“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“Dad.. daaad. Dad? Daaaaad!”

It was nearing 10pm and my youngest son was steadily increasing his volume and intensity from down the hallway. Finally with some downtime, I was in bed reading up on car waxes and really didn’t want to get up to deliver yet another glass of water.

“What?! It’s late, go to slee-,” I replied, and his response, in that everything-is-urgent pre-schooler way, cut through the end of mine:

“I want a snuggle!!!”

My wife and I looked at each other and laughed, and wearily I obliged.

As I know he likes to talk and talk to get to sleep, I asked my son about some of the things they had been learning at school. They had been talking about parents’ jobs and what they wanted to be when they grow up, so I had to ask what the future had in store for him.

“I want to be a racing car, lightning mcqueen!”

“Oh cool, so you want to be a racing car driver,” I chuckled.

“No dad, I want to be Lightning McQueen,” smacking my face accidentally in excitement with outrageous hand movements, “I’ll go real fast like this – brrrreeaaaooowwww brrrremmmm nyaaawwwwrrr!!!”

Some goals right there; he doesn’t want to drive the car, he wants to BE the car.

“What about you dad, what do you want to be when you grow up?”

The question left me stumped. “I…”

My son’s sleepy and smiling face two inches from my face waited with baited breath.

“I, um…”

Memories flooded my mind from the past five years that I’ve not documented extensively.

Memories of sinking into the depths of routine and the daily grind, and allowing it to truly gnaw away at my health and sleep. Rising levels of stress and varying abilities to cope with the toughest of days that appear manageable on the surface, but are an indescribable churning below.

And of course the many beautiful smiles, the warm moments captured on various digital cameras. Shelved into an unknown, buried as bytes, their potential not yet fully realised through the glorious marriage of ink and paper.

Time that, through my eyes, should have been ‘better’ but I chose to cloud with my own inability to manage my thoughts productively.

Thoughts about losing a sense of who I am and where I want to be. And the internal regret I want to change but can’t.

I had to clear my throat before I could muster a confident response.

“I… want to be happy.”

The perplexed look on his face signalled that my response was unsatisfactory. Happy isn’t a vocation, I guess. “No dad, you want to be a…”

Brilliant. I’d love to hear what my son thought of me.

“… I know, I know! You want to be a coffee man!”

Fighting back tears, I joked, “A person who makes coffee, or a person who is made out of coffee?”

Shared laughter. The kiddy giggles that will never be exactly the same again as this beautiful moment passes.

“A barista, son. A barista is a person who makes coffee.” Not a bad idea though. Baristas make people happy, right?

Maybe that’s just it.

Whatever you want to do, you can’t just talk about it, removed from the ‘being’. You have to live and breathe it. It’s not enough in life to just make and spread happiness. It’s about being the happiness, too.

I have to admit, it’s really difficult sometimes. Drowning in the noise of this ‘modern life’ that some of us are blessed to live.

I’ve been reading a lot of Ryan Holiday lately, and his writing has exposed me to the mindset and practices of the ancient Stoics. Aside from his books, his particular piece “The Key To Happiness Is To See Beauty in Everything (Even Ugly Things)” really resonated with me (trust me, it’s a great read).

If only it were easy to create happiness and wonder, as children do, out of our experiences. If all of what we experience is our reaction to the outside world, then it’s our choice to lament, or enjoy, the precious moments that fly before our eyes.

So rewinding back with a fresh and more Stoic mindset to apply to some of my memories from the last few years:

So, what do I want to be when I grow up? Someone who can find beauty and happiness in everything.