Around 3 or 4, it was a doctor. By 10, I wanted to be a lawyer, even though I didn’t know what they did. And in high school, I wanted to become a pharmacist.
When I look at this list, I notice a few things…
It’s clear that the list is limited to the few career paths I knew about. None of them are even remotely related to my strengths or interests. I would honestly make the worst doctor, lawyer or pharmacist you can imagine. I’m not detail oriented. I love to estimate things, and I’m totally terrible at it.
And this is true for all children—not that they’re terrible at estimation, but they go with what they know. They are limited to the career paths they have exposure to through their families, their community and their Netflix accounts. (I mean, Paw Patrol… Are you kidding me?!)
Think back to what you wanted to grow up to be when you were a little kid. Was it an astronaut or an artist? A vet or a chef? Maybe you wanted to be a professional baseball player, or perhaps you felt a desire to be a police officer or firefighter.
These are the images we see around us and look up to as children. But the excitement we felt for these roles once upon a time doesn’t mean that’s what we’re destined to do. What we wanted to do as children had more to do with who we admired, since we weren’t quite in touch with our skills, strengths and personalities—yet.
I also have a problem with the question itself: What did you want to be when you grow up? To be honest, it makes me cringe. Every time I hear someone ask kids what they want to be when they become adults, I wish they were doing something to help children explore their interests, express their creativity or develop their skills, instead. Consider replacing this traditional question with one of these:
What are you good at?
What do you enjoy doing?
What or who do you care about the most?
Now, I get that you probably don’t nerd out on the English language as I do (you’re not alone—most people don’t!). But asking what kids will be implies that they are going to become their jobs. It’s a stance many of us, as adults, are guilty of taking, as well. We associate our job titles with our identities, which can be damaging when we reach bumps in the road or fail at something professionally.
Finally, when I reflect on that list of my childhood career aspirations, I see three completely different roles with rather little in common. I mean technically, doctors and pharmacists work together in some ways, but their roles are very different. What I can see now is that I couldn’t stick with one profession as a kid and I wouldn’t as an adult.
You see, when I look at my actual career path—teaching preschool, event planning, marketing and now coaching, I have never held the same job twice. Every job change I’ve made has actually been a career-overhaul, yet each sharpened my strengths in unique ways.
Now, it’s your turn. What did you want to do when you were a child? How has that played out for you as an adult?