Written by Melinda Sewak
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
On the surface, it’s a seemingly innocent question – one that often spurs cutely costumed career days in elementary schools nationwide. But while this question emphasizes being, it actually implies doing – the correct answer rarely being “a good person” or “a reliable friend” but instead “a doctor” or “a teacher.” It may seem like a fun question to explore, but from a young age it sets us up to define ourselves by our future career. We imagine adulthood through the lens of a perfect calling rather than a lens of continuous self-discovery.
So, how do we undo this job-first mentality?
Well, let’s start by reframing it. Instead of asking yourself what you want to be when you grow up, ask yourself: who do I want to be when I grow up? What kind of person do I want to be? What problems do I want to solve?1
The hard truth is this – your job isn’t always going to fulfill you.2 So when you define your desire by exploring your personal aspirations first – and job title second – you’re more likely to find joy in the work you do. More importantly, you give yourself room to change your mind and flexibility to shift – careers are rarely perfectly linear, after all.
Beyond just giving yourself permission to continue to evolve within the working world, this mentality also opens you up to all the career possibilities that are out there. Technology and industries evolve daily, so there’s just no way to know every opportunity that exists – or even what opportunities you yourself might create. Knowing how you want to move through the world can help you discover those new paths, giving you the chance to find joy in the discovery.
So – who do you want to be when you grow up?