Who Do You Wanna Be When You Grow Up?
“What do you wanna be when you grow up?”
The problem starts and ends with that question.
What if we pick something stupid? Shame.
What if we don’t know yet? Oh, that’s a bad sign. Must be under-ambitious.
What if we pick something we truly love? Sounds like a good way to be poor.
What if we want to be a lot of things? Should probably pick just one.
What if we change our minds? Seems like a lack of follow-through.
What if we still don’t know when we’re 30? That’s a whole new level of panic and confusion.
Sounds like a lose-lose question, if you ask me. And that’s just the start.
There’s an innate and nefarious assertion built-in to “What do you wanna be when you grow up?” Work is the greatest thing we will ever do. It is what defines us. It’s the end goal. And once we achieve that goal, we’ll be happy.
Work is the only reason to study and learn.
Work is the only reason to focus and grow — because once we’ve grown enough, we’ll finally be what we want to be.
Work is the the only reason to live.
So, what happens when we become what we wanna be and it’s not what we expected? What if it’s not as great as we thought?
Where do we go from there?
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
We are shaped and scarred by a seemingly simple question we’re over-asked and under-equipped to answer as children, and this script haunts us as we develop into career-aged adults.
Because of this tiny, little phrase, we prematurely decide to dedicate our life to work before we even know what work is. We chain ourselves to a concept before grasping the concept of who we are — and who we actually wanna be.
Who we are — who we have the possibility of becoming — should be the shaper of what we do when we grow up. Who we are is the foundation of everything.
Maybe it’s time we start asking “Who do you wanna be when you grow up”? instead of “What do you wanna be when you grow up?”.
I wanna be kind. I wanna be brave. I wanna be curious. I wanna be generous. I wanna be adventurous. Practicing curiosity, kindness and generosity are an obvious passport to self-discovery — the kind of self-discovery that just might make choosing a career path effortless and exciting, and dare I say…fun.
“What do you wanna be when you grow up?” is the equivalent of asking kids what their favorite city in the world is before they’ve ever gotten on a plane. Why not just get them on a plane? Plop them in the window seat of self-discovery rather than work-discovery and eventually, they’ll land in a career based on who they are, not what they think they should be.
Our job is the grant kids permission to explore.
Our job is to help kids discover who they are and who they want to be.
Our job is to give ourselves the same permission as adults.
You’ve experienced that as an adult, when what you wanna be changes, there’s an inherent shame that sets in. A sense of failure. An embarrassing admittance of defeat. Changing your mind is a synonym for losing your way. And even worse, it just plain looks bad. To future employers, when you change course, you’re seen as unreliable, flaky and that you can’t “take one for the team.”
Fuck the team. And fuck that way of thinking.
Who we want to be — not what we want to be — will always evolve, compound and change by nature. The ebb and flow of it is actually a good thing. There’s no end goal, no letdown, and no limit. Who we are only strengthens as it adapts, redirects and grows. When we focus on who we are, we put our own evolution first — and not the fleeting promise of someday being a good employee to someone else.
What we are can always be taken away from us.
Who we are cannot.
Let’s start asking “Who do you wanna be when you grow up.” And while we’re at it, let’s ask ourselves now. It’s never too late to be who you wanna be.
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