psychology and worked at a university.

It was like a light bulb went off.

This provided me with the perfect answer to what I would be when I grew up. I would get my Ph.D. in psychology, and people would pay me to ask questions and find answers. What could be better? So I set out on a ten-year odyssey to get my Ph.D. For the entire ten years, my tunnel vision was locked in on one goal:

Get the Ph.D.
Get the Ph.D.
No matter what happens, get the Ph.D.

In 2008, I finally got the Ph.D., and guess what? I realized I didn’t want to become a professor. I’d become disillusioned with the ivory tower. I wanted to do research that was going to make an impact on people’s lives, not just get published in an obscure academic journal.

So I left academia.

To make this decision, I had to shed a huge part of my identity. My entire sense of self had gotten profoundly wrapped up in the vision of my future life as a professor.

I ended up taking a job in the private sector doing IT research and soon adopted the identity of a well-paid nine to fiver who wore dress pants every day and worked in a cubicle. It was both exciting and humbling. I had gone from being a superstar expert in my field to doing research on a topic that I knew nothing about. Again, another layer of my identity was being shed.

After almost two years of working in the corporate world, I realized that the nine to five life wasn’t for me either, so I left my job and took on the identity of “entrepreneur.” I’ve been living in this vision of myself for almost three years, and I’ve finally realized that being an entrepreneur is not who I am, it’s what I’m doing right now.

I’ve discovered that instead barreling down the entrepreneurial road like a horse with blinders on, I need to take time to enjoy this fantastic journey. If I get too wrapped up in business plans and action steps and To Do lists, I start to lose track of the intuitive sense within me that lets me know if I’m on the right track.

As I let go of my obsession with goals and create space in my schedule to enjoy the moment, amazing opportunities open up for me that I never would have conceived of with a linear business plan.

Here’s a common scenario for me: My husband comes home from work with a small four-dollar bottle of champagne. We eat leftovers for dinner and then go downtown to get frozen yogurt and walk in the park.

This is what life is about. It doesn’t matter how many diplomas I have on my wall or how much money I have in my bank account.

What matters are the sweet, simple moments that are presented to me every day.

Author Tama Kieves writes:

“It’s easy in our culture, to think you need a plan, a map and a guarantee. But that’s what keeps you stuck. Free your genius. Stay committed, true, and dogged to the one thing you can do. Your only job is to listen to the next step. Your only job is to sniff the ground, let the wind inform your cells, stay alert to your desires and the undercurrent of a Universal Intelligence. Every step is an answer to prayer. Every step is a devotion.”

One of my mentors, Rich German, often highlights the simple fact that

there is no destination. As soon as you get to where you thought you wanted to be, you will start to want something new. So why not choose to simply exist in the present moment?

Living an inspired life involves treading through some murky waters. I’m thirty-three years old, and I still don’t know what I’m going to be when I grow up. Instead, I choose to focus on who I’m being right now, in this moment.

Will you?

Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. is an author, speaker, researcher, and yoga teacher who helps people create a life they love. Check out her book, The Antidepressant Antidote, follow her on Facebook and Twitter, and join her whole-self health revolution.

If you’d like tips on the topic of manifesting your dream job, plus some personal instruction from Bethany, check out her online course, Creating A Life You Love: Find Your Passion, Live Your Purpose and Create Financial Freedom.

*Photo Credit: Attract a Life.