What do you want to be when you grow up?
We ask kids this all the time. We don’t ask: What are you good at? What do you enjoy? What speaks to you? What job do you want to do? What occupation might fulfill you or make you happy? What job do you think you would be good at? What do you want to be doing for the bulk of your days?
No, we don’t ask any of those questions, but we ask what do you want to be?
It’s no wonder so many people encounter some sort of identity crisis at some point in their lives. We’re setting people up at an early age by using the words, “What do you want to be?”–we’re tying a job, a set of duties, day-to-day activities, a paycheck, to who a person is. That’s powerful stuff.
And we tend to project characteristics of an occupation onto an individual–we assume priests are kind, good, trustworthy, and honest people. We assume pimps are generally not. We groom children for careers, and what those careers might say about you. Our careers become so much a part of who we are, what we identify with. One of the first questions commonly asked at parties is, “What do you do?” Doctors are smart, salespeople are personable, accountants are careful. There’s a lot of assumptions and judgments about your personality and lifestyle wrapped up in one word. The successes or failures of our careers and career choices oftentimes determine how people view us, and subsequently our own self-worth.
This becomes problematic when, as all things that go up always do–career trajectories must come down. Life never unfolds in a linear fashion. We have ups and downs. Life isn’t fair. We don’t all get promotions and bonuses for a job well done or for hard work. We don’t always get our just rewards. That really messes with our sense of self, and our sense of justice in the world. Depression sets in when you feel like you’re not providing for your family enough, or if you haven’t been promoted yet. You begin to question yourself.
Then there are times when we just don’t know what we want to do next in life. We may want to do so many things, both professionally and personally. Or we might not have any idea what we want to do at all. But through society’s message, we believe our career choices determine our self-worth and who we are. That’s a lot of pressure. One mistake, and well, I don’t even want to know. Anxiety paralyzes you, and then the depression sets in.
This is where we have it all wrong. You know I believe words have meaning, and we need to choose and use our words wisely. Let’s look at the definition of a career:
-a job or profession that someone does for a long time
Notice there’s nothing about a career being who you are. It doesn’t say anything about the character of your being, or your work ethic, or your interests, or your compassion, or your resiliency, or your humor.
Now what about this second definition?
-a profession for which one trains and which is undertaken as a permanent calling
Why don’t we train for jobs that resonate with us, that we enjoy, that we’re good at, that pays the bills, that allows you to feed all the different parts of who we are? And why don’t we think long and hard about who we want to be when we grow up? Why aren’t we asking our children these questions?
I used to say even in my 30s, and as I turned 40, that I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. But I do know. I want to be kind and compassionate and grateful when I grow up. I want to enjoy my life as I grow up. I want to make a difference in this world when I grow up.
I asked my kids what they want to do when they grow up. The Boy wants to be a horseback riding instructor, or an Olympic equestrian, or anything that remotely has anything to do with horses. He wants to enjoy his life with what resonates with him. La Chica wants to be a teacher–of ballet, or math, or Rainbow Looms, or any subject matter quite frankly. Or a babysitter or daycare provider. When asked why so many options, she says she just wants to take care of people, she just wants to love people.
Those are great career goals–what a permanent calling to have: to take care of people, to love people, to enjoy life. So long as they can pay their bills, I think being joyful and spreading love are the right goals in life. There’s no way you can have an identity crisis with that.