What does Your Childhood Reveal about what You Should be Doing Now?
Photo courtesy of Angie Chung.

What does Your Childhood Reveal about what You Should be Doing Now?

Written by Emilie

Topics: Creativity

In September I traveled to San Francisco to attend Cheryl Dolan‘s Platinum Presence workshop. It was pretty magical. I met some really amazing women, and I learned a lot of techniques that helped me prepare for my seminar. But the whole weekend was pretty revelatory.

One of the exercises she had us do — the one that stuck with me most — was to draw a picture of something we loved to do as a kid. The idea is that whatever you draw is a good indication of what you should be doing as an adult. This was my drawing:

It’s a picture of me, sitting at the kitchen table with my mom and Miss Rabbit, my favourite stuffed animal who is still with me today. We’re making brownies and drinking tea.

We have this great, round, wooden table in the kitchen. Sometimes I would sit there with my mom, and we would make playdough, paint with watercolors, or play dradle. Other times, I would pull up a chair and draw on my own, or I’d host a tea party with Miss Rabbit and my other stuffed animals.

For me, the kitchen table was a place of imagination, creativity, and most notably, concoction. 

It’s where I went to bring ideas to life.

Getting Back to Who You Were– Before the Insecurities and Expectations Hit

There’s this whole period of your life, between childhood and your mid-twenties (give or take), where you try to deny the dorky, fun things you used to do as a kid, and instead try to fit in, appear “normal,” and do what’s expected of you.

In recent years, I’ve been actively working on myself. Building my confidence, embracing my multipotentiality, becoming aware of what I want in life, and making choices that are in line with my goals.

What I didn’t anticipate was that, as I worked on myself, my life would start to resemble my childhood again. Only in certain ways, mind you: the creative pastimes, adventures, and unbridled curiosity. Kids are the ultimate multipotentialites.

There are a lot of wonderful memories that I could have chosen to draw, but this one felt right. It represents concoction. Something that is central to who I am. Something that I need to be doing on a regular basis to be happy. Be it putting on a seminar, designing a website, writing a novel, or helping my students launch their own businesses, I always need to be inventing something.

Puttylike (and the Puttytribe) is like my big, round, wooden table. It’s my place to experiment with other multipotentialites, connect over shared ideas and bring new projects to life.

Try it Yourself

Sit down in a quiet spot and draw something that you loved to do as a kid (doesn’t need to be good).

What does this drawing tell you about who you are and what motivates you? The answer might be very obvious or something more symbolic (like what the picture represents).

Don’t be Too Literal

In fact, as a multipotentialite who likely enjoys working in many different formats, it’s important to zoom out, and look, not at the particular medium, but at what you were doing with this medium. For example, I don’t love making brownies, per say. “Brownie-maker/Baker” is not what I should be doing with my life. It’s what those brownies represented: concoction and collaboration.

If you’re struggling with this, ask yourself what was it about this activity that you loved?

Next, ask yourself whether you are living a life that allows you to tap into this value on a regular basis?

You can also use this knowledge about yourself to help assess whether or not to pursue a particular path. It’s always good to know what lights you up inside– what drives you. It helps you make better choices.

Your Turn

Now I want to hear from  you. What did you love to do when you were a kid?


  1. Dan Garner says:

    I am currently reading “Mastery” by Robert Greene and he pretty much emphasizes the same idea. We all have certain things we are attracted to, interested in, and become good at as a child. In general they are things we enjoy. These are the things that we should pursue.

    Dan Garner

    • Holli says:

      I just watched Robert Greene interviewed on CJ LIVE yesterday, and know I want to read “Mastery.” The nugget I came away with was this very thing too! Except, he didn’t say sit down and draw it:)
      As a parent, I want to help my children cultivate skills where their interests really lie.
      Coincidentally, my brother stopped by for dinner last night and we talked about this very thing. Several times, our mother or a relative told us we didn’t really want to do the things we asked to try…
      So, thanks to you, Dan and Emilie for cementing my lesson from yesterday, and giving me an exercise to try!
      I did pick up my first camera at 2, and drew like crazy, danced and wrote stories…those things are re-emerging today!
      p.s. The Robert Greene talk is here: http://blog.chasejarvis.com/blog/live/

    • Emilie says:

      Yeah, it’s interesting. Most people think of mastery in terms of a medium or a field like writing, medicine, etc. But I think that’s pretty limiting. However, if you look at it from a broader perspective– like the WHY behind what you do, or what it represents, then mastery might not be such a limiting idea.

  2. My scene would include times when I was making things, particularly nature related things. My latest project is creating a garden seeder, and I’m finding myself as close to my “inner child” as I have been in a couple of decades.


  3. Dave says:

    Hi Emilie,

    The image that came up me was of me hitting a ball against the wall of our house. I used to do that for hours to the horror of my parents.

    The interesting thing was that there was always a story going on–I was playing at Wimbledon, or singlehandedly winning the Rugby League Grand Final, or I might be climbing what looked like a tree but was actually the mast on a pirate ship leading up to the crow’s nest, where I would look for land.

    The connecting thread is that combination of imagining something–either a story, or an idea of how I could tweak something in my real life–and then trying it out in the physical world. And I can see how that has been a pattern carried through to adulthood, too.

    Thanks for the great exercise!

    • Emilie says:

      Fascinating, Dave. I love that.

      Imagination is really important to me too. I miss a lot of those “make believe” games I used to play. But then again, designing your life as an adult and doing things that other people think can’t be done is similar in a lot of ways.

  4. Chris says:

    I was the kid who would have to be dragged outside, because I preferred reading to anything else. I would say that 3/4 of my waking hours were spent huddled in the recliner with a book.

    When I need a break from that, I’d play Barbies. Sometimes they were my little Masterpiece Theater, sometimes all I cared about was their clothes. And if I wasn’t doing either of those things, then I was tinkering around on the piano or the antique typewriter.

  5. Erin OK says:

    Wow. . .

    My first thought was that I really loved curling up with a book, I read tons as a kid.

    But when I got out a pencil, I started to draw this game I used to play with my cousin.
    Our granny had concrete stepping stones across her lawn. We would get vegetables and flowers from the garden and make the stones into little houses, with the vegetables and flowers as furniture. We’d use pea pods as couches and carrot tops for lamps, I don’t know, we’d deck out a whole little house and use little sticks for people, and I LOVED it, I’d do stone after stone.

    So I thought, what does that mean? I have no interest in being an interior designer. . . but I DO want to build a home out of natural materials. I do try to construct my life in organic ways, and to use the resources I can find around me, repurposing them in meaningful ways that add integrity to the whole process. I prefer the things in my life to be colourful & creatively crafted by hand and heart.

    It does give some insight into my core values, and these things really light me up!

    Also, my cousin is a sculptor who makes beautiful flowing creations from natural materials. . .

  6. Livia says:

    The picture pops up where as a kid I draw little figures, little personalities and at the same time imagine and play their stories, I even cut out the figures and played with them. And then I cut out more and more so that in the end the little princess would wear trousers instead of a skirt.
    I was also the kid who was always reading books.
    So maybe what I should really do now is write that novel ;-)

  7. Belinda says:

    The first thing I thought of that I would draw was of me on my bike. I think the two things I pick up on more than anything else from that is “exploration” and “outdoors.” What’s funny is that those two elements have been the same things that have come up when I have been doing job searches and trying to figure out what I am meant to do and what kinds of environments would make me feel more comfortable. I absolutely hate being tied to a desk doing one monotonous thing after another- it makes my skin crawl. I need time to be outside or to change locations or to go on quests, etc. I think when I was younger I knew that the outdoors needed to be part of the picture, but couldn’t for the life of me figure out how I was supposed to do that. Did that mean I needed to go into landscaping? The thought of spending entire days out in the blazing sun or freezing cold didn’t appeal to me at all, so that was a big wall of uncertainty. I knew that no matter what, I wanted to be where I could learn and share and “explore” the things I found interesting. If I had to deal with people (I’m a bit of a loner), then they needed to be upbeat but not overbearing, not intimidate me, and not the types to create drama (I tend to mirror what goes on around me- so to keep myself in the best place I needed people who were positive).

    One other thing is that in the picture I would draw, there probably wouldn’t be any other people. That sounds kind of sad and depressing, but it really is kind of liberating. Social situations cause lots of stress for me, make me extremely self-conscious, and when around other people I tend to overanalyze whatever dynamic is or isn’t taking place between me and them rather than on whatever it is we are supposed to be doing or discussing together. My first photography teacher in college pointed out to me when I had my semester’s-worth of pictures up for discussion that none of my pictures had any people in them. Well, if they did, then there were no faces or things were blocked. I think I had a picture of someone on a bike, but the picture only included the wheels and their feet on the pedals. Even for the required self-portrait, I had my face turned from the camera and a hand on my headphones. I would have preferred taking a picture of my shadow, but I seem to remember the teacher saying that wasn’t allowed (maybe because he saw too many of those in previous semesters!).

    I had the chance to relive some of my childhood in playing with my son- driving cars in the dirt and rocks and taking him in rides in his trailer attached to my bike or pulling him in the wagon. The closest we get to that now is going to a local playground to find fossils in the gravel they use around all the equipment. We can spend hours sitting in the gravel and filling our pockets and showing each other what we find, then finally leave with our hands and jeans covered in dusty dirt. I’d go more often if it wasn’t so hard on my back these days!

    I don’t think there is one single line of employment for me, I require periodic change and new adventures and new topics. I expect to get criticism for that, but it always comes from people who aren’t happy with what they stuck themselves with- there still seems to be this idea that “Well, if I had to suffer, then so do you- otherwise you must be a lazy slacker.” I do need contact with some people- the ones who I can learn from and who may be able to learn from me, but I need the time and the space and the “right” to go off on my own adventure- it’s the only way I know to get rid of social stress and to clear my head of all the day-to-day issues, and get back on track to doing my life’s work.

    So if somebody criticizes you or you feel that kind of judgement coming at you from others, tell them (or even tell yourself) that we are only given the things that we can handle in life, and their way is not your way. You may say you don’t have the strength and wherewithal to handle the kind of life they have created for themselves, or better yet- sorry for them that they don’t have the strength to step out of the predictable rat race and try something so completely different and scary and exhilarating and liberating- and productive- like you have. Your life’s work isn’t about the money you make at it or the status you are given by others for it, it’s about climbing your own personal ladder of achievement and self-improvement and knowledge so that you really have something worthwhile to give back to the world.

    Now I need to go get me some Hot Wheels and find a pile of dirt to sit in! Yay!

    • Scott says:

      It is so refreshing to hear from someone with such a similar childhood, it’s actually eerie how similar. Even in to adulthood we have the same perspective and approach to life. Thank you so much for sharing!

  8. Katie says:

    I used to sit on my neighbor’s big rock, that was part of her rock garden and pretend that I was the Little Mermaid. I loved singing ‘Part of Your World.” I think the fantasy of having a tail really amazed me and the singing just came really naturally.

    Reading chapter books and drinking hot chocolate.

    Watching movies obsessively and becoming the characters.

  9. Evelyn says:

    Wow! Didn’t even had to draw it. One single image just popped into my head and it happens to be something I just recently gave myself permission to pursue after YEARS of denying it. What a very timely post and how lucky am I to have found you all. I’m going to WDS and hope to meet you all.

  10. Maryske says:

    Browsing through some old posts here, this one struck a special chord with me. Both because of the topic (I would draw something along the line of reading, story writing and acting out my own stories all by myself), and because of… that yellow bunny that you still have! It’s so good to find a kindred soul even in such a matter!
    I, too, have a yellow rubber bunny from childhood that even today is immensely important to me. I was devastated when he broke a few years ago, but I’ve managed to glue him back together. (The rubber has been “baked” in a car in the summer once, so it’s hard as stone.) He used to go with me wherever I went ever since I was an adult (LOL), but nowadays I mostly leave him at home, afraid as I am that there will be another repeat of him breaking his poor little head, as has happened several times already by something as simple as rolling off the couch onto the floor… I’m horrified, every time it happens. Even if I’m supposed to be way too grown-up to care so much about a little 6 inch rubber bunny… And the odd thing is, that I’ve never really had trouble making friends. But my best friend is and remains that little rubber bunny. Am I crazy or what…? ;-)

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