Iryna Piven. Who I Want to be When I Grow Up (Project 1. Breaking the Ice)

Below is an extraordinary ice-breaking speech delivered by our new Club member Iryna Piven just several weeks ago. Not only it is a fine sample of exquisite English – it may be regarded as a witty quick guide to English idioms. Please take an exercise to find as many idioms hidden in the text as possible, and give yoursef a treat to check their meaning in the dictionary!


What is the most frequent question that you were asked being a child? Of course I don’t mean any of those routine non-stop questions like “When are you going to finish your breakfast?” or “Can’t you sit still for one minute, please?” No, I’m talking about more philosophical questions that every child faces as soon as they can put a few words together. No, don’t even get me started on those endless boyfriend/girlfriend inquiries ever since your first day in kindergarten. I actually meant to talk about a very different question, but equally worrying. There it goes:

“Who do you want to be when you grow up?” Well, it didn’t come as a surprise to you, because I’m sure everyone in this audience was struggling with this question for many many times. In my life, there were three major phases when this question was particularly burning.

The first phase started when I learnt how to read. Thanks to my parents’ efforts, it happened rather early – when I was three years old. For my family somehow it was a clear sign that I had already started contemplating my future, so the questioning season began. Luckily, I learnt how to write shortly after, so my answer was very straightforward “I want to become a writer”. It worked a treat – my parents approvingly nodded, their friends kept praising my choice, and my sister couldn’t get away with an “astronaut” answer anymore. When I was 5, I wrote my first poem and my answer transformed to “Poet” or rather a “Poetess”. This choice made my life a bit harder because every time that question popped at a family gathering, I had to recite a poem. Fortunately, I did write some good stuff and enjoyed being in the limelight. A few years down the line, I became a very practical young lady, who realized that recognition is good, but somebody also needs to bring home the bacon. Since my parents were doctors, I coined a new answer which satisfied both romantic and practical sides of my personality. Ever since then, my answer was the following: “A doctor and a poetess”.

The second phase when the question “Who do you want to be when you grow up” became an overriding problem was my last year in school, when I was ready to fly the nest but couldn’t make up my mind regarding the direction. By that time my romantic aspirations went by the board, even though I kept producing about 3 poems a day. I also realized that being a doctor doesn’t really float my boat either. The school life was running its course, and my future still looked unclear. The only subject that I actually enjoyed in our small village school was the English language, so I decided to become a translator. How I passed my exams and got accepted to the oldest university in the Eastern Europe – the National University of Ostroh Academy – a small but a reputable one – is another story, but finally I joined the ranks of the students. Being a student was such a blissful time. However even then, when asked “Who do you want to be when you grow up?” I was torn between two options. I was majoring in English and French, and was pretty happy with it, but I also took up journalism as a hobby. So my answer mainly depended on my mood. One day I was reporting the latest news from different corners of the planet, the other day – accompanying the British Prime Minister on his trip to Ukraine, the day after that – teaching unprivileged kids in India to speak English.

The third phase when the question “Who do you want to be when you grow up?” regained its power was the time when I was about to graduate. Turned out – I was back to square one, and had to look for the answer all over again. Having tried myself in journalistic investigations, I realized that it’s not my cup of tea. After an incredibly boring internship at a translation bureau I didn’t want to be a translator anymore. At that time I was ready to leap at any chance and to take even a very mediocre job.

…4 years have passed since that time. I have a great job in a great company where I can make use of all my previously acquired skills – I use my language knowledge to teach English, my journalism skills to conduct interviews, and my creativity comes in handy when I develop new courses. And I have a number of great hobbies that make up for something I don’t receive at my workplace. At times it seems like I have finally found the answer…

…But… when my best friend calls me and we have one of those long philosophical talks that last forever, and somewhere on the 92nd minute of our discussion she asks me the question: “So do you know who you want to be when you grow up?”, I shrug. I’m still at a loss to answer. Am I there yet? Can I say that that’s pretty much it? I don’t know. And I think that the idea of being able to change everything until this magical “grow up” time finally comes is so attractive, that I’m going to hold to the unknown for some time. And I whisper “No, I’m still looking for the answer”. What about you – do you know who you want to become when you grow up?


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